Thursday, June 23rd, 2011
NXNE 2011 Day Four
Horse Feathers, Louise Burns, Cults and more at NXNE
Frank YangOne perennial highlight – okay, for two years – of my SXSW adventures was throwing day parties where we could invite Japanese Action Comic Punk outfit Peelander-Z to wreak havoc. So it was nice to see that not only were the Peelanders in town for NXNE, but they had an all-ages afternoon show scheduled at Sneaky Dee’s on the Saturday.
I guess Toronto’s still getting used to the idea of having shows when it’s still daylight out, because the gig was only attended by a few dozen – including some kids in cute homemade Peelander t-shirts – but I suspect that even faced with an audience of one, Peelander-Z would give it their all (and make said individual very uncomfortable). The show was a little different from when they were here in September, with Peelander Pink a little more involved in the proceedings and a dance number at the end, but the chewy centre was classic Peelander with human bowling, band swapping and squid costume jump rope/limbo line amongst other shenanigans. Tonnes of fun, but I couldn’t help wondering how insane it would have been if they’d been put on at Yonge-Dundas Square, with its throngs of unsuspecting bystanders and eminently climbable stage. Maybe next time.
Spinner has a surprisingly coherent interview with Peelander Yellow.
Photos: Peelander-Z @ Sneaky Dee’s – June 18, 2011
MP3: Peelander-Z – “Tacos Tacos Tacos”
MP3: Peelander-Z – “E-I-E-I-O”
MP3: Peelander-Z – “S.T.E.A.K.”
MP3: Peelander-Z – “Rocket Gold Star”
MP3: Peelander-Z – “Champion”
MP3: Peelander-Z – “Panda Punk”
Video: Peelander-Z – “E-I-E-I-O”
Video: Peelander-Z – “Ninja High Schooool”
Video: Peelander-Z – “S.T.E.A.K.”
Video: Peelander-Z – “Mad Tiger”
Bridging the day and night programming at Yonge-Dundas Square was uber-buzz band of the hour, New York’s Cults. I’d seen them last Summer when their hype was still more of the underground variety and been somewhat underwhelmed, appreciating the style of what they were doing and some of their songs but overall felt that they were still too green to be touring the continent. Fast forward a year and their self-titled debut is garnering decent reviews and me? Still not overly impressed. Their onstage presence is better, but Madeline Follin still looks uncomfortable as a frontwoman, though maybe she was just unaccustomed to such a large stage in daylight. In any case the songs were more fully-realized and the audience was certainly responsive though anyone looking for electricity would be left wanting. Don’t get me wrong – they’re fine and all, but I find the raves they’re getting disproportionate to what they’re actually doing. And once again, I would like to point out that sadly departed Saturday Looks Good To Me did the Motown/retro-pop revival thing SO much better and more interestingly not that long ago. Every Night, people. Every. Night.
I encouraged everyone to make Louise Burns’ Saturday gig a must-see on their schedule, and considering that between that post and the show her debut Mellow Drama was also long-listed for the Polaris, I assumed that it’d be standing-room only in Supermarket’s back room and while a decently-sized crowd showed up, sitting or even lying down was also an option. This is what you get for being scheduled against DEVO, I guess. Still, Burns and her band The Moonshiners – five players including backing vocalist – impressed those who were there with a solid set that proved that despite the innate twang of her voice, pigeonholing Burns as a retro/rootsy-type artist is really insufficient – in fact the combination of Burns’ deftly melodic basslines and the dual chiming Telecasters had me drawing Smiths comparisons; I’ll wager anything that she’s got a healthy collection of ’80s Anglo-indie at home. I’ll also wager that Burns’ star will continue to rise over the coming months – excess elbow room at her shows will not be a problem.
The final night of NXNE had no shortage of high-profile shows sure to draw big crowds and fill up early. Which is why I opted to avoid all of them and camp out in the cozy underground shelter of The Dakota Tavern to wind out the festival. Traffic woes – even on a bike – meant it took longer to get from A to B than it should have, but I still made it in time to catch most of the Smoke Fairies’ set. The London-based duo play English folk with American blues undertones built around haunting haunting harmonies and intertwined guitar lines; though quite young, they made a convincingly old sound. In between songs from their new record Through Low Light And Trees, they offered stories about being stoned on Nyquil, disturbing Ben Mulroney and visitng island petting zoos. Entertaining? Rather.
Photos: Smoke Fairies @ The Dakota Tavern – June 18, 2011
MP3: Smoke Fairies – “Strange Moon Rising”
Video: Smoke Fairies – “Living With Ghosts”
Video: Smoke Fairies – “Hotel Room”
Video: Smoke Fairies – “Strange Moon Rising”
Video: Smoke Fairies – “Frozen Heart”
I didn’t know much about the next act, Portland’s Horse Feathers, save for that they were on Kill Rock Stars and presumably decent. That would prove to be the understatement of the festival. The quartet, led by singer-songwriter Justin Ringle put on a jaw-droppingly beautful showcase of dramatically orchestrated country/folk music, the dexterity of which was remarkable for the delicacy of the arrangements. There was no way that something so intricate should have carried so much weight, and yet it did. A pity it wasn’t quite breathtaking enough to shut up some of the talkers who insisted on jabbering throughout the set, but even they couldn’t ruin the performance. Easily one of the discoveries of the festival and you can bet I now own a copy of last year’s Thistled Spring.
Photos: Horse Feathers @ The Dakota Tavern – June 18, 2011
MP3: Horse Feathers – “Thistled Spring”
MP3: Horse Feathers – “Curs In The Weeds”
MP3: Horse Feathers – “Belly Of June”
MP3: Horse Feathers – “Drain You”
Video: Horse Feathers – “Belly Of June”
Video: Horse Feathers – “Curs In The Weeds”
North Dakota’s Secret Cities were the main band that I had wanted to come to The Dakota to see, but by this point I’d rather forgotten that. Their set, showcasing their new record Strange Hearts, did a good job of reminding me of that fact. The recorded versions of their songs happily exist in a fuzzy, mid-fi state, reminiscent of the heyday of the Elephant 6, but live things have a more necessary clarity and considerably more volume, thanks to clattering double drums, layered vocals, and hooks a-plenty. A melange of almost every pop styling imaginable, they ably offset proggier inclinations with a genial goofiness and general all-around charm.
Photos: Secret Cities @ The Dakota Tavern – June 18, 2011
MP3: Secret Cities – “The Park”
MP3: Secret Cities – “Boyfriends”
MP3: Secret Cities – “Luv Crime”
MP3: Secret Cities – “On Holiday”
MP3: Secret Cities – “Bright Teeth”
MP3: Secret Cities – “PG Pt 1”
MP3: Secret Cities – “Pink City”
Video: Secret Cities – “Always Friends”
Video: Secret Cities – “Pink City”
And closing the festival out were locals New Country Rehab who, as their name might imply, were a pretty much down-home country band who didn’t need a festival as an excuse to play a honky-tonk like The Dakota. Opening with a cover of Springsteen’s “State Trooper”, they took an obvious respect for traditional country, infused with some fresh energy to say nothing of ridiculous musicianship and stopped just short of entering alt.country/country-rock territory. Just enough to get the people dancing, which they most surely did. I stuck around long enough to enjoy their take on Creedence’s “Effigy” and then called it a day/night/festival. THAT’S IT.
Spinner has an interview with the band.
As I wrap up this year’s NXNE coverage, a few pre-festival interviews that I missed earlier, all courtesy of Torontoist – this one with The Balconies, this one with Olenka & The Autumn Lovers and this one with Snowblink.
Details on the first official Memoryhouse release from SubPop have been revealed, and it’s not going to be their debut album. Instead, their debut EP The Years has been rerecorded, remixed and remastered and had a couple extra tracks added on; it will be given wide release on September 13, presumably pushing their proper debut album back until 2012.
There doesn’t look like there’ll be any Olympic Island concerts this year, but a just-announced free show from Sarah Harmer, Serena Ryder and Skydiggers on July 16 on Centre Island is nothing to shake a stick at. It’s part of Parks Day, presented by Parks Canada, and is – as mentioned – free. Your tax dollars at work!