Live Review: NXNE 2011 Part II

Montreal Band Grimes PLays NXNE 2011 By: Laura Phillips
June 24, 2011

The likelihood of stumbling into something good at this year’s at NXNE was second to none. With a line-up for rivalry and across-town tours, midnight bike rides never felt so right. Sure, the selection process was grueling, but this could also be viewed as skill building. Grimes exploded sound with her haze of a drunken hour. Cats came out of bags via secret shows. The Postelle’s surprised and VanGaalen whaled well. This week was a treat and the sweat of good music. Here are a few more highlights.

Lower Dens @ the Garrison
A night for shoegazers and shoegrazers, Lower Dens should’ve been an NXNE highlight. The band’s knack for the slow and steely have earned them praise, however, Wednesday’s show was a miss. Whether it was the cramped quarters, shoddy sound equipment or a combination of the two, LD gave way to a slightly painful performance. Instrumentals were muddled and lost in awkward waves of feedback. Vocals of the oh-so-imperative Jana Hunter were washed out completely. Gone were the wafting tempos and definitive moments alluded by the band’s Twin Hand Movement. However, the lack of transcending wasn’t all bad. Fixating on the visuals, this band is perhaps the cutest collective of misfits I’ve seen: a keyboard player rocking a Celtics jersey, the bassist with his admirable 70’s rock hair, one solitary femme, a pretty average drummer and a guitar player who looks like your seventh grade gym teacher (and he’s pulling off a less-than-subtle moustache.) A great band, tonight just wasn’t theirs.

The Postelles @ the Garrison
Built on catchy hooks and garage-surf, The Postelles brought The Garrison back to life after Lower Dens’ less than spectacular set. Flavours of 50’s rock ‘n’ roll provided the right amount of pep, indicative to the “good clean fun” and showmanship of an era. Songs played as lighthearted and almost cordial, the Postelles revved rockability factor to make it their own. And if covering Elvis Presley’s “Hound Dog” wasn’t enough fun, the band welcomed Jonathan Dekel of Neon Windbreaker on stage for lyrically fresh rendition of ‘White Light’ to close the show. A clever delivery of both old and new, The Postelles pull from the best but come out as their own.

Gauntlet Hair @ The Phoenix
Alongside the dry, frequent and ultimately charming commentary of drummer Craig Nice, this set of power-jam instrumentals surely picked up a few new fans. Gauntlet Hair’s early evening performance announced itself with heavy-handed kicks of reverb and sometimes shrill vocals. Comparisons to Animal Collective and Yeasayer are often cited, but the twosome’s live setting prove they’re more than a side-tag. Click-clack electric drums and lengthened sessions signal momentum. Using technique to derive emotive elements, Gauntlet Hair is a band to keep an eye on.

Deerhoof @ The Phoenix
It was under the appropriate haze of blue and red stage-lights that Deerhoof’s heavy rifting set forth. The band shifted gears from their predecessors, The Dodos, playing into isolated noise-jams and ravaging fits. Peak moments occurred in windows– shrill brigades of instrumentals and the band’s convincing on-stage dynamic. What were to be the softer moments, Satomi Matsuzaki’s vocals, teetered towards tedious at times, although this can be the unrefined appeal of no wave. Slipping through an hour-long set, these art-rockers were definitively crowd-pleasing and a worthy watch.

Fucked Up @ Wrongbar
It took Damian Abraham exactly one song to strip down topless, and that was only after spending the opening track with his shirt in a ‘halfies’ pulled over his head. Tight and crowd-rolling quarters took the heed of Toronto’s Polaris Prize and longtime favourite punk band on Thursday night’s Wrongbar show. The band took the stage with gracious and “holy shit” type commentary courtesy of Abrahams. A full-blown set of David Comes To Life tracks and then some, the live setting held no-fronts and soaked up in sweaty delight. “Queen of Hearts” demonstrated great heights for the band’s latest concept album as the crowd flipped in a rush to rock.  Abraham’s timely, technical, yet spontaneity and showmanship made for a spirited show and highlight of the week’s shows.

Braids @ The Great Hall
Pretty girls and early 20-somethings filled The Great Hall for Braid’s Saturday night performance. Securing some very public hype from fans and anticipators in the Twittersphere, not even rumours of a mediocre debut at The Garrison could keep people away.  The venue proved complimentary to Raphaelle Standell-Preston’s sweeping vocals and range, and the sonic qualities of Braids distilled the space with a warm glow. Yet the show’s big picture revealed somewhat of an anti-climax. Polyrhythmics and the band’s gentle disposition were upstaged by the chatter of the crowd, which was, perhaps, the inevitable downside of publicity buzz. More than a few disinterested groups engaged without qualms throughout an ideally tight-lipped show. Still though, the lure of Braids was clear as the band soared through a flawless set.

Chad Vangaalen @ The Great Hall
With a song trajectory ranging from plugged-in banters to light and flaxen melodies, Chad VanGaalen is a smorgasbord. His Saturday show at The Great Hall revealed an impressive taste of such varieties as the crowd raked in at full cap. He sauntered through sound check and included too much mid-set retuning, but the Calgary-based artist’s off-kilter (and unfiltered) commentary only seemed to add to the show’s endearment.  Songs like “Sara” and “City Of Electric Light” transcended, while heavier tunes like “Freedom For A Policeman” ravaged. His dexterity and peculiarities as an artist are clear, and there is a ‘Harvest Moon to Crazy Horse’ composite to VanGaalen that puts him amongst ranks of the wild and great.

Grimes @ The Great Hall
Coaxing the late night crowds into a state of tripped-out ambience, this tiny femme performs with every limb and every sense of her being. Grimes (Claire Bouche) motions with arm gestures to the audience to come into her world, leading the way by loosing herself in the mix. She frantically guzzles sips from a beer can between button-pushes and giggles nervously during spare moments. A small but dedicated fan-base has gathered, and a fixed calm collects for this all-too-short 40-minute set.

Needless to say, Grimes was an NXNE favourite. Her murmured vocals aligned with the intricate placing of sound and drumbeats to create an intelligent and visceral live experience. Darker soundscapes dizzy into accelerated tempos and a mixed flow, making it difficult to define the artist under one clean heading. Performing tracks off 2010’s beguiling debut Halfaxa in addition to newer tracks, the fan-favourite was undoubtedly revealed when “Vanessa” came onto play. With her ability to connect sound, body and rhythm, Grimes proves herself as a contender – a tiny crafter of very big things.

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