Naturally Born Strangers Mod Club, Toronto ON, January 31

Naturally Born Strangers Mod Club, Toronto ON, January 31
Photo: Roberto Granados-Ocon
With the show starting off with Charlie Chaplin's famous speech from his 1940 film The Great Dictator being projected on a large stage screen, it was apparent that Naturally Born Strangers (Toronto MCs Rich Kidd, Tona and Adam Bomb) were preparing us for a show that would build on the conceptual theme of their recent self-titled mixtape. The Chaplin monologue (which is actually the track "Angels" on the mixtape) soon gave way to footage of burning police cars at Toronto's G20 and several people emerging on stage dressed in Black Bloc-esque garb: black hoodies, baseball caps and bandanas.

As the ominous beat for "Buttered Chicken" off the mixtape boomed from the speakers, the central figure stepped forward and revealed himself as Rich Kidd and delivered the song's authoritative opening verse. This theatrical opening set the tone for the night to the satisfaction of the rammed Mod Club. Tona and Adam Bomb, who are also members of the Freedom Writers, delivered a conceptual show with that album's release at the Mod Club a few months ago but with their work in NBS, it's evident the seasoned mic wielders are interested in raising the standards not only on record, but also for local live hip-hop shows.

The three MCs ran through several tracks on the mixtape with visual accompaniment from films and archival footage, and even a few costume changes in different iterations of Legends League gear. (The mixtape was presented by Toronto clothing designer Legends League, who was selling merch in the upper floor of the club before and after the show). While the three MCs on stage and the indefatigable DJ Nana on the decks evidently put a lot of work into the show, they were initially let down by the sound, which eventually improved markedly in the middle of the set.

Nevertheless, performances of "This Sight Belongs To You" and "A Gun and A Pack of Sandwiches," which feature Rich Kidd using Portishead's "Strangers" and Radiohead's "Talk Show Host" as their sonic foundations, resonated strongly for the crowd and their participation was easily solicited for the bouncy "Jim Morrison" and single "Tie Breaker." So by the time set closer, the booming "Jameson Avenue," rolled around, the crowd was primed and the performance didn't disappoint especially as it was accompanied by a Rob Ford blooper reel, underscoring the song's Kanye-lifted "Sunglasses and Advil/Last night was mad real" hook and inebriated theme.