Concert Reviews

iHeartRadio Fest: Tegan and Sara, X Ambassadors, Shawn Hook, Scott Helman, Coleman Hell, Jocelyn Alice, CMW 2016

Photographs by Janine Van Oostrom.

Saturday was the start of the new festival in town, iHeartRadio Fest Toronto at the Sheraton Hotel. The performers of the night were Jocelyn Alice, Coleman Hell, Scott Helman, Shawn Hook, Tegan and Sara and X Ambassadors. The event was held in a grand ballroom at the bottom level of the hotel. The venue felt more elegant than it should have considering people we’re ready to rock the heck out. The night was hosted by many well known radio hosts from 99.9 Virgin Radio, 104.5 CHUM FM, and included a surprise guest host! The surprise guest, Canadian rapper, Kardinal Offishall introduced headliners, X Ambassadors, towards the end of the night. 

The night had begun with Jocelyn Alice excitedly standing on stage waving to a couple of fans who were front row.  Her band, including two other female musicians, her bassists and keyboardist were charismatic players in her performance and made sure to attain relief singing when needed and also creating a fun and excitable set to watch. I watched the wild blonde haired singer pace around the stage, smiling at her fans from time to time while she awaited her songs. Alice covered a combination of two songs pairing Cassidy’s 2005 rap single, “I’m a Hustla” with Beyonce’s 2011 top billboard song, “Diva”. This young Calgary native showed us that not only was she a singer but also a lowkey rapper as well. Songs like “Jackpot”, a 2014 hit radio single, which charted at an impressive rate on Canadian billboard, had the crowd singing each and every lyric to the song. Prior to her performance, I had never heard of Jocelyn Alice but I left very impressed that night, and it’s safe to say I’ve been listening to “Jackpot” on repeat ever since.  She has a memorizing voice almost like Adele meets Sia, a powerful combination in my defense. 

After a small intermission, Coleman Hell lit up the stage with his performance starting with his recently released single, “Fire Proof.”  His music which is described as “banjo meets electronic music” makes this Thunder Bay native combine his suburban upbringing with a taste of the city life. Hell made sure not to waste a second on stage between songs he would ask how the crowd was doing. During the music he made sure to dance whenever the beat dropped. I found his dancing to be unique just like his music, a bit of a country vibe. He did fast paced clog-like dancing. Although, I wasn’t completely hooked on his music I was extremely impressed on how charismatic he was on stage and how well he held his stage performance. He closed his set with his platinum certified single”2 Heads.” The singer immediately exited the stage after, thanking fans for showing support.

Now, my personal favorite performer, Scott Helman, had begun his set with “Tikka.” This is second track of his latest album, Augusta (2014).  The young tattooed musician has received an overwhelming rise on Canadian Pop Charts. Helman, who was nominated for a Juno award this year for “Best New Artist” and performed at the annual event, was still able to maintain a humble composure on stage. He kept thanking his fans for the support they have shown him for the past two years.  From groovy danceable songs like “Sweater” to more folk and optimistic songs like “Machine.” Scott shows the crowd the versatility of his musical styling.  He finished off his timed set with his MuchMusic nominated video of the year, “Bungalow.” I was extremely happy that he ended his set with such a great song, a song that had everyone singing and smiling at each other.  He’s performance was definitely the highlight of my night. 

Now Shawn Hook’s performance wasn’t something I was completely captured by.  What I was captured by was his backup vocalists and dancers. They kept a more fascinating stage performance than Hook himself.  It wasn’t that I wasn’t entirely impressed because he did close with “Relapse” which is a wonderfully put together song that includes a tempo-filled piano and a gritty bass. The dancers were spot on, making sure their bodies were flux for every song Hook sang. I wasn’t a fan of the re-vamped 80’s music inspired themed performance. 

Many fans were jittery to see Calgary native twins, Tegan and Sara.  I was listening on conversations around me like “I can’t wait until they come on stage!” and “I hope they play ‘Closer!’ “Which of course they did, but it wasn’t until closer (pun intended) to the end of their set that they played their 2012 big single off their album, Heartthrob (2012). As well as playing their single to promote their upcoming album, Love You To Death (2016) the duo performed “Boyfriend.”  I wasn’t too pleased with their performance as they kept a more monotone poise but there was a slight change when they asked the audience to make sure to keep moving while performing their new single, an upbeat song, that dropped the same day of the event, “U-Turn” off their new album, Love You To Death (2016) that hit stores on June 3rd. On the contrasted side, playing songs like “Goodbye, Goodbye” and “Closer” which were well known and received songs off their seventh studio album, Heartthrob (2012) did not require as much effort. The crowd was already heavily ready to perform and wailing along to the catchy chorus. They closed their set with their song, “Closer” See dying fan! They played it just for you!  I’m not going to be a sour puss and say I didn’t like it, I did enjoy them and I am a fan of their music. I just wish they had more movement during their performance. They’ll be back in town October at Massey Hall! 

After many remixed radio hits played by the in-house DJ, X Ambassadors were welcomed with not so gentle screams and excitement. The indie rock band was not only astonished but humbled by the fact that there were so many people who filled the room that night. It was great to see the variety of ages, from mothers who were celebrating the upcoming holiday, Mother’s day together to young women who were a bit on cloud nine but still attributing to the show experience as a whole. “Low life” off their debut album, VHS (2015) was one of my favorite songs they had performed that night. The song featured rapper, Commons.  I thought it was a fun and quirky song but also lyrically dynamic. Although, Commons was not there to help perform the song, lead singer, Sam Harris was able to play both parts incredibly.  From raps to melody lines, it was a killer song! The New York youngsters closed the night with their much anticipated song “Renegades” off their debut album VHS (2015). 

The lineup was a quite interesting though, but nevertheless brought a unique quality to the festival as a whole. Thanks iHeartRadio Toronto!

About author

Maryam Said is freelance writer for two music blogs as well as a musician. Big fan of potatoes and Alternative rock. Follow Maryam on twitter : @mmmshadows