Toronto and Darren Criss

I recently traveled up to Toronto, Ontario to see Darren Criss perform live in concert as part of his Listen Up! Tour on June 12, 2013 at the Phoenix Concert Theatre. I’ve been to handfuls of concerts in my life, but this one may very well have been one of my favorites.

Before the concert, however, I had to get through a day (of waiting) in Toronto. My bus left Buffalo around 6:45 am, and after getting through the border, got into Toronto around 9:25. I was staying at a bed & breakfast – more about that in a second – but couldn’t check in until 1:30, so I had to kill some time.

Typically when I visit Toronto, I tend to stick to the Financial District area… hitting up the Hockey Hall of Fame, Union Station, the Air Canada Centre, Real Sports Apparel, the waterfront. This time, however, I was able to explore a different part of the city, where I’ve never been before: Cabbagetown.

After a quick stop at Starbucks near the Eaton Centre, I stopped by the Loblaws in Maple Leaf Gardens. I always make it a point to stop there when I’m in Toronto, if only to take a minute to appreciate the historical value of the building. As a hockey fan, it’s not hard to recognize how amazing that building is – I only wish I’d had the chance to see a game there.

My next two stops were a pair of libraries. In case you’re new to my blog or just don’t know me very well, I’ll let you in on a little secret: I love libraries, and I seem to be drawn to them. Maybe it’s because I love reading or because I’ve worked at one for the past nearly five years… either way, I love to check out a library wherever I’m visiting. Each one is unique and a little different from the others. In Toronto this time, I visited the Parliament Library, followed by the St. James Town Library. They’re both nice – quaint little community libraries. (Also… it never fails to throw me off because they don’t use the LC system!)

After this, I went to my B&B and checked in. The House on McGill, also known as the McGill Inn, is a cute little Victorian townhouse located about a minute from the old Maple Leaf Gardens. It’s just a 10-minute walk to the Phoenix Concert Theatre, and a 15-minute walk to the bus terminal. I stayed in the Rose room, which was a bargain at just $60 for the night. It was just big enough for me – a bed, a desk, pretty simple yet perfect for what I needed.

I proceeded to the concert venue, where I sat outside for four and a half hours waiting for doors. Overall, it wasn’t bad. Time dragged at parts, of course, and the sun was unbearable at times (thank you, sunscreen!) but it was a fairly painless wait.

Doors opened at 6:30, and once in the venue, I scoped it out and eventually elected to sit up in the balcony area. (Being 22 helped here – there’s a bar in the balcony, so you had to be 19+.) This would end up being a wonderful decision, as I got a seat rather than having to stand all night, it was much less crowded than the floor that was packed like sardines, and I had a great view. Foursquare wasn’t lying about the sightlines being great in this venue.

Theo Katzman went on around 7:30, and he played for a good 45 minutes. He was able to play longer than most opening acts traditionally do, because the instruments for his set are the same ones used for Darren’s set. The only changes they made between sets was uncovering a piano for Darren’s use. Theo was good – even if I didn’t know any of his music beforehand, I’d definitely recommend checking him out.

Darren Criss went on around 8:30 and played for about an hour and 15 minutes. Now, if you haven’t seen the show and are trying to avoid spoilers… well, why are you reading this review? He opened the set with a rendition of “Circle of Life” – that’s right, from The Lion King – and it was amazing. (He’d end the set with the reprise.)

He played a lot of songs, mostly originals. Notable ones that stick out in my end are “Not Alone,” – still my favorite song, – “Human,” and his newest one, called “Once Upon a Time.” His piano version of “Teenage Dream” will never fail to bring me to chills and tears, and seeing it live….  breathtaking. Darren’s concert was very loose and relaxed, something that made the experience that much more enjoyable. It wasn’t scripted or rehearsed in the way that some others are… it was truly an experience with Darren.

He likes to talk – which I’m perfectly okay with – and the way that he seems relaxed and comfortable makes the concert just that much better. If he messes up a few notes on the guitar, he’ll admit it freely – maybe with a few curse words in the process – and start over. It’s difficult to put into words, but that kind of dynamic between the performer – the artist – and the crowd just makes it feel like an intimate concert experience. He’ll also remind you how badass you are, and how great life is, and how you should do whatever feels right for you, and it’s refreshing to hear that kind of stuff, especially from someone who truly was just a normal college student a few years ago. He still seems down-to-earth and very connected to the people around him, and I can’t say enough for how amazing the concert was.

After the concert, I spent the night at the bed & breakfast. I didn’t get the breakfast portion, as I left at 5 am and breakfast didn’t start till 6, but I’m sure it was also nice. I’d certainly recommend the McGill Inn if you need a nice place to stay in that part of the city, and I would absolutely recommend checking out Darren Criss’ music if you haven’t already…. trust me, it’s totally awesome.

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2 thoughts on “Toronto and Darren Criss

  1. Great review! I was at the same concert and after waiting in line for 6 hours, I too resorted to the upstairs balcony. At first I was worried about the view, but I had read ahead of time that no matter when you are in the Pheonix you will always have a great experience (plus it was nice to get away from the younger crowd whom I had to listen to while I waited in line). Darren was a great performer and it was so refreshing to finally get to see him perform live. Hopefully he’ll be back in the area again soon, in the mean time though, I can’t wait for his new album to be released!

  2. Great review! I was in line for 6 hours and ended up retreating upstairs to get away from the singing 13 year olds who were behind me. I read ahead of time that the Pheonix is a very intimate theatre and I was pleased with the view. Darren didn’t disappoint and it was fantastic to hear Theo live (I highly recommend his album). Can’t wait for Darren’s album! 🙂

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