Wednesday, June 18th, 2008
NxNE 2008 III
Photo by Frank Yang
Oh the wonders that a solid eight hours of sleep can do. After finally being able to sleep in Saturday, I was actually feeling rather human again and almost eager to tackle the final night of NxNE rather than fearful. Up until Swervedriver, my NxNE had consisted pretty much exclusively of Canadian acts so I opted to devote the last evening of the festival to those acts who, for whatever reason, thought that crossing international boundaries and coming all the way to Canada would be a good career move.
Like the young Scots quartet who kicked off the night at Neutral, Grace Emilys. Some might think an early 8PM slot is a curse, but it can definitely be a blessing as there’s far less competition for attention at that time. A lack of options wasn’t the only reason I was there, though. The samples of the band that I’d heard were compelling enough to make me genuinely interested, a sort of melange of scrappy Futureheads-y peppiness and Libertines-y scrappiness, if more wide-eyed and earnest than either. Though they didn’t necessarily demonstrate a really distinct personality, they showed they’ve got the tools and the talent to cobble together some sharp pop songs – worth keeping an eye on. The National Post interviewed the band before the start of NxNE.
Englishwoman Carina Round was a familiar name that I couldn’t place, until some digging revealed she’d not only been around for a while but had kept (touring) company with the likes of Mark Eitzel and Ryan Adams. That, and the fact that my bike was locked up right in front of the Savannah Room, were enough to get me to check things out. It was interesting that an artist as relatively established as she was booked into a room as small as the Savannah, but she seemed to appreciate the opportunity to play a stripped-down, acoustic set (augmented for a couple numbers by an electric guitarist). Even though her recorded output is decidedly more produced and electric, she was still quite impressive in this context showcasing her hugely versatile voice without showing off and moving effortlessly through a range of musical styles. An entertaining and hypnotic set from a veteran performer.
Photos: Carina Round @ The Savannah Room – June 14, 2008
MP3: Carina Round – “Ready To Confess”
Video: Carina Round – “Down Slow”
Video: Carina Round – “Into My Blood”
Video: Carina Round – “Come To You”
Video: Carina Round – “January Heart”
MySpace: Carina Round
From the Savannah Room to the Cameron House, I went from the pro to the newbies with London’s 6 Day Riot but they were no less impressive – in fact, factoring in the thrill of discovery, they may have been my favourite act of the festival. The five piece, fronted by an adorable Scottish girl, work similar terrain as Beirut and DeVotchKa, which is to say indebted to old world, eastern European Gypsy-folk influences. But rather than the dramatic weight of those two acts, they offer up celebration and delight delivered with superb songs, musicianship and period costumes. It’s not necessarily difficult to fill the tiny Cameron House to capacity, but it’s saying something that throughout their too-short set, people kept trying to get in and were turned away. The band have one full-length under their belts and have released a new EP for this year – Bring On The Waves – which I foolishly didn’t grab a copy of. Alas.
It was then back to the Savannah Room for Toronto ex-pat Erin Lang, now based in London, England. Utilizing a range of instruments from ukulele to electric guitar to accordion to accompany her sweetly delicate voice, she and her band served up a set of ambient folk in the vein of Lori Carson that I might have been able to enjoy more if not for the constant talking of the two ladies sitting beside me. You know, if you sat in the restaurant section of the club rather than right in front of the PA, you wouldn’t have to shout the whole time.
Photos: Erin Lang @ The Savannah Room – June 14, 2008
MP3: Erin Lang – “Daisy”
MP3: Erin Lang – “You’re Coming Home”
MP3: Erin Lang – “Lightning”
MP3: Erin Lang – “Happy To See You”
Video: Erin Lang – “Daisy”
Video: Erin Lang – “Happy To See You”
MySpace: Erin Lang
I rolled into my final stop for the night and for the festival just before midnight – once again, Lee’s Palace. If I didn’t already know Miss Derringer were from Los Angeles, I could have hazarded a guess – the costumes were a big hint. With the boys dressed as some sort of pirate-cowboy hybrids and lead singer Liz McGrath in a rather eye-catching ’40s cigarette girl outfit, the five piece were really setting themselves to be dismissed as some sort of novelty act, but woe to anyone who was willing to dismiss them so readily. Their blend of girl-group pop and Hazlewood-Sinatra country noir, all delivered with punkabilly verve, was a real treat. And while also entertaining, the costumes were almost an unnecessary distraction – with a happening sound and a couple of killer singles, the band’s good enough to not need to hide behind any gimmickry.
Photos: Miss Derringer @ Lee’s Palace – June 14, 2008
MP3: Miss Derringer – “Black Tears”
Video: Miss Derringer – “Black Tears”
Video: Miss Derringer – “Better Run Away From Me”
MySpace: Miss Derringer
And finally, to finish it all off, Redd Kross. Many had been waiting a long time for the return of the legendary glam-punk-bubblegum-power pop outfit, only recently put back into full-time mode after nearly a decade of being on hiatus, and twenty minutes after their scheduled start time, we were still waiting but when the band, classic Neurotica-era lineup, freakishly tall and natty in suits, strode out on stage no one cared about a few more minutes on top of all the years.
I can’t put myself forward as a big fan, but Phaseshifter has been one of my go-to good times records for over a decade and I’ve also recently begun exploring their earlier works. But theirs is not a sound that requires a lot of research to enjoy – if you’ve a taste for hugely hooky, high-energy, guitar rock then Redd Kross will be your favourite band, at least for as long as they’re playing. The McDonald brothers – Jeff on guitar and lead vocals, Steve on bass – may no longer be the pre-teens who started the band in the late ’70s, but the sheer joy and energy the displayed was eternally youthful. Add in drummer Roy McDonald and unbelievably gangly lead guitarist Robert Hecker – a man who apparently needs more upper fret access on his guitar than Joe Satriani – all going full tilt, somehow cramming upwards of 20 songs into a set just over an hour in length, and you’ve got a good time and for me, an ideal way to cap off an intense week of live music.
The Guardian, who apparently had a writer in town last week, wonders if NxNE is the new SxSW. I can answer that one in a word – no. NxNE has nothing on the scale, size and importance of SxSW but for what it is, it’s definitely getting better. By taking a somewhat less cynical attitude to it going in, I found I had the best time at NxNE that I can recall – no, the lineup didn’t and probably never will have the brand name recognition that its similarly-adjectived Texan counterpart does, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that there’s not a lot of talent on display, you’ll just have to dig a little more.
Mind you, there’s still lots of room for improvement: The website is awful and there’s simply no excuse for having the schedule be as unusable as it was and be completely down for a third of the festival. While clearer than in the past, the whole rigmarole with the wristbands – how it guarantees entry for some shows but not others and the specifics of which are which are still byzantine. The habit of co-opting bigger, touring acts for marketing purposes when only a handful of wristbands and badges will be granted entry to their shows has always been lame. A constantly morphing schedule and lineup, right up until show times. And the whole “lets have bands play at the airport to utterly indifferent travelers” was just a terrible, terrible idea from top to bottom. Keep it to the parks and public places that are actually easily accessible to people who might give a damn.
But that said, there’s a lot going right with NxNE in recent years. Most every show I attended was quite well-attended and people seem genuinely interested and excited to do the festival – a far cry from shows in the past where acts would play to mostly empty rooms (which isn’t to say that didn’t happen this year…). There were more shows and events outside the standard club circuit, like in-stores, day shows and free public events (airport notwithstanding). There just seemed to be more energy surrounding things this time around. Emulating SxSW shouldn’t be in NxNE’s mandate – the culture around Austin and that festival is unique to the world – but Toronto is definitely capable of doing something excellent in its own right, and I’d like to think we’re (slowly) getting there.
PopMatters also contemplates festivals, in particular the logistics and economics of the big multi-day affairs. Alls I know is that just looking at the accompanying pictures from Coachella, Bonnaroo and Glastonbury, among others, totally exhausts me.
With the North American release of her Youth Novels set for August 19, Lykke Li has put together a Fall tour that will bring her to the Mod Club on October 24. BrooklynVegan has full dates and MusicOhm has an interview.
And this just in – The Verve’s new album, still untitled, will be out August 19.