BADBADNOTGOOD's Toronto live debut was in September of 2011, at west end hole in the wall Red Light, a handful of months before the release of their cover-heavy II. Silencing the criticisms of genre purists with the release of the all-original, Polaris Prize-longlisted III and working with a laundry list of collaborators (Mick Jenkins, Ghostface Killah, Kali Uchis and KAYTRANADA are among the recent ones), the band have certainly moved beyond being labelled simply as a reinterpretation act.
Only a few months shy of the anniversary of their first gig, drummer Alex Sowinski, bassist Chester Hansen and keyboardist Matt Tavares took the stage to raucous cheers from the sold out Danforth Music Hall, in which one could probably fit ten or more of Red Light's back room. Not only was the hometown show a special one based on the size of the crowd alone, but the band also gave those in attendance a look at IV, their forthcoming record expected out this year.
Before getting into the new material, Sowinski took the time to confirm once again that tenor saxophone player Leland Whitty was now a full-time band member after a wealth of live appearances and collaborations. In performing a new song titled "Speaking Gently," Whitty was given a solo section to show off his skill, livening things up by running his instrument's microphone through a slapback delay pedal. Other highlights of the new track included quick key changes from Tavares' twinkly synths, backed up by some thunderous drum fills from Sowinski.
As more new material popped up in the set throughout the evening, Sowinski revealed that IV was recorded entirely by the band themselves with their own gear, and that it would feature a handful of collaborations. The one joint effort they showed off to the capacity crowd found Toronto vocalist Charlotte Day Wilson take the stage, feeling right at home within the alt-soul sounds of "In Your Eyes." With Whitty picking up a guitar in place of his sax, all four members seemed to dial back their experimental tendencies to leave room for Wilson's smooth vocals.
Another unreleased highlight came in the form of "Four Shots," which has appeared in the band's live set for the better part of the past year. Racing out of the gate, with Sowinski giving four quick hits to his snare and crash while Tavares mirrored that with his own chords, the song's incredibly high tempo gave way to a cut-time groove section before Whitty took another lengthy solo section to close things out. He demonstrated impressive breath control in tasteful crescendos, switching between major and minor keys effortlessly.
Of course, it's impossible to gauge how these new tracks will sound once they've been cut to tape and released on record, thanks to the band's improvisational nature in a live setting. In virtuosic fashion, each band member had the opportunity to take their own extended solo complete with introductions done by hype man Sowinski: Tavares lulled the crowd into a trance with a dreamy Rhodes passage in the middle of covering Flying Lotus' "Putty Boy Strut," Hansen delivered a fret-ripping bass solo during a break in the hypnotic "Kaleidoscope" with Sowinski urging everyone to "scream as loud and hard as you can so Chester will ascend to the fifth dimension" and Whitty displayed his more emotive sax chops for crowd favourite "Confessions."
The band ended the evening with the hip-hop-indebted "CS60," bringing out a crowd of friends and family who had been watching from the wings to dance onstage before closing with their unholy medley of Tyler, the Creator's "Bastard" and Gucci Mane's "Lemonade," playing it as fast as they humanly could without it blowing up in their faces. Having accomplished more in just under five years than some bands will in a lifetime, things can only be looking up for the trio-turned-quartet as they draw close to the half-decade mark.