"I've been on the road for a long time, so it's nice to come home and see some familiar faces," Ladan Hussein greeted the Mod Club last night (November 30).
She seemed genuinely relieved. Returning from a world tour in support of September's Fool's Paradise, Cold Specks has been gigging steadily all over for months, but Toronto plays an important role on the new album. After years spent living in London, England, then Montreal, moving back to the city she was born in helped her think through the complicated feelings regarding diaspora she charts on the record.
Played through a heavy cloud of dry ice, coloured electric under pink, blue and turquoise spotlights, there was a cool stillness to the homecoming, and it rolled out with an intimacy that artists often struggle to achieve in smaller rooms, Hussein chatting off the mic with the crowd and trading playful acknowledgments with a pack of friends and family near the stage all through the set. She even passed a bowl of incense into the front row so the crowd could get on her level.
Just as her backing band swelled to handle the artful splatter dynamics of 2014's Neuroplasticity, it's now been trimmed down to an economical three-piece that welcomes Fool's Paradise producer Josh McIntyre (Prince Innocence) on keys and drum pads as another member tends to bass and synthesizers on the other side of the stage.
Playing the new album nearly in its entirety, Hussein also sprinkled in the private gospel of I Predict a Graceful Expulsion, picking up a guitar for "Hector" and "Blank Maps," and performing solo for the latter.
The new songs are dire reflections on social imbalances, but they're also hopeful, community-rallying gestures that put oppressors in their place.
When the band reached "Rupture," Hussein explained the song was about the lack of empathy a local police officer displayed when they referred to a gunned down friend of her sister's as a "body" in her presence; the friend survived, but the lack of sensitivity resonated in the wake of so much racialized violence. Someone in the audience yelled out "shame!" and Hussein replied in the affirmative.
"There are so many dreadful narratives attached to Somali people in this city," she said. "But we are many here. And fuck that police officer."
Flying solo for the encore, she pulled out her monitors and dug back into her debut, tuning up her guitar and leaning into a gorgeous performance of "Elephant Head."
She capped it off with "Holland," which she offered as a song about "slick departures," transitioning seamlessly into an a cappella coda that ran a thread from "When the City Lights Dim" into the Afghan Whigs' "Dark End of the Street," stepping away from the mic for the finale. It was perfect, but let's get some basic concert etiquette clear: the whole room could've done without the white guy with the soul patch awkwardly trying to harmonize with her from the crowd.