Wednesday, December 12, 2012

NXNE 2011: Thursday

NXNE — North by Northeast Festival, Toronto, 2011.

Thursday, June 16, 2011. Featuring: Snowblink, The Lying Cheats, Different Skeletons, Child Bite, Chains of Love, Crocodiles

N.B.: I had written some contemporaneous notes about the festival here. This redux version comes with a few additional observations as I have now had time to properly go through my recordings.

7 p.m.: Snowblink @ Music Gallery

A good crowd down at St. George The Martyr for this early mini-showcase put together by local label Out of This Spark. Because of other commitments in this busy city, I'd missed out on all the celebrations surrounding the re-release of Snowblink's Long Live album, though I had last seen 'em back in this same room in January. As Daniela Gesundheit and Dan Goldman took the stage the pews were filled up — and by set's end there'd be a healthy crowd of standees behind. The pair led off with a version of "Unsurfed Waves" that was slower and quieter than the recorded form it would later emerge with on Inner Classics. After that, they were joined by drummer Dan Gaucher, well-known in the city's improvising scene, for an unusual three Dan, three DG alignment. That coincidence was remarked upon as were Gaucher and Goldman's matching red ball caps.

New to the setlist was "Listen and Profit", a song composed by Gesundheit in the Cape Breton Highlands as a part of the National Parks Project, as well as a cover of MGMT's "Hot Love Drama". This is far less random than it might appear on the surface, as MGMT were friends and choirmembers in an early California-based incarnation of Snowblink before Gesundheit decamped to T.O.

The quiet confessionalism of "Green to Gone" ended with a noodly loop-segue from Goldman while Gesundheit changed guitars, and "Inner Mini-Mississippi", another of the new songs, was a highlight with Gesundheit clutching her microphone, eyes closed, as she sang the refrain of "Dreams, Dreams, Dreams".

The set closed with "Ambergris", the trio building up to a big finish. And, as always, the band sounded great, especially in the Music Gallery's churchy space, with voices and ringing bells rising to the rafters.

Listen to a song from this set here.

8 p.m.: The Lying Cheats @ Comfort Zone

I do adore the other OOTS bands that were playing at the Music Gallery, but in a festival setting I figured I'd better move on to find something unfamiliar. And, reverting to a standard sort of behaviour for me, I headed down to the corner of College and Spadina, where there's a lot of options right close by. I ducked into the murky blacklight depths of the Comfort Zone on the strength of a bio blurb that suggested of The Lying Cheats that they "take the Jesus and Mary Chain's debut as their bible". Truth be told, that didn't really come through in their live performance, but I enjoyed this five-piece regardless. A more recent blurb describes them as "husband and wife trashy blues duo turned band", which hits a little closer to the mark, so long as you think of that band they turned into as a 60's-style garage band.

With three guitars on stage, the band didn't just pour on more noise on top of noise — the roles were well-arranged and the lines fit on top of each other nicely. A cover of The Kinks' "Milk Cow Blues" hinted a bit more at where they were getting their sensibility from — controlled rave-ups and, yeah, an underlying hint of bluesiness. Though not groundbreaking, this was rockin' in a way that suits me fine, and I'd gladly see this band again, especially if they can come up with more originals like "Cowboys and Indians".

The downside of doing what they do is that they're a little easy to lose in the shuffle — revisiting these recordings, I found they'd slipped my mind, but hearing them immediately reminded me of their likeability. They're still playing, and have, in fact, just dropped a new EP which you can check out on their bandcamp.

Listen to a song from this set here.

9 p.m.: Different Skeletons @ Rancho Relaxo

What do you do if you're playing a big rock festival and your gear betrays you? You can roll with the punches and gut it out stoically or freak out and try to control your temper tantrum. Different Skeletons sort of went through all of that when a pedalboard conked out during the band's second song.

This trio don't share a lot of information about themselves beyond their rock'n'roll aliases (Danger Dean, Thunder Dan, Jimbo Jones), but when a wah pedal cut out the bassist/guitarist/singer — let's call him WRONG after the classic Nomeansno t-shirt he was wearing — decided to take out his frustrations on it, picking it up and spiking it to the stage floor several times, and then kicking it around.

Meanwhile, as on-the-fly adjustments were attempted to get everything working, the other members kept on plowing throw the song, which dragged out a bit — "jamming" doesn't really suit the hard-edged rock sound they were going for. The band also led off in a slightly unrepresentative direction, with WRONG handling guit and vocals for the first couple songs, before four- and six-strings were swapped and his bespectacled bandmate took over most of the singing. WRONG had a bit more of a hoarse-voiced shouty thing going on, and for those first couple songs, I was wondering if I was going to stick it out for the whole set. But after the vocal switchover — and taking that problematic pedalboard out of the loop — things improved considerably, and things came together on one called "Nerves", with co-lead vox and a surf-y beat.

After that, WRONG seemed to just want to have a mildly disruptive good time — jumping down to the floor to play, slumping against his guitarist etc. There were a few different "looks" here, like the Midwestern hardcore of "Buried Alive" and the psych-clatter of "Non-Sensory Blues". The drummer ever pitched in to sing on a cover of Eric's Trip's "Follow". They closed it out with the best couple songs of the set, "Meaningful Looks" and "Secret Jeers Pt. 2" (the latter promised as a "booty-shaker").

Ultimately, this was enjoyable enough, and there's signs that this band could cohere into something interesting. And while I'm guessing that not every set ends with a wah-wah pedal being tossed down a flight of stairs, there's signs that they could be fun to watch. Since this show, the band have released two albums online, which you can grab at their bandcamp.

Listen to a song from this set here.

10 p.m.: Child Bite @ Sneaky Dee's

There was good-sized crowd on hand over at Sneaks, where the drinks are cheap and a night of scrappy guitar noise seemed to be at hand. Later on METZ — fresh from playing Yonge-Dundas Square — would be holding court, but I dropped in to check out this Detroit crew. Promising a mix of "The Jesus Lizard, Devo, and Dead Kennedys", I was more picking up a very particular amalgamation of Pere Ubu and hardcore. Which, in this setting, I rather liked quite a bit.

In between keyboard stabs, frontman Shawn Knight leaned forward over the inlaid xmas lights to leer at the audience, singing as if he were making conversation laced with strange and vaguely salacious insinuations, although the words mostly came out as a garble. Reeling off the first three songs without pausing, he'd chat amiably with the crowd after before returning to his slightly-demented yowling vocals. Meanwhile the bass/guit/drums behind him split the difference between dance-y chug and spazzy lurch, with stop-on-a-dime breakdowns that hinted maybe some of the members had a straightup hardcore past — which the Thrasher t-shirt on stage suggested as well.

Dangerous and interesting in the way that a conspiratorially-minded streetcar mutterer can be, this was definitely good stuff.

Listen to a track from this set here.

11 p.m.: Chains of Love @ The Silver Dollar

Headed over to a crammed Silver Dollar that was so hot and damp it felt like it was generating its own fog. There was no shortage of interest in this Vancouver combo, a half-dozen members deep, which plays with the elements of early 60's rock and roll. The appeal here is pretty self-evident and conceptually brilliant — a wall of sound (here fabricated with rock'n'roll clamour) delivered by a pair of female vocalists with, um, gams.

The Pipettes, in their original incarnation, come to mind a little here, but Chains of Love bring far more raunch and scuzz to their musical attack, as if the JD's have taken over the sock hop. Asking for "lots of reverb on the vocals", there was a sped up whomp here, even when they pulled back a bit on songs like the castanet-aided "Black Hearts". Packing nine quick songs in twenty-five minutes, their originals were supplemented by some amped up covers of their influences, like The Ronettes' "He Did It". As the music careened toward some sort of dead man's curve at the end, the band was at their convincing best. On "In Between" and "You Got It" (the a-sides of both of their early singles), the band was a sweaty mess, the tempos getting even faster.

This set had a punch that the band doesn't quite pull off on their recorded material. Their EP Strange Grey Days doesn't have the same spark, settling in around the level of pleasing pastiche from an AM radio playing in an old convertible. But this showed that there's something intense at their core that they might yet get a grip on.

Listen to a song from this set here.

Midnight: Crocodiles @ The Silver Dollar

The room was jam-packed for the local debut of this San Diego five-piece, whose nightly headlining slots were the jewel in the crown of Dan Burke's festival-within-a-festival. The core duo of Brandon Welchez and Charles Rowell was rounded out with a touring rhythm section. Vocalist Welchez is married to Dum Dum Girls' frontwoman Dee Dee Penny, and while there's a bit of musical overlap there as well, it's more instructive to consider how Crocodiles take some of the same influences and pare away the pop sheen, leaving a flattened and repetitive smear of sound. And there's an additional layer of postpunk influences at play as well — if you imagine an early Echo and the Bunnymen single slowed down to about two-thirds the speed, you have an idea of what's going on here.

The band was mostly working from sophomore full length Sleep Forever, but also throwing in some older stuff like catchy gem "Neon Jesus". At the start of the set the sound was entirely mushy and impenetrable, though that was more about the kinks in the sound mix being worked out, as the band gained clarity as they moved along. They were stretching out a bit as well, letting "Mirrors" build for a few minutes with a percolating keyb part before launching into a verse.

And by the last three songs or so, this was totally compelling stuff, ending with the awesome "Head On"-isms of "I Wanna Kill". From what I'd hear, they only get better over the next couple nights.

Listen to a track from this set here.

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