Heems Drake Hotel, Toronto ON, June 18

Heems Drake Hotel, Toronto ON, June 18
Photo: Kevin Jones
Queens emcee Heems hopped onstage to a smattering of cheers with only an iPhone in tow, opting for a minimal setup in order to keep his performance "100 percent Himanshu." After plugging in and quickly giving the levels a test, he DJ'd his entire set from the phone, wholly aware that the abrupt song changes added an anticlimactic element to the show. That, he said, "Was life. Life's anticlimactic."
But where song selection polish was perhaps lost, performance ingenuity was found. "I'm just like you, except I'm really good at rapping," he proclaimed in one moment of stage banter, toeing a line between self-deprecating and boastful. It's true — he was good at rapping, working his way through cuts from his solo catalogue (notably a fierce rendition of the poignant, politically-charged "Flag Shopping") and a few Das Racist cuts with an expressive nature far more effective than that on his records.
Part rapper, part performance artist, he picked up an electric guitar to jokingly strum along to whatever song he had cued up, while other tunes had him banging the toms of an adjacent drum kit in time with the beat. Much like the work of his former crew, his live work was equal parts appealing and polarizing.