Daniel Caesar Plays His Biggest Hometown Show at Toronto's Scotiabank Arena
The newly minted major label singer is rising towards star status, but he can still make any size room feel tender and intimate.
There was something in the air at Toronto's Scotiabank Arena on Friday night (Oct. 13) as Daniel Caesar took the stage for his biggest-ever hometown show.
After moving to the U.S. and signing a major label deal with Republic Records, the still-rising R&B star reached a new pinnacle that was easy to see at the sold-out arena. It was a huge stage for a homegrown artist who's graduated to bigger venues every time he's come through. But for those who have been following his career since his days busking in Trinity Bellwoods park in the mid-2010s, it didn't feel like a major change. Daniel Caesar's superpower has always been his intimacy, his emotionally-open songs connecting with each and every person in the room — no matter how big it is.
Now a No. 1 artist on the Billboard Hot 100 and Canadian Hot 100 (as a featured artist on Justin Bieber's smash "Peaches") and a reliable charter in his own right (his third album and major label debut Never Enough hit number 8 on the Billboard Canadian Albums chart), he radiated noticeable star power. But unlike fellow Toronto R&B star The Weeknd, who reached arena status after transforming his live style to match his veer into pop, Caesar still feels like essentially the same performer. In his signature braids and Jesus and Mary Chain t-shirt, he felt like his old self. He felt like someone to root for.
He did have some big-venue moments, but none took away from his reliability or understated charm. Three screens surrounded the stage, one vertical on each side and one horizontal above. Before he took the stage, they showed him and his band emerging from the green room and walking towards the performance area, almost like a UFC athlete before a big fight. It was a unique way of removing the distance between him and the crowd, letting them see the moments before (and later after) he's put on his pedestal. That didn't temper any of the loud Beatlemania-esque screams that greeted him from the young audience. From the beginning to the end of the show, there was never a moment when the audience wasn't belting along with him.
At one point, a boudoir-style white sheet dropped and surrounded him while he played in silhouette — a moody bit of stage dressing that did a lot with a little. Later, a set of rigs in the ceiling bathed parts of the audience in square pockets of light that danced around as he sang. It was a nice trick, but his most impressive trick is the same as it's always been: stripping down his songs and letting his gorgeous and vulnerable falsetto shine through. Throughout the night, the most powerful moments were ones where he stood or sat solo behind a sparse piano, organ or acoustic guitar. The three-piece band behind him was always ready with a woozy bit of D'Angelo-style psychedelic soul or a big Prince guitar solo, but he wasn't afraid to make his voice the focal point.
Caesar's wasn't the only tender voice that earned a showcase. He brought up special guest Mustafa (aka Mustafa The Poet) for their Never Enough collaboration "Toronto 2014." Mustafa's mournful delivery blended perfectly with Caeser's as they sang a reflective look back to the early days of their musical lives. Though he might not be in the city anymore, Caesar is still spiritually close. His opening acts were jazz band to the stars BadBadNotGood playing with soul singer Charlotte Day Wilson, both of whom he's maintained a connection to throughout his career. The band got some time to jam on songs like "Time Moves Slow" (a viral hit on TikTok during the pandemic) and Wilson's slow-burning "Work" closed the set by turning the venue into a sea of phone cameras.
In his own set, Caesar saved his most of his older hits from 2017's Freudian towards the end, and the fans were clearly waiting. For the love ballad "Best Part," couples got very close. As the camera found them, they treated it like a kiss cam. Later, on "Get You," he barely sang a single word, holding out the microphone for the fans to sing along while prompting them by speaking the first line of each verse. That's an undeniable flex, showing your hometown fans know every word and letting them live in the communal experience of enjoying it together. Still, though, for one of Daniel Caesar's most showstopping hits, it would have been nice to hear him sing it.
As if to make up for that, fans did get to hear him sing a couple of other people's songs. One of those covers was a solo acoustic version of Radiohead's introspective '90s outcast classic "Creep." What seemed like it might be a verse or two tease before launching into one of his own originals was actually the entire song, which earned a singalong from those in the room old enough to know it.
He didn't play a traditional onstage encore, but the camera followed him out as it followed him in. It showed him re-entering his dressing room, where Mustafa and Charlotte Day Wilson were waiting. He pulled out his guitar, and the three of them sang an even older classic: "Old Man" by Neil Young. Caesar flubbed a couple of chords, but that added to the homespun casualness of the backstage performance. All three singers have incredible voices filled with personality and dripping with emotion, and they came together in three-part harmony on the folk-rock classic.
It was an unconventional way to end a show, but it felt right for the moment. From the stage to the backstage, Daniel Caesar brought everyone closer.