Monday, June 16th, 2008
NxNE 2008 I
Photo by Frank Yang
Things not to do ever again – book myself for shows seven nights out of eight. Especially when three of those nights are extended, club-hopping affairs such as NxNE. As it was, my brain was about 80% fried before the festival even began, so take my diminished cognitive skills into account when reading any reviews from the past weekend.
Starting with Thursday. I had an itinerary heading into things but was already off it before things began, as I was too slow out of the blocks to catch Key Witness at the Velvet Underground. I did make it to The Boat for 9PM, however, and the set from Calgary’s Summerlad. It was probably the shortest set of the festival by anyone, quantitatively speaking, at only three songs long but when one of the songs was a slightly abbreviated version of their epic3-length “City Of Noise” (it takes up three sides of the double-LP 12″ single), it was plenty. As with anything designed as such, it’s inherently proggy but unlike other bands playing in the same sandbox, The Summerlad don’t sound overtly retro – rather than stoned, it sounds wide-eyed and alert. Wired, even. Transitions from section to section isn’t as seamless as one might like – you can definitely see/hear the edges – but still commendably ambitious and remarkably engaging. And I assume the “Funkytown” crib is entirely intentional. I hope.
Next up and also visiting from out west were Regina, Saskatchewan’s Rah Rah, proving that large, co-ed lineups weren’t exclusively the dominion of Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. They were stylistically rangy, mixing pop, rock, country and folkiness and making it difficult to come up with a quick description of their sound, though there was nothing difficult about that. Amiable if not immediately distinctive, they put on a rambunctious show that was highlighted by violinist/vocalist Kristina Hedlund pouring Pop Rocks into her mouth and stepping up to the mic as they fizzed. It wasn’t actually audible but many many bonus points for trying.
Though hailing from Toronto, The Rural Alberta Advantage continued the Prairie theme and were the band I’d come to see. Their debut album Hometowns has been one of my homegrown favourites since its very quiet release back in February. In fact, every time I listen to it I’m flummoxed as to why its not found the audience it deserves. But the band is still managing to find their audience, if the sizable crowd at the Boat was any indication, so it’s just as well that the RAA is as good live as they are on record. The trio, in matching Alberta-boosting t-shirts, put on a clinic of how to make a lot out of a little, using just acoustic guitar, a couple keyboards and inventive percussion to augment Nils Edenloff’s paeans to his home province. Boasting tremendous talent and charm, The RAA are one of those bands that leave me shaking my head in amazement every time I see them play, and this was no exception.
Photos: The Rural Alberta Advantage @ The Boat – June 12, 2008
MP3: The Rural Alberta Advantage – “Don’t Haunt This Place”
MP3: The Rural Alberta Advantage – “Luciana”
MP3: The Rural Alberta Advantage – “Frank, AB”
MP3: The Rural Alberta Advantage – “Sleep All Day”
MP3: The Rural Alberta Advantage – “In The Summertime”
MySpace: The Rural Alberta Advantage
The RAA would be a tough act to follow in my mind, but I gave youthful Toronto pop outfit Great Bloomers the opportunity to try, seeing as how they were playing just up the street at Supermarket. I’d heard others speak highly of them and their self-titled EP showed some promise, so why not. And it would be a relief to shoot a band anywhere besides the redder-than-the-depths-of-Hell Boat. I found the Bloomers’ stuff to be eminently likable and the band quite proficient, but residing on the wrong side of generic guitar pop. There were a few flashes of doing something more interesting or distinctive, but on the whole I found it less impressive than their recorded selves.
Chart has been diligently compiling their festival report cards, and The National Post, The Toronto Star, JAM, eye, NOW and blogTO have all been covering the fest. I’ll be running down the rest of the weekend over the next couple days but all my photos are up if you want to peek ahead and see what’s coming. And while I won’t get to the writeup till Wednesday, if you’re looking for something to do tonight, I heartily recommend going to the Gladstone to see 6 Day Riot, who will be playing a post-NxNE show before heading back to the UK. If I can find some final reserve of energy, I may head down myself. Definitely one of the great discoveries of the week.
Otherwise, you may be looking to squeeze a little more value out of your NxNE wristband by heading down to the Kool Haus to see My Morning Jacket – the print ad in this week’s NOW says that ALL wristband/badgeholders who arrive before 9PM will be admitted free, which is a far safer bet than the “first 50” restriction originally imposed. Chart and The Toronto Star have conversations with the band.
Stream: Wolf Parade / At Mount Zoomer