3 min

Toronto loves Janet


I skipped Gaga. I’d be more than willing to like her if she’d show a single shred of creativity.

Someone who does is Janelle Monáe, whom I adore. I would have gone to see Monáe in a heartbeat, but none other than Miss Janet “Nasty” Jackson was in town!

She turned out a great show, all killer and no filler, and it was great to see a major artist in a relatively small venue like the Sony Centre. No album or movie or single to flog, either; this was a tour for the fans, and we were well satiated.

Watching her cycle through all her hits at once had usually calm and collected Toronto queers jumping up and down like schoolkids. Yes, I saw DJ Blackcat jamming to “Miss You Much,” R&B diva Jully Black giving “Feedback,” Youth Line’s Brandon Sawh getting his “Rhythm Nation” on, and Jelani and Sze-yang Lam of Ill Nana hollering during “Together Again.” Janet has been a big influence on the Ill Nana guys, so the night was particularly special for them.

“No one can take up space like her. She’s letting herself get older and she’s finding her power in that. It doesn’t seem like you’re getting less from her; it’s like you’re getting more because she’s not trying to hold on to her young image. She’s evolving,” says Sze-Yang.

Age aside, he notes that Jackson paced herself with “a big dance set in heels, then ballads in dress, another dance section in sneakers, before coming back for a last set in heels.”

A Janet show is more about the dancing than the singing, and Jelani points out that it’s her discipline that sets her apart.

“Her growth as a dancer excites me. To see that after so long in the business — that she’s still working.”

Although I noticed that Jackson kept the banter to a minimum, Sze-Yang quite rightly says that “her dancing and singing speaks for itself.”

I’m inclined to agree. Her quiet moments were as impressive as her dance breaks. She oozed across the stage in a lavender gown in a manner that would have made Mae West jealous. And then there was her legendary “Rhythm Nation” kickoff.

The first-night crowd was even treated to a wardrobe malfunction. No, she didn’t flash a mammary, but what happened was the kind of diva moment I was waiting for. Unhappy with how a rhinestone-studded shoulder piece was feeling, she tapped her shoulder and cast an imperious glance into the wings. Not three seconds later a meek wardrobe assistant scrambled onto the stage, fixed it and slunk off. Miss Jackson didn’t miss a note.

Jackson doesn’t always get the respect she’s entitled to. Just as much a chameleon as a certain pop granny (and with a film career that has thus far eluded said pop granny), she’s got better songs and choreography. The day that Madonna can get through the “If” dance break is far off, my friends, and until then, we have Janet bouncing through an emotional yet joyous encore of “Together Again.” Obvious, yes, but who’s going to deny a theatre full of screaming fans?

A diva-licious concert must be preceded by a diva-licious dinner. Miss Janet is a dedicated sushi fan; she once walked out of Urasawa in Los Angeles because there were no spider rolls.

So, would she be happy with the fish delicacies Toronto has to offer?

Well, believe me when I tell you that Kokoni Izakaya (459 Church St) would make her want to “Scream.” It’s certainly my favourite sushi in Toronto. Think tapas by way of Japan and Korea with attentive, friendly and accurate service. A throwaway item at other restos, a simple salmon skin roll becomes gorgeous and filling here, with a delicious crispy crunch that can be heard across the table. And the chirashi is a dream: artful sashimi over sushi rice. It’s colourful and gorgeous and the kind of dish that totally sexes up the table.

A pet peeve I have with some sushi joints is when the menu promises spicy but the dish disappoints. Here, the kamikaze roll (spicy salmon on top of shrimp tempura) delivers big taste and the slow-burning spice kick that I crave. Being adventurous pays off with the takoyaki (octopus puffs) and sushi pizza (deep-fried rice patty topped with your choice of sashimi) leading the way. And, for a bonus point, I was impressed by their choice of vegetarian rolls.

They’re open until 4am on weekends, so “All Nite” sushi fans don’t have to go to New Generation in the Annex to find their “Pleasure Principle.” It’s a perfect way to kick off or end a night out.

My only suggestion for the good folks at Kokoni? Add a Janet Jackson–inspired menu item. I can personally guarantee that Blackcat, Jully, Brandon, Ill Nana and I would be there every night. And as long as spider rolls stay on the menu, Janet herself just might drop by.