Absolutely Free with Sandro Perri / Keita Juma The Music Gallery, Toronto ON, October 18

Absolutely Free with Sandro Perri / Keita Juma The Music Gallery, Toronto ON, October 18
Photo: Tom Beedham
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Since X Avant was launched ten years ago, it's served as a flagship uniting all of the disparate strands represented in the Music Gallery's programming. And since the Music Gallery was founded in 1976, the breadth of that programming has grown considerably.
 
After launching festival ceremonies with performers from its earliest years, X Avant X capped off four nights of creative music by handing over the stage to the future, presenting two emerging acts representing the more accessible ends of creative expression under the Gallery's watch, and distinctly separate ones at that. That meant hip-hop heads, indie scenesters and MG members alike assembled last night (October 18) to send the festival off for another year.
 
Prolific Mississauga rapper/producer Keita Juma opened the night with new material and cuts from January's Chaos Theory. Early tracks like "Ancient Body Language" and "Freely" were less realized than they could have been in a tighter standing room, but Juma eventually made himself comfortable, taking the mic from its stand to wander the aisle between the pews and instructing the room to get its peace signs up for "Peace In/Peace Out," later suggesting "This is one where you can dance in your seat" before getting into album highlight "Come Over." He closed with a particularly effective a cappella commentary on consumer culture and bondage.
 
The seated crowd was much less of an obstacle for local headliners Absolutely Free. No strangers to adapting their psychedelic art rock sets to fit the different spaces they're asked to play, the group have been augmenting live performances with guest performers and strong visual components for basically as long as they've existed, playing release parties at indoor swimming pools, gigging multiple venues at once via hologram, and live scoring the works of Norman McLaren.

Seeing how they would engage the Music Gallery's church space and its penchant for production value was enticing, and with a fence of sound-activated fluorescent lights lining the back of the stage, strobes pointed at overhanging reflective pillows and a golden globe of starry lights, they didn't disappoint.
 
Promising a night of "lost material + new material + borrowed material," they embodied the adventurous, omnivorous spirit of X Avant, inviting Sandro Perri (no stranger to the Music Gallery) onstage — first on guitar and later on one of the band's many synthesizers — to help them breathe new, especially hypnotic life into their set opener "Window of Time" and again for an unreleased track that had all hands on synths.
 
When it came time to close out the festival, they finished off with a medley that sent Bob Crewe and Bob Gaudio's classic pop song "The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine (Anymore)" into a glistening cold wave-inspired take on the band's "Beneath the Air."