Exotic Toronto-based trip-hop duo Esthero, whose just-released debut album, “Breath From Another” (Work Group), is one of the year’s most critically acclaimed — not to mention sexiest — major label bows, brought a newly commissioned backing band to the Roxy, and amid much recent industry hype, gave a spellbinding hour-long performance that avoided many of the concert shortcomings seemingly endemic in similar acts.
The focal point of the group, both on album and on stage, is 19-year-old Esthero, a captivating performer with sparkles on her face whose biggest struggle appears to be trying to hold back her ample vocal energy in the midst of all the lush music enveloping it.
Comparable to the smooth style and cool romanticism of Sade — with hints of Sinead O’Connor’s edge thrown in — Esthero (the singer) is a spellbinding performer whose unique, angelic singing technique and unabashed sexuality hypnotized the packed club, where slow dancing to the seductive music was for most an unattainable goal.
The brains of Esthero (the group) is Doc, yet another monosyllabic guitar and studio genius from Minneapolis, whose complex musical visions kept the music at the Roxy from becoming bogged down in mood or predictability; instead, the bandleader and guitarist orchestrated an elusive mix of form that maintained ample spirit though the show.
Equally compelling was the six-piece backing band, featuring several of Toronto’s best. Its ability to seemlessly fold a cornucopia of approaches — jazz, techno, funk, rock, rap, torch — into an hourlong program based on Esthero’s album was impressive, though the super-smoothness of some passages meant the band never got out of second gear.
Highlights of the show included upcoming single “Heaven Sent,” with its exotic guitar parts and John Bonham-inspired drum beat, “Breath From Another,” which featured booming Busta Rhymes-styled raps from Shug, and “Swallow Me,” whose introduction was greeted with shouts of “dirty girl” from the singer’s fans.