Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009
NXNE 2009 Day Two
NXNE 2009 day two featuring Coeur De Pirate, The Magic, Parallels and more
Frank YangJust before the start of NXNE, I was asked a few questions by The National Post for a festival preview piece along the lines of how NXNE differed from and was similar to SxSW. My answers were basically that there was no comparing the two, acronyms notwithstanding, as nothing anywhere really compares to SxSW in terms of scale and importance, but that in recent years NXNE has come a long way to being a worthy event in its own right. Friday evening, however, I got to experience a couple of shows that were quite reminiscent of March in Austin, both in the positive and negative sense.
To the former, there was an in-store set – the closest we’ve come to creating the massive day show culture of Sx – at Sunrise Records from Dark Mean. The Hamilton outfit is a relatively new one, but has already made an impression in some blog circles – that’s where I first heard of them – and this unconventional showcase was their Toronto debut. They’d made a very good first impression via their Frankencottage EP, which they’re offering for free download on their website, and I was initially disappointed to not see them on the official NXNE lineup – this gig made up for it. Short as it is, the record is bubbling over with promise, pop at the core but not afraid to get its country on nor dabble in unconventional sounds or arrangements and delivered with a confidence lacking in much more veteran acts. Live, they seemed to need a little work. Though the band is ostensibly a trio, they’d augmented themselves into a 6-piece for this show, including keyboards and a second drummer and while the songs weren’t buried under the extra manpower, they didn’t really benefit all that much either. They also came across tamer than on record, perhaps out of consideration for the shoppers, building a sort of lower-key Whiskeytown vibe throughout. Certainly not a bad angle, but one that didn’t do them full justice. They will make their proper Toronto debut on July 18 at the Polish Combatants Hall – maybe some liquor will loosen them up.
The SxSW phenomenon I was less pleased to see surface at NXNE was the booking of an act getting an enormous amount of attention into a venue far to small to contain all those who’d want to see them play. In this case, Coeur De Pirate at the Dakota Tavern. The stage name of 20-year old Béatrice Martin from Montreal, Coeur had been slowly but steadily building buzz outside the Francophone circles but that seemed to hit a sort of critical mass when her debut self-titled album was named to the Polaris Prize long list earlier last week. That was certainly what finally got me off my duff and listening to the record, and like so many others, enchanted by it. It’s all in French, and thus I don’t understand about 95% of it, her evocative voice and the sprightly yet haunting piano-led arrangements ensure that the emotional heft is not lost in translation. Arriving at the club 20 minutes early proved to be not nearly enough as there was a lineup already and word was it wasn’t going to be moving anytime soon. Happily, I managed to get into the club just before show time – it helps to know people who know people – and was in position for this performance, her first ever in Toronto. Martin played as a two piece but all eyes and ears were on her, as she proved as beguiling live as on record and all disarming charm between songs. The only point at which the magic was dispelled was with the final song, a cover of the Katy Perry song which shall not be named – the rendition was fine but I can’t endorse any action that helps prolong her pop cultural reign of terror. That said, it may have been a bit of a hassle to get into the show, but it would have been worth it at twice the effort. It’s quite disappointing that at the moment, there’s no other Toronto shows on her tour schedule – an appearance at Hillside is as close as she’s coming – but if the stars align, perhaps I’ll see her perform again at the Polaris Prize ceremony.
Photos: Coeur De Pirate @ The Dakota Tavern – June 19, 2009
Video: Coeur De Pirate – “Comme Des Enfants”
Video: Coeur De Pirate – “Ensemble”
MySpace: Coeur De Pirate
I wasn’t done with the Francophones, heading next to Supermarket (or should that have been Supermarché?) to see Parlovr, currently promoting their debut self-title. Even if I hadn’t known the trio was from Montreal, I’d have been able to guess from their sound – an energetic and just slightly unhinged blend of pop, rock and new wave. It wasn’t a new sound, in fact it’s a sound that’s probably approaching dated (Shouting! Synths! Quirky!) but their execution – along with some damn funny stage banter – endeared themselves to me enough that I’ll wait for the next band to call someone out as stylistically unfashionable. BlogTO has an interview.
I don’t actually know why Dublin’s Kill Krinkle Club were on my schedule – the samples of twee-pop on their MySpace must have struck a chord or something. But I wrote them down and so hoofed it down to Holy Joe’s just in time to witness them start off with a spoken word piece – never a good sign. The first tune was strangely skeletal and tuneless, but as it turned out the keyboard wasn’t working so they took a mulligan and re-played their opening number with much better results, but not enough to count as compelling. I gave their set a few more songs, but just wasn’t in the mood for something this precious and decamped.
At this point I had a few options, all of which involved cross-town club hopping and none of which were particularly appealing so instead I took an hour off to hang out on a stoop with a friend, downing some Gatorade. I think I made the right choice.
By this point, I’d heard more than a few people expressing great excitement for the act slated for midnight at The Reverb, the Guelph-Toronto act simply named The Magic. Seeing as how I was already at the venue and intended to be there for 1AM, I gave them a go and was very pleasantly surprised. It’s tempting to describe them as a disco band but without any of the typically retro or kitschy accoutrement that usually go with that (aside from co-frontpersons Geordie Gordon and Sylvie Smith’s yacht-captain suit and silver glitter dress, respectively). What they were was fun, funky and superbly tight with enough trade-off between the male and female lead vocals to keep things varied. NOW has an interview.
And finally was Toronto’s Parallels, an outfit whose bio makes much of drummer Cameron Findlay’s tour of duty behind the kit for Crystal Castles but whose own tastes in electro-pop veer much more in the direction of New Order with some Yazoo in the mix. ’80s uber alles, in other words. That’s certainly a sound that’s been in heavy rotation around these parts lately, so I was somewhat let down that Parallels didn’t really do it for me. They sounded alright – the songs were alright and the use of live drums a big bonus in giving them some dynamicism, but I found their overall stage presence to be underwhelming and lacking personality. Singer/keyboardist Holly Dodson has a good voice and makes the effort at filling the frontperson role, but didn’t have the charisma to really succeed as a focal point for the show. When their set wrapped, I was more than happy to call it a night.
To call yesterday a good day for concert announcements would be a wee bit of an understatement. First off, was the reveal of a show I’ve pretty much been waiting for all year – Yeah Yeah Yeahs at the Kool Haus on August 4. Those of you who have committed to the sit-rock of Fleet Foxes that night at Massey Hall have a tough decision to make, I understand. Me, I will hopefully be enjoying a double-shot of Karen O, catching her at Osheaga the preceding weekend and then this Toronto show. Tickets are $32.50, on sale Thursday. The Times has a feature piece on the band.
The Breeders will be at Lee’s Palace on August 15, tickets $23.50. I will admit I haven’t heard much of what they’ve done since reforming a few years back, but I’m pretty sure that “Cannonball” remains in their set list so that, right there, could be worth the price of admission.
Though they could surely play bigger rooms, The Hold Steady like the sweaty little ones so it’s going to be a several degrees past insane when they wrap up their just-announced cross-Canada tour with a September 27 date at Lee’s Palace. Tickets are $21.50 and go on sale this Thursday, though a presale goes today at 10AM with the password “POSITIVE”.
MP3: The Hold Steady – “Chips Ahoy!” (live)
Video:The Hold Steady – “Stay Positive”
Dinosaur Jr, whose Farm is ready to harvest at your local record store today, has announced a massive Fall tour that includes a stop at the Phoenix in Toronto on September 30. The Skinny has a massive, multi-piece feature on the band including a history of the band, interview with Murph, another with Lou and one with J. They also talk to Adam Franklin about the impact of the band. Drowned In Sound also has a typically awkward interview with J.
But the cosmos cannot exist without checks and balances, so I sadly have to report that it seems the Elbow show at the Phoenix, originally unofficially announced for July 29, does not appear to be happening after all. Don’t blame me, blame Letterman.