Thursday, June 5
after moneen's explosive set for an awestruck crowd at an overstuffed Velvet Underground, the breakout Brampton emo crew were going to be a hard act to follow for the other 300 or so artists showcasing at NXNE 2003. They definitely wouldn't be topped by Vancouver's Spitfires, who were recycling riffs and gobbing up a storm over at the half-empty Lee's Palace. The group's wobbly frontman, Jason Solyom, never got over the confiscation of the brew they tried sneaking into the club and decided to turn their showcase into a horking contest. They were the losers.
When the crowd seemed unreceptive to Solyom's confrontational antics, he resourcefully tried some reverse psychology, shouting, "Everybody shut the fuck up and sit down!" Yet he didn't get the rise he expected, just one big bored shrug.the local rabbits' pete elkas's
sologig at the El Mocambo resulted in a set of sloppy, straight-ahead power pop, with Sloan's Chris Murphy bashing away on drums.Upstairs, things weren't so rosy. The only thing more depressing than seeing the legendary El Mo's second floor redesigned as a soulless dance studio was the Caribbean's mumbled pop. It was actually hard to get in to see the band, not because of the number of people in the room but because of the streams of people trying to get out.
based on the painstaking, fragile, acoustically layered soundscapes of his accomplished self-titled solo debut, I hardly expected the vibe during By Divine Right dude Brian Borcherdt's gig at the Rivoli to rise above a dull roar. But the visceral impact of his emotionally loaded tunes, propelled by aching vocals and a brilliant guitar-heavy backing band, got even the schmoozehounds milling about in the back of the tiny back room to shut up and pay attention.
Moneen's 11 pm set at the Velvet Underground was similarly high-energy, but the sightlines in that joint are so appalling, all I glimpsed were guitar slinger Chris "Hippie" Hughes's flying dreads and a sea of pumping fists. Sorta like Lollapalooza circa 1993, but with poorer air circulation and less mud.
Friday, June 6
if anyone could out-perform mo- neen, it would be former Guthries key man Matt Mays, who was dead set on breaking his streak of trouble-fraught Toronto shows. The Galaxy Rising Stars Award cheque for $3,000 handed to Mays before the first song at the Horseshoe was a good indication that his fortunes are changing. The next 40 minutes confirmed it. Backed by his tough-rockin' Dartmouth buddies in El Torpedo, Mays kicked out the alt-country jams , blazing away on his Garth Hudson-signed Telecaster like a scruffier Gram Parsons fronting Crazy Horse. He's got the songs, the sound and that all-important star charisma, so why he isn't already signed to a multi-album U.S. deal is beyond explanation.
i got tired of standing in line while watching the country-rockin' Donnellys' hootenanny of a set through the smudged glass of the front window at the minuscule Black Bull, so I headed to the Horseshoe for the midnight Matt Mays & El Torpedo gig. Judging from his pleasant but vaguely generic alt-country-meets-college-rock anthems, Maritimer Mays might just be the next Canrock alterna heartthrob. Made it back to the Black Bull for the Donnellys' final gospel sing-along and felt my heart soar while belting, "On that rock where Moses stood!" along with a gang of NXNE revellers.
Too bad the place had all but cleared out by the time scenestery locals-on-the-rise controller.controller tried to rouse the remaining Rivoli partiers with their wicked death-disco mayhem. The band's slightly gothy punk chordage and wicked, snaky bass lines should be the formula for a subversive dancestravaganza, but few shook their asses after 1 in the morning.
you can make elaborate plans and chart out an hour-by-hour route, but at the end of the day a crapshoot like NXNE is all about luck, sacrifice and hard choices.A 9 pm beer at the Rivoli might seem like a dandy idea, but what do you do two sips in when the band onstage, the tinny wails of Burlington hard rock shouters the Blackmaria, is already becoming annoying? Abandon the beer? Abandon the band? The sidewalk beckoned and ultimately won.
Luck plays a major role in what you see. Blowing off sure-thing gigs by Rhume, the Parkas, polmo polpo and the FemBots to trek north to Lee's and catch ex-Swervedriver frontman Adam Franklin seemed like an obvious choice until it became clear that the club's schedule was in disarray. Hamilton space rockers Sianspheric blew out their gig, meaning that those arriving to see Franklin at 10 pm instead had to suffer through the Salads' dire 24-7 Spyz revisionism.
Franklin, as it turned out, wasn't worth the wait. Trying to strip down his grandiose shoe-gazing power pop into a solo set might be economically sound but came off sounding horribly thin.
You can wait the entire length of a music festival to see a band like 3 Inches of Blood. The Vancouver metal crew could easily take the piss out of the music they so obviously worship. Instead, they play it up for all its worth. Featuring two screamers, one wearing an armband of bullets, 3 Inches of Blood left the Kathedral crowd flattened with steamrolling songs about armies of darkness, untold brutality and other unmentionables.
Their song Balls Of Ice was the best thing I heard all week. The shit-eating grin on audience member Ian Blurton's well-bearded face said it all.
Saturday, June 7
the lineup at the horseshoethe lineup at the horseshoe
stretched past the Stem by the time local hiphop hotshots IRS started getting busy. It was so packed, even MuchMusic Cliptrip VJ Diego Fuentes couldn't jump the queue.They could've used a few of those bodies across town at the Opera House. The Rapture show wasn't an NXNE event, and no doubt the festival cut into ticket sales, but I thought more than a couple of hundred people would be curious enough to check out the New York disco-punk darlings. Perhaps the Rapture have lost some shine with their indie support network since word leaked out that they've signed to Universal's new Gary Gersh-run boutique operation, Strummer Recordings.
A stellar opening set by the Constantines - currently in world-beating mode since cutting a deal with Sub Pop - provided just the performance incentive the Rapture needed.
Singer/guitarist Luke Jenner, who'd been standing by the merch table gazing blankly at aspiring Vice columnists eying the logo-emblazoned canvas tote bags, was now switched on and ready to riot. Gone was the sensitive Robert Smith-style crooning, replaced by high-pitched screaming that made him sound like a pissed-off Julia Child, while drummer Vito Roccoforte bashed out a double-time gallup pushing one song into the next. They haven't yet figured out how to improve on House Of Jealous Lovers, but at least they're starting to play with the intensity and focus they've often lacked.
Meanwhile on Queen West, all the sweaty friends of the Hidden Cameraswere clearing out of the Horseshoe to give the Nasty On some room to get unruly. However, there were no fire-extinguisher hijinks from these Vancouver punks - just a stinging 30-minute dose of over-amped guitar grind laced with the sort of belligerent belting that made their name seem fitting.
If Canadian majors started signing acts like the Nasty On, Matt Mays and Moneen, maybe they wouldn't be whining so much about the dire state of the business. matthew barber's 9 pm set at the Riv, a stripped-down eclectic acoustic rock performance reinforced by sister Jill Barber's lovely harmonies and Julian Brown on upright bass, was remarkable. Barber is head and shoulders above most of the pretty-faced indie troubadours out there. He can actually sing, for one, and his vocal personality morphs with each tune. His intelligent, well-crafted songwriting is on a par with Ron Sexsmith's. And the talent runs in the family - Haligonian Jill's smoky, vocals made me regret being shut out of her Thursday-night set at the Cameron.The Cameron House has a capacity of, what, 10 people? I managed to get in to see Aussie grrrl-rockers Remake Remodel, who started slowly with slightly lukewarm garage pop à la Cyndi Lauper but hit their stride by the third song. Why are people wasting ink on the Donnas when these girls could snarl 'em out of the park blindfolded?
I was too freaked out by the massive lineup of Warner label execs and the brawl that erupted outside the Horseshoe, so I passed on Cuff the Duke's 11 pm show and opted for the Barmitzvah Brothers' set at Healey's. These Guelph kiddies are a quirky thrift-store pop gem, with a first disc produced by indie dynamo Andy Magoffin and Scott Merritt. Nerdy, baby-faced frontwoman Jenny Mitchell sings perversely banal lyrics in a dead-on drone that eerily evokes Liz Phair's Exile In Guyville.
Zoomed up to Lee's to catch the insanely packed Gord Downie and the Country of Miracles gig and was wowed. Man, are they ever tight. It was riveting enough to make you ignore the beer-addled baseball cap squad shouting "Hoser!" at the stage every five minutes.
Festivities were winding down on College by the time A Girl Named Sue (aka Sue Malley) started her 1 am set at the Free Times Café. Malley did her best to rile up the handful of people with goofy banter and charisma, but folkie singer/songwriter stuff doesn't go over well in the wee small hours.
NYC guitar-pop outfit Bishop Allen fared better over at Rancho Relaxo. Doppelgangers for comic-strip band the Archies, their brand of shiny, jingle-jangle chirpiness is pretty much a direct 60s rehash, but it was enough to get the decent-sized crowd begging for an encore. And at 2 am, that was quite an accomplishment. NorthBYNortheast festival round-up