Dancing, floating and experimental R&B

Who: Chiiild
Where: The Axis Club, Toronto
When: Thurs., March. 30
Vibe: Swaying in a fugue state to dance-y ethereal beats
Rating: NNNN (out of five)
Highlight: Chiiild amping up the crowd for the final few tracks, and everyone dancing together to Gone.

WHILE WAITING FOR YONATAN AYAL, a.k.a. Chiiild, to perform at the Axis Club in Toronto, I take in a large mural of a wide range of pop stars on the wall and wonder what kind of performance the genre-bending soul artist from Montreal will deliver. His music has an inherent dreamlike quality, which makes it unique and could be enthralling in a live setting.

His most recent project, Better Luck In The Next Life, was yet another swerve for the artist, taking his sound in a more, angsty, chorus-heavy direction. As a large crowd slowly amasses, I look to the stage, uncertain of what to expect.

His band members take the stage before him (a violinist, guitarist and drummer), all wearing headlamps: their little spotlights shine out on the audience as they set up. Chiiild wanders out in a fuzzy green sweater, and the crowd erupts. He seems happy and assured — at home. He greets the crowd and briefs them on what’s to come: a mix of new and old hits, so we’d better get ready to dance.

The band plays Weightless and the crowd begins to sway; like a tide, everyone moves back and forth, lost in Chiiild’s drowsy vocals, the dreamy beat and the whaling of a sun-soaked guitar. It sets the tone for the set: full of warmth with a unique languid groove.

Colourful lights flash on the crowd and stage as Chiiild acts as ringleader, hyping the audience between verses. “You better have brought your dancing shoes,” he yells out to the packed room before playing Back To Life and Sleepwalking; both sound slightly more dance-y live (seeing Chiiild bounce around on stage gives them that little extra something). Chiiild’s airy singing cascades over the crowd while hypnotic baselines lull everyone into a groove.

From the crowd blissfully losing itself in this ethereal soundscape to Chiiild and his band dancing and joking around on stage, the feeling of joy emanating throughout the venue is palpable. Whenever the audience’s energy wanes, Chiiild raises it up again: encouraging us to clap along, dance and wave our hands.

Near the end, he performs a couple of moody earworms from his new album: Good For Now and Antidote. Both tracks are dizzying: the lights flicker around the stage as Chiiild embraces his inner shoegazer, singing listlessly over distorted power chords as reverb slowly engulfs the room.

There is no traditional encore; Chiiild tells the audience the show is in its final stretch and amps us up for the finale like a coach. The crowd swells as he repeatedly yells out, “I need your energy at a 12 out of 10!” When the band starts playing Gone, everyone moves — flashing lights and smiles as the whole venue lets loose.