Diggin’ in the Drake

There is rarely a time one mentions The Drake Hotel and is met with anything other than immediate recognition. The Drake has been a Toronto landmark since it’s inception in 1949. Located at 1150 Queen street west, The Drake is known for its history, elegant rooms, diverse restaurant menu and grand staircase. There is a certain ambience entirely unique to The Drake. It’s walls whisper secrets of past guests and performers alike. Dimly lit and oozing with class, The Drake is welcoming with a dash of intimidation.

Last Thursday night The Drake Hotel hosted six-piece band The Digs. Coming together roughly 7 years ago at Humber, The Digs began playing birthday parties for friends. The core groups’ talents grew organically along with their notoriety as they accumulated an interchangeable roster of performers. Each show features an on stage guest keeping it so fresh and so clean. The Digs have one album under their belts entitled ‘Homegrown’ and they’re set to release another this March. With regular gigs Wednesdays at The Reservoir Lounge and Thursdays at The Drake Hotel, there’s two solid options to get your funk fix every week.

The Digs take the stage and their prowess is immediately palpable. Male vocalist Francois Mulder nails every note of Sam Smiths’ Stay With Me as Merissa Touissaint provides powerfully angelic backing vocals during the hook. Every snare hit from drummer Shawn Rompre feels like a kick to the sternum. Rompre is highly animated with a contagious ear to ear grin while maintaining his strong groove. Bassist Chris Virtue keeps pace making the pocket his own and digging for spare change. Keyboardist Joel Visentin’s solos tickle the soul and settle down into beautiful accents during the verses. Guitarist Nick Tateishi chooses every lick carefully making it difficult to find a flaw with this dynamic band. Even the guest singer absolutely tears the microphone apart. This just in: The Digs can play.

During a cover of Bob Marley’s Is This Love that takes on a life of it’s own, Touissant’s smoky vocals are sexually charged and bursting with soul.  The Digs open it up, seamlessly transitioning between songs and the party’s rocking all night long (until the break of dawn). Inspiring involuntary foot taps and head nods The digs keep ears guessing where the next bar will lead with spicy rhythm switches and song mashups.

The crowd doesn’t stand chance as both Mulder and Touissant show off their dance moves cultivating a following upon The Drake Hotel’s dance floor. With sounds tighter than a vice-grip that grab ahold of the soul and refuse to let go, winning the crowd over was only a matter of time. Touissant revives Arethra Franklin belting out “R-E-S PE-CT’ and the patrons find out exactly what it means to her. Later, Touissant’s rendition of Ghetto Superstar by Pras complete with flawless rap is another shovel in the toolshed for The Digs. When the band cover a couple of Lauryn Hill classics it cements Touissant’s title as a double threat and her partner in crime Mulder hits every note effortlessly making them a duo to behold as they resuscitate classic after classic.

The combination of the Virtue’s funk dominated bass lines, Rompre’s rhythm-forward backbeats and Visentin’s complex soul smashing solos make their performance pure unadulterated aural pleasure. The Digs blues ballad version of Gnarls Barkley’s Crazy is testament to their diversity. Mulder’s range and power are unleashed during this number making it difficult to pick a favourite within the vocal duo. Each member of the digs brings something unique to the stage and together they meld into a well oiled soul machine.

As Tateishi awakens from his slumber during Mark Ronson’s Uptown funk with a string bending solo chock full of wah-wah pedal, drummer Rompre knocks down the walls with a earth rumbling solo. The only letdown of the night is when the show ended. Throughly entertaining from start to finish the evening was a complete success as The Digs left the The Drake Hotel in ruin. So if ever you find yourself bored on a Thursday evening, treat yourself to a night of funk with The Digs.

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