It’s something we don’t get enough at the Thursday concerts, which typically spotlight the kind of safe, anthemic rock that predictably pleases summer crowds. But starting with the last Canalside headliner, R&B star Teddy Riley, this summer’s series is shaping up as one of the most dynamic in recent memory, with upcoming acts ranging from bluegrass band Yonder Mountain String Band to hardcore headbangers Halestorm.
Thursday’s headliner, alternative hip-hop group G. Love & Special Sauce, isn’t exactly the most daring choice – they previously proved themselves at Lafayette Square in 2010. But in context, their ultra-mellow rap seems another breath of fresh air – or at least, it should have been. Instead, G. Love & Special Sauce unwisely tried to turn their smooth sounds into typical fodder for a summer show, making this change of pace feel more like a failed experiment.
The night started with The Drowning Men, a solemn California quintet with a Fleet Foxes sound and a bunch of lumberjack beards to go with it. Arkells, an ebullient Ontario group returning from last summer, came next, and frankly, they stole the show. The band insistently turned each song into a call-and-response sing-along, making tunes like “Deadlines” and “Oh, the Boss Is Coming!” even more infectious than they would have been, and drawing increasingly ecstatic reactions after each song. It was the kind of manic energy every Thursday show deserves. Note to the nice people at Buffalo Place: Please let Arkells headline next summer.
After Arkells got the crowd riled up, people probably expected G. Love & Special Sauce to cool them down with their lazy rap, which typically has frontman Garrett Dutton drawling rhymes over acoustic guitar and barebones beats. But the black-clad trio – Dutton, string bassist Timo Shanko and drummer Jeffrey Clemens – instead amplified their sound in a show that curiously showcased their negligible chops as a blues band. Maybe they thought their laid-back rhyming wouldn’t suit the Canalside crowd as much as more standard summer sounds. But the Black Keys, these guys aren’t, and their attempts to put some 12-bar flavor on their languished hip-hop never gelled. The sound wasn’t smooth enough to appease the summertime crowd, nor big enough to make for a compelling Canalside show.
Simple songs like “I-76” and the signature “Baby’s Got Sauce” were bloated and distended with constant solos, with Dutton going on and on with his guitar and harmonica, then sometimes letting Shanko and Clemens do the same. A few people happily lighted their cigarettes or whatever else for the inevitable performance of “Who’s Got the Weed,” but the rest of the crowd seemed constantly unsure of how, exactly, to get down to this music. Things got better once the band all but abandoned their hip-hop roots for more straight-up rock, like a cover of “Why Don’t We Do It in the Road?” For the rest of the crowd, though, an hourlong encore from Arkells would have made for a better Thursday.