Wednesday, June 13th, 2007
My ideal itinerary for NxNE’s Saturday would have required me to either be in three or four places at once or at the very least, access to a helicopter to get from one venue to the next so the best compromise I could come up with was to plant my ass at Lee’s Palace, which was hosting a decently eclectic bill.
Portland’s High Violets were a name I’d seen a number of times before and I think I’d intended to see them play at at least one SxSW in the past. Well score one for passively waiting for the band to come to me. Led by Kaitlyn ni Donovan’s angelic vocals, reminiscent of Emma Anderson or maybe Meriel Barham, the High Violets sound like someone took all the shoegazey bits of my CD collection and threw it all into a blender – all the ingredients are familiar and tasty, but for whatever reason goes down a little flat and texture-less. I really wanted to like them and to a modest degree, do/did, but wasn’t bowled over the way I’d hoped I would.
I then ducked out for some dinner, intending to miss the next band whose bio compared them favourably to Finger Eleven. That plan succeeded, but I wasn’t able to kill enough time to miss the next act, local girl Tara Slone. Slone has had some success initially fronting the 90s Garbage wannabes Joydrop and then as a contestant on the INXS edition of Rock Star. Fronting what looked like an alt.rock band assembled by focus group, Slone copped what I can only assume was intended to be a “tough, sassy rocker chick” pose – cursing liberally, talking about her boobs and performing songs from her new album Just Look Pretty And Sing as well as Joydrop’s hits (both of them). The audience response was muted – something Slone took note of – and I couldn’t help thinking about the irony of something ostensibly called “modern rock” sounding so utterly dated.
Great Northern came all the way up to Toronto from Los Angeles to show off material from their debut album Trading Twilight For Daylight. The record is filled with lush and lovely pop built around the tight harmonies of Solon Bixler and Rachel Stolte. It’s terribly pretty but rather soft around the edges, production-wise. Happily, in a live setting things snap into much sharper focus – there’s more sonic punch and the delivery rawer, but without sacrificing any of the beauty. A pleasant surprise and they also take the prize for traveling with the absolute biggest keyboard I’ve ever seen. If you told me that after the show, they strapped some wheels on it and rode it to their next tour stop, I would’ve believed you.
While the crowds at Lee’s ebbed and tided through the night depending on who was playing, things definitely began filling up for the headliners, Chicago’s Urge Overkill. I figure there’s three kinds of UO fans – those who only know them from the Pulp Fiction soundtrack, those like myself who discovered them with 1992’s Saturation but didn’t explore much further and the hardcores, who’ve worn out multiple copies of Stull and Americruiser and shoot eye daggers at fan types one and maybe two. Somewhat surprisingly, the crowd seemed heavily weighted towards fan type three and it was for them that the Urge delivered a shockingly rocktacular set. While I by no means expected them to be bad, I also didn’t expect them to be so damned good.
Fronted by a still-emaciatedly lean Nash Kato and a decidedly not-lean Eddie “King” Roeser (drummer Blackie Onassis is not part of the reunited lineup), the band was medallion-less but not unfashionable – the matching purple crushed velvet pants and mustard shirts were classic Urge style. I also assume the set list was classic Urge – it consisted mainly of material unfamiliar to me and I presume it was old material though they could well have been airing out new material as well. Either way, you didn’t need to know the songs to appreciate their foot-stomping guitar fury and pure rock bliss. Saturation was represented by just three songs – surprisingly one was “Heaven 90210” though delivered while the band was still riding an adrenaline rush, it wasn’t nearly as pretty as I remembered the album version being. Similarly, “Girl, You’ll Be A Woman Soon” was saved for the second encore but lacked the flamenco flair of their recording. No, the band wasn’t in delicate mode this night – just the rock, please. A top-notch, utterly exhausting cap to what turned out to be a pretty damned good NxNE. The festival may earn that acronym yet.
Roeser talked to NOW before the fest about the fall and rise of Urge Overkill, leading up to the current reunion.
Photos: Urge Overkill, Great Northern, Tara Slone, The High Violets @ Lee’s Palace – June 9, 2007
MP3: Urge Overkill – “Sister Havana”
MP3: Great Northern – “Home”
MP3: The High Violets – “Sun Baby”
Video: Urge Overkill – “Sister Havana” (YouTube)
Video: Urge Overkill – “Positive Bleeding” (YouTube)
Video: Tara Slone – “We Were Stars” (YouTube)
Video: Tara Slone – “My Little Secret” (YouTube)
Video: The High Violets – “Love Is Blinding” (YouTube)
Video: The High Violets – “Invitation” (YouTube)
MySpace: Urge Overkill
MySpace: Great Northern
MySpace: Tara Slone
MySpace: The High Violets
Congratulations to Cat Power on winning this year’s Shortlist Of Music prize for The Greatest, an honour well- and hard-earned. Billboard has more details. Cat Power brings the Dirty Delta Blues band to the Phoenix on July 10.
St Vincent, who impressed when opening for Midlake back in February, returns for her own show at the Horseshoe on July 20 with Scout Niblett as support. Her debut Marry Me is out July 10. Give a listen.
Idlewild frontman Roddy Wooble’s solo record, My Secret Is My Silence, will get a North American release on July 10. It came out last year in the UK so it’s good to see the Idlewild curse of extended staggered releases lives on! This record is where Woomble put his quieter, folkier material, leaving the rockers for the band’s Make Another World, released earlier this year.