Monday, September 20, 2010

NXNE 2010: Thursday (Part 2)

NXNE — North by Northeast Festival, Toronto, 2010.

Thursday, June 17, 2010. Featuring: Best Coast, CoCoComa, Thee Oh Sees

11 P.M.: Best Coast @ The Great Hall

Heading out of the Mod Club, caught a ridiculously stinky bus crawling down Ossington behind the garbage truck picking up everyone's green bins and made my way down to The Great Hall. It's a nice-looking room to be in for a gig, but a bit of a cavernous space that had never featured top-notch live sound. Apparently chasing live bookings after a couple years' hiatus, word was that there was a new sound system and lighting rig. The latter was immediately in evidence, a large metal railing running high over the stage from the venue's u-shaped balcony. The sound, it turned out, was better than I remember, too, but I'd still suggest a closer up spot up front for anyone concerned about audio quality, otherwise it can get a little echo-y.

Coming in to a half-filled room, I managed to catch the end of the set from Calgary's Women, who seemed more agreeable than when I'd last saw 'em a couple years ago. Reverb-y two-guit yelpy pop. Possibly bumped back to "re-investigate" status, so a nice bonus from a band I wasn't planning on catching.

I was actually there to catch the buzz, as it were, and check out one of the more hyped out-of-town acts at the fest, who took the stage right at the top of the hour. "Hello, we're Best Coast, we're from L.A. — does anyone know the score of the Lakers/Celtics game?" Game seven of the NBA finals would end up being a central concern of the band's founder, singer/guitarist Bethany Cosentino, during the set.1 Launching into "This is Real" (the b-side to the "When I'm With You" 7"), the set was split between tracks from the band's pile of singles and EP's and the then-forthcoming Crazy for You album. The band's sound is uncomplicated, relying on classic pop chord changes with a bit of sloppy feedback thrown in — an evergreen combination that's been a go-to for bands for the past few decades.

Before "Each and Everyday", Cosentino, who was sporting a slight sore-throat rasp, commented, "there's a lot of words I have to sing, and obviously, you can tell I sound like Lindsay Lohan right now." I don't really know who that is2 but what her voice, along with the song's galloping surf-y rhythms, actually put in my mind was a more sugary version of "Tipp City" by Kim Deal's side-project The Amps.3 The slightly-slower "Our Deal" had a sweet note of sadness to it, but most of the songs were upbeat essays about simple sentiments (love, not-love, getting high) lasting a couple minutes. Between-song banter involved a lot of shouting back and forth with Cosentino trying to hear people in the crowd yelling basketball updates, and eventually giving up: "you guys don't care about the Lakers!"

I came to this having sampled a couple tracks, but not knowing much about the band, but I instantly found myself enjoying it. The band's sound isn't particularly innovative by any means — but a controlled guitar roar and instantly catchy tunes go a long way with me. As long as you're not going to get too caught up in the lazy/crazy rudimentary lyrics, there are ample charms here.

Listen to a track from this set here.

11:50 P.M.: CoCoComa @ The Great Hall

Chicago's CoCoComa must have been eager to get to the rock'n'roll, as what I thought was still some soundchecking at ten minutes before the hour abruptly became the start of their set. I was basically sticking around for this set because I was at the venue for the band before and the band after, but it turned out that this was another band doing the sort of thing I'm generically in favour of, namely rip-roaring Nuggets-y garage rock.

Bill Roe provided a sense of urgency both with his vocals and drumming. To accommodate a singing drummer, the riser the kit was set up on was dragged up quite close to the front of the stage, putting him right up amongst his three band mates, including Anthony Cozzi, whose slightly scuzzy organ added the right vibe. The band didn't cover a lot of ground musically, but they never let a catchy pop sense escape their grasp, even with the frenzy they were kicking up. To the band's delight, a small group right in front of the stage spent most of the set dancing away. A good sign that while the band might not be breaking any new ground, it was fun stuff.

Listen to a track from this set here.

12:45 A.M.: Thee Oh Sees @ The Great Hall

The crowd had waned visibly after Best Coast's set, but the place was soon filling up again in anticipation of Thee Oh Sees — a San Francisco-based band with a steadily-evolving name and possibly the world's shortest guitar straps. That something different was at hand was made evident by the fact that while the band finished setting up, people were getting audibly excited. By which I mean one guy seemed to be inhabited by the spirit of a howler monkey, spending a couple minutes just shouting "whoooooooooooooooah! whoooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooa! Whuh-wuh-wuh-wuh-wuh! Yeaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!" I'm glad I was on the opposite side of the room from that one.

Once the setup was done, singer/guitarist John Dwyer said a few words which, like everything on stage, was cloaked in an fuzzy haze of echo. I managed to catch, "We'reverygladtobehere," as the band hit it. The music was a noisy thrum of crude rhythms, saturated with distortion. The crowd was immediately jostling and leaping about, the floor bouncing beneath my feet. After a couple songs, I had to move back to a slightly calmer zone.

The band's vibe was somehow... evil, like Swell Maps possessed with some Charlie Manson swagger. Some of the songs were just a couple minutes long, though they stretched out more as the set went on, leading to some of the best moments of one-chord grooves careening along. The music engendered bad hoodoo, tension and feelings of paranoia — if you replayed this set to the ending of Apocalypse Now I suspect it would correspond in some sort of eerie way. And though I'm generically against evil and paranoia, it has to be pointed out that they can make for some pretty great rock'n'roll — and indeed, this set was some pretty great stuff. Although this is, looked at objectively as music, kinda nothing special, it's the sort of thing that really casts a spell when experienced live — a somehow-compelling bad trip vibe that I would totally go to see again. What do you get if you combine "ominous" and "awesome" into one word?

Listen to a track from this set here.

1 She was backed by Fleetwood Mac t-shirt wearing guitarist Bobb Bruno (who handled some of the lower-end parts in the absence of a bassist) and what I'm guessing was the last of a series of revolving-door drummers prior to the ex-Vivian Girl Ali Koehler's ascension to the kit.

2 She was in that Altman film, right?

3 "I Want To" also had a particularly Deal-ish vibe to it.

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