Jhené Aiko / SZA / Internet

Sound Academy, Toronto ON, December 18

Jhené Aiko / SZA / InternetSound Academy, Toronto ON, December 18
Photo: Kevin Jones
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"You guys see Drake enough. You guys are from Toronto," said headliner Jhené Aiko after her performance of "From Time" didn't bring out the OVO song co-collaborator as anticipated. It was at that point the perceptible trickle of folks heading for the exits become more noticeable as the long night came to a close. Not to say that Aiko didn't put on a hell of a show, it's just that at over 70 minutes long, even her electrified charm couldn't stifle the scattered yawns and coat gathering on display towards the end of her set.
 
To be fair, it was a jam-packed and energetic show at points. Earlier, Odd Future affiliates Internet warmed up the crowd with a quick 30-minute set. Lead singer Syd the Kyd spiritedly tried to overcome a croaky voice — caused no doubt from extensive touring — as she walked us through tracks from the highly underrated sophomore album that was 2013's Feel Good. "It's cold as fuck in Toronto," the Los Angeles native proclaimed, before warming things up with "Tellem," "Sunset" and "Partners in Crime Part Two." Closing with the Chad Hugo and Michael Einziger-produced single "Dontcha" is was a respectable showing but not as fresh as the last time they were in town.
 
Next up was the Cali-based Top Dawg Entertainment resident star vocalist, SZA, who delivered the underrated Z earlier this year. She of an "idiosyncratic electro R&B, soul-pop vibe" looks much more confident on stage these days, alluding to as much via a performance of "UR": "I'm not shy anymore." Owning the night with a danceable energy — she paused to pull out an inhaler halfway through — the singer-songwriter dropped tracks like "Child's Play," "Warm Winds" and "Babylon" featuring TDE lablemates Isaiah Rashad and Kendrick Lamar respectively. She even turned things up midway with a flash of O.T. Genasis's "CoCo" to an appreciative crowd. Solid set; SZA knows who she is as a performer these days and didn't disappoint.
 
By the time headliner Aiko took the stage, the crowd was already a bit fidgety. They were no doubt amped when she appeared. The 27-year-old artist is a melodic and ethereal presence. Not the strongest singer — reference tracks were in full effect — she is a magnetic and authentic vocalist with a knack for meditative lyrics and distinctive melodies that connect. The long-anticipated Souled Out album released this year still holds up as a collection of breezy electro-R&B songs (and is perhaps in the running for the best album cover of the year). She and a five-piece band hit us early with numbers like "To Love And Die" and "Spotless Mind" all the while connecting with a grateful crowd. Tracks like "Bed Peace," "Lyin King," "Eternal Sunshine" and "Do Better Blues" are the songs that show why she has such a strong fanbase — she is capable of mining the highs and lows of her life in an honest way that folks can feel. By the time she wound things down with the positivity that is "W.A.Y.S." — a song dedicated to her late brother — and "The Worst," even the biggest Aiko stan would come to the conclusion that a tighter set and a "leave them wanting more" mentality would have served the night better. While Aiko is has a way to go as a superlative stage performer, it is clear that performing is something she enjoys and looks to improve each time out. It was solid show overall and one that demonstrates that the latest generation of R&B-oriented acts are clearly on the right path.

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