Junior Boys / Jessy Lanza

Phoenix Concert Theatre, Toronto ON, April 9

Photo: Geoff Fitzgerald

BY Will PearsonPublished Apr 10, 2016

At the end of what they described as a gruelling two-month tour through Europe and North America, Junior Boys and Jessy Lanza both seemed thrilled to finish things off in Toronto Saturday night (April 9), just down the highway from their native Hamilton.
Junior Boys usually start their tours in Toronto, Jeremy Greenspan explained, and suffer from nerves as a result. Not so this time: "There's nothing like playing 50 shows to take the edge off," Greenspan told the crowd. "We're feeling loosey-goosey up here. Once you play in Birmingham, Alabama you can play anywhere."
After an initial set from modular synth aficionado Borys, Lanza filled the second opening slot. She opened with "Fuck Diamond" and "Kathy Lee," from her first album, but unfortunately, the sparse delicacy of these tracks was lost in an overwhelming low end. When she segued into new material mid-set, things took a turn for the better. The unrelenting house rhythms of "VV Violence" and "It Means I Love You," as well as other unreleased material, ratcheted up the energy and got the crowd moving for the first time in the evening, heightening anticipation for the release of Oh No, her sophomore record, in May.  
Lanza's live show leaves a little to be desired. The guest drummer she employed didn't provide enough interest to liven up what is otherwise a standard sample-driven performance. Still, Lanza's incomparable whispery voice was truly something to behold in concert. It was as strong as it is under studio conditions, proving that as a vocalist, she definitely has the goods.
Junior Boys opened with a laidback and atmospheric cover of John Martyn's "Some People Are Crazy" before getting things going in earnest with "So This Is Goodbye" and "Double Shadow." The set, consisting mostly of material from So This Is Goodbye and Big Black Coat, found Greenspan, the charismatic face of the duo, playing and looping guitar and keyboard in addition to singing, while Matt Didemus delivered samples and twiddled effects knobs with a chill air of detachment, the occasional glance over the heads of the crowd being the only acknowledgment he gave them. A hired drummer handled most of the percussion.
Predictably, the night's biggest reaction came when the Boys dropped the bass line for "In The Morning." That track was also one of the more compelling performances of the evening, as Greenspan expanded the recorded version's guitar part, making it feel like the group were playing organically as a band.
The Detroit techno influences of the Big Black Coat material gave the night a club-like atmosphere at times, with the artists obscured in coloured smoke while pounding rhythms moved the floor. A high-octane rendition of "Love Is A Fire," a banger from their latest record, was the night's energy peak.
It still takes some creativity to make a live electronic concert work, but with Greenspan on guitar and the rock-leaning interpretations of the live drummer, Junior Boys pulled it off. They lost the groove towards the end, with a few audience members looking noticeably bored for the last track or two, but a well-received encore meant most of the crowd left very happy.

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