Tuesday, June 18th, 2013
The National, Still Corners, Hayden, and more at NXNE
Frank YangWish as we might, the day show still hasn’t quite taken hold of NXNE the way it has its heavyweight south by southwestern cousin, but there are things worth seeing and doing in the daylight hours if you look. And sometimes those things will take you to places like Urban Outfitters, who were hosting a honey of an in-store on the Friday of the festival. And sometimes, if you take the time to actually look at the address of the Urban Outfitters in question, you’ll get there on the first try, rather than use process of elimination, which is what I did. Aside: there are too many Urban Outfitters in this city.
Still, I made it to the correct Queen West UO location in time to see Florida’s Beach Day – cover boys and girls of my NXNE preview – setting up for the first of four shows they’d play in town this weekend. With their debut album Trip Trap Attack due the the following week – today, actually – they were primed to show off what they had to whomever would listen. And what they had was a fun and infectious retro-garage/surf pop sound that fit their name perfectly, though if you were to call them “Dum Dum Girls’ Little Archies”, you wouldn’t be wrong either. Besides the visual and stylistic similarities, singer-guitarist Kimmy Drake also has a Chrissie Hynde-like delivery not unlike Dee Dee Penny’s, and while their music doesn’t have the New Wave sophistication that elevates Dum Dum Girls above their peers, they do have a lot of youthful exuberance that also goes a long way. They play in an old style but do it like it’s brand new.
Following them from about as far as you could get, geographically and stylistically, were London’s Still Corners whose presence on the bill is what got me to take the day off work so as to be able to see them. It had been a long time since their local debut in October 2011 and neither their show a couple nights earlier opening for CHVRCHES nor their showcase that evening at The Horseshoe was logistically workable for me, so this was my best chance to hear Strange Pleasures live. Though the record’s ’80s-beholden, synth-heavy sound was quite a shift from the ’60s atmosphere of their debut Creatures Of An Hour, I’ve found myself liking it as much if not more. The band opted to not try and recreate their standard live show for the in-store setup, however, pre-apologizing if their messing with the set structure didn’t work as well as they hoped when they thought it up. They opened with three selections from Strange Pleasures with just band principals Tessa Murray on vocals and sequencer and Greg Hughes on guitar overtop some canned beats, the lushness of the new material’s recorded versions being traded in for some of the barer beauty more akin to the aesthetic of their debut, even when the rest of the band joined them for the remainder of the set. While they quite obviously weren’t unplugged, the performance had a similar intent with a greater emphasis put on Murray’s lovely vocals and allowing Hughes to show off some of his guitar chops. I do still wish I’d been able to hear the bigger, louder version of the show that those who saw their evening shows caught, but this was pretty special too.
The Boston Globe has an interview with Still Corners.
Photos: Still Corners @ Urban Outfitters – June 14, 2013
MP3: Still Corners – “Berlin Lovers”
MP3: Still Corners – “Fireflies”
MP3: Still Corners – “Eyes”
MP3: Still Corners – “Into The Woods”
MP3: Still Corners – “Cuckoo”
MP3: Still Corners – “Endless Summer”
Video: Still Corners – “Berlin Lovers”
Video: Still Corners – “Cuckoo”
Video: Still Corners – “Into The Trees”
Video: Still Corners – “Endless Summer”
After taking a few hours to tend to this and that – which is to say napping – it was off to Yonge-Dundas Square for the festival’s ostensible headlining act, and said act’s ostensible opener. That would be Hayden, a last-minute reveal given his appearance at Arts & Crafts’ Field Trip festival the weekend before, but not really a surprise considering their history together – Hayden Desser joined The National for a cover of his “Dynamite Walls” when they played The Phoenix in October 2007 and he also interviewed frontman Matt Berninger earlier this Spring. My own history with Hayden is pretty long as well – I first saw him at the Humanities Theatre in Waterloo back in 1996, and again opening for Juliana Hatfield at Guelph’s Trasheteria in 1998… but not since. To be honest, while I’ve always appreciated what Hayden did, I was never the biggest fan – his simple and genial brand folk-pop never quite resonated with me the way it did some, and this year’s Us Alone was the first of his releases I’ve listened to in almost forever (and I like it fine). But hearing those songs played out in the open air as the sun just began to set was really an ideal way to be reminded of the power of simplicity. Leading a trio and starting out on keyboards, he worked through an unhurried set of new tunes and old favourites – occasionally punctuated by a Crazy Horse-esque noise flourish lest you start to nod off – but mostly just comfortable and enjoyable. And hearing the songs with which he first garnered attention – Everything I Long For‘s “Bad As They Seem” and “In September” took be back the nearly 20 years since I first heard them, as well as appreciate how far his songwriting has evolved while staying in the same mould. And also that the throat-shredding gruffness he needs to affect for “In September” must really hurt.
Post-City has a feature piece on Hayden.
Photos: Hayden @ Yonge-Dundas Square – June 14, 2013
MP3: Hayden – “Old Dreams”
Video: Hayden – “Oh Memory”
Video: Hayden – “Rainy Saturday”
Video: Hayden – “Barely Friends”
Video: Hayden – “Where & When”
Video: Hayden – “All In One Move”
Video: Hayden – “Carried Away”
Video: Hayden – “Dynamite Walls”
Video: Hayden – “The Closer I Get”
Video: Hayden – “Bad As They Seem”
While the Yonge-Dundas Square mainstage of NXNE is fantastic in theory – free shows in the heart of the city with big names that help give a club-level festival a little major-league cachet – in practice it’s… less than fantastic. The built-in stage offers poor sightlines, made worse by the number of sponsors tents and beer cordons so that many in attendance are lucky to get some line of sight to one of the two video screens, never mind the stage. Add in massive crowds, many of whom are only there for something to do rather than actual fans and will think nothing of talking loudly through the whole set, and, well, maybe you’d be better off at the clubs. Unless, of course, the big-name headliner for this evening is one of your favourite bands of the past decade, in which case you suck up whatever complaints you might otherwise have and you see The National.
And if I thought that seeing them play an arena – albeit theatre-configured – in December 2011 was a headtrip, then seeing them in such a setting was just mental considering I still clearly remember our first meeting in March 2006 at The Horseshoe. Their environs were a touch amusing to the band, as well, with Matt Berninger commenting on the giant Beyonce H&M ads directly in his line of sight on the Eaton Centre, and Aaron Dessner noting the Blue Jays game was playing on another giant screen behind them. But they were here to do a job and do it they did.
Trouble Will Find Me lead track “I Should Live In Salt” set the tone for the evening, all stately melancholia, and certainly a far cry from the merry bedlam The Flaming Lips brought to the same stage the year prior. Even as their stages have gotten bigger, their show has remained pretty consistent – Berninger anchored centre stage, microphone gripped tightly, Dessner twins flanking him on guitars and the Devendorff rhythm section laying back and tending to business. The Dessners did alternately step out towards the audience whilst powering the band’s crescendos, but Berninger didn’t venture out to meet the audience until “England”. And while the public square is arguably the least acoustically favourable place they’ve played in the city, there was something special about hearing the likes of “Apartment Story” and “Fake Empire” ring out and off of the steel and glass surroundings.
The set naturally favoured Trouble and High Violet, but long-time fans were treated with “About Today” off of 2005′s Cherry Tree EP. Alligator has sadly gotten to the point of only being represented by the obvious “Abel” and “Mr. November”, though I will admit the latter takes on some new life when Berninger is now able to actually plunge into the crowd and be carried on the arms of, if not cheerleaders, then festival-goers. Having missed the end of their Air Canada Centre performance, their show-closing “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks” was unexpected and powerful – pulling off an unplugged singalong can be difficult in a club or theatre setting; doing it on an outdoor urban stage? Nearly impossible. So of course they did, and with ease.
Some may grouse about the aforementioned problems of shows such as this and even used them as excuses to skip it, particularly knowing that the band will certainly return before long to do a proper ticketed show in a more personable venue. I took that as an extra reason to go to this show and appreciate its uniqueness, niggles aside. After all – R.E.M.’s free noon-hour show at the very same intersection in 2001 was also hardly an ideal concert setting, but it’s not one I’ll ever forget. I can’t say this one will be as indelible, all said and done, but for what it was, it was still great.
Photos: The National @ Yonge-Dundas Square – June 14, 2013
MP3: The National – “I’ll See You In My Dreams”
MP3: The National – “Twenty Miles To NH (Part 2)”
MP3: The National – “Exile Vilify”
MP3: The National – “Think You Can Wait”
MP3: The National – “Afraid Of Everyone”
MP3: The National – “Bloodbuzz Ohio”
MP3: The National – “So Far Around The Bend”
MP3: The National – “Fake Empire”
MP3: The National – “90 Mile Water Wall”
MP3: The National – “Cold Girl Fever”
MP3: The National – “Son”
MP3: The National – “Beautiful Head”
Video: The National – “Sea Of Love”
Video: The National – “Demons”
Video: The National – “Exile Vilify”
Video: The National – “Think You Can Wait”
Video: The National – “Conversation 16″
Video: The National – “Terrible Love”
Video: The National – “Bloodbuzz Ohio”
Video: The National – “So Far Around The Bend” (live)
Video: The National – “Mistaken For Strangers”
Video: The National – “Apartment Story”
Video: The National – “Abel”
Video: The National – “Lit Up”
Video: The National – “Daughters Of The Soho Riots”
Video: The National – “Sugar Wife”
Video: The National – “Son”
The first song from the new Okkervil River album The Silver Gymnasium is now available to stream via lyric video. The record is out September 3 and they play The Phoenix on September 28.
Video: Low – “Plastic Cup”