It’s been a while since Toronto has seen or heard anything from one of its hometown legends: the multitalented, genre-blending vocalist/MC, k-os. The last (and only time) I saw k-os perform live was at the 2013 Luminato Festival, where he opened for Serena Ryder and DJ Kid Koala. He had a new album out at the time called BLack On BLonde, but didn’t perform any songs off of it, sticking with the classics. Keeping quiet since then, 2015 has seen k-os return on the scene with the release his sixth studio album, Can’t Fly Without Gravity, and it looks like this would be his first show in his home city since 2013 (besides his appearance at DJ Starting From Scratch’s 25th anniversary party the previous night). This would be my first time seeing k-os headline his own show, although I’m sure he’s done this several times over his near 15-year career.
It’s surprisingly been almost an entire year since I’ve been to the Danforth Music Hall, the last time being when Run The Jewels were in town. It’s one of my favourite concert venues in the city, and I was really excited to see k-os perform here. I got to the venue about an hour after doors had opened, and by the time I got inside, the opener Saul Williams was already on stage.
I’m not too familiar with Saul’s work other than his song “List of Demands.” The atmosphere in the room was nothing like that though, as Saul was on stage by himself with no music, reciting some poetry. He had a unique way of commanding the stage, using nothing but his voice and body language, even singing some of his songs accapella. It made for a more intimate performance, as a fan up front actually had a back-and-forth going with him throughout his set. Saul also told stories of how he first met k-os many years ago, and the type of dynamic they have as friends and fellow artists.
After Saul Williams wrapped up, k-os’ band got their gear set up and k-os came out with a high-energy intro track. The band consisted of a drummer, a DJ, a guitarist, a b-boy/breakdancer, and k-os himself. After the intro, they got right into a song off the new album with “Vous Deux (Denzel Washington),” which transitioned smoothly into a short cover of Kanye West’s “Bound 2.” They then jumped into a classic off of 2004’s Joyful Rebellion with “Crucial,” a song I remember a fan yelling to get played at the 2013 show to no avail.
The live band really brought k-os’ new songs to life, as they performed “Get Up” with the drums adding extra energy to k-os’ rapid-fire flow on the track. As if the song itself wasn’t already fire, they also had a smoke machine shooting smoke up into the air during the hook, something I had never seen done before at The Danforth. K-os then made a comment about how he loves his new album, but also loves his old songs, before getting into a throwback with “Superstarr Pt. Zero.” This song got the crowd dancing, and the b-boy on stage also got some shine.
The dancing continued as they did another throwback classic with “Man I Used To Be.” There was so much classic material here, as k-os got the crowd singing Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick In The Wall Part 2” over the Michael Jackson-esque drum loop before performing the actual song. They then brought it back to 2015 again with “Hussle & Flow,” another song designed for dancing. The smoke machines were lit again.
Things shifted from full-out dance tracks to more of a head-nodder off 2009’s Yes! album, the song “I Wish I Knew Natalie Portman.” K-os shouted “we’re just getting started!” as they performed the intro off of that same album, “Zambony,” with a bit of a guitar solo at the end. The guitar got some more shine with a performance of “Emcee Murdah,” but with a twist: k-os rapped the verses over the beat from Dr. Dre’s “Forgot About Dre,” and got the crowd to shout “K!” in the chorus instead of “Dre.” I was familiar with this routine from the 2013 concert.
Next was another Can’t Fly Without Gravity track, the single “WiLD4TheNight (EgoLand),” which had the DJ also scratching the hook from A$AP Rocky’s “Wild For The Night.” K-os then left to put on a jacket before doing a segment where he took us to class. He did covers of some classic Hip-Hop songs (mixed to different beats) to see if the crowd knew them (Saul Williams had made a joke earlier that we probably know Wu-Tang, and not just because a famous Toronto rapper named a song after them). The songs covered were The Notorious B.I.G.’s “Party and Bullshit,” Big Daddy Kane’s “Raw,” and The Wu-Tang Clan’s “Da Mystery Of Chessboxin’.” When the crowd didn’t shout the lyrics loud enough, k-os teased a cover of Drake’s “Hotline Bling,” something he’d revisit later in the show.
After the class session, k-os took off the jacket and got into another classic with “One Blood (Jiggy Homicide).” Towards the end of the song he picked up his acoustic guitar, playing the rhythm and allowing the guitarist to break out into a guitar solo. K-os then had some fun with the guitar, returning to Drake’s “Hotline Bling” with an acoustic version, but flipping the lyrics into a bit of a diss. The crowd seemed to enjoy the diss as k-os told us it’s all part of Hip-Hop’s competitive spirit, “we love to poke fun at the artists we love.”
The energy levels picked up after the mellow acoustic moment, as the band rocked out to another new song with “Turn Me Loose” and smoke was shot up from the machines again. This then led into arguably k-os’ biggest hit single, 2006’s “Sunday Morning.” He teased at skipping the song after the crowd didn’t sing it with him right away, but eventually played the whole thing, bringing out his electric guitar to close it out with the crowd’s singing. With his electric guitar in hand, k-os did another solo/acoustic section with another cover/diss of Drake’s “Hotline Bling.” While the first diss seemed to be made up on the spot, k-os had somehow finished constructing the verse in his head to perform it fully now, singing about declining a request to collaborate and “rappers being actors.” The crowd cheered as k-os asked “am I killing it right now?!”
Getting back to k-os’ discography, they moved on to 2009’s “The Aviator” before continuing back to 2015, with the genius Ella Fitzgerald sample on “Crucify.” Rather than perform the actual song though, k-os did some off-the-top freestyles over the smooth beat. K-os brought out his electric guitar again to perform “Valhalla,” another song off of 2006’s Atlantis: Hymns For Disco. The celebratory song was a fitting close to the show, as the band left afterwards, but the crowd chanted for an encore to bring them back out.
K-os’ encore started with a routine I was familiar with. He went back to one of his very first singles off of his debut album, Exit, performing “Heaven Only Knows” over the classic guitar riff from Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway To Heaven,” making a beautiful fusion of Rock and Rap. He then told a story of how when he first heard of getting his record deal when living off of Bathurst Street, he was inspired by Andre 3000’s hit at the time “Hey Ya.” This led him to make his Joyful Rebellion single, “Crabbuckit,” which he performed to close out the show on a high note, getting the crowd to clap throughout the song and abruptly dropping the mic at the end. There was a strong chant for a second encore, but k-os didn’t come out again.
Overall this was a really fun time seeing k-os’ triumphant return to the Toronto concert scene. His Andre 3000/OutKast influence is evident not only through the different outfits he wore throughout his set, but also his ability to lay down soulful vocals just as gracefully as rapid-fire raps (all without a hypeman or vocal track). His sense of humour shined with his jabs at Drake and the way he engaged the crowd between songs, and he promoted his new album well with energetic performances of several of the new songs. I was surprised he still completely avoided 2013’s BLack On BLonde, as he has several songs on there that would have sounded great with the live band, but the set list was still jam packed with hits.
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