OUR WEEKEND WARRIORS NXNE WRAP UP
Story by Adam Steel
After a much needed spell of recuperation, Day 4 was all about the excess. Upon receiving word that Queens rapper Action Bronson was to take the stage at Drake Underground for a jam-packed midnight set, I made a sharp beeline to the west side hotspot just in time to catch the larger-than-life MC bouncing around the claustrophobic venue to the screams and sing-a-longs of devoted followers.
Known for his fascination with food and the eerie freestyle sound reminiscent of early Ghostface Killah, the former chef and online cooking host has been making waves in the rap game for his complex lyrics and undeniable, fan-friendly stage presence. Appearances would have you believe Bronson to be an intimidating figure to digest (pun intended), however, layers of assumed pretentions and stylized rap-star swagger peel away like onion layers as soon as the cushy, fire-bearded maestro parts the curtains.
Whether he’s channeling Wu-Tang or Julia Child, Bronson is one to watch and the undisputed star of Saturday night. That is, of course, until I arrived at The Painted Lady.
‘Dance’ was the name of the game at the Ossington mainstay, famous for its indubitably cramped quarters and ‘Bartop Burlesque.’ Ladies were on hand (and on the stools, and on the bar, and on the patrons) to entertain those with the strength and stamina to last until the 4AM last call. With a revolving roster of mainly Canadian bands, among them Vancouver’s Young Liars who (I was told) played a boisterous playlist of pop-infused indie rock—the early morning atmosphere seemed lost on the still energetic audience. Unfortunately, I arrived disheveled and sweaty for the 2AM Dinosaur Dinosaur set, only to find the happily, huddled masses packed like plaid-clad sardines. With the bendy, buxom burlesque queen St. Stella slinking across the bar, it was a comfort to know that if I couldn’t see the main stage, I could at least find a drinking companion with big—assets—to share a listen.
This week proved itself to be wild, reckless, and jam-packed with stories and secrets. A sprained wrist and a touch of heat stroke were nothing compared to the music and the memories of yet another fabulous NXNE. I now have to contend with a week-load of beer-soaked laundry and feet that still hurt like hell. Ah, Mondays.
Story by Kate Davies
Saturday is generally recognised as the “chaotic” day of the NXNE Festival. With the weekend in full swing and hordes of tourists strolling down the summer streets, you’re living in a dream world if you think you can stick to your carefully-crafted NXNE schedule. However, no one could have foreseen what would unfold before Radiohead was to take the stage at Downsview Park yesterday. The tragic accident that took place there brought a despondent haze over the city of Toronto. Although the Radiohead concert was rightfully cancelled, the downtown core proved that the show must go on. Here’s what went down in my neck of the woods:
The Flaming Lips @ Yonge-Dundas Square
If you happen to be someone who doesn’t like big crowds or you suffer from the occasional stab of claustrophobia, then Yonge-Dundas Square was not the place to be on Saturday night. The Flaming Lips showcased their usual set of classic, joint-worshipping tunes, featuring oversized bouncing balloons and lead singer Wayne Coyne’s acrobatic antics inside his human-sized hamster wheel. One of those bands that you need to see at least once even if you’re not particularly a fan of their experimental sound. At 51 years of age, Coyne and his bandmates are one of the very few groups out there who have managed to sustain an image of “ultimate cool” despite their 30 years together. The performance itself was great (or what I could see of it with thousands of people also attempting to catch a glimpse), but the atmosphere left little to be desired. Unfortunately, Toronto just doesn’t seem to understand that promoting one of the most cult-worshipped bands in the world at a free show in the heart of the city on a Saturday night is simply a recipe for disaster. With the tragedy at Downsview earlier that day hanging heavy in the sweltering air, it was disappointing to see the number of paramedics that were needed to intervene in numerous heat stroke, crowd crushing, alcohol poisoning, and drug consuming accidents. Despite that unfortunate fact, the best moment of the show came with The Lips’ fantastic cover of Radiohead’s “Knives Out”, with Coyne tastefully stating: “This unthinkable thing that happened today, we can’t all help but be affected by it. Peace be with their hearts tonight”.
Gentlemen Husbands @ Lee’s Palace
Next stop was to Bathurst and Bloor, where Cobourg natives Gentlemen Husbands were already a couple songs into their set. Rockers at heart with more than a dash of country twang, these guys certainly know how to get a show pumping. Possessing a voice eerily similar to Gord Downie with a twinge more radio-friendly commercialism, lead singer Derrick Ballard was rock-steady throughout the show. Drummer Dan Farrell fully embraced the band’s love of country western with his leather vest and embellished cowboy hat, not to mention his dead-on background vocals and driving drum kicks. The great thing about this performance was that the songs themselves and not just the performance got the crowd moshing, dancing, and flickering their lighters in the air. Although the guys clearly know how to rock out, they maintained a calm sense of professionalism that was only broken by the enthusiasm of the crowd at their feet. This combination of winning, gritty songwriting and polished playing was an all-out success, and I’m sure Toronto can’t wait until the Husbands’ next performance.
Matt Mays @ Lee’s Palace
Although Lee’s seemed almost full to the brim during the Gentlemen Husbands’ set, the venue managed to sardine in what seemed like a hundred more people before Matt Mays took the stage. The lights dimmed, a greasy-haired, trilby-wearing rocker emerged, and the crowd went wild. Mays definitely possesses a huge cult following, but he remains one of Canada’s unsung heroes, deserving the notoriety that is nowadays reserved largely for the Carly Rae’s and Biebers of the musical world. However, perhaps this cultism is what adds to his unbridled charm. His rock anthems are expertly crafted and equally well delivered, showcasing an energy, drive, and positivism that is both honest and hard-rocking. He started the set with a few new songs and then dove into some of his well-loved classics around midnight. Fan-favourites “Tall Trees” and “City of Lakes” got the audience pumping and induced an all-out crowd surfing extravaganza. Best moment of the night was when Mays took the stage lights into his own hands, directing the lighting guy to “make the stage red, because this just feels like a red song”. Once we were all bathed in the rosy glow, Mays began an acoustic rendition of his song “Travellin’”. Joined by the rest of his band halfway through the song, it turned into an all-out musical delight of epic proportions, making hairs stand up on the backs of necks and goosebumps appear on arms. All I can say about this show is: what an utter delight! I’ll be first in line when he’s back in town again.
The Bright Light Social Hour @ The Gladstone Hotel Ballroom
I know a nightcap basically serves as a liquified sleeping pill, knocking us out juuuuust enough to have one of those heavy-eyed, instantaneous slumbers. Although these Austin-based crooners played the late night slot at the Gladstone, The Bright Light Social Hour is to a nightcap as a double shot of wild turkey is to a virgin daiquiri. That is to say, one minute into a BLSH performance and the absolute last thing on your mind is sleeping. Described as “this generation’s answer to Led Zeppelin”, this talented four-piece have been tearing up stages all across North America with their mix of blue eyed soul and 70′s hi-fi rock. The vocal mastery of guitarist Curtis Roush and keyboardist A.J. Vincent combined with the booming bass of Jack O’Brien and hypnotic beats of Joseph Mirasole served to create a fantastically delectable treat. Standing still at one of their shows is virtually impossible, as the unbelievable energy radiating from every member of the group is infectious, a testament to how much work these guys put in to their craft. Writing about a BLSH performance is very difficult, as it is one of those things you have to see for yourself – catch them this July when they’re back in Canada for another mini tour!
So, another year of NXNE has sadly come to an end. Although I’m grateful for a somewhat normal sleep schedule to be resumed, nothing quite compares to this go-big-or-go-home week of musical discovery and seemingly endless all-nighters. This particular NXNE certainly won’t be forgotten in light of the tragedy at Downsview Park, but the rest of the week appeared to go rather smoothly with many musical delights. For me, the standouts of the week were certainly Ryan O’Reilly, Matt Mays, and The Bright Light Social Hour. Despite the fact that this year’s Festival has come to an end, fret not music addicts! There is a whole summer ahead of us full of festival fun, so keep checking in to Plaid for the latest updates!