Canadian Music Week officially kicked off on Tuesday May 6th. They were celebrating their 33rd year of the best in Canadian music and the scenes that support the artists from all over the world. American born, Toronto raised singer songwriter Justin Nozuka, was one of the headlining acts performing on the opening day and he performed at The Virgin Mobile Mod Club. To be fair I had this show circled on my calendar for a while now for two reasons. Firstly I think Justin has one of the most original voices in all of music and his blend of heart breaking honesty and story telling narratives that will make anyone a fan of his work. Secondly for full disclosure, I went to high school with Justin and am an old friend of his. Due to my growing up in the Toronto arts scene I am acquainted with a lot of up and coming talent. I try to support all my favourite artist-friends when I can and seeing Justin for the umpteenth time is one of the ways I show my support.
With the release of Nozuka’s third album Ulysses, he has drastically shifted his style of music. Gone are the roots/soul styles found on Holly, and the jazz and lush orchestra arrangements found on You I Wind Land and Sea. Instead a minimalism meets post rock style has emerged. He came out and played a real slow burner, a cross between Alt-J and The xx. His set mostly consisted of new material of his latest release, which has only been out for a little over a month now.
While Nozuka’s interaction with the crowd was limited, several times he thanked everyone for coming out and pronounced how great it is to be playing in his hometown. The main draw of a Nozuka show is his voice first and foremost. His raspy falsetto was on full display. Most songs either started out a cappella or Justin was the only musician playing and the rest of his band joining in. Speaking of the band, his drummer/pianist really stood out to help create the lush atmosphere for the songs.
While the set did contain several older songs like Love, it has been reworked to match his current style of playing with lots of sustained notes and intricate grooves. He broke out the crowd favourite After Tonight, which was sung far louder by the audience then by Justin himself. At one point some girls near the front shouted out “Woo ESA”, to which there must have been several other alumni of the arts high school Nozuka attended, as there was a smattering of cheers of agreement. Justin did not respond to them but I did see a small smirk come across his face.
The band left and Nozuka played a song by himself but the solo interlude was short lived as they came back out and played a few more songs before the set ended. It seemed like a lot of the crowd was hoping for a more upbeat and rocking show like Nozuka normally plays, it was still a fantastic set with an exercise of less is more. He came out and performed a solo one-song encore, consisting of Oh Momma, a song that was shouted in request after nearly ever other song was completed.
Nozuka being a very humble performer was clearly very appreciative of the feedback he received. My only concern was his set was more conducive to a more laid back venue where The Mod Club is known for being a dance club normally populated by DJ’s and rock bands.
Thanks to Live Nation for media access.