An emcee who loves basketball metaphors, Shad came up clutch in the 4th quarter of 2021 and hit a slam dunk with his seventh album, TAO. With COVID restrictions continuing to ease up, he’s been able to tour across Canada and parts of USA all spring, celebrating his new body of work with the fans, and capped off the tour with this final show at Longboat Hall in Toronto, the same day it was announced that the album made the long list for the 2022 Polaris Music Prize. Even when he isn’t touring regularly, Shad has always performed live in Toronto at least once a year, the last time being last August when he was preparing to release the new album. Now that the album is out, the fans have a lot more lyricism to unpack and new songs to vibe with at his live shows.
With many of the larger venues in the city having been reopened for concerts for a while now, this would be the first small-venue, indoor show since before the pandemic for a lot of fans. It would also be my first time catching a show at Longboat Hall, which is the smaller basement-level room attached to The Great Hall, where Shad performed two sold-out shows back in 2018. Longboat Hall proved to have decent flexibility for post-pandemic times, as fans who wanted to avoid the crowd could stay on the balcony surrounding the entire club and still catch a good view of the show. Fans who prefer to be up close to the artists on stage would gather on the floor level, and would get an intimate performance from Shad as well as his opener, Just John.
Just John also opened for Shad for those 2018 shows at The Great Hall, but this time around he had new songs to perform which showcased an evolution in his style. Showing off a shaven head and arm tattoos, he had a more hardcore look and a more aggressive vocal delivery in his songs. He would spit some high energy, rapid fire raps, and even showed a little Metal and Punk Rock influence that may not have been felt by the crowd at first. The crowd wasn’t all returning the same energy Just John brought to the stage, but they did get won over midway through his set, as he connected with the local Scarborough slang and got the crowd chanting along to his hooks.
Just John would perform some new, unreleased songs off of an upcoming album and had the crowd waving their arms in unison to the beat. As he closed out his set with the single “Open Wound,” he had the crowd singing along with him and chanting his name by the end of his performance. As a local opener to a touring artist, winning the crowd over can be a tough task, but Just John gave everything he had on stage and got the crowd rocking with him by the end of his set.
Next, DJ T.Lo would get his gear set up and do a sound check before bringing Shad up on stage.
With this being dubbed The TAO Tour, Shad of course started off his performance with track one off the new album, the upbeat “Out of Touch,” and continued with what’s becoming a classic opener to his live setlists, “The Fool Pt. 1 (Get It Got It Good).” The latter song gets the crowd in a hype, positive mood from the beginning, and Shad got them all chanting along to the chorus with him. He’d then get into some throwbacks, performing all three verses from the classic “Fam Jam (Fe Sum Immigins),” and putting a new twist on “Stylin,” rocking the first verse and then replacing the second with his verse from “TAO Pt. 1.” The fly basketball reference in the lyrics “…like that brother Curry of the jersey with number 30” both fit the song and the mood of the evening, as this concert was happening at the same time the Golden State Warriors were playing Game 6 of the NBA Finals; Stephen Curry would go on to win his first Finals MVP Award later this evening. Shad would joke later on in his set that he almost cancelled the show to catch the game.
Turning the clock forward, Shad would perform 2018’s “Magic,” captivating the crowd with his thought-provoking lyrics despite the dark mood of the song. He’d then get into some more TAO tracks, performing the high-energy single “Work” with DJ T.Lo chopping up the end of the track on the turntables, and one of my favourites off the album, the quotable-filled “Slot Machines,” getting the crowd hyped as the beat changed midway through the track and Shad killed his verses. The small venue made for a more intimate performance, as Shad could hear a fan yell out “Shad, why you too good, man??” which made for a fitting transition into the next song, “Body (No Reason),” the chorus having a call-and-response with the crowd going “How come? No reason!” The crowd interaction only got better as Shad pulled out the classic “The Old Prince Still Lives At Home,” getting everyone to clap along to the beat as he spit the last verse acapella, and changing some lyrics to reference that he now has two smart daughters. Shad joked that he had to bring the throwback track out of retirement with talks of our economy going into recession.
Shad would next get into a medley of tracks, mixing the old with the new, performing the first verse of “Keep Shining,” the first half of “Peace/War,” and also rocking “The Fool Pt. 3 (Frame of Mind),” “GOD,” and the classic “Rose Garden.” With the exception of “GOD,” these tracks were all familiar from the last few times we’ve seen Shad perform live. Next would be something completely new though, as he’d get DJ T.Lo to play his favourite TV theme song for the crowd to guess, and actually brought a fan up on stage who knew the words to sing along to what turned out to be the theme from Golden Girls.
Shad would tell a story about watching the show with his wife and how she presses “skip intro” every episode; the rap nerd in me is wondering if the theme was used as a sample to make the beat for his next track, although I have no concrete confirmation of that. He’d next perform “Black Averageness,” one of the highlights from TAO which is about self acceptance, getting the crowd to join in on the karaoke-style singing on the chorus. He’d have some fun afterwards talking about how the only lie he told in that song is the lyric “People want me to like Jazz but I don’t, wish I did, too many notes” – ridiculous considering he headlined a night at the 2019 Toronto Jazz Festival. To further prove his point, he next pulled out a rare 2007 throwback with a Jazz influence behind the beat, “I Don’t Like To.” This particular crowd was loving all the old throwbacks we haven’t seen Shad perform in a while.
“Cats say ‘you the illest’ I’m like nah, B, nah, B…… Well, okay, probably”
While Shad’s latest music focuses more on the message rather than just spitting ill bars like the old days, he had to show out and prove he can still spit with the illest. Next he would perform the standalone “You From London Freestyle” he put out just before embarking on the tour, except he’d spit most of it acapella. With the original freestyle being almost 6 minutes, Shad really took his time and extended it for the live performance, going acapella, repeating bars to give the fans a chance to let the thought sink in, and pausing for applause. The freestyle included bars about his legacy, his previous albums and the intention behind them, along with heavy wordplay and humble brags, effectively reminding us why he’s one of Canada’s greatest. To close out his set, he’d crank the energy one more time with the album closer from 2018’s A Short Story About A War, “All I Need.”
With the energy cranked, the crowd chanted for an encore after Shad left the stage, and this time he’d actually return with a treat. Joined by Toronto native Phoenix Pagliacci, Shad would return to perform the TAO single “Storm,” with Phoenix singing the chorus and rapping her guest verse on the track. The crowd clapped along to the beat as they killed their performance together, and Shad would go on to close out the show with one last ’07 throwback, “Exile.” With the crowd seeming to react the most to the classic throwbacks, this was a dope choice to end the show with.
Being back in a small, underground venue for a rap show was super refreshing after missing it for over two years. It’s only right that we bring it back with our authentic, homegrown talent, and Shad represented perfectly. While his previous album was a bit moody at times to perform live, the new TAO translates well on stage, as it may be the most energetic album Shad has released to date. This show also spoke to Shad’s longevity, as the decade-old classics resonated just as much with the crowd as his newer songs. After giving a champion-worthy performance while wearing a Champion shirt, Shad nailed the ending like Derek Fisher’s 0.4-second shot, and we got out of there in time to catch the last few minutes of the 2022 NBA Finals.
Check out this playlist of concert videos from all the times I’ve seen Shad perform over the years!
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