2012.03.23 - Saul Williams, Cadence Weapon @ The Great Hall


Mar 27 2012, 0:10

Fri 23 Mar – Saul Williams, Cadence Weapon, Spoek Mathambo, The Battle of Santiago

Given the amount of bitching I've done about how late shows get started in Toronto, you'd think that (finally) moving into the city would mean that I'd be out every single night. Instead, living a 45-minute walk in the opposite direction from where those shows happen means that, by the time I get home from work most nights, I can't be bothered slogging back downtown to some shitty pub for 10:00. 40, you son of a bitch, I can feel you getting closer with each passing day.

Anyway, it hasn't been nine months of cultural void since that Aretha Franklin show. The Gord Grdina Trio with Mats Gustafsson put on a blisteringly loud show at the Music Gallery last summer that was, all things considered, probably too much for the space until they reined it in a little ten or fifteen minutes into the set. Grdina's group was an interesting discovery, and I'm always up for more Gustafsson, so the jazz festival didn't end up being a complete triumph of corporate flatulence... yay, positivity!

A bit further into my stay downtown, I finally got to see Sons of Otis, too, and while they didn't blow my mind, they splashed around the thick, gloppy grooves that I had been hoping for and seemed to be pretty nice guys on a chatting-with-the-audience front, too. Dark Castles were also on that bill, and I could have done without two-thirds of the vocals, but if they ever go on a laryngitis tour, I'm there.

That's about it for the catching-up material, I think. I tried to see Oval when they rolled through town last fall, but showed up at the ol' Gallery to find a "SOLD OUT, BOZO, WHY DIDN'T YOU PRE-BOOK A TICKET WITH THAT FANCY MEMBERSHIP OF YOURS?" sign on the door. An old classmate might very well have been on the bill for a large group performance there not too terribly long ago, too, but it was scheduled for two days after the ol' membership expired, and who wants to pay twenty bucks just to see if they might know the bassoon player in the group?

So... Canadian Music Fest. SXSW had barely slipped out of the news when our own world-class "me too!" event clogged the streets and streetcars with wristbanded drinkers. (Bring it on, premature curmudgeonliness!) Who knows what good industry events are for a band's career these days, but at least CMF ("Cleanse Mold Fanipulate"?) brings a decent roster of international talent into the city for the better part of a week. A lazy dinner with some good company saw me stumbling into the place about a song and a half from the end of Cadence Weapon's set, and he was just as impressive as his recordings would make you think. Charisma, noisy backing material, and an Expos hat... the guy's good, to the point that even my teeny-tiny show date who probably hasn't bought a CD since high school wanted to know more. Next time, I want to show up in time for the whole set.

Thirty minutes later, Spoek Mathambo's international groove armada pretty much lit the place on fire. Technical problems abounded, but that didn't actually convince the Toronto crowd to be its usual immobile, texting self... people were going absolutely nuts for the group, and with good reason. Holy energy, generosity of spirit, and all-around fun. People who joke about Saul Williams kicking their asses and/or make ass-shaking Joy Division covers need to be heard more often... so what the heck, I'm going to embed a video (not of the Joy Division song) now. Shill! Shill! Shill!

Speaking of generosity, Williams was apparently cool with letting the Mathambo gang play over their allotted 40 minutes or so, so CX Kidtronik didn't get to start confusing/alienating the crowd until about a quarter past midnight. Now don't get me wrong... I adore the guy, and he's as much the reason I was there that night as Williams or Pemberton, but his warm-up act seemed to consist of playing 30-second snippets of random songs and adding some thudding electronic accompaniment while three guys in the audience who were determined to Dance Real Hard waved their arms and irritated everyone around them. So... not the greatest start that a set has ever had. I'm also not completely sold on Williams' latest album, which feels like somebody encouraged him to make the most of the cringeworthy bits of his repertoire to date (especially the singing), but at least he comes across as being genuinely into it. Also, say what you will about the guy, he's willing to throw a million ideas at the wall and run with each of them at least briefly. Last Friday, the one that really worked was being backed up by a trombone and a proper drummer along with CXK's sputtering machines. "DNA" and "Black Stacey" with halfway soul-horn edges was tremendously impressive stuff — right up there with the effects-treated cello back when he was touring prior to the release of Amethyst Rock Star — and I'd pay good money for an entire show of that sort of stuff. It didn't all work, mind you, but the stuff that did made me glad to have been there when it happened, and it's impossible not to marvel at the range of people who will show up to see the man perform.

UP NEXT: Thomas frickin' Dolby comes to town next Monday. I'm just about peeing myself with excitement already.


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