Danny Brown Was Candid and Commanding in Toronto

Phoenix Concert Theatre, March 18

With Bruiser Wolf and Hook

Photo: Travis Johnston

BY Calum SlingerlandPublished Mar 20, 2024

Speaking with Exclaim! shortly before the release of sixth studio album Quaranta, Danny Brown shared that through achieving sobriety, getting on stage to perform had become "the biggest moment of my day," as opposed to thinking about the afterparty ahead. With a setlist pulling from the decade of music-making that led him to this point, the Toronto date of Brown's headline North American tour behind the album was a testament to this breakthrough, as well as the reinvigoration of the celebrated MC's love for his art form.

As far as offstage temptations go, Brown was candid in recalling to the crowd how despite a pre-show poutine meal nearly derailing his first-ever show in Canada, "I think about taking the risk every time." For those who packed the Phoenix Concert Theatre to capacity Monday evening, the reward was witnessing a trio of inimitable stylists led by the Detroit native, as solid as ever onstage days after declaring he's been sober for an entire calendar year.

Up first from the touring party was Brown's Bruiser Brigade contemporary Bruiser Wolf, whose distinctive delivery amazed in remaining as engaging live as it is on record. Before his writing, it's the rap voice: marked for an expressive, playful nature that has had him likened to a cartoon character. When not chanting 'brui-ser' to fill moments between songs, the crowd clung to every last word Wolf uttered in his herky-jerky cadence. Such vociferous support was undoubtedly appreciated come the emotional set closer "Momma Was a Dopefiend," as Wolf shared from the stage how, having also recently lost his father, the parental tribute was a tough song to perform without breaking down. After reaching that point and taking a beat in the stage wing, he caught the song's stately horn loop once more and expended every last bit of breath finishing his verse, howling to heavens as if he could see the dearly departed bearing witness.

Standing in juxtaposition with Wolf's style, Hook has previously described her own continuous, stream of consciousness delivery as "ramble rap," and not long removed from the release of new album Castle, the rising California MC gave a glimpse of what her own future rule could look like. Earlier in the day, it was disheartening to hear how audience members in prior cities on tour had chosen to nitpick rather than engage with Hook and her material in earnest. "Tempo" and "rhythm" were no issue for the artist in Toronto, and at this engagement, the crowd quickly caught onto her namesake, delighting in hollering the hooks of "FTN," "NYSB" and "Get Out My Face" back to her. Fearlessly leading the energy exchange, Hook bounded about the stage, commanding push pits to open and leaping down to the guardrail to get up close and personal with the faithful in front — moves captured by her three-man media team wielding a fisheye camcorder, DSLR and a point-and-shoot. At points, what this exuberance led to was a reliance on the backing vocal track to pick up the slack in Hook's more out-of-breath moments in on songs like "Gameboy" and "hon$ty." Shore up that aspect of performance, and the coronation will quickly follow.

"A lot changed since XXX came out," Brown reminded the audience in opening his set with Quaranta's title track, subsequently dialling up the energy with the nervy "Ain't My Concern" and the psych-leaning bombast of "Tantor" and "Dark Sword Angel." Looking every bit an older, wiser rap sage in his flowing, grey leather trench coat and gold-framed glasses, it was as if Brown had traded a touch of his onstage ebullience that's defined his past decade for a greater level of focus by way of his lifestyle change, nary missing a word in his higher level of focus across the hour. The crowd came alive for hard-partying favourites like "Smokin & Drinkin" and "Dip," and ascended to a new level themselves upon Brown diving into a suite of his verses from SCARING THE HOES, last year's collaborative album with JPEGMAFIA. While this mid-set medley wouldn't sway those with complaints about that effort's mixing job, the audience relished the chance to go wild upon the pumped-up production of "Burfict!" and "God Loves You" roaring through a concert hall PA system, no longer sore that the LP's accompanying tour missed Canada in 2023.

The mood didn't wane as Brown guided the audience into the depths of his Atrocity Exhibition with the trio of "Really Doe," "When It Rain" and "Ain't It Funny," brought them back to the light with "Dirty Laundry" from uknowhatimsayin¿, and brought Bruiser Wolf back to the stage to guest on "Y.B.P." Though Brown did remind his adoring audience that "all good things come to an end" with his trademark laugh in winding down the evening, his latest personal and professional achievements have all but ensured there will, in fact, be a next time.


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