Monday, June 17th, 2013
NXNE 2013 Day One
Mikal Cronin, Diana, Moon King, and more at NXNE
Frank YangI acknowledge that most coverage of NXNE referencing “night one” would be referring to the actual first night of the festival – that being last Wednesday night – but since instead of being out at the clubs, I spent that evening dealing with plumbing issues and catching up on Game Of Thrones, “night one” hereabouts will refer to the first night I got out of the house, which is to say Thursday, which is most others’ “night two”. None of which really matters to anyone; this I also acknowledge. So let’s move on. To The Horseshoe.
I’d flagged Moon King as one of the most interesting new acts in the city since seeing them open up for Niki & The Dove last Fall, a judgement confirmed by the first two thirds of their Obsession EP trilogy. The band is generally flagged as psych-pop – which is accurate – but the way they blend melody, texture, and innocence reminds me a lot of the early shoegaze bands and I’d rate them closer in spirit and execution than most because it’s clear they’re not even trying to be.
And so I was pretty happy to start the festival by seeing how far they’d come in the past nine months. Not that they were a green outfit by any means – band principals Maddy Wilde and Daniel Woodhead cut their teeth years ago as half of Spiral Beach – but Moon King still provided a new dynamic, with Woodhead moving from drums to frontman and Wilde putting the keyboards away to focus on guitar. Still, there was a perceptible difference in their performance this time out – they sounded heavier, yet more assured; their playful side now augmented by a sense of danger, which was a good look, at least in theory. The tail end of the show got a bit too literal with that as the shop lights – you know, the yellow ones with the “DANGER EXTREMELY HOT” warning stickers on them – they were using as stage lights got knocked over during an attempted stage dive, and those of us in the front row spent the remainder of the show trying to ensure that the various things that came in contact with them and started smoking – ie, mic cables and the Horseshoe stage carpeting – didn’t erupt into flame and Great White us all. Because that would have sucked and definitely would have garnered a more negative review.
Having just seen Diana back in March, I didn’t expect too much of a different show than last time, but considering in the interim they’d signed to Paper Bag at home and Jagjaguwar in the US for the August 20 release of their debut Perpetual Surrender, the attention they’ve been garnering has certainly increased. But if anyone was worried that their ascent has gotten to their heads, fear not – they may have started late, but it was because they were scrambling looking for a MIDI cable rather than trying to keep anyone waiting. And so while the set might have started a bit discombobulated, it was nice watching it all quickly fall into place and the band get their feet under them. And assuming a couple months didn’t make that big a difference in the live show proved to be wrong – Diana demonstrated some legitimate funk and disco moves to go with their smooth synth-pop soul stylings, and Carmen Elle seems much more at ease fronting the band and now more convincingly inhabits the character of the songs – not that that precludes her dropping to her knees and ripping an impressive guitar solo. Good to see you can take the girl out of the Army, but you can’t take the army out of the girl.
At this point I abandoned the sure-thing-ness offered by The Horseshoe, both room and lineup, and trekked up to Kensington to inspect a new venue called Handlebar and a new band called Valleys. Okay, not that new as I’ve commented on the solidity of their debut album Are You Going To Stand There And Talk Weird All Night?, but still. Sadly, both were some degree of disappointment. Handlebar for being basically being pitch-black by photographic standards, and Valleys for just being a generally lacklustre live show. I appreciate that the difference in being a studio project and live band can be immense, but the disservice that Valleys did their really quite good debut was unfortunate. With Marc St. Louis on guitar and Matilda Perks on keys playing of backing tracks, it was the least interesting path from recording to stage one could take and both seemed decidedly disinterested in making even that sound compelling. Tempos were off, pitch was off, the mix was off… perhaps it was an off night, perhaps the problems with the venue extended to the sound and not just the light, but based on this showing, I’d still recommend hearing Talk Weird and its synthetically cinematic charms, but skipping the show.
A list-minute decision to see if I could get into The Silver Dollar to see Californian Mikal Cronin start his three-night stand – it turned out I could – would still allow me to close the night on an up note -a VERY up note. I’d only just gotten around to hearing Cronin’s second album MCII a couple weeks ago, and its Big Muff-drenched power-pop was impossible not to fall for immediately. Not just for me, but for many – I was glad I’d gotten there just a little early, because by show time the Dollar was jammed with garage rock fans looking to blow off a little steam. And indeed, Cronin and his crew provided the perfect soundtrack for their mosh-pitting, beer-tossing, crowd-surfing tomfoolery. It did get rowdy, but stayed good-natured, just like Cronin’s music – plenty of fuzzy edges but warm and chewy inside. Loud, energetic, and fun, it was exactly the way to close out the night and Cronin’s promises of Limp Bizkit and Smash Mouth covers on the following nights was almost enough to get me to go back.
BlogTO has an interview with Japandroids, who inaugurate the new Adelaide Music Hall with a show tonight. And if you wanted to know more about Toronto’s newest venue – which is Opera House-sized, if you were wondering – The Grid is on it.
Video: múm – “Toothwheels”