Alessia Cara Keeps It Real for Toronto Hometown Show: Live Review

Alessia Cara
Kris Connor/FilmMagic

Alessia Cara didn't appear onstage Sunday at Toronto's Danforth Music Hall wearing skimpy or outrageous clothes. The 19-year-old Canadian pop singer seemed totally at ease, rather than seeking the spotlight to emit her "star" behavior. As much as her songs might be about that unsure 'finding yourself' teen phase, Cara's powerful voice and natural presence amount to a subtle confidence. Rather than experimenting with any attention-getting image, her image is just her -- as if she just walked from her college campus on to a stage. And it's obviously enough. 

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Cara's Know-It-All Tour is her first-ever full-scale trek and after starting last Friday in Montreal, it will take her all over North America until April. And the timing is right. Her first single "Here" -- which appeared on last summer's EP, Four Pink Walls, as well as her debut full-length, Know-It-All, that came out in November -- is still firmly rooted in the top 10 on Billboard's Hot 100 after 23 weeks, with sales of two million copies and 50 million YouTube views. 

On the second of Cara's two sold-out hometown shows at the Toronto theatre over the weekend, she took control of the 1,500-person venue while dressed casually in dark pants and jeans jacket. The three-piece band that backed the singer helped give the pop/R&B songs more of a rock and roll feel, as she occasionally jumped in on the action and played guitar as well. Cara used the full stage, moving from one side to another, pausing early on in the night to express her gratitude to her fans at how very far she has come so quickly.

"It's crazy to be back home," she said after opening numbers "I'm Yours" and "Wild Things." "It's crazy to think that last year, even a couple of months ago, I was wondering what to do with my life and wasn't sure if this thing was going to work out, this music career that I wanted," Cara said. "Nobody was playing my song ['Here'] at first. It was hard to get it on the radio and stuff and now I'm traveling the world and I'm back home and having all this amazing love from people I know; people I don't know it's crazy." 

"This is a song called 'Four Pink Walls.' I wrote it about my dream," she added before launching into the track. 

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On the ballad "Stars," Cara just stood at the mic, showing what she's got, sliding into a bit of Rihanna's "Diamonds." Some people have referenced Rihanna when talking about Cara's music, but her voice also has tinges of Diana Ross. She continued to show off her vocal chops as she continued into the slower "Stone" -- telling the audience it's "about having somebody in your life that's like your rock" and hitting a "wow" note at the end -- and then on "River of Tears." But it was "Scars to Your Beautiful" -- her next single -- that really connected, a sentiment that might have infiltrated the way she feels about the music industry and why she is simply being herself and not glamming or sexing herself up.

Calling on the girls, Cara said, "Show of hands how many of you on a daily basis, how many of you constantly feel pressured on how to look or how to dress or how your hair should be?" she asked. "I feel the exact same way and the day that we made this song, I was feeling that way.

"I was just so frustrated with the extremes that us girls go through to feel beautiful. It's so frustrating and I don't think it's valid and I don't think it's necessary and I wanted to make a song to basically say, 'If the world doesn't like the way that you look, then it's them that has to change and not you,' and so I made this song and it's a song called 'Scars to Your Beautiful.'"

Cara didn't leave "Here" for the encore; she capped her set with it. "I just want to take the time to say thank you for all your love and support," she said. "It's so cool to get love from your hometown. And I really got so far because of this one song that I'm about to play right now and this song took me way further than I ever imagined… and it's because of you guys, your support and your love, so, of course, I'm going to play it for you and you guys know what it is. It's a song called 'Here' and I want you guys to sing it as loud and you possibly can." 

When Cara returned for the encore -- to play the song she said started it all, her cover of "Sweater Weather" by The Neighbourhood and "My Song," a bonus track from the deluxe version of Know-It-All -- she got out her own camera and asked the audience to pose for her. "Do your peace signs, whatever," she said. And they obliged. It was a bit of a gimmicky move, her only of the night, but it was still genuine -- a capture of her sold-out hometown show.