Review: Pet Shop Boys Live in Toronto

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(ArjanWrites.com guest blogger Will W. saw the Pet Shop Boys perform in Toronto this weekend and wrote up a great review of the show. Thanks, Will!)

Pet Shop Boys were a surprise addition to this year's Virgin Festival, also known as V-Fest. The influencial British electronic synth-pop duo consisting of Chris Lowe (Keyboards) and Neil Tennant (Vocals), made their first visit to Toronto in three years tonight as one of the festival's headlining acts. Much controversy had arisen over the original choice of venue in Orillia, Ontario which is an hour and a half from Toronto. Festival organizers eventually decided to relocate the event to Molson Amphitheatre based on the urging of ticket buyers.

Performing in front of an audience consisting of mostly twentysomethings whom might not have been familiar with the duo's repertoire was an ambitious task, but Pet Shop Boys wowed the audience completely by the end of their hour long show.

The set was in-line with their aesthetic of multi-colour blocks/squares as seen on their latest album "Yes". Lowe operated most of the music from his computer, surrounded by an LED-lit cubicle stage right. Tennant graced the audience with his still angelic tenor vocals, backed by a team of energetic and quirky dancer/backing vocalists. Visually, the show was very dependent on Tokyo-futuristique graphic projections and fancy lighting - stunning.

Undoubtedly, the audience had seen a more scaled-back version of the show versus what an audience might see on their current "Pandemonium Tour". Based on the time constraints of setting-up in a festival, plus limitations in Molson Amphitheatre's size, this would be an understandable compromise.

Some selections from "Yes" were performed like first single "Love, Etc.", "Did You See Me Coming", "Around the World" and a mash-up of Coldplay's "Viva La Vida" with early hit "Domino Dancing". Hits like "Go West", "It's a Sin", "Suburbia" and "Always On My Mind" were clear audience favourites. Unfortunately however, many key hits were omitted tonight like "Being Boring", "Where The Streets Have No Name" and most importantly "What Have I Done To Deserve This?". Surely one of the fine female dancer/backing vocalists could have filled in on Dusty Springfield's part? The show was capped off with an encore of their first #1 hit single "West End Girls" where the audience saw both Lowe and Tennant donning flamboyant headdresses. Tennant's vocals are almost identical to how they sound on the album, a pretty amazing feat.

All in all, this was an experience not to be forgotten soon. Pet Shop Boys definitely know how to put on a fun audio/visual experience for their fans.

To see a high quality video clip of "West End Girls" which I uploaded, visit my YouTube Channel at http://youtube.com/mrwillw. Pictures of the show can be found right here.

August 31, 2009 in Guest blogger: Will W., Pet Shop Boys | Permalink | Comments (0)

Review: La Roux Live in Toronto

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(Review by guest blogger: Will W.) La Roux continues its meteoric rise as the UK's hottest new pop act.  And if their recent shortlisting for the prestigious Mercury Prize for Best Album is any indication of respect, North America better be ready for an epic invasion soon. 

The duo is comprised of androgynous-looking vocalist Elly Jackson and producer Ben Langmaid.  Toronto's famed El Mocambo was the venue of choice tonight as part of La Roux's North American tour promoting their eponymous debut from Interscope/Cherrytree Records.  Langmaid was in absentia this evening as all focus was drawn to frontwoman Jackson, backed by a three piece band including one drum machine player and two synth keyboardists.

Tonight's set began at 11:15 PM EST  starting with "Tigerlily", which was warmly received by the enthusiastic sold-out crowd, mostly 20-something hipsters; their hit "Quicksand" followed.  The nine song set, which clocked in at just over 40 minutes, had Jackson starting off on a bit of an awkward note.  At one point early in the set, she had to walk off stage to speak to the sound technician as she complained about not being able to hear herself.  That problem was quickly resolved after she was instructed on how to properly wear her earphones.

The momentum picked-up shortly after the half-way mark with a delivery of the melodic "As If By Magic".  Jackson gave her all in putting forth a very dedicated performance marked by her signature swagger: one-part awkward, one-part cool.  The audience was fully dancing by the time "Fascination" was played and it was clear that by the end of the set, the audience had been won over.  "In For the Kill" brought the show to a climax, followed by set-closing "Bulletproof", where everybody was on their feet begging for more.  This is the mark of success for a small-scale tour and no encore was delivered.  To watch a very clear, but distorted audio clip of "Bulletproof", visit http://youtube.com/mrwillw.

In a rush to leave, Jackson and crew could be seen exiting through the backdoor of the club in full audience view, jetting off for their next destination, tomorrow's Osheaga Festival in Quebec.

Although one might have had their doubts about Jackson's live vocal ability, she actually performed very well tonight.  Her distinct soprano is delicate and sharp (often called "shrill" by her critics), yet strong in its own right.  At age 21, one can only wonder what potential she holds as many parallels are being drawn between her and the legendary Annie Lennox.

Prior to the show, I had a chance to chat with Jackson who was surprisingly approachable and sweet.  She mentioned that she brought her best friend along with her on this tour and she made sure to spend some quality time shopping with her earlier in the day.  Jackson was even kind enough to personalize my copy of "La Roux" and graciously pose for a photograph with me. Alas, it was her hair that dominated the photo, but it was a lovely experience nonetheless!

To learn more about La Roux, visit http://facebook.com/laroux or http://myspace.com/larouxuk.

August 2, 2009 in Guest blogger: Will W., LaRoux | Permalink | Comments (6)

New Album Review: Freemasons "Shakedown 2"

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(Review by guest writer Will W.)

Make no mistake about it, Freemasons are among the finest of production teams in existence.  The Brighton duo have just released the second installment of their "Shakedown" compilation series and it is phenomenal.  In an age where dance music now has strong electro leanings, Freemasons have remained true to their soulful disco roots; they remain relevant with a sound all their own.  Featured on "Shakedown 2" is an eclectic mix of re-workings of classics and newer collaborations with some of the hottest names in pop music.

The two-disc set is evenly balanced in that there are no real lulls to be found.  It is high-energy bliss from start to finish and its release is fittingly timed in a summer that unfortunately has lacked any true standout anthems.  The first disc boasts a stellar remix of Solange Knowles' "Sandcastle Disco"; Jamiroquai's "Don't Give Hate a Chance"; a cover of Alanis Morissette's "Uninvited" which outshines its original; Moby's delicious "Disco Lies"; "Keep This Fire Burning" (originally performed by Swedish pop muse Robyn) and the classic "Free" by Ultra Naté.

Disco two features the duo's popular re-invention of Beyoncé's "Ring The Alarm" which features a motif of the much talked-about string interlude also heard on current smash hit "Heartbreak Make Me a Dancer" featuring Sophie Ellis-Bextor; the career-saving Bhangra remix of Kelly Rowland's "Work"; Kylie Minogue's "The One" remix; Canada's darling Deadmau5's "Ghosts & Stuff" combined with Lisa Stansfield’s “Hold On”; and sensational updates of Annie Lennox's "Here Comes the Rain Again" and New Order's "Blue Monday".  The latter two offerings stay true to their original versions and are offered exclusively for those who purchase the actual album.

The main thing which holds "Shakedown 2" back is that there are tracks which have now appeared on multiple releases from Freemasons - namely "Rain Down Love", "Love On My Mind" and "When You Touch Me".  Mind you, they do infuse some minor updates to these tracks for a better album flow.  Also, I will be one of the few to admit it, but Sophie Ellis-Bextor's vocals on centerpiece "Heartbreak Make Me a Dancer", simply aren't strong enough to carry the duo's vastly detailed production especially when you compare it to some of the featured vocalists in their body of work.  Above this, anyone following Beyoncé's career will be sad to know that her outstanding remixes of "Greenlight", "Deja Vu" and "Beautiful Liar" were not included.  And what about their important remix of Solange Knowles' "I Decided" that lit the blogs afire last summer.

Your summer will not be complete without Freemasons' "Shakedown 2".  To order it, you can get import it directly off Amazon UK.  No North American release date has been announced at this time, but as was the case with their previous releases, we will just have to remain patient.  To sample some more Freemasons, visit their Myspace page at http://www.myspace.com/freemasons.

July 13, 2009 in Freemasons, Guest blogger: Will W. | Permalink | Comments (1)