This past Friday, the Algonquin Commons Theatre boasted a sold out show headlined by Toronto’s jazz-hip hop trio BADBADNOTGOOD. Earlier in the week tickets were already sold out as news spread about the headliner’s return to Ottawa after a raucous performance at the Centretown United Church in November. With the hype still lingering from that performance a few months before, Ottawa’s die-hard fans came out of the woodwork to attend the show.
Even before the doors opened, ticket holders were already lining up to get into the well-lit and spacious venue, where only the floor seating was open. This created an atmosphere that was intimate, but also allowed the crowd audience to enjoy the professional quality lighting and sound of the theater.
The night’s lineup consisted of an eclectic pairing with Busty and the Bass, a self-professed “electro-soul/hip hop collective”, which started off the evening with upbeat rhythms, a wicked horn section and powerful vocals. Their songs ranged from Daft Punk-esque slow jams, to disco-infused pop hooks punctuated by rap. The band opened with “Models”, an infectious song off of their latest album GLAM, which concluded with a disco-soul feel that immediately set the mood for the rest of their performance. “Right Kind” followed shortly after and effectively combined an auto-tuned chorus with an overall hip-hop feel, allowing one of the keyboardists to show off his rap flow.
The band’s stage presence and overall energy was infectious and soon the crowd was bopping along to their catchy songs. Throughout their set they maintained the same atmosphere with coordinated stage presence. It was clear that the band members were enjoying themselves as they engaged in call-and-response riffs and some members switched back and forth between instrumentation and vocals. Finally, their set wrapped up with an impressive sax solo, à la Kenny G.
After a quick intermission, and with the floor filled to standing room only, BADBADNOTGOOD came on stage to excited cheering and clapping by fans. Along with its usual three members, the band was accompanied by saxophonist Leland Whitty, who is often featured on their recordings. Right off the bat, all four of them broke into a hectic jam that quickly reminded the crowd of their impressive musical skill and instrumentation as they demonstrated their dynamic range. The then drummer said a brief few words to the crowd, mentioning that the bassist – Chester Hansen – is an Ottawan himself, before breaking into an awesome rendition of their song “Velvet”.
The song concluded with an intense keyboard solo, which was very well received by the crowd. Next, it was Leland’s turn to shine as the trio started into “Confessions”, a song that was prominently featured on BADBADNOTGOOD’s third full length, aptly titled III. At this point, the audience was really able to appreciate the level of talent and musicianship on stage as they seamlessly transitioned from one part into the next. The following few songs were combined into medleys chock-full of improvisation and dynamic changes. It was clear that the band was enjoying themselves as this part of the set turned into much more of a jam session that a run through of their hits.
To bring the set back to down to earth the band transitioned into the much more relaxed “Differently Still”, another track from their third album. This track centered on the keyboardist who seemed to be in his own world as he head-banged with his eyes closed while playing. The chords swelled as the rest of the band joined in for the middle of the song, only to let the dreamy keys close of the track. Finally, the drummer lead the band into a fast-paced version of the “CS60”.
This crowd-pleaser was an instant and familiar hit with the crowd and soon everyone was dancing and clapping along. With prompts from the drummer the attendees screamed to fuel the band with energy to finish the song. In classic BADBADNOTGOOD fashion, they ended in an insanely fast crescendo, highlighted by well-timed frantic lighting and use of smoke machines. As the audience filed out you could hear the shared excitement from the show as fans made a beeline for the merch table.
Crystal Castles is one of those bands that I credit for broadening my musical horizons. As soon as their self-titled came out in 2008 I knew there was something about this music that I was becoming attached to, but I couldn’t explain it. I also didn’t understand it much at all, all that electronic stuff really baffled me (And it still does to an extent). But it got me to branch out and explore new sounds, appreciate layers, sound quality, and much more. I was somewhat turned off by the fact that my friends Kevin, Kathy and I stayed up super late at Bonnaroo (2009) after a crazy hot day to see them come on, and left the entire crowd just standing there as they were 45 minutes late. I was pretty pissed, but the short set they did end up playing was insane. Like, out of control fun and I still remember the placement of lights on stage, Alice’s voice penetrating every cell of our bodies, and music basically causing an earthquake around us. I forgave them. Plus they did a song with Robert Smith in the meantime so I can’t stay mad.
Anyway, when III came out I was pretty excited… But I didn’t expect to hear what I did. It is on another level. They have refined their sound so much that it’s almost intoxicating to listen to the album. The entire thing is worthy of praise, and the opening track “Plague” really sets the tone for the whole thing. Anyway put your headphones on and just listen, you’ll understand.