Published Apr 07, 2018The Go! Team are now a nostalgia act, having peaked in popularity following their seminal debut, Thunder, Lightning, Strike, in 2004. It's actually kind of fitting and not at all a bad thing — they've always reached for those warm, retro vibes, borrowing cues from old school hip-hop, '70s game show theme songs, and '90s shoegaze, to name a few, making them a unique band with few contemporaries.
Their newest and fifth album, Semicircle, mixes in '60s Motown influences and sees the Go! Team returning to their youthful, animated impulses. After recording the previous album The Scene Between alone, band leader Ian Parton brought the gang back together for Semicircle and its following tour, stopping at Toronto's Great Hall for a gleefully energetic show.
The Brighton/London, UK-based six-piece opened with the growling ruckus of "Flashlight Fight" (originally featuring Chuck D of Public Enemy) from their sophomore Proof of Youth, with rapping duties handled masterfully by frontwoman Nkechi Ka Egenamba, aka Ninja. Throughout the entire set, Ninja's dazzling personality kept the show rolling as she enthusiastically danced around the stage waving her hands in the air and guiding the audience through the night's interactive moments.
In spirit of the recorded version of "Semicircle Song," she invited fans at the front to state their name and zodiac sign into the mic during the song's bridge. For the Go! Team's most well-known song, "Ladyflash," Ninja encouraged a chorus of yeah-yeahs and highlighted the lyric, "We came here to rock the microphone" — an appropriate motif for the night's Thunder, Lightning, Strike's mass sing-alongs.
The rest of the band leapt and bounced around the stage, swapping instruments between and during songs in dramatic fashion and it was hard to not get swept up in all the fun. The blaring "Grip Like a Vice" was particularly enjoyable, as the band showed their guitar chops complete with scissor kicks, with Ninja prompting more crowd participation that included hand-claps and cheerleader shout-and-responses. On the banjo-led "Everyone's a V.I.P. to Someone," Parton fanatically blew the familiar melancholy harmonica riff before the band completely swapped places and Parton ran over to the second drum kit to finish out the song's noisy ending.
On the Go! Team's albums, no sound or instrument is off-limits within their collage of maximalist pop. With a six-person band, it's understandably impossible to play everything live. Still, notably absent was the presence of a live brass section and the pre-recorded sounds didn't provide quite enough of the bombast on new songs like "Hey!" and "All the Way Live." But because Parton records with numerous samples and guest vocals, the Go! Team in studio and the Go! Team live can really be thought of as two different entities and make no mistake, the live group tried to do as much as they could.
On Thunder, Lightning, Strike's "Get It Together," Ninja and multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Angela "Maki" Won-Yin Mak both pulled out brightly coloured recorders and played the recognizable, reedy melody over a thunderous beat on the wordless track. Maki also took over lead vocal duties on the more subtle, twinkling songs like "The Scene Between" and "Chain Link Fence," as well as playing melodica over the highly infectious audience-sung schoolyard chants on "Huddle Formation," to go with Ninja's ad-libbed lyrics about booty shaking.
The main part of the set ended with both the band and the crowd jumping for a crunchier version of "Keys to the City." The Go! Team quickly came back to play "She's Got Guns," showcasing Ninja's sassy hip-hop prowess, and another fan favourite, "The Power is On," ending the concert on a rapturous high note.
The Go! Team's show oozed with positivity and pure, jubilant abandon. Although they haven't quite been able to reimagine the highs of Thunder, Lightning, Strike, they haven't changed their curious, era-spanning tendencies over the last decade-and-a-half. The appreciative fans who stuck with the Go! Team over the years were treated with a concert full of celebration.