Daniel Caesar Mod Club, Toronto ON, April 15

Daniel Caesar Mod Club, Toronto ON, April 15
Photo: Rick Clifford
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Being in attendance for an artist's first major concert appearance is a remarkable thing. You can say you "were there when," but more importantly, you feel the stirring feeling of watching an artist take some of their most crucial steps from underground hype to true success.
 
On his debut at the Mod Club last night (April 15), Toronto's Daniel Caesar fared just fine. In the full, steamy venue, the singer-songwriter came off as an introverted soul, so it was to be expected that, as a relative newbie to the concert game, he wasn't going to have polished stage presence. The charmingly nervous 21-year-old was clearly awed by the support that had turned out for his debut, often beginning to say as much before the words got caught in his throat and he launched into the next song.
 
The early going was a bit raw — a few missed notes here, a few off-rhythm snarls there — but in general, Caesar was something to behold. The stage was sparse, save for a four-piece backing band and stained glass window props in the background — a nod to his religious upbringing and the "secular vs. church" conflict that fuels his hard-edged R&B sound. But as the 70-minute set progressed, the nervous energy gave way to the incredible music.
 
Drawing from his small but impactful discography — which includes the Birds of Paradise EP, the Praise Break EP and the most recent Pilgrim's Paradise — numbers like "End of the Road," "Show No Regret" and "Violet" were striking, both when Caesar was on guitar or simply on the mic. There's a distinctiveness to his stripped-down sound — clean, precise — that's refreshing in an era of hazy, synth-heavy soul, so while his attempts at stage banter didn't quite land — he's still too self-conscious — it was easy to overlook.
 
Fellow emerging act, producer-artist River Tiber, showed up on stage halfway through the set, to both perform Tiber's own single and Caesar collabo "West," and to showcase that there is a soulful movement happening in this city, with new artists more than capable of holding their own. Capping the show with "Paradise," with a guest spot by rapper and fellow IXXI collective compatriot Sean Leon, it was clear that despite Caesar not yet having Leon's stage presence, he's absolutely got what it take to go incredible musical places.