Saul Williams The Great Hall, Toronto ON March 23

Saul Williams The Great Hall, Toronto ON March 23
Over the years, a Saul Williams concert in Toronto has meant a maddening mixture of inspired creativity, piercing and coded lyricism, and unbearable ego -- that last bit leading in worst cases to sets wrapping after a mere 40 minutes, or those with his back to the audience as he struggles with perceived sound issues. Thankfully, this time around saw a more humble Williams choosing to pull back, enjoy himself and let his expansive artistry and catalogue win over the crowd, and the result was one of his better Toronto performances to date.

The maddening ego, however, would come from his backing "DJ," who opened the set with what came across as a chaotic and wholly nonsensical musical masturbation session. The sound provider, completely oblivious to the crowd's visible discontent, proceeded for the set's first 20 minutes to slap together conflicting examples of seemingly ever-popular sonic style in 30-second chunks, before finally bringing out Saul and the rest of the players to the relief of a bewildered audience.

Though there was admittedly nowhere to go but up, Williams still managed to impress at every turn, breezing through the aural onslaught representing his more recent sound constructions and peppering those newer cuts with recognizable favourites like "Grippo," "Coded Language" and "Control Freak." The receptive audience, thrashing to the singer's hectic beats, offered one of the night's biggest responses to catchy "Black Stacey" (in spite of the song's subject matter).

Courteously engaging the room after long stretches of being lost in the groove, the seasoned performer worked to get folks along for the ride, and though the creeping early morning hours saw the room's energy wane a bit, Williams and crew maintained their stellar (though confessedly ear-piercing) sound energy from beginning to end.