Wednesday, June 19, 2013
Artist: Sacred Harp Singers
Songs: 107 [Russia] + 47b [Idumea]
Recorded at 159 Manning ("Don't Trust Anyone Under 30 – Manning BBQ 2013"), June 14, 2013.
In time, I'll have much more to say about this whole day, but for now, you can see some tangential musings here. To the uninitiated, these songs will sound a little particular at first: the first time through the tune the ensemble is singing the "shapes" — the fah-so-lahs that are associated with the musical notation.
[Note: I got sidetracked thinking about stuff. Apologies for the rambling musings; some more proper notes and many sounds from NXNE will start flowing soon.]
Sacred Harp Singers @ 159 Manning
I was heading down for the Manning BBQ — Tim McCready's all-afternoon, all-evening party with all-around good vibes — which is generally considered to be one of the coolest things happening during NXNE. Enroute, I stopped off to grab a mickey of rum, knowing that there's a 7-11 on the corner of Dundas and Manning, and that I could grab a slurpee and fix myself what is known in Winnipeg as an "after-school special". That, plus some free beers made a sunny day even brighter and kept me pleasantly socially engaged.1 With bands on a backyard stage and playing in Tim's living room, this was as casual and close-up as you can get — pretty ideal by my standards. I saw some friends play some cool stuff, and some people that I didn't know play some cool stuff, and when I came in from the backyard at the end of a set out there, I found a group of Sacred Harp singers were huddled in a square in the living room.
Sacred Harp is a variation on shape-note singing, a sight-reading method with a simplified musical notation designed for communal singalongs. I've come across this before (mostly at Kith & Kin's holiday wassails, from which I recognized a couple faces in this ensemble), and I really love this beautiful music, even if I don't have any connection to its churchy Protestant origins. As the ensemble finished their song, I was spotted and got waved into the middle of the group and suddenly found myself sitting cross-legged on the floor, voices on all sides of me. In a full ensemble setting, this is where the group leader would stand, not just to conduct, but also to enjoy the honour of listening in the best-sounding spot where all the voices meet. And though I felt a little conspicuous being in the middle and not off to the side, I got over myself once I could basically just close my eyes and soak in the music.
And I was powerfully moved. As someone who experiences a lot of live music, I enjoy a lot of it, but it's not all that often that I'm swept right up into it like this. It's not just a matter of having had a few drinks and not just a matter of, like, digging it — it's being pulled into it in a whole different way, unexpectedly and all at once.
Regardless of your opinions pertaining to the disposition of souls, it's hard not to react to this without pulling out that whole vocabulary of metaphors of religious experience — although surely the music was engineered to prime just that sort of response. It's not my vocabulary — I'm sure I'd be more comfortable labelling it as an unmediated I-and-Thou moment — but, like, whoa. There was a feeling of ascension, like a column of light from on high had been sunk into my skull, beaming something down. Like floodgates opening, I was filled with melodies and colours and joy. Very trippy and healing, like a spiritual carwash.2
It was so emotionally involving that I wasn't really paying attention to the way I was sitting, and as the recital wound down (the punk band in the other half of the room being nearly ready to play) I sort of came back into myself and realized my foot was totally asleep. I was being extra careful as I stood up, and it was only when I put my weight on my other foot that I realized that one was even worse off and I nearly went down in a heap on top of the alto section. More than a little embarrassed, I quickly shuffled out of the room to find a place to stand for a minute, flexing my foot and realizing I'd managed to fuck up my ankle. Such is the worldly cost, I guess.
Machines don't capture all the spirit, but you can listen to a couple sacred songs from this set here.
Majical Cloudz @ Sneaky Dee's
I did manage to see one more fab living room set, and then it was time for me to head off for my night of NXNE proper. I limped up the street, got myself another slurpee, mixed myself a medicinal-strength after-school special, and took it for a shuffling walk up Dundas street. My timing was pretty good and I managed to catch a couple sets in the DIY basement retreat at Wavelength's showcase, which felt like a more humanistic setting than some of NXNE's more corporate outposts. Low ceiling, loud music, swirling lights. (And, speaking of transcendent possibilities, I also [deleted: 108 words].)
And from there I headed over to Double Double Land, which was surely an even less-likely festival venue, where I caught the compressed noise-diamonds of Chris Corsano and Bill Orcutt. That more or less took care of the planned part of the night, and after grabbing a drink at the convenience store to give a good home to the last of my rum, with a sort of homing instinct I pointed myself toward the Silver Dollar, where a friend had suggested that Jef Barbara at one o'clock might be worth checking out. I arrived there just as Mikal Cronin's midnight set was finishing, and ran into another friend who said he was heading over to Sneaky Dee's. I shrugged and joined in with a "why not" sort of attitude and thus ended up catching The Luyas, who I like fine enough.
And after that, through a complete lack of any planning whatsoever, I ended up being there for the "secret guest", who turned out to be Montréal-based buzz act Majical Cloudz. This pleased me in a way: I'd checked out a few tracks and was surprised at the depth of my dislike for them ("Coldplay for hipsters," was my reaction) relative to the excitement they seemed to be generating among some people I know. That made this a chance to revisit my opinion, as I am definitely a person who can be won over by a good live performance.
I was not won over.
I would go so far to say that while I'm guessing that this was probably someone else's transcendent moment at the festival, I left thinking that it was totally bogus. Vocalist Devon Welsh (his nose and eyebrows making him a dead ringer for Bert the Muppet, shaved head notwithstanding) is being sold as an intense frontman making direct emotional contact with the crowd, but at this show at least, that mostly just translated into a broody diva act: complaining about the on-stage sound throughout, he moaned, "something feels terribly not right," at one point, proceeding to comment that his voice could give out at any time, and implying that like a too-delicate bloom he could simply perish from this earth at any given moment.
I'm not against shtick. In fact, in the right context, I quite like it. But when shtick swaddles itself in those tired vestments of "authenticity" and tries to pretend that it's utterly disingenuous spontaneity, it tends to completely turn me off. Plus, no amount of ersatz "intensity" can elevate what is some fairly dull material (provided by stoic knob-twiddler Matthew Otto) — although I might have been wrong with the Coldplay crack, as live it sounded more like slowed-down versions of INXS' power ballads.3 By set's end — oh goodness, oh quel surprise! — the burdens of it all were just too much for Welsh, who jumped to the foot of the stage and crouched down, the audience around him following suit, a contrived simulacrum of intimacy that just left me rolling my eyes.
You can judge for yourself, and listen to a track from this set here.
Lean Left @ The Tranzac
Saturday, my ankle still a little sore, I went to see some bands play on a patio and I dropped somewhat-warily into a VICE party in a parking lot where I felt under-tattooed and under-American-Apparel-ed.4 Anyways, after that, I headed to the Tranzac, for another show whose very existence under the NXNE banner pleased me greatly.
Tad Michalak's Burn Down the Capital shows consistently look beyond fashion and trend to bring the unusual and unclassifiable to town, and I was obliquely pleased that somehow his shows over the weekend were, at some level, equal options to everything else on the festival grid. As a great fan of both the sax work of Ken Vandermark as well as the guitar interplay of Terrie Hessels and Andy Moor (of Dutch punk lifers The Ex) , I would have gone to this in any event — but I was pleased that this was part of my "festival experience".
Running into some friends, I ended up with a spot right up front, and after an engaging performance by Andrea Parkins and an amazing set by THIGHS, as Lean Left set up on the floor in front of the main hall's stage, I realized I was going to have Hassels (and his amp and his astonishing guitar) right in front of me. Once the band was set up, Hassels rocked back and forth on the balls of his feet a couple times like a tennis player preparing to serve, and then everyone launched into it. Vandermark's sax and Paal Nilssen-Love's drums were flanked by the two guitar players. They were acting as much percussionists as anything else, especially Hassels, who played his guitar with a drumstick for much of the set — sometimes thwacking the body, sometimes the strings, or occasionally just using it like he was trying to pry the strings off.
This was so fascinating that some early sound problems (the sax was very low at the start of the show) didn't matter to me at all. There was so much unfolding from each of the musicians from moment to moment, but I was mostly mesmerized by what was right in front of me, which was hard not to do when I could occasionally feel the long, untrimmed ends of Hassels' strings brush against my legs a couple times as he swung around especially close to me. And a few minutes later, Hassels held the headstock of his guitar down against the surface of the table beside me, grinding the tuning pegs back and forth, leaving a few new scratches on the table's surface in the process and sending rorwing rumbles through the amp.
And once again I was totally engaged in the moment. While the music that Lean Left created was melodically unstructured, it had an instantaneous internal logic that held it all together. There's something truly powerful about improvised music where the performers are listening and reacting to each other with such easy closeness — and when it's unfolding right in front of you, it can really blow you away. The set felt like it flung past me in a rush, and all I could do was hang on, grinning. The best set I've seen all year.
A recording ain't the same, but listen to an excerpt from this set here.
As someone who goes to a fair number of shows, I've oft thought about why I go to shows. People head to gigs for a whole lotta different reasons. I mean, everyone likes music, generically speaking, but a lot of the time, heading to a gig is mostly a chance to gather with old friends and occasionally encounter new ones. In fact, over the years I've come to admire people for whom that's a primary function, as they're the ones who seem more well-adjusted, less fixated on the music as a thing-in-itself. But what can you say for those wide-eyed ones over at the side who show up hoping for (but never necessarily expecting to get) that rare spark, that moment of true bliss — that moment where you're transported a little bit beyond yourself? Ah, that little taste of transcendence. (It's no wonder music enthusiasts are subject to a lot of easy junkie metaphors, always trying to recreate that perfect first high.)
The thing is, even when you go in with big expectations, most of the time the highest reasonable expectation is "really good", and not "mind-blowing". And the more stuff you've ever seen, the less likely you are to have your mind blown. This is probably why I kinda admire the people who basically let their tastes of their younger selves ossify, and stick with that stuff, going back to it again and again for a sort of contact high of remembering how life-altering it once was. I've never (yet) hit that point where my taste is fully composed, though, and that retrospective-glow thing just doesn't work for me, which is maybe why I dislike any sort of reunion shows.
Ironically, of course, I headed from The Tranzac to go see a reunion show, catching Tangiers' ten-years-ago-already reunion at The Garrison. It was good, but once again just back in that realm of merely good. Having tasted something far stronger right before, it didn't make as much of an impact on me, and though there were many late-night options open in front of me, I knew it was time to call it a night.
Having those experiences on back-to-back nights seems like unusual luck — having those moments of dare-I-say-it transcendence are really rare, like once or twice a year rare. They can't happen all that often because there's such a wide range of internal and external factors coming together — from one's own mood, to being in the right spot in the right room, to the musicians being especially on, to having listened to everything else so far in your life and being primed for this next thing to be a catalyst that creates some unexpected new connection. But it's that whole not-because-they-are-easy-but-because-they-are-hawd thing that gives those moments their exceptional value.
And maybe that's why I reacted so strongly, in a negative way, to that Magical Cloudz set. In the name of having captured that essence, it seems like it's selling a cheap reproduction of it. And yet, and yet... what is the standard by which I can call bullshit on this? How am I supposed to judge the quality of someone else's experience? A younger version of me would have been as likely to have been totally fucking impressed by that set as to have ranted forcefully about Welsh's jive-assed "my feelings are so real they hurt" shtick. Anyways: nowadays, I've got other, better things to worry about. Namely, to get out there, and soldier on every day, and hope that once or twice a year that that thing happens.
2 It's probably frowed upon to "monetize" this sort of thing, but an enterprising sort could totally rent out that central spot as a therapeutic treatment.
3 Ribbing aside, one singer that Welsh brought to my mind after some thought was Fatima Mansions' Cathal Coughlan, and the comparison is illustrative, as Coughlan starts, on the surface, from a similarly emotive place as Walsh but then delves into a more interesting pathos by moving — knowingly — over the top. He could also tear into a contrasting rocker to offset the ballads — a move that Welsh doesn't seem to be interested in.
4 When I described the scene later to someone later, with a big parking lot full of people drinking free beer juxtaposed against five porta-potties, they cogently concluded, "that, right there, should be a VICE 'don't'".
Thursday, June 13, 2013
Artist: Mike O'Neill
Song: Nobody Tells Me a Thing
Recorded at The Piston ("Tin Angel Records showcase" – NXNE 2013), June 12, 2013.Mike O'Neill - Nobody Tells Me a Thing
My quick notes for this set can be found here. This song starts with the band figuring out how to play it on the fly — but stick around and see where they take it to.
NXNE 2013 (Wednesday, June 13, 2013)
While these shows are fresh in my mind I want to get some quick notes down. In the fullness of time there will be a more complete accounting of the night that'll include even more details and recordings.
8 p.m.: Bernice @ The Piston
Trying to ease into the overload of the festival, I decided to simply settle into one place for the night, and this showcase put together by Tin Angel Records had a nice mix of old favourites plus the chance of making some new discoveries. I was entirely pleased to see that the word on Bernice is getting around, as they attracted the most attention and biggest crowd of the night. It was also, even more excitingly, a quiet and respectful crowd (as the venue would have all night), which is great, as decorum can sometimes go by the wayside when shows get filled with passholders who are merely making the scene.
That made this an entirely conducive environment for Robin Dann and her supporting cast, and even if the set got off to a less-than-smooth start (thanks to an errant MIDI cable), that and the various between-song pauses gave a chance for her to draw the crowd in with endearingly awkward banter. The vocal interplay between Dann and Felicity Williams floated on top of the synth textures provided by Thom Gill (who'd show up on stage during a couple more sets as the night moved on) and some subtly-complicating guitar abstractions from Colin Fisher. Soulful as a warm breeze blowing in from St. Lucia and intimate as a letter from a friend, this band is settling into a special place right now.
9 p.m.: Ed Askew @ The Piston
When someone is tagged as a "freak folk outsider", or similar label, it's easy to come to a show ready to find a bug-eyed ranting semi-madman. And that was sort of the hook for Ed Askew, noteworthy for having released an album on the underground ESP-Disk label in 1969. But there's been a life lived in the meantime, with plenty of painting, poetry and music. On seeing the genteel Askew take the stage with solemn casualness, I remembered that reality's always more complicated than a three-sentence bio.
The occasional cough (brought on by allergies) notwithstanding, Askew and his backing duo (on keybs, guit, ukulele, banjo, and what I'm guessing was a tiple) created an understated yet affecting backdrop for his songs. Filled with unassuming vulnerability and melancholy memories, the most "outside" element here was Askew's plainspoken poetry, sometimes delivered in a sing-speak that belied the underlying craft. Ed Askew has existed outside the commercialized record industry for most of his life, a prolific home recorder with few formal releases, but there's now a whole bunch you can explore on his bandcamp — clearly his manner of musical production was just waiting for the world to catch up to him. His set was a quiet gem, and left me with a feeling not unlike meeting an old friend for a walk in the park on a cloudy day.
Ed Askew plays a non-NXNE set tonight (June 13) at Holy Oak, and one more official showcase on Friday (June 14), 11 PM at Czehoski.
Listen to a track from this set here.
10 p.m.: Two Wings @ The Piston
Except for the fact that they are also on Tin Angel, I didn't know anything about Glasgow's Two Wings, though I did recognize local ringer Doug Tielli, who joined them for a few songs on trombone.1 That brassy opening salvo lent the band a soulful vibe, and I was momentarily worried that this was going to get all Commitments-ish. Fortunately, their palette is much broader than that, first evidenced when vocalist/guitarist Hanna Tuulikki added some flute grooves, and then even moreso when the band downshifted into a lean Fleetwood Mac-styled groove. The set even ended with a Yoko-riffic freakout, though that was a bit of a sonic outlier. At their best, the band moved with a sophisticated propulsion that kept itself grounded to a rockin' earthiness. Bonus feature: keep an eye out for drummer Owen Curtis Williams' intense facial expressions, earning you a checkmark if "drumface" is on your NXNE bingo card.
Two Wings play again on Saturday (June 15) at 10 PM at Handlebar.
Listen to a track from this set here.
11 p.m.: Mike O'Neill @ The Piston
This was originally billed as a duo set alongside Devon Sproule, whose album of co-writes with O'Neill will be seeing release on Tin Angel in September. However, with unspecified complications keeping her away, some shuffling last-minute improvisations made this a unique, possibly one-off experience. Drafting some of the musicians who played on Colours was easy, as they had just been on the stage with Bernice. So here we had O'Neill taking the lead for these new songs, complemented by Robin Dann in a support role.
There were plenty of cheatsheats and notepads on stage, but the band got through the set with a rough-edged brio that was thoroughly enjoyable. Given how familiar these musicians are with each other, they managed to keep things from stumbling too badly — and in a few places it managed to soar with a sort of accidental majesty, such as on a set-clinching guitar solo from Thom Gill on "Nobody Tells Me a Thing" that he pushed further and further off the ledge, like it was his own personal "Purple Rain". I imagine we'll have a chance to hear these songs presented "properly" in Devon Sproule's own voice once the album comes out, but for now, this was a unique and memorable set.
Mile O'Neill will be playing a set of his solo material as part of the Murderecords tribute night on Friday (June 14) at 10 PM at The Great Hall.
Listen to a track from this set here.
Midnite: Marker Starling @ The Piston
I'm always happy to catch a set from Chris Cummings, who played until recently as Mantler. He's now operating as Marker Starling, but the songs and the spirit remain the same. In his customary trio with Matt McLaren (bass) and Jay Anderson (drums), his wurlitzer led the way through songs of sophisticated regrets and guaranteed good times. They'd be joined, for the bulk of the set, by another trio of backing vocalists: Felicity Williams and Thom Gill from Bernice, as well as Alex Samaras.
This configuration first came together for the musical tribute to Cummings' former collaborator Dennis Frey (who passed away last year) and has performed together on a few occasions since. I'd missed all those, and was glad to have the opportunity to hear some older songs from Landau and Sadisfaction get some lush new arrangements. "Regret", "Playing Along", and "I've Been Destroyed" (with its insistent repeating background vocal hook) all shone in this context. And finishing with enough time for one last song after that, Cummings acceded to a request and played the ever-funky "Fresh and Fair" which, not having been rehearsed, got some disco-y impromptu backing vocals. As always, a fabulous time from a wonderful entertainer.
Listen to a track from this set here.
1 Speaking of Doug Tielli, do note he will be playing a show on Sunday night (June 16) at Double Double Land, headlining a tantalizing bill alongside THOMAS, Grex and Nick Fraser.
Wednesday, June 12, 2013
Artist: Sharif Sehnaoui
Recorded at The Tranzac (Main Hall), June 11, 2013.Sharif Sehnaoui - [excerpt]
Full review to follow. Nick Storring put this night together to exchange some culture with Beirut-based Sehnaoui, who was passing through town on his first Canadian tour. The night saw a range of sounds, from the extended techniques of Storring's own improv-cello duo The Knot to the John Cage standup routine of Andrew Zukerman's Fleshtone Aura. Sehnaoui's set, meanwhile, could best be described as "solo percussion for acoustic guitar", with the rods stuck in the strings creating some bell-like overtones when struck.
* I'm not sure if the longer piece that was played here had a title or not. Please leave a comment if you know!
Artist: Ido Govrin + Adam Scime
Recorded at The Tranzac (Main Hall), June 11, 2013.Ido Govrin + Adam Scime - [excerpt]
Full review to follow. This set saw Scime's double bass providing the raw material for Govrin's laptop manipulations. Decaying loops reminiscent of Discrete Music gave way to more percussive sounds as the live sound occasionally vanished into a hazy trail of sonic rumbles and hisses. Billed as a "one-off collaboration", I could surely stand to hear more of this.
* I'm not sure if the longer piece that was played here had a title or not. Please leave a comment if you know!
Tuesday, June 11, 2013
Yesterday, I looked at some of the best showcases to check out if you're staying put. Today, here's a whole list of good stuff to check out if you're hopping from venue to venue. You can always search through the tag cloud at the right to find more stuff about most of these bands.
With NXNE boasting such huge numbers of bands every year, you have to accept that you're not going to see everything — and, realistically, you can't even research everything. At least that's the case for me. But in a general effort to reduce the unknown unknowns, I'm putting down a list of bands that I feel confident recommending for you. With just a couple exceptions, these are bands that I've seen before, many more than once. And to back up my claims, I've included a live recording for many of them so you can judge for yourself what you're getting into.
The Silver Dollar Room, Thursday, June 13 @ midnite; Friday, June 14 @ midnite; Saturday, June 15 @ 1 AM
Two facts you need to know: 1) Cronin has been a long-time sideman to garage-rock savant Ty Segall; 2) he's been booked to headline Dan Burke's now-legendary triple header stand at The Silver Dollar. Even without consideration of his much-lauded new MCII album, that's more than enough to indicate that this is a festival must-see.
And while I didn't mention Dan Burke's NeXT@NXNE Showstorm in yesterday's list of best-curated showcases, it's only because it's assumed by now that festival-goers know that this is the place to head when you want a late-night party and a new rock'n'roll discovery. The three nights at the Dollar are packed with great bands I know, and a bunch I haven't discovered yet. But here's a few you should make time to see:
- The blistering, no-bullshit rock'n'roll attack that Pow Wows bring will be the perfect follow-up to Mikal Cronin (Silver Dollar Room, Thursday, June 13 @ 1 AM )
Listen! Pow Wows - Shock Corridor
- And stick around, as well, for the scrappy folk-punk breakdown of Nicholas Doubleyou & the B-Squad (Silver Dollar Room, Thursday, June 13 @ 2 AM; also at The Boat, Friday, June 14 @ 2 AM) which will evoke (and assuage) all of your existential concerns with staggering breakneck velocity.
Listen! Nicholas Doubleyou and The B-Squad - Waterloo
- AroarA (Silver Dollar Room, Friday, June 14 @ 8 PM) have been practicing on their cigar-box guitars and letting their sound develop organically for a little while now, so the melding of backwoods poetry and eastern mystic music that Andrew Whiteman (Apostle of Hustle, Broken Social Scene) and Ariel Engle have come up sounds totally unforced. A great way to start your night.
- Alvvays (née Always; Silver Dollar Room, Friday, June 14 @ 10 PM) have also been letting their sound develop in a mostly under-the-radar fashion, showing up in intriguing opening slots but not yet releasing anything or playing many (any?) of their own shows. But their music will appeal to anyone with some albums from the poppier end of Slumberland's output in their collection.
Listen! Always - Archie, Marry Me
- By 3 a.m. at The Dollar, the crowd is thinned out some and running on the day's last adrenaline fumes. That makes for a good environment to catch the belligerent-edged Fill Spectre (Silver Dollar Room, Friday, June 14 @ 3 AM; also at Crawford, Sunday, June 16 @ 2 AM) before you stumble out the door. Be prepared for the music to hit you like a chain across the temple.
Listen! Fill Spectre - Not Good To Be Bad
- Fronted by one of the great voices in the Toronto music scene, Sphinxs (Silver Dollar Room, Saturday, June 15 @ 2 AM) bring soulful glamour to their garage-rock stompers.
Listen! Sphinxs - Both Die
Heading outside the confines of the Silver Dollar, here's a whole bunch more bands that your should go out of your way to see:
The Shop under Parts & Labour, Thursday, June 13 @ midnite
From the get-go, Hussy have had a good line in misanthropic slugsludge — but when I saw 'em a couple weeks ago, it was quite evident that the band has levelled up into something forceful that throbs like a mofo. The bomb-shelter environs of P&L should suit them just right.
Listen! Hussy - Ladies Nite
BLK BOX, Friday, June 14 @ 10 PM; The Garrison Front Room, Saturday, June 15, 7 PM
Another band that impressed on a recent viewing, Jasmyn Burke's post-RatTail unit is just getting established as a live band, but they're already creating some impressive warbly-weird pop backdrops for Burke's unconstrained vocals and powerful frontwoman persona.
Listen! Weaves - Take a Dip
BLK BOX, Friday, June 14 @ 11 PM
After that, stick around for the sophisticated party-rock of Guelph's The Magic. When they go all-out, their sets are somewhere between a sophisticated pageant and a sweaty dance party.
Listen! The Magic - Door to Door
The Drake Underground, Friday, June 14 @ 10 PM
As patient as an album-side-long prog suite and as insistent as a krautrock chug, Absolutely Free's sound is like pop in a lab coat, ready to discover the future.
Listen! Absolutely Free - Clothed Woman Sitting
Lee's Palace, Friday, June 14 @ 9 PM
Embodying the sonic threat that their name implies, B-17 curdles sunny psychedelia into an offering for a black sabbath — and is issuing it with one of the city's most kinetic live shows.
Listen! B-17 - Another Nocturnal Day
The BB Guns
Lee's Palace, Saturday, June 15 @ 9 PM
So far as I can tell, pretty much the only thing holding back these "girl group garage" stars is a city that too often wants to see approval coming from elsewhere first. If this band were from Brooklyn or California, they'd be huge. Confident in their balancing of sock-hop sass and punkish attitude, they're a great live unit to boot.
Listen! The BB Guns - Queen of the World
Sean Nicholas Savage
Comfort Zone, Thursday, June 13 @ midnite
After establishing himself as a shapeshifting and prolific underground chameleon, SNS has synthesized all his strengths as on the new Other Life and looks ready to become a world-conquering crooner.
The Horseshoe Tavern, Saturday, June 15 @ 10 PM
After losing a member, catl took a season-long hiatus to consider their options, and is now coming back as a stripped-down two-piece. That shouldn't change the essence of the band, though — you can probably still expect lightning, whisky, sweat and grease to be the key components of an awesome juke-joint party.
Listen! catl - Call Her Name
The Horseshoe Tavern, Thursday, June 13 @ 10 PM
It's been a surprise — albeit not an unpleasant one — to see DIANA taking the world by (quiet) storm. Formed from the ashes of Everything All The Time (one of the bands where Joseph Shabason sharpened the mellow chops he'd later deploy in his sideman stint with Destroyer) and combined with Carmen Elle's voice and magnetism, there was no doubting the talent accumulated here. But the band's 80's-inspired jams have definitely touched a chord. The big stages that they've been playing on tour as openers to some high-profile bands might be giving them ideas, so take this chance to catch them in the cozy confines of the 'Shoe.
Listen! DIANA - Perpetual Surrender
The Horseshoe Tavern, Thursday, June 13 @ 9 PM; Wrongbar, Friday, June 14 @ 11 PM; Yonge Dundas Square, Saturday, June 15 @ 5 PM
It's been exciting to see Daniel Woodhead's project evolve from a scrappy two-piece to a full band with a nuanced, dreamy sound. Along the way, layers of sophistication haven't detracted from an energetic live show, honed to a sharp point by months of touring.
Listen! Moon King - Crucified
The Garrison, Friday, June 14 @ 1 AM; Bruise Cruise, Saturday, June 15 @ 2:40 PM
Another band that whose profile has been expanding alongside the refinement of their murky/menacing vision, OO can still sound like they're playing a sweaty basement party no matter what sort of stage they're on.
Listen! Odonis Odonis - Wipeout Beat
Rivoli, Wednesday, June 12 @ midnite
Reg Vermue has been spending a bit more time on stage lately as Regina, his drag alter ego, in the fabulous Light Fires. But here he returns to remind us just how good the songs from last year's Leisure Life were.
Listen! Gentleman Reg - Driving the Truth
Silver Dollar - Side Stage, Saturday, June 15 @ 8:45 + 9:45 PM
Having recently re-convened his Adorables all-star rock band and preparing to unleash his "Feint of Hart" punk rock opera next month, I don't know just what Henri Fabergé is going to bring to these side-stage sets, but I expect that it will involve some manner of spectacle.
Listen! Henri Fabergé & the Adorables - Ventriloquist Love
The Jessica Stuart Few
C'est What, Friday, June 14 @ 1 AM
Stuart's folk-pop stylings are the musical equivalent of a microbrew on a patio on a hot summer day — crisp and refreshing, sunny and bright. Expect extra sophistication in the form of the koto.
Listen! The Jessica Stuart Few - Kid Dream
The Boat, Wednesday, June 12 @ 12:45 AM
LV are not Not a Fucking Surf Band, a fact underlined by the fact they got Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet's Don Pyle to produce their debut EP. An all-star team of veterans from heaps of great Guelph and Toronto bands, they got chops to spare, but aren't above slipping on their hip flasks and leather jackets and having some fun on stage.
Listen! Legato Vipers - Rat King + Angel Dust
Velvet Underground, Saturday, June 15 @ 10 PM
This band's "epic-stoner-sludge-pop" is the soundtrack to a bummer vibe being exorcised.
Listen! Dilly Dally - Green
Wrongbar, Thursday, June 13 @ 9 PM
Kat Burns (formerly of Forest City Lovers) has already been recording the follow-up to last year's Vichada, so there should be some new songs in the mix — and an increased comfort with the transition from folk-rock to electro-pop. Regardless of the musical setting, Burns remains a strong songwriter, delivering her music with a bashful smile.
Listen! Kashka - This Machine
Rancho Relaxo, Friday, June 14 @ 9 PM
Frontwoman Kritty Uranowski brings a brassy exuberance to the stage, while her band offers touches of classic 60's songcraft — including swaying backing vocalists. Expect rays of sun to burst out at any time.
Listen! Patti Cake - Diamonds
The Central, Friday, June 14 @ midnite
This rambunctious crew is a party, funeral and wake all rolled up in one package. The local "art-country" upstarts have a raucous time on stage (complete with banjo, mandolin and singing saw), but they've now complemented that with a meticulously-crafted document in the just-released Just Rivers album.
Listen! Beams - Be My Brother
Hideout Friday, June 14 @ 10 PM
Saskatoon's Shooting Guns produce a thick and doomy instrumental psych-sludge that's heavy enough to curdle your Vi-Co. Metal for non-metal folks and metalheads alike.
Listen! Shooting Guns - Public Taser
The Horseshoe Tavern, Saturday, June 15 @ 2 AM
Excellently twitchy blood-on-the-strings slop-punk, propelled into viscous escape velocity. Guard your favourite body cavities.
Listen! The Soupcans - The Simulant
R------ Stage - Harbourfront, Sunday, June 16 @ 2 PM
These teenagers' stated aim is to become "the funnest band ever" and they're a good way along that path. Short songs about the sort of stuff that we can all relate to: rock stars, BFF's, epic failures, haunted houses, and trying not to laugh when we see people falling over.
Artist: Joshua Abrams' Natural Information Society
Recorded at Array Space, June 10, 2013.Joshua Abrams' Natural Information Society - Boro
Full review to follow. This tune comes from the same source material from which Don Cherry fashioned "Mopti", which probably gives a sense of the North African drone/groove sensibility that Chicago's Joshua Abrams is bringing to this project. Rocking the guimbri, the ensemble also included electric guitar, drums and harmonium and combined for some intensely tasty grooves.
Monday, June 10, 2013
As always, there's way more to take in during NXNE than I could possibly wrap my head around. There's a lot of good bands spread over a full slate of showcases from Wednesday to Saturday, so if you have the stamina to go out every night, this is one festival where the price of a wristband can be justified. Tomorrow, I'll present a heaping helping of bands that it'd be worth seeing if you're skipping around from place to place [now posted here!], but for today I'll start with a whole bunch of shows that it would be worth going to if you wanted to settle at one spot all night long.
N.B. All samples below are live recordings from my previously-posted field excursions, and should give you some idea of what to expect from these artists.
Wednesday, June 12
Afrofest @ The Gladstone Hotel Ballroom
Njacko Backo (8 PM) / Tich Maredza Band (9 PM) / Madagascar Slim (10 PM) / Foly Asiko (11 PM) / Trinity (midnite)
Afrofest is one of Toronto's great summer traditions (this year on July 6 & 7), and this year they'll be celebrating their twenty-fifth anniversary. They'll be complementing their lineup announcement with this night of some of the best local African musicians. Njacko Backo's drumming and storytelling styles will give you a good jolt of energy to lead off the night and the rest of these bands will get you dancing. If you want to put your badge or wristband to use in discovering new music, here's a whole other continent you can explore.
Listen! Njacko Backo - James Brown Style
Madagascar Slim - Mbo
Tin Angel @ The Piston
Bernice (8 PM) / Ed Askew (9 PM) / Two Wings (10 PM) / Devon Sproule + Mike O'Neill (11 PM) / Marker Starling (midnite) / Opal Onyx (1 AM)
England's Tin Angel records maintains some strong T.O. connections, helping release some fine local talent on the other side of the pond. I'm more familiar with that contingent in this showcase, and I can attent that they alone make it worth parking yourself in the Piston's back room all night. The sophisticated grooves of Robin Dann's Bernice reveal a true understated gem, just now starting to play more gigs and get some notice, while the songs that Devon Sproule and Mike O'Neill recorded in town together earlier this year now have a release date set (September 24th) and will be eager to show their colours and Marker Starling (formerly Mantler) will guarantee you a good time with their Wurlitzer pop stylings. Meanwhile, I'm intrigued with the opportunity to see Ed Askew, who released a freak-folk album on the esteemed ESP label in 1967.
Listen! Bernice - Body Motivation
Devon Sproule - Colours
Marker Starling - Childman
Thursday, June 13
Pretty Pretty @ BLK BOX
Dream Affair (8PM) / Black Marble (9 PM) / Cellphone (10 PM) / Ell V Gore (11 PM) / No Joy (midnite) / Tonstartssbandht (1 AM) / Kontravoid (2 am) / Jubal Brown (3 am)
If you believe that only darkness has the power, then this appropriately-named venue will be the place to be. Elliott Jones' party infrastructure-cum-record label veers between his own Ell V Gore's goth-punk (which is using this night to celebrate the release of their first record) and darkwave synth-based music, like that of co-founder Cam Findlay's Kontravoid. In between is everything from Cellphone's spazz-out stylings to No Joy's volumizing shoegaze. I haven't caught a set from Tonstartssbandht yet, but my sources indicate they put on a great live show.
Listen! Ell V Gore - Scandals/Her Vicious
No Joy - Ghost Blonde
Wavelength @ Creatures Creating
Home Alone (9 PM) / Miss Elizabeth (10 PM) / Petra Glynt (11 PM) / PROGRAM (midnite) / doomsquad (1 AM)
Helping to keep NXNE interesting, Wavelength is curating its own mini-fest over three nights at Dundas W. gallery space Creatures Creating. There's piles of local talent here, and you can consider these shows to be your best stand-by if you don't know what else to do with yourself. On this first night, there's bent dance music from Miss Elizabeth, Petra Glynt (whose Alex Mackenzie is also filling the space with an art installation) and doomsquad, plus the exacting guitar-rock of PROGRAM (who have recently renamed themselves from Volcano Playground).
Listen! Petra Glynt - Sour Paradise
Doom Squad - Born from the Marriage of the Moon and a Crocodile + Eternal Return
Volcano Playground - Everything at Once
Burn Down the Capital/Offerings @ Double Double Land
Famous Wildlife Movies (10 PM) / Man Made Hill (11 PM) / Drainolith (midnite)
The festival's propensity for absorbing some otherwise-unrelated shows means that some relatively "outside" shows are, randomly and amusingly, part of the NXNE orbit. Tad Michalak brings a lot of barely-classifiable bands to town through his Burn Down the Capital shows and is also involved with the defiantly-offline Offerings, which documents the local anomalous music scenes. Willing explorers with a wristband can gain admittance to these shows. This one is as well worth it for the undercard, with Mike Smith (formerly of Muskox) bringing his new-ish solo synth project Famous Wildlife Movies and the inimitable avant dance of Man Made Hill sharing the stage with the "twisted outing of solo guitar, synth & homemade drum pad manipulations" of Alex Moskos' (also of Aids Wolf) Drainolith project.
Listen! Man Made Hill - unknown
Friday, June 14
Wavelength @ Creatures Creating
Prom (9 PM) / Mexican Slang (10 PM) / We Were Heads (11 PM) / Ostrich Tuning (midnite) / Cellphone (1 AM)
Lots of new discoveries to be made here, on a night headlined by the gorgeous drones'n'waves of Ostrich Tuning, one of my favourite local bands.
Listen! Ostrich Tuning - unknown
Murderecords 21 Year Salute @ The Great Hall
Mike O'Neill (10 PM) / The Super Friendz (11 PM) / Sloan (midnite)
Nostalgists of a certain age will be attracted to this pop explosion, with Mike O'Neill (of The Inbreds) playing alongside two great bands that got their start in Halifax. The Super Friendz were a lot of fun at lat year's reunion show, while Sloan are promising to include a complete run-through of their career-launching Peppermint EP in their set.
Listen! Mike O'Neill - Don't Forget to Breathe
The Super Friendz - Come Clean + Rescue Us From Boredom
Sloan - Everything You've Done Wrong
Not Unlike @ Handlebar
Wizard Of (8 PM) / John Milner, You're So Boss (9 PM) / Elsa (10 PM) / bbigpigg (11 PM) / Digits (midnite) / THIGHS (1 AM) / Sailboats Are White (2 AM)
Giving Wavelength a run for their money, local label Not Unlike curates an excellent night at one of the festival's smallest venues, careening between dance music (Wizard Of, Digits) and spazzy blasts (John Milner, bbigpigg, THIGHS). In the middle of it all, check out the elegant restraint of Elsa's thinking person's guitar rock, which will appeal to fans of, say, Real Estate or later Feelies.
Listen! John Milner You're So Boss - unknown
Elsa - In Two
bbigpigg - New Tits
Digits - Because It's Wrong
THIGHS - Russ
Burn Down the Capital/Offerings @ Double Double Land
Brian Ruryk (10 PM) / Induced Labour (10:45 PM) / Bill Orcutt/Chris Corsano (11:45 PM)
Expect a literal junkyard bricolage to come crashing down at this user-unfriendly night, with Brian Ruryk's foundsound percussion/guitar spatter and Induced Labour ("perhaps as discomforting as their name suggests," I once noted) setting the stage for the free-noise collaboration between Bill Orcutt and Chris Corsano.
Saturday, June 15
Silent Shout @ Comfort Zone
Devan Boomen (8 PM) / Petra Glynt (9 PM) / Jay Arner (10 PM) / Prince Innocence (11 PM) / Tonstartssbandht (midnite) / Sexy Merlin (1 AM)
Silent Shout specializes in a specific grade of dark-edged electronic-based music, so you can feel secure showing up to this if your looking some a dance party with a menacing undercurrent. Expect things to get a little disoriented in the CZ's subterranean maze whether you're listening to Petra Glynt's revolutionary exuberance, Prince Innocence's icy chic, or Sexy Merlin's percussion-based wizardry.
Wavelength @ Creatures Creating
Fin (9 PM) / Os Tropies (10 PM) / Most People (11 PM) / Del Bel (midnite) / Fresh Snow (1 AM)
Wavelength's final show is also the launch of their first-ever tour, with the three bands in their artist incubator program taking to the road. It's an intriguing mix with Most People's bedroom pop, Del Bel's noirish atmospherics and Fresh Snow's kraut-inspired drones. Show up early for Os Tropies' neo-Tropicália.
Listen! Del Bel - Slave to The Deep
Fresh Snow - Nautical Smoke
Hand Drawn Dracula @ The Garrison
breeze (8 PM) / Cousins (9 PM) / Beliefs (10 PM) / Dusted (11 PM) / Tangiers (midnite) / doomsquad (1 AM) / Dream Affair (2 AM) / Greys (3 AM)
At the centre of this superbly-curated night from local label HDD is a reunion set from Tangiers. Josh Reichmann and James Sayce's band didn't quite get their due when they released the excellent Hot New Spirits in 2003, though they've gotten some renown in their later projects. The early lineup here (following up on a tasty front-room day party) is rather fabulous. Beliefs have gotten a lot of attention for their shoegaze-inspired popcraft, but the abstract jangle of Josh Korody's other band breeze shouldn't be ignored. Cousins bring a ramshackle, stripped-down DIY spirit to classic rock while Dusted, another duo, just might have some more new material to unveil.
Listen! Breeze - unknown
Cousins - Die
Beliefs - Catch My Breath
Dusted - Property Lines
Burn Down the Capital @ The Tranzac
Andrea Parkins (8 PM) / THIGHS (9 PM) / Lean Left (10 PM)
The arguable highlight of this year's festival takes place in the Tranzac's main hall, where the Terrie Hessels and Andy Moor (the guitarists from pioneering Dutch band The Ex) play alongside Paal Nilssen-Love (drums) and Ken Vandermark (sax) in a free-jazz/punk collision. Don't expect traditional structures from these excellent musicians, each of whom are equally capable of providing textural noise or stepping up to take the lead. A must-see. They'll be joined by the installation-y work of Andrea Parkins ("expect noisy disruption and soaring electronic feedback") and THIGHS' in-yr-face pigfuck squall.
Sunday, June 16
Ground Control Touring @ The Garrison
the beverleys (9 PM) / Ell V Gore (10 PM) / Lower (11 PM) / "special guest" (midnite)
As the festival winds down, there are still a number of respectable showcases on Sunday, but this one offers a one-stop destination for the night. the beverleys are one of the city's best young bands (think broken shards of Pretty on the Inside-era Hole and early Sleater-Kinney), and after a busy year with a lot of hours logged on stage, they're ready for their closeup. Another shot to see Ell V Gore here, and also Denmark punks Lower. That "special guest" isn't formally announced, but it's been widely discussed that their tourmates Iceage are taking that slot.
Listen! the beverleys - Anyway
Other tidbits and advice
These are all great destinations, and some even have the advantage that they won't be over-run by seekers of shallow "buzz". There's a lot of hype around some shows that the festival is holding at Yonge-Dundas Square, but unless you want to experience maximum human cramming and a vista of corporate tents blocking your view of the stage, it's best avoided altogether.
Otherwise, as you plan your festival, the best listings source is the gridtacular Showgopher, with streamable music from pretty much everyone playing the fest. There's a whole lot going on, especially in the daytimes, which are busier than ever with official and unofficial events. Keep an eye out for more popping up in the official offerings — as well as a whole lotta unofficial stuff.
Tomorrow: Plenty more recommendations, skewed to the show-hoppers. [Now posted here!]