by Cameron Stuckey
As usual with Toronto’s NXNE music festival, too many bands, too little time. Let’s get right to it:
Sporting a red cape like ‘Dancing Homer’ from an episode of the Simpsons, and a robot-shaped cardboard box on his head, the front man of Alphabot told a story about knights, maidens and robots that weaved throughout their set.
He was the doppelganger for Breakfast Club era Anthony Michael Hall. Their set for NXNE sounded bizarre, warped and more like the bar scene from Star Wars than a NXNE show. Once the music started, the front man acted as a mad conductor leading the 6 other members down a weird, odd musical path. The set-up was complex- drums, violin, bass, laptop, electric and acoustic guitar…and then add a bunch of effects pedals, megaphone and synth.
Interesting, but it was definitely not for the weak at heart that might not be able to recognize the art in it. It truly was structured chaos along the lines of A Certain Ratio. Alphabot are very entertaining to say the least – worth checking out if they make it to your neck of the woods.
Montreal’s Pop Winds were late starting their NXNE set which seems to be because of the electronic equipment that needed to be set up in the short 15 minute turnaround. The three piece creates interesting electronic soundscapes and dark danceable music. They also used video projections managed by a ‘VJ’ wearing full body, dark leotard. It was strange since he was situated half way down the venue. I assume he is usually on the stage with band, but tonight he was further back. The drum kit was stripped back and minimal – it got a bit noisy but kept attention through the first few tracks. One of the vocalists ruined the sounds a bit because he was not really meshing with the electronic sounds. Not a fan of the saxophone, but I have to say it really did work in this case. Video was minimal to match the set-up, but were cool with live editing (it may have been boring without the visuals). I would be interested in checking them out again in a different venue to see if the vibe will change.
This London-based girl / guy two piece has been lots of hype in the UK since the drummer is also in The Big Pink. I was really looking forward to this show since pre-NXNE there was lots of hype and promo for their 3 sets throughout the festival. I decided to see their first set at Velvet Underground which was completely dead with a couple dozen people at the venue.
Right from the get go, it was heavy, heavy, heavy and the delivered loud, straight ahead rock’n’roll. The drummer is adorable – lines like “this is a new song – I hope we don’t fuck it up” said in her sweet Japanese accent. Not much variation between songs and this got really boring a couple songs in – this is the flaw with a drum / guitar set-up – unless you are White Stripes with the innovation of Jack White, it falls short. If you were expecting The Big Pink, it would be a disappointment. The lyrics were hilarious, but I don’t actually think they were meant to be. Picture Back Sabbath meets Nina Hagen meets Death From Above 1979 but not as good as each of those individual parts.
Sorry, Comanechi, I will have to pass next time.
They were really slow to get started (over 25 mins late) – which made for a really short NXNE set. Once they finally started, they announced their name change to Stop Die (from the original moniker Stop Die Resuscitate, they have unfortunately dropped the ‘Resuscitate’). Moving to more guitar than electronics completely changed their sound, but unfortunately not for the better. Originally drawing a deep, guttural hip-hop style vocal, it worked much better for them. After finishing the first song, the front man stripped off his shirt leaving just a tribal looking scarf around his neck; this was far too contrived and failed to impress.
A slow track called Midnight Romance worked better with heavily delayed vocal. Midnight Romance only worked because they didn’t throw all their instruments into the ring. Unfortunately, once the track gained momentum, it sounded rather middle of the road and lost the interesting edge. Luckily they salvaged the set when they played an older track which I remember hearing from the first time seeing them a few years ago at Sneaky Dee’s doing live PA for DJ Shit La Merde. The track Bounce really got people moving and pulled lead singer into his natural element. One more note…next time, keep your clothes on.
CATL were not my cup of tea with their strong rockabilly style but I do have to admit that between sets for 20 minutes, they really helped create an interesting atmosphere at the very ‘divey’ Comfort Zone. They were located in a dark corner with floor and black lighting which created creepy shadows on the back wall. This really worked well and made them interesting to watch and listen to.
Heavy band and the weak vocals were lost most of the show. The vocalist sounded like a budget Ben Kowalewicz from Billy Talent. The guitar player was like a circus freak – his head literally hitting the ceiling and not sure how tall he was. The vocals were all over the place – deep at some points and high at other and still coming up short on their attempted screamo formula.
Unfortunately didn’t keep my interest at all and I had to vacate the building. Sorry boys – sack the vocalist, and you may be able to salvage something.
I left El Mocambo to discover that there was a blackout that spread all the way down Spadina. I headed for the Horseshoe but once I arrived, I found that the power outage was alos on Queen Street. This forced the NXNEers to stand on Queen waiting for the power to come back on to continue the music.
Yonge and Dundas was jammed with old punks, young punks and a bunch of people who probably had no clue what they were listening to. It was a very hot sweaty mess under the bright billboards and Iggy was in fine form. The positioning of promo tents and lack of video screens made it completely impossible to see the stage, but they sound totally on point. I think I saw Iggy’s blonde hair fly above the tents during one of his famous ‘salmon jumps’, but can’t be sure. My personal highlight was ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’.
Avi Buffalo were a pleasant surprise since I was really only at Lee’s to catch Cold Cave. This band from Long Beach, CA are already signed to Sub Pop and just out of high school. They sound a bit like The XX if they were an American band. I only caught a few songs from the band, but liked what I heard. I may have to catch them on their tour with Blitzen Trapper this summer.
The Philadelphia electronic-pop band (now based in NYC) were the band I was most looking forward to for NXNE 2010. I saw Cold Cave last year for NXNE 2009 at Sneaky Dee’s, and they have come a long way since the last NXNE. They have new members, new album, new record label (now with Matador), new confidence, and a new live set.
They started their set with some electronic muscle flexing in the form of controlled noise which was almost deafening at points, but once they kicked into gear with IDCK, they got the chest thumping bass and synth lines pumping and had the audience pulled right in immediately. They ran through a number of tracks from their stallar ‘Loves Comes Close’ full-length. They were in fine form and delivered bass heavy, dark, dancey tracks through their entire set start to finish. Cold Cave did not disappoint – they were solid, catchy and completely danceable.