January 24, 2013, Sony Centre For The Performing Arts, Toronto
Outside, it was an extraordinarily cold Toronto evening but when Nelly Furtado took the stage at Toronto’s Sony Centre For Performing Arts, any thought of frozen fingers and features melted away. The soft-seater wasn’t the most ideal place for the BC-born pop singer; she needs to be in a place where the audience can freely be on its feet, partying away to her sunny and seductive club-pop — preferably outside, at an amphitheatre or festival park. In this posh setting, you have to sit there and observe politely. It’s an unspoken rule.
The concert wasn’t sold out — the main floor had some rows empty but it was a sizeable crowd for an artist who is entering career longevity, rather than it-girl. She’s had plenty of years at that, since releasing her debut album Whoa, Nelly! and international smash single, “I’m Like A Bird,” 13 years ago which made her a bona-fide star, and having considerable success with her last English-language album, Loose, in 2006 with such sexy dance offerings as “Maneater” and “Promiscuous.” Her latest, 2012’s The Spirit Indestructible, got off to a false start commercially with youthful club-bangers “Big Hoops (The Bigger The Better”) and “Parking Lot” but there is more sophisticated material on the album for a wider demo, if word can get out. Furtado has sold more than 20 million albums worldwide so she’s well beyond having to prove herself.
Her band — a guitarist, utility girl, drummer, bassist and two keyboard players — served the backing role well, shrouded when it needed to be or in the spotlight at other times, such as for Sean Kelly’s rock guitar solos or backing vocalist/percussionist Celia Palli’s multi talents. Furtado also played acoustic and electric guitar for certain songs, as well as ukulele. Her set kicked off with two songs from The Spirit Indestructible — the title track and one of the highlights, the sexy rapture “Waiting For The Night.” “Say It Right,” “Do It” and “Powerless” were followed by a passionate performance of the ballad “Try,” for which Furtado got the crowd to clap along. “Thank you for keeping the song going for all these years,” she said.
Typically chatty, she then started talking about Nelstar, her label, and a song that “haunted me” before bringing out her signing, Dylan Murray, to sing the duet, “Don’t Leave This Love” from his album, Inspiration (“hopefully he didn’t play it,” she quips in reference to his opening set). Soon, the band got into some balladic sultry jazz and Furtado tells the crowd “we’ll do music trivia” and “I’ll leave you to guess” the next song, which quickly emerges as “Quando, Quando, Quando” — on which her voice sounded gorgeous — and a loungey take on Missy Elliot’s “Get Ur Freak On.” She also reworked “Turn Off The Light” into an crunchy electro rock-out.
The 34-year-old then reminisced about the Cameron House days in Toronto where she lived for most of her 20s, and mused that she should get out a Nelstar track one of these days (“my first band, if you didn’t know”), but then adds, “You could’ve been one when it came out; you could’ve been 85 when this came out,” before singing, “I’m Like A Bird.” The hit finally got the bulk of the audience on their feet, some waving their arms over their heads, and Furtado leading a singalong, complete with claps. That segued into a cover of Steve Miller’s “Fly Like An Eagle” that ended with a fusion-style jam by the band with Furtado offstage. When she returned, she did so with a ukulele for “Forca.” “When I was 9 years old, I performed at the Fork Fest in Victoria (BC) with my ukulele,” she said, calling the instrument by its Portuguese name.
The 90-minute “variety” show included other surprises: a person dressed as the Grim Reaper assisted her in pulling out “bucket lists” from the audience for, of course, “Bucket List;” the other opener, and management-mate, singer Jessica Tyler (from Degrassi) joined her onstage along with some pint-sized dancers for “Parking Lot;” another management-mate, teenager Francesco, sang on Madonna’s “Like A Prayer;” her dance troupe waved big “LALALA” signs for “High Life,” and Native American hoop dancer Tony Duncan displayed his visual and dexterous formations for “Big Hoops.”
In all, Furtado’s winter theatre show was a chance to see this live veteran in action, as an entertainer — us seated, her onstage, and without the usual thrusts of cell phones and cameras in the air. You know, like when we used to go to concerts and enjoy it.