Tuesday, June 23, 2009

NxNE: Friday

NxNE — North by Northeast Festival, Toronto 2009.

Friday, June 19, 2009. Featuring: Spiral Beach, Matt and Kim, Parlovr, Zeroes, Golden Triangle, Mika Miko, The Homosexuals, Experimental Dental School

7 P.M.: Spiral Beach @ Whippersnapper Gallery

Making my way through a College Street under siege, booths busily being set up for Taste of Little Italy, found a bit of a queue in front of the Whippersnapper Gallery as ID's were busily being checked. Still managed to get in a few minutes before seven and found a patch of floor not too far back from the stage. For the "big time" of NxNE there were a couple lighting rigs flanking the stage, adding a bit of visual flair to the venue.

I'd only seen Spiral Beach once before, December '06, when they opened for Tokyo Police Club at the Horseshoe. Though I'd sampled and enjoyed their first alb, the live show left me feeling unimpressed — I recall thinking this was a young band with more spirit than songs. After that, they'd sort of been put on my mental backburner while they continued to garner a lot of positive vibes. But let it be said I'm willing to give second chances, so I came to the show with an open mind to see what'd changed in a couple years. As it turns out, although the band still looks shockingly young, there's been a whole lot of development. Although still usually pitched as a good-times-party kind of band, Spiral Beach's music had a darker, psychedelic edge than anticipated. Even on the faster numbers — including a new one that sounded like Piper at the Gates of Dawn hooked up to a primitive drum machine — there was something that suggested, "even if I'm dancing, I'm still in the middle of a bad trip". Interesting stuff, and it brought me around enough that it occurred to me I'd see 'em again.1

Listen to a track from this set here.

8 P.M.: Matt and Kim @ Whippersnapper Gallery

Stayed on — hell, I'd gotten here early for — Matt and Kim, a band I was curious to see live. Despite the fact that the album didn't quite sit right with me, I'd gotten a notion that there was something to this Brooklyn duo. They took the stage with an instrumental fanfare and Matt was soon oozing positivity ("it's a beautiful goddamn day in Toronto") to the enthusiastic crowd in the stupidly hot room. Kim, meanwhile, was fighting the aftereffects of some bad Thai but still put in a spirited performance. It wasn't a visually satisfying experience, what with both musicians playing while seated on a low stage, I only caught a glimpse of either when they stood up. But musically, it was a worthy effort. Though there might have been one too many instrumentals in the short set (including a quick run through "The Final Countdown") the band's irrepressible gusto was impossible to deny, so I can say I left liking them more than I did when I came in.

Listen to a track from this set here.

9 P.M.: Parlovr @ Supermarket

After that, walked over to see Parlovr ("one of Montreal's most talked-about unsigned acts") at Supermarket2, part of a showcase for Nevado Records. The three piece featured a dual-guitars-no-bass setup, though Louis Jackson's guit had a split output into the guitar and bass amps to prop up the bottom end. On a stage decorated with traffic signals, the band played a reasonable set of post-Strokes indie rock with a Montréal twist, guitars cleanly intertwining around slightly howl-y adenoidal vox. They were entertaining and brought some pleasantly goofy banter (including an onstage argument over Heath ledger versus Val Kilmer) but the songs weren't so memorable. There's a good base here, and I wouldn't write this band off, but I wasn't totally convinced by what I heard.

10 P.M.: Zeroes @ Silver Dollar Room

Wandered over to the Silver Dollar to see Zeroes, another Montréal band. Which made for an interesting compare and contrast, I guess. Zeroes had a bit more of a colder, post-punk edge — the guitars more menacing and the keybs icy — hints of, maybe, Magazine and bands of that ilk. I liked the band's textures, but found their stage presence to be a bit lacking in charisma: even when, say, grinding a guit against an amp, it seemed a little rote. That's petty, sure, but given the onslaught of bands I was in the middle of, the marginal things tend to stand out a little more. Interestingly, on listening to the playback of my recording of this set, I found myself liking it more than I remember, which might indicate that I was hitting a bit of a wall at the time. Possibly a good soundtrack for wandering the city while the drugs aren't quite doing enough to squelch the voices in your head — which may or may not be your idea of a good time on a Friday night.

Listen to a track from this set here.

11 P.M.: Golden Triangle @ Velvet Underground

By this point, I was definitely looking for something outside the broad category of "boys with guitars", so, looking over the listings, grabbed the streetcar down to Queen and walked over to Cameron House, thinking that The Hank and Lily Show would be a good change of pace. But inside, I found about a dozen people in line waiting to get in to the back room. That didn't seem entirely promising, so I ducked back outside and looked at the listings again and decided that the answer was just a bit further down the street at Velvet Underground. Got in with Brooklyn's Golden Triangle already on stage, a repeating riff echoing through a thick layer of reverb. When the drums, muffled like they were being played in a room a couple doors down the street, kicked in, I felt at home. This band's sound could probably be captured with a fairly reductionist blurb like "imagine if The Vivian Girls had convened as a surf band". Which might sound like pithy snideness save for the fact that, to me, that sounds like a bloody marvelous idea. With dual female vocalists up front, those snake-like guitar lines, and the primal drumming, I was totally into this — just the right mix of murk and sass. One of the best sets I saw at the festival.

Listen to a track from this set here.

12 A.M.: Mika Miko @ Sneaky Dee's

A bracing walk up Bathurst gave me a bit of a second wind. I'd been a bit eager to check out Mika Miko and was a little worried, given some buzz, that I might round the corner on College to find a line-up. Turned out to be no problem — possibly the demand had been spread out, given that this was the band's second set of the night. Veterans of the same Smell-based L.A. scene that has produced No Age, Mika Miko have a more straight-up punk feel — the rapid-fire songs came with shades of Liliput, Wire, Undertones and so on. But as with all first-class rock'n'roll bands, their energy made it all seem new and spontaneous. The duelling vocals of Jennifer Clavin and Jenna Thornhill were the most powerful weapons in the arsenal, but the whole band was on fire. I can't really say if this was objectively good, but in the moment it felt ferociously vital — which kinda means it seemed fantastic.

Listen to a track from this set here.

1 A.M.: The Homosexuals @ Sneaky Dee's

Oh my. I guess I could pull cred and say I was familiar with original-wave British punks The Homosexuals, but, quite honestly, I'd never heard of them. I had no idea what to expect from this set, but from the moment I saw the blazer-clad older British chap pulling his carry-on towards the stage, I was guessing this was not going to some rote re-hash of the glory days. Instead we got a tour through the mind of Bruno Wizard, who claimed to have fired his crack band after catching them listening to Bruce Springsteen and was now backed by "the future of fucking rock" in the form of Fiasco3 — or at least two-thirds thereof. After some introductory comments, Bruno moved behind the drum kit to give a history lesson about how all rock music is derived from African rhythms before picking up the guitar and playing a couple songs. He was then joined by Jonathan and Julian, who backed him sympathetically and ably, even if it was evident on occasion that they had as little idea as the rest of the audience what Bruno was going on about. Songs were interspersed with free-association digressions on cosmology and history (what was that about riding on a beam of light with Einstein again?) until Bruno deigned to start a song or Jonathan could sneak in a count-in. Fortunately, Bruno seemed to be canny like a fox and I think — I think — that to be entertained by his erratic tangents was more like the sort of sharing vibe he was encouraging, and not a case of "let's laugh at the nutter". The set ended with an extended version of "You're Not Moving the Way You're Supposed To", which was pretty fantastic — in fact, all of the tunes on which the Fiasco lads got a groove on were pretty hot. Bruno announced that when Fiasco's bassist was done school, they come back for another gig, which would be free for anyone in attendance "with love in their hearts". A baffling and unique experience.

Spend a few perplexing minutes with Bruno here.

2 A.M.: Experimental Dental School @ Rancho Relaxo

Well. One could imagine anything'd be a letdown after that but I felt like I had one more set in me, so walked over to Rancho to see Experimental Dental School, who, possibly fortunately, were really neither. That is, not so much experimental per se as a minimalist pop act using a double-decker rack of guitar effects to stretch out their sound some. Drummer Shoko Horikawa and guitarist Jesse Hall traded off vocals and took the songs out on little excursions, but didn't drag things so far away as to crumble the foundations. They also exuded a cool, positive vibe from the stage, seeking high-fives from anyone digging the sounds. I'm willing to concede by this point of the night I was more just surfing on the vibe rather than listening carefully, but this was enjoyable. A nice vibe to end the night and head home, a little exhausted.4

1 Which, as it turns out, came to pass a bunch sooner than I'd expected.

2 Slogan: "Kensington's least grungy venue".

3 Recently in town at the Over the Top festival.

4 It looks like the band is offering a free album for download on their website — which I'm now going to check out and recommend to you as well.

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