Wednesday, June 22nd, 2011
Dum Dum Girls, Diamond Rings, Stars and more at NXNE
Frank YangOne crucial way that NXNE has become more like its bigger, cooler acronym-a-like cousin SXSW is the increase of day shows to go along with the official evening showcases. Of course, I didn’t actually go to any of these new daytime events – the only afternoon party I hit up was one that had been happening for the last few years, the Kelp Records BBQ at the Global Village hostel, this year co-presented by the Brits at The Line Of Best Fit. After all – they had free food, cheap drinks and a solid lineup of bands. What else does a body need?
And as a bonus, I was able to catch a couple bands that otherwise would have required more hopping around in the night time. First up were The Elwins, an almost distressingly young outfit from the suburban wilds north of Toronto. Distressing because for all their fresh-faced earnestness, they possessed a polished and sophisticated pop sensibility that artists many years their elder would be envious of (and they just generally made me feel old). Hearing the amount of detail and ingenuity that had gone into their songs, you’d be tempted to think there was some pop genius sven gali behind them but I suspect that it’s all them and that’s remarkable. Their debut album And I Thank You is finished but, I believe, looking for a home. It deserves one.
BlogTO chatted with the band pre-fest. They play the Silver Dollar on July 21.
I’d seen Saskatchewan’s Slow Down, Molasses and heard their debut I’m An Old Believer back in Fall 2009 and filed them into the ever-growing “has great potential, not there yet” file in my mind. With the release of their second album Walk Into The Sea, I was happy to move them up into the far more spacious “definitely getting there” section of my grey matter. It’s still unquestionably roots rock at its core but the band are able to take it into less-travelled territory, getting noisier where necessary but remaining heartfelt and melodic. And when you’re able to go from twang to a My Bloody Valentine cover and do it well, as this six-piece did whilst crammed into the tiny stage area set up on the hostel’s patio, then you’re onto something.
From the laid back patio shows, things went to the mainstage at Yonge-Dundas for what became a sort of Polaris Prize sampler, with all three acts having been named to the long list the day before. Leading off was Diamond Rings, whom in my mind I’d seen a million times but in fact had not since SXSW 2010 – well over a year. And while there’s only so many changes a solo act can make to their stage show, there were a few notable changes. While it was still just John O’Regan, his keyboard and his guitar, the unicorn tapestry which used to grace his front of the former had been traded in for a more professional “Diamond Rings” banner and oh yeah, he was playing in front of thousands of people. The relentless touring and becoming BFFs with Robyn has clearly paid off because the response that Diamond Rings was getting from the decidedly younger-skewing audience was entering teen idol territory. And unsurprisingly, the show was more polished than I’d ever seen it, incorporating bigger beats, some sweet dance sequences and just generally more crowd-pleasing. I’d always thought there was a limit to how much O’Regan could do with the Diamond Rings persona, but maybe I was wrong.
Photos: Diamond Rings @ Yonge-Dundas Square – June 17, 2011
MP3: Diamond Rings – “Something Else”
MP3: Diamond Rings – “Wait And See”
MP3: Diamond Rings – “All Yr Songs”
Video: Diamond Rings – “Something Else”
Video: Diamond Rings – “Show Me Your Stuff”
Video: Diamond Rings – “All Yr Songs”
Video: Diamond Rings – “Wait & See”
Land Of Talk and I got our start at this very festival five years ago and while it’s only two and a half kilometers or so from The Boat in Kensington to Yonge-Dundas Square, the figurative distance covered by the band in that time is far greater. Long-gone is the scrappy power trio that wowed me so long ago, replaced by a five-piece band – six if you count Gentleman Reg in his Light Fires guise of “Regina Gentlelady” on backing vox for a few songs – and including Snailhouse’s Mike Feuerstack on guitar; certainly not the same players as last September at Lee’s. In fact, I would be hard-pressed to remember the last time I saw Land Of Talk with the same lineup twice in a row – the only constant being frontwoman Liz Powell. In any case, this was easily the largest setting I’d seen the band in and it was satisfying to see just how well their tense and yearning songs were able to scale up in presentation, helped no doubt by the three-guitar attack. It wasn’t their tightest show, but even so there was plenty of impact to be felt.
Photos: Land Of Talk @ Yonge-Dundas Square – June 17, 2011
MP3: Land Of Talk – “Quarry Hymns”
MP3: Land Of Talk – “Swift Coin”
MP3: Land Of Talk – “May You Never”
MP3: Land Of Talk – “Some Are Lakes”
MP3: Land Of Talk – “Corner Phone”
Video: Land Of Talk – “Quarry Hymns”
Video: Land Of Talk – “It’s Okay”
Video: Land Of Talk – “Troubled”
Video: Land Of Talk – “The Man Who Breaks Things (Dark Shuffle)”
Video: Land Of Talk – “Some Are Lakes”
Video: Land Of Talk – “Speak To Me Bones”
Stars had graduated to playing this size of show for a while now, so it wasn’t surprising that their show was tight and polished, not unlike their music itself. Stars have hit on a winning formula in crafting their romantic, synth-tinged pop and while it can get a bit samey over the big picture, on a song by song basis, it’s hard to argue with their effectiveness – songs like “Ageless Beauty”, “Your Ex-Lover Is Dead” and “Reunion” are pretty much post-millenial Can-rock classics, and for good reason. The thousands packing the square were certainly happy to eat it all up as well, from the tossing of roses into the crowd to Torquil Campbell playing up the Montreal-based band’s Toronto roots. For a free fan- and family-friendly show on a warm Summer’s evening, you couldn’t really ask for anything more.
Spinner has an interview with Torq Campbell.
Photos: Stars @ Yonge-Dundas Square – June 17, 2011
MP3: Stars – “Going, Going, Gone”
MP3: Stars – “Fixed”
MP3: Stars – “We Don’t Want Your Body”
MP3: Stars – “The Night Starts Here”
MP3: Stars – “Ageless Beauty”
MP3: Stars – “On Peak Hill”
Video: Stars – “We Don’t Want Your Body”
Video: Stars – “Fixed”
Video: Stars – “The Night Starts Here”
Video: Stars – “Take Me To The Riot”
Video: Stars – “Reunion”
Video: Stars – “Ageless Beauty”
Video: Stars – “Your Ex-Lover Is Dead”
Video: Stars – “Elevator Love Letter”
Done with the big stage for the evening, it was off to hit the clubs starting with Rancho Relaxo. There it was Volcano Playground, who impressed with their potential at the Wintergaze show back in December; I was quite interested to see how much further they’d come in the past six months. The answer: some ways. There was a lot of instrument swapping but the transitions were smoother than last time and didn’t disrupt the flow of hte show. Opening with a moody drone, they played a shortish set of spacey pop that didn’t sound distracted, kept moving by a heavy rhythmic element. At their best, they sounded reminiscent of Slowdive if they’d mixed the ideas of Pygmalion and Souvlaki and gotten a lot heavier, and when not at their best the potential of what they might do was still evident. I’m happy to keep them on my, “keep a solid eye on” list.
Their next show is July 10 at The Garrison.
At this point, my original plan had been to call it an early night for lack of anything I particularly wanted to see in the immediate area I was in. But when the Twitters brought word that one of the secret guest slots which peppered the schedule was going to be filled by the Dum Dum Girls, whom I’d resigned myself to missing, and that said show was happening across the street from where I was – albeit two hours hence – I had to stick it out. And sit through Rusty. OK, I suppose I could have just sat outside on the curb for a couple hours, read a magazine, but instead I opted to take in a ’90s Can-rock reunion that god knows I never asked for. If it’s not clear, I’d never been a fan of the band when they were MuchMusic/CFNY staples but clearly many others were, because the ElMo was packed with thirtysomething bro-types who were stoked – the only word to describe it – for their heroes’ return. And to be fair, they sounded pretty good considering that none of them (I think) carried on in music in any meaningful way after their dissolution over a decade ago. Though shorn of his signature dreadlocks, Ken MacNeil was still in pretty good voice (or as good as his raspy style required) and they collectively were pretty tight – a benefit, I suppose, of not having especially complex material to relearn. But they showed a good sense of humour about their age and the reunion and seemed genuinely grateful that their fans were still there.
“Are you ready for us?” Dee-Dee Penny of Dum Dum Girls was talking to the sound guy, but could easily have been addressing the couple hundred or so who’d stayed up till 2AM to see them play a second set of the night, following their sold-out appearance at Lee’s Palace earlier on. Cramming a busload of tunes into a half hour set, Dum Dum Girls proved why they were a cut above the other bands currently riding the girl-group/garage-pop wave – besides the most impeccable stage outfits, impressive musicianship and an innate coolness that just can’t be faked, they’ve got terrific songs that would be standouts in any production aesthetic. And they’ve got great friends, as proven when Crocodiles, fronted by Dee-Dee’s husband Brandon Welchez, popped by following their own set at the Silver Dollar across the street and offered both a 40 of whiskey and their services as backing dancers for their last song. Totally worth staying up for.
Photos: Dum Dum Girls @ The El Mocambo – June 17, 2011
MP3: Dum Dum Girls – “He Gets Me High”
MP3: Dum Dum Girls – “Bhang Bhang I’m A Burnout”
MP3: Dum Dum Girls – “D.A.L.”
MP3: Dum Dum Girls – “Jail La La”
Video: Dum Dum Girls – “He Gets Me High”
Video: Dum Dum Girls – “Bhang Bhang I’m A Burnout”
Video: Dum Dum Girls – “Jail La La”
Spinner talks to Nicole Atkins about her latest video, which they’re also conveniently premiering. Brightest Young Things also has an interview while The Herald-Citizen talks to her about her Bonnaroo experience.
Video: Alela Diane – “Desire”
Rolling Stone finds out what’s next for The Strokes from Nikolai Fraiture and Albert Hammond Jr; a new record and probably some North American dates in the Fall once the European festival season is done.
Those suffering from Grizzly Bear withdrawal will be pleased to know that bassist Chris Taylor has struck out on his own under the guise of CANT and will not only be releasing his debut album Dreams Come True on September 13 – details at Exclaim – and be taking it on the road. Full dates still to come but Toronto gets a taste on October 21 at The Garrison, tickets $14.