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Retrocity 80s Revival
By Erica Rae Chong
Supporters and curious passersby braved the blistering heat Friday afternoon, filling up the seats and crowding around the stage to watch eight-member a cappella group Retrocity perform at Nathan Philips Square.
The group is comprised of an eclectic assortment of individuals — Juno Award nominees, an English Literature graduate and even a physiotherapist — who share one thing: they were all members of a vocal ensemble at York University.
Retrocity was formed in 1998 for a one-night-only gig dedicated to recreating the music of the singers' ‘80s youth. But the collaboration was so well-received and the performers had so much fun that they have committed to entertaining as a band, expanding their repertoire to include hits from artistes such as The Police, Journey and Queen.
At this show, for the TD Toronto Jazz Festival’s Afterwork Series, the performers dressed in black t-shirts featuring iconic movie posters from their favourite decade, including, Ghostbusters, Karate Kid and Indiana Jones.
They kicked off the appearance with a pitchy cover of Gowan’s “You’re A Strange Animal”. The audience clapped politely at the conclusion of the tune that bewilderingly showed off less-than-stellar vocals.
But once the singers’ vocals warmed up, so did the audience, cheering the stirring versions of well-known tunes such, as Toto’s “Africa” and Phil Collins’ “Easy Lover”.
“Now I know it’s a jazz festival, so we’ve thrown in some jazz arrangements to keep the ‘Jazz Police’ happy,” said bandleader Dylan Bell as the crowd chuckled.
The ensemble launched into a jazzed up rendition of Michael Jackson’s disco hit “Rock With You”, lyrically changed to “swing with you” in a nod to the festival, consequently drawing more laughter from spectators.
More Jackson tunes — soulful renditions of “Human Nature” and “Man In The Mirror” — popped up later in the show.
Despite sounding a tad strained on a few of the high notes, the group showcased plenty of vocal acrobatics with fluid background melodies, solid beats and the occasional (vocalised) sax or trumpet solo.
Baritone Art Mullin delivered an impressive solo rap on Chaka Khan’s “I Feel For You”, dishing out the tongue-twisting lyrics without a hitch.
The performance included some unexpected gems, such as, The Pointer Sisters’ “Pinball Number Count" and the theme from Sesame Street, which had the crowd singing along.
Retrocity wrapped up the 90-minute gig with an encore medley of more Michael Jackson hits, including, “Don’t Stop ‘til You Get Enough” and “P.Y.T (Pretty Young Thing)”. The a cappella blend of smooth synths, rhythmic drum beats and the classic M.J. “Ow!” weaved a seamless and texturally rich vocal arrangement that garnered a roaring standing ovation.
With a simple bow, the octet left the stage; and the crowd scattered, seeking shade from the unforgiving sun.
Erica Rae Chong is pursing a bachelor’s degree in Journalism at the University of Toronto Scarborough