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LUCIFER at The Velvet Underground, Toronto (March 24th, 2019)

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Retro-rockers Lucifer, the brainchild of Johanna Sadonis (of The Oath fame) and Nicke Andersson (The Hellacopters) released their critically acclaimed second album last year, and finally made their way to North America, with just over ten shows booked between Canada and the U.S. Last week, the band hit Toronto, and brought the local boys of Ian Blurton’ Future Now and Vancouverites Spell in tow.

A few hours before the show started, Lucifer played a free acoustic set at Black Diamond Vintage, a cozy record store close to the Roncesvalles district, home of artists, poets, great cuisine and antique shops. In store appearances have been a constant in the band’s tours, and it’s a great way to connect with diehard fans and to ensure a few more tickets are sold for the main event. Unfortunately the set only lasted four songs, but that was a good taste of what would come later that day.

Ian Blurton’s Future Now played their first ever show on New Year’s Eve, and tonight their set was interesting, if only a bit too casual. Ian is a veteran in the alt rock circuit in Toronto, and he’s joined in Future Now by guitarist Aaron Goldstein, bassist Anna Ruddick and drummer Glenn Milchem. Their first single, “Space is Forever”, is a good representation of what they sound like: indie eccentricities, with clean vocals and a heavy dose of Sabbath-esque riffs. Anna’s Rickenbacker and Aaron’s flying V added an extra dose of quirkiness, and they deserve praise for trying their own material. But the forty people in the crowd (“with the voice of four thousand!”, as one punter shouted) seemed bemused towards most of their set. Maybe with a few more shows under their belts there will be more light and shade incorporated into their songs, but at least tonight, there were very few standout moments.   

Spell hit the stage next, and right off the bat it was clear how much more dynamic and interesting their set was going to be, compared to Future Now. Power trios are the ultimate test of a musician’s ability, and they clearly showed their skills in that formation. Lester (drums), Graham McGee (guitars) and Cam Mayhem (guitars – is that his real name?) not just had the chops, but they really looked the part, with tight bell bottom pants, vintage instruments and mustaches that would give Magnum a run for his money. Their sound can be best described as a mix of AOR with stoner rock and heavy riffs, sometimes thrown together on the same tune. Highlights of their set were the distinctively Canadian-sounding “Psychic Death”, which could have easily come out of a Saga or Triumph album, and the menacing and fast-paced “Silent Towers”, sung by Lester. They seem ready for more ambitious flights, as evidenced by the lingering “The River of Sleep”. The cherry on the cake was a blistering version of Kiss“Black Diamond”, which won over an already much larger crowd.

Lucifer’s show started with an ominous intro which seemed to come out of a Dario Argento movie, and they hit it off with “Faux Pharaoh”, the evil tale of a fake leader. Their stage was completed with a backdrop with a photo of a graveyard, and bottles of white wine and beer resting close to Nicke’s drum set. Joanna’s hypnotic stage presence and her brown dress with tasseled sleeves mesmerized the audience, in songs like the evocative single “Dreamer” and “Aton”. Her platinum blonde hair and pale skin were sexy and scary in equal measures, and she seemed the kind of badass girl you don’t want to mess up with!

While their first album appealed to the doom metal crowd, the second one seems to have reached a larger audience. Therefore, it’s no surprise that the bulk of the themes tonight are drawn from Lucifer II. The down tuned version of the Stones“Dancing with Mr. D” brought a Black Sabbath vibe to the song, and the dark mood of “Eye in the Sky” was another crowd pleaser, complete with eerie backing vocals and a Thin Lizzy-esque twin guitar assault by Martin Nordin and Linus Björklund. Overall, their sound is an exquisite blend of doom riffs with grandiose and at times an optimistic outlook, often alluding to band like Jefferson Airplane, such as on one of the night’s high points, “Phoenix”. One can almost smell the denim and leather just by looking at pictures of the band, and while this definitely reeks as fake and shoehorned in some other revisionist bands, it’s 100% authentic with Lucifer: they not only look the part, but their stage demeanor suggests they entered a time machine in the Midwest in 1976 and landed on the stage in Toronto in 2019.

I must admit I got to know Nicke Andersson as the guitar player and singer of The Hellacopters and not as the drummer of Entombed, so it felt a bit strange to see him behind a drum kit with Lucifer. He picked up the bass in a spirited rendition of ZZ Top’s “Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers”, splitting vocal duties with Joanna, and at least to my eyes it seemed a much better fit to see him holding a stringed instrument rather than playing drums. His stage presence hardly goes unnoticed, and while it’s the band’s (and his) choice to pound the skins, I do think it would be much more of a crowd pleaser to see Nicke take a more prominent role in Lucifer’s stage. And that’s not to take anything from Alexander Mayr’s playing or presence, just my observation as a critic and fan of the band.

There was even time for a new song which still hasn’t been recorded. Entitled “Ghosts”, it seems to be a natural sequence to the overall atmosphere of the second album, with a catchy chorus, a sludgy riff and faithfulness to the band’s sound. The encore followed the standard of mixing their two albums, and was comprised of “Anubis”, which draws from the same source as Black Sabbath’s “Snowblind”, and the upbeat and cinematic single “California Sun”. All in all, this tour was a triumphant run for Lucifer, with several shows being sold out. They rose from the ashes last year with a completely new lineup and a sound which is now closer to what Joanna envisioned for the group, so here’s hoping they don’t take too long to return to North America. A new album is already in the works and will be recorded on the second half of this year, and judging by their steady ride of late, next time they should be even more ambitious and play in bigger theaters, to an ever-expanding raucous horde of faithful disciples.

LUCIFER Setlist:

Faux Pharaoh (Intro played over PA) / Eyes in the Sky / Dreamer / Phoenix / Aton / Dancing With Mr. D (The Rolling Stones cover) / Purple Pyramid / Morning Star / Ghosts / Reaper on Your Heels

Encore:

Anubis / Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers (ZZ Top cover) / California Son

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