by Jacob DeSmit
One look at Chaz Bundick, the central figure of synthpop quartet Toro Y Moi, and it’s obvious why the singer/songwriter once fit comfortably into the chillwave style of music that initially defined his music. He definitely looks the part with his lazily flowing Afro at the top of his head and his nonchalant manner of playing his keyboards. When he hits the peaks his wide vocal range, the guy looks perpetually relaxed as can be. While he doesn’t associate himself with the musical movement he helped create, he has stated in interviews that he hasn’t abandoned the DIY attitude that he has always believed in. Despite this, Bundick brought a backing band to lend him a hand in putting on a show at the Grog Shop last night that had everyone in the sold-out venue dancing the night away.
While Toro may shy away from the chillwave label, there’s no denying that the artist puts on one of the most chill dance parties in the business. It helped, in some respects, that the Grog floor was already chilly to begin with, as the AC kept the venue cool as the band took the stage to massive applause. But the body temperatures of most attendees wouldn’t stay low for long — the relentless beat of opener “Rose Quartz,” a cut from Toro’s latest album, Anything in Return, demanded movement from those on the floor in one form or another. The intricate bass parts found in most Toro tracks, like “New Beat” and especially on “Elise,” were devastating, note-for-note recreations of the band’s recordings and helped keep each song fresh with their complexity. The 16-song set kept the rowdy crowd on its feet for an hour and begging for another Cleveland stop from the singer and his band soon.
Toxie, a Memphis-based punk three-piece, pumped up the crowd for the headliner with its half hour set of laid-back punk. While that may sound like a contradiction, — depending on what you consider true “punk” — the band’s performance was a lesson in uniqueness, if nothing else. Despite the fun lyrics of opener “Monday Afternoon,” the words passed through bassist/singer Alexandra Burden lips like she was as bored as could be. This probably should have elicited a similarly bored response from the crowd, but the enthralling guitar playing style of Will McElroy helped to bolster the band’s stage presence. Using his thumb and finger nails to pick the guitar’s strings as it laid across his lap — think of a punk version of a lap steel guitar — McElroy had a strange look in his eyes throughout as intermittently stared down both the fret board of his guitar and members of the audience through songs like “Boy Up” and “Playground.” The whole half-hour set had a weird vibe to it, but it felt right, like the band would have fared well had it been around to play the CBGB — the members’ awkward demeanor was better the cut-and-dry affection that comes from a lot of the bands that might wrongly put themselves in the same class as the trio.