At Venue on Saturday, November 22
How’s this for a concept? Take all of your favourite pop hits, then add hyperactive jazz drums, flowery R & B vocal runs, and bass-slapping ripped straight from the Seinfeld theme.
That’s the basic premise behind Dirty Loops, a Swedish fusion trio that has made a splash on YouTube by covering songs by stars like Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga. This click-baiting gimmickry makes for enjoyable listening for those procrastinating online, but the group’s Saturday-evening appearance at Venue proved that it still has some work to do before it can make the leap from quirky novelty act to solid headliner.
There was no opening band, and the well-dressed crowd that assembled in the mostly full club was a little older and a lot better-behaved than the hordes that usually frequent the Granville strip on a Saturday night. The show was an early one, and Dirty Loops arrived on-stage just after 8:30.
With a jovial wave to the fans, the band launched into a synth-infused rendition of Justin Bieber’s “Roller Coaster”. This choice of cover tune was appropriate, given that singer-keyboardist Jonah Nilsson’s side-swipe bangs bore a passing resemblance to the Biebs’s circa 2010.
Alongside the vocalist, drummer Aron Mellergårdh peeked out from behind an array of cymbals, while bassist Henrik Linder occasionally sauntered to the front while playing fleet-fingered low end on a comically large six-string instrument. Linder’s jet-black tresses hung down to his chin, meaning that he resembled a gothic member of Flock of Seagulls.
The opening number was followed by “Accidentally in Love”, which wasn’t the Counting Crows hit from 2004, but one of the originals from Dirty Loops’ recent album Loopified. This ebullient pop anthem led into the equally sugar-spiked “Sayonara Love”, which sported one of the night’s many fretboard-exploring bass solos.
All three musicians (plus an accompanying keyboardist) were virtuosically technical, and every song seemed jam-packed with solos, dizzying structural shifts, and upward key changes. Even when the group slowed things down for a ballad—which it did with the angelically falsetto-filled “It Hurts” and the breakup lament “Crash and Burn Delight”—the emotions were absurdly over-the-top and displayed zero restraint or subtlety.
These overstuffed arrangements were exhausting to listen to, which made the performance feel much longer than the 70 minutes it actually was. The band occasionally gave everyone a breather with some between-songs banter, but this mostly amounted to tedious demands for fans to make more noise, along with a few uncomfortable attempts at humour from Nilsson.
Luckily, Linder redeemed the unfunny frontman by delivering the night’s best joke, when he gave a seemingly earnest speech about how the next number would be a deeply personal song from the heart. This turned out to be the EDM–injected “Sexy Girls”, a vapidly hedonistic tribute to females on the dance floor. The crowd shimmied along, although the response was politely appreciative rather than rapturous.
The set list offered generous helpings of both self-penned material and audience-pleasing covers, but it was disappointing that the Loops never strayed away from their usual oeuvre. They did Lady Gaga’s “Just Dance”, Britney Spears’s “Circus”, and Avicii’s “Wake Me Up”, and they dipped back into Bieber’s catalogue with “Baby”. All of these covers can easily be found on YouTube, meaning that there weren’t any curve balls.
Still, despite this lack of surprises, the fans were clearly pleased, since they cheered for each dazzlingly proficient solo and requested an encore with a booming chant of “DIR-TY LOOPS! DIR-TY LOOPS!”
The night ended with “Hit Me”, a characteristically hypercaffeinated burst of pop hooks that stood out as the catchiest of the group’s originals. The crowd’s enthusiastic response showed that these former music-school buddies may well continue to find success as they make the transition from meme-worthy cover specialists to self-sufficient songwriters.
Then again, maybe not. As “Hit Me” reached a head-spinning finale of note-perfect vocal gymnastics and lightning-fast fills from everyone on-stage, Nilsson looked over at Mellergårdh and exclaimed, “Hit me baby, one more time!” Once a cover band, always a cover band.