Wednesday, June 24th, 2009
NXNE 2009 Day Three
NXNE 2009 day three featuring Woodpigeon, Caledonia and Band Of Skulls
Frank YangWoodpigeon shows are like a box of chocolates – you never know what you’re going to get. The first time I saw them live at Pop Montreal 2007, they were a rhythm section-less five-piece, more church choir than pop band but the next time, opening for Calexico last July, they were kitted out as an eight-piece and most certainly capable of bringing the rock. So it was anyone’s guess as to which Woodpigeon would come to roost at the Horseshoe on Saturday night, opening up CBC Radio 3’s showcase for NXNE.
It was a good week by anyone’s measure for the Calgary-based band, scoring a place on the Polaris Prize long list for their latest album Treasury Library Canada & Houndstooth Europa and, as would be revealed after the show, winning the CBC Galaxie Rising Star award, and a triumphant festival performance in front a packed house would have been the perfect way to cap it off. But for all the beautiful simplicity of their orchestral folk-pop, they can still manage to be inherently confounding. Only three members of the core band – singer-guitarist Mark Hamilton, keyboardist-flautist-singer Annalea Sordi and violinist-singer Foon Yap – made the trip to Toronto and they augmented their lineup with fellow Calgarians The Summerlad, also in town for the festival, and Hylozoist Paul Aucoin on vibes.
The use of players not intimately versed with the material guaranteed there’d be some reinvention in the cards, and there certainly was along with a set list that didn’t lean heavily, or hardly at all, on their most successful record – instead they went with songs old and unreleased to go with a few choice Treasury selections. The additional players came and went as needed as the show progressed, not a lot at first but moreso later as the set built from gentle to uncharacteristically but welcome-ly intense with noisy set-closer “And As The Ship Went Down, You’d Never Looked Finer”, sure to be a highlight of their already-recorded next album Die Stadt Muzikanten. Few would have complained if the set had leaned a bit more on familiar tunes or if they’d gotten to the louder portion of the set sooner, but even as it was, few were complaining. Considering how busy the band is conquering Europe, Toronto should feel fortunate that they pay us a visit in any configuration.
CBC has an extensive feature piece on Woodpigeon, Hamilton talks to Beyond The Ear about what it was like making the Polaris long list and CBC Radio 3 is streaming all of the performances from the evening, including theirs.
Photos: Woodpigeon @ The Horseshoe – June 20, 2009
MP3: Woodpigeon – “Knock Knock”
MP3: Woodpigeon – “Love In The Time Of Hopscotch”
MP3: Woodpigeon – “Oberkampf”
MP3: Woodpigeon – “Lay All Your Love On Me”
Video: Woodpigeon – “A Moment’s Peace for Mary Christa O’Keefe”
After their set, I fled the sweatbox of the Horseshoe and made way to the slightly less sweaty but still pretty packed Bread & Circus in Kensington to see Caledonia, here all the way from Halifax. Their new record We Are America had gotten some last-minute Polaris lobbying from other jurors, despite not qualifying for 2009, and the handful of listens I’d given the record yielded enough highlights to intrigue so it seemed a worthy way to spend an hour or so. And for the most part it was – live, they aren’t quite as interesting as they are on record, instead more polished and with a bar- with a touch of jam-band vibe about them. Going back to the album afterwards still confirmed it was a good listen, so perhaps it’s just a matter of bringing the two mediums closer together. Their next local gig is on August 14 at Rancho Relaxo.
The next stop – and the final one for the night, though I wasn’t ready to admit that to myself at the time – was just around the block at the venerable El Mocambo for English outfit Band Of Skulls. The trio had been doing a number of gigs around town throughout NXNE to build excitement for their debut Baby Darling Dollface Honey, which is being released domestically on July 28, and I’d been hearing good things. Though the samples I’d heard going in showcased many sides of the band’s sound, ranging from quiet to loud, it was the loud that was on display for this show. They tap deep into a vein of pure garage and blues-rock but while most drawing on that for inspiration end up little more than retro-revivalists, Band Of Skulls manage to sound decidedly fresh in their approach though you’d be hard-pressed to identify exactly what it is they’re doing different. The riffs are raw and heavy and the attitude no-nonsense, but they’ve also taken the time to write good songs and acknowledge that it’s as important to be melodic as it is heavy. Having co-ed frontpersons, both with excellent voices and a surplus of charisma certainly doesn’t hurt, either. Chart declared them the best thing they saw at the festival – I’m certainly not going to go that far, but they were excellent and were a good way to close things out. Fazer has an interview.
And that was it for NXNE 2009. I guess one more way in which it was like its SxSW cousin was even though I grumbled about the lineup, calling it weaker than in past years, I probably had the best time of all the NXNEs I’ve attended thanks to the chance to just run into and hang out with friends in town for the fest. That and things were unquestionably better organized and run this year than in the past, helping create a genuine sense of excitement about stuff happening around the city. Would have been nice if the weather had cooperated a little bit more, but you can’t have everything.
If you hadn’t heard, tonight’s Dirty Projectors show at Lee’s Palace as well as tomorrow’s in Montreal have been cancelled on account of the band flipping their van whilst en route to Toronto. Everyone is alright and while the shows are outright cancelled and not postponed – refunds available at point of purchase – hopefully they’ll be able to make them up sooner rather than later.
And anyone looking to add to the list of artists who will NOT be playing Ontario/Toronto’s V-Fest this year, take note that in addition to being the same weekend as Reading/Leeds and Outside Lands, our V will also be competing for talent against Baltimore’s Virgin Mobile Free Fest which will, as the name implies, be FREE. Wow.