When Bonobo, aka Simon Green, announced his North American tour a few months ago, his Danforth show in Toronto sold out incredibly fast. The crowd was bubbling throughout the venue from early evening on, but before Green and company could take the stage, there was the little matter of Romare.
On paper, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better act than Romare to warm up the audience. His latest record, Love Songs: Part Two, is a treasure trove of soulful jams and downright funky business. He was set to play live too, so the stars seemed perfectly aligned. Unfortunately, the live aspect of Romare's show slowed it to a crawl at times. Sure, tracks like "All Night" and "Je T'aime" were treated to some extra Casio solos and an altogether darker feel, but they struggled to take off entirely. This was particularly true of "Who Loves You?," the glorious zenith of which seemed to fizzle away into some jazzy noodling. That said, there were enough energetic moments in Romare's set to get the blood flowing and that was really the only nudge that anyone needed.
When Green finally emerged on stage along with a lone keyboardist, there was no elaborate hype: they simply and quietly began the title track from Bonobo's latest album, Migration. Not that it mattered of course — the crowd were so amped up that Green could've started strumming a milk carton ukulele and they would've reacted just as vehemently. After a short time, the pair were joined by a guitarist, a saxophonist, and most importantly, a drummer.
As the show progressed, it was drummer Jack Baker who completely stole the show by making you focus on the percussive elements of tracks that are usually quite melody-based or string-based — anything but percussion-based. On the recorded version of that opening track, the drums slip in without much of an impact, but when Baker played them live, they were impossible to miss. Baker repeated this trick a number of times throughout, most notably on "Surface" and "Kerala," which was a near-second for highlight of the night, passed only by the show's closer.
Where the show faltered, sadly, were the vocal tracks. It's not entirely clear whether UK singer Szjerdene was dealing with a sore throat or a poor mic, but almost all of her attempts to boom across the Music Hall fell short. Considering her obvious talents on recorded material and her stunning contribution to Bonobo's The North Borders tour, we're leaning towards some unforeseen technical issues, but something was severely amiss. This might not have made too much of a dent in the show had it not been for the sheer amount of vocal tracks on the set list. This was also worsened by the fact that, as the only vocalist, Szjerdene was left to replicate the work of others, like Nick Murphy (Chet Faker), Nicole Miglis, and Michael Milosh of Canadian duo Rhye. This is a tough task in itself and it was an even harder one on this particular night, it seemed.
One would've expected Milosh himself to appear, seeing as Toronto is his hometown and he just played with Bonobo at Coachella, but it wasn't to be. That Stateside performance also featured Innov Gnawa, a Moroccan collective, and a horn quartet, which does make it seem like Toronto got dealt a bum hand, but sometimes less really is more. In fact, one of the best parts of the night was when everyone left the stage except Green himself; he busted out the bass-y splendour of "Kiara," as the house erupted.
As that track proved, the show really shone on the instrumental material. Songs like "Kong," "1009," and "Cirrus" were nothing short of dazzling. So, while the overall show had its ups and downs, they seemed to know their strengths towards the end and finished the set with "Know You." Here, everything came together: the keys, the guitar, the drums, and even the lights were all on point, and damn if the combination didn't make for a sublime ending.