By: Sheena Lyonnais and TJ Liebgott
June 22, 2010
NXNE is like Christmas to Toronto Music Scene. We look forward to it every year. Sometimes we peek, knowing in advance what presents we’re getting. Other times we like to be surprised, so we refrain from checking beneath the beds of our parents so we can be moved in unexpected ways. This year we’re bragging to our friends about performances by Mudhoney, the Warped 45’s and Moneen, while simultaneously wondering why our Aunt Lisa bought us an unglamorous copy of Wavves and the wrong version of the Reason. Click to read our full list of festival highlights and lowlights, like a sexy, well-dyed blonde.
Although not technically part of the NXNE festivities, we had to catch these guys when we could out of fear of missing them during the festival. The Dublin band creates beautiful, enigmatic music that is soft and dreamy. Gary McFarlane’s understated and seductively husky vocals compliment the haunting rhythms and melodies the band creates. It’s very rare we listen to a band for the first time and spontaneously go see them that very night. Definitely a band you must see.
DJ E-Clair @ Hyde Lounge, June 12
Bedouin Soundclash bassist Eon Sinclair made his DJ debut at Hyde Lounge and I was fortunate enough to attend. Although also not part of NXNE, DJ E-Clair’s spinning is worth mentioning. He mixed a variety of reggae and rock songs, setting him apart from the plethora of other musician DJ’s this city is pounding out these days. It was nice to dance to something different and respected, and the ambient vibe of the Hyde Lounge definitely added a lush element. I look forward to seeing him develop as a DJ and would definitely check out his spinning again.
Mudhoney @ Dundas Square, June 17
A wave of 90’s nostalgia took over Yonge and Dundas square as grunge rockers Mudhoney took the stage. As opposed to just playing classics from such albums as Piece of Cake and Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge, Mudhoney instead played the songs they wanted to play pulled from their 20-year catalog. While I waited the entire 40 minute set to hear "Make It Now," a song so great the band recorded it on two separate albums, I knew not to hold my breath since I have never heard them play it live. Instead fans where delighted by such classics as "Touch Me I’m Sick," "Suck You Dry" and some songs of their most recent release The Lucky Ones. While grunge may have died decades ago, Mudhoney’s set proved that they are nowhere near burning out, or fading away.
Zeus @ Rivoli, June 17
The Rivoli was packed to capacity for Arts & Crafts’ latest find Zeus, an energetic indie pop band with a very unique style. They were less peppy than expected live, but still delivered a sweaty set full of vintage-sounding guitars and sharp vocals. This band got their start as “Dark Horse,” where they performed together for numerous years as Jason Collett’s backing band. They take notes from him in terms of intrigue and honesty, but manage to incorporate their own organic charm into the mix. Welcome to the family!
The Warped 45’s @ El Mocambo, June 17
The Warped 45’s were on our "must see" list this festival not only because here at Toronto Music Scene we have developed in unmatched love for alt-country, but also because they’re just THAT good. Their sound can be described as cottage country indie, with its rolling vocals, transient guitars and penchant for solid rock. A mix between the Weakerthans, the Wooden Sky and the Tragically Hip, the Warped 45’s make us want to make out in a small town bar and appreciate the smaller things, like blossoming flowers, long drives and young love. The music they create is so beautiful, layered with soft banjo and inter-spliced with an elegant, shadowed poetry. They played songs like "(Bring On That) New Depression" to the delight of both indie rockers and overalls-sporting middle-aged men alike.
We Are The Take @ Supermarket, June 17
We Are The Take remain one of our favourite Toronto bands. They’ve become known for tracks like "Montreal Love Song," swimming songs that seduce you with melancholic keys, solemn vocals and aching guitars. Their ability to switch from the romance of that song to the buoyancy of their newer material spotlights their ability to adjust and develop without compromising musical integrity. That said, we wish they would do something to stand out more. Sometimes we forget about them until festivals like NXNE, which is a shame because they are extremely talented and a joy to watch.
Corduroy @ Rancho Relaxo, June 17
It may have taken almost two years, but Toronto Music Scene was finally able to see Corduroy live! We are pleased to report this is indie rock done right. With booming, heavy drums, catchy vocals and an uninhibited energy, Corduroy have managed to establish themselves as a true competitor in this over-saturated scene. This band understands the importance of telling stories, embracing instrumental moments to get their points across while other times folding into turmoil-inflicted vocals with bleeding hearts. Their newer material highlights both their development and their curiosity to try new things, adding in backing vocals from the lovely Jaclyn Blumas, while front man Trevor Blumas interjects moments of hostility, passion and pleasure. They are such a fun band to watch live. Our only regret is not catching them sooner.
The Flatliners @ London Tap House, June 18
Maybe it was the freshly brewed Steamwhistles (bottled June 16), the fresh air, the Jager snow cones or the atmosphere of music lovers, but something about watching a stripped down version of the Flatliners set to a backdrop of the Toronto skyline made me realize how truly great this city is. It was nice to see the band tone down their energy to suit the acoustic feel of the sunny afternoon without losing their greatness or swagger. They played through various tracks to the delight of primarily slightly-tipsy music journalists and publicists with ferocity and intent, reminding me there is a lot of heart to this local punk band. Their ability to play acoustically shows their adaptability as a band, and truthfully I had just as much fun without the full band or electric feel. A perfect afternoon performance!
Wavves @ Lee’s Palace, June 18
I was really looking forward to checking out the lo-fi sounds of San Diego’s Wavves, but there was nothing that stood out about their performance, even with two large paper green monsters on stage. Vocalist Nathan Williams seemed unfazed by the large crowd, instead giving a lacklustre performance void of conviction. When I closed my eyes and tried to be taken away, I remained in Lee’s Palace with a half-drank Jack and Coke in hand slightly uncomfortable in the heat. The performance was not believable or really even that enjoyable. Unfortunately this was a miss for me. I should have checked out White Cowbell Oklahoma as my 11 p.m. band.
Afterparty @ El Mocambo, June 18
Afterparty’s been on our must see local list for a while, so we were grateful for a chance to finally catch some of their dance floor rock. Something was array on the technical side, so the performance got off to a confused start. The lovely petite Kristina B was a cute little blonde bundle of fun as she moved past this, dancing around the stage singing songs like "Soft City" off last year’s debut release The Army You Got. I couldn’t help but think this wasn’t the best venue for them, as they needed something more to support their style, perhaps better suited to Bread & Circus or the Boat. Their vocals on tracks like "Die For Memphis" are reminiscent of Martina Sorbara of Dragonette at times, with a slight Hart influence. I see potential with this band and can’t wait to check them out again in a more appropriate setting. Maybe then I’ll want to dance!
The Reason @ Supermarket, June 18
When TMS interviewed the Reason back at Virgin Fest ’08 the majority of their concerns as a band revolved around their fans’ dissatisfaction with their new sound direction. Having grown up with them as a hardcore band, I understood but forgave that record. Admittedly, I didn’t stay on top of the band’s music much after that, so imagine my surprise when I showed up at the Supermarket to watch what turned out to be yet another indie rock band. Adam White had transformed into an indistinguishable long haired, bearded musician in a plaid shirt, trying perhaps too hard to look the part of a cliche. While they gave everything they had to the performance, there were few remaining aspects of the much loved Ravenna. Sometimes fans complain for a reason (no pun intended)!
Poutine @ Smoke’s Poutinerie, June 18
It was getting late and we were getting hungry, so we headed to the new location at Queen/Bathurst to get us some late night poutine. Sheena decided on the Veggie Deluxe, a scrumptious concoction of cheese curds, sauteed mushrooms, peas, caramelized onions and vegetarian gravy, while TJ opted for the bacon poutine with jalapenos, cheese curds and their signature gravy. Verdict: deliciously satisfying, but hard to finish! This place is definitely liberal with their servings and distribution of toppings. If you’re not that hungry, definitely opt for a small or share.
Iggy and The Stooges @ Dundas Square, June 19
It seemed as if Toronto music fans were only in two places Saturday night and those that weren’t on the Islands for Pavement were at Yonge and Dundas square to catch a rare appearance by Iggy and The Stooges. The entire square was filled with people of all ages and musical tastes. From young punks to middle aged yuppies and everything in between, people of all walks of life showed up. Unfortunately, there was not much to see. The stage was too low and nobody thought to project the concert on one of the many TV screens set up at Dundas square which instead kept playing advertisements for CityTV and coffee. Iggy opened the set with the classic Raw Power, while thousands of people jockeyed for a position in front of the stage. While the show was iconic and the talent legendary, the ample crowd and poor venue forced us to see what else NXNE had to offer.
Moneen @ El Mocambo, June 19
The last few times we’ve seen Moneen have been in supporting roles at some high profile gigs, so it was nice to see Kenny Bridges and company put on an intimate acoustic set at the El Mocambo. Unfortunately, the crowd was as stripped down as their set, but those in attendance were treated with some new variations of Moneen songs. Acoustic or not, Moneen attacked their set with as much intensity and ferocity as they do as a full band. It was nice to hear their set in a different light. The songs were able to breathe and many nuances that are normally lost in their wall of sound came through crystal clear. If you catch wind of Moneen doing an acoustic set, do yourself a favour and check it out.