As reliable as it is to rely on the collective buzzband wisdom of friends, experts and Twitter during NXNE, sometimes it's best to throw caution to the wind and take a chance on a band you know little to nothing about. To start my Friday crawl, I took that strategy one step further and took a chance on a venue I knew nothing about.
It took until I was standing right in front of it to figure out that Sidedoor was actually a room within the swanky private drinking club Soho House. But it really clicked that this was literally a "side door" when the bouncers slapped a wristband on me on my way in, not to prove that I'm legal drinking age, but to differentiate me from the smoking jacketed, valet parked club members.
As if I needed to be marked as rabble; clad in my festival wear combo hoodie/Ty Segall Band skull shirt, I stuck out like a sore thumb any time I exited the cordoned off "Sidedoor" room. At one point, I'm pretty sure a security guard came in to monitor me in the bathroom. Oy.
Despite the oddness of the venue, the Morals matched the vibe well. An "ambient folk" trio from Barrie, Ontario, they create a rich, lush brand of indie rock with a limited palette. Sure, they brought along guitars, trumpets and synths and switched between songs, but they relied more on the impressive co-lead vocals of Hollie Hobby and Todd Jeffrey and a strong sense of dynamics. It was a sophisticated, stately sound that fit the wood-panelled room, though the band couldn't help but crack wise about obscure manners and soup forks.
Maybe it says more about me that most rooms I had spent time in up to that point were located in basements, where I had no phone reception or data to tell me which band is #killingit at which venue, but the dank, beer-stained Silver Dollar felt a lot more like home.
By the time I got there, a good crowd had formed for Decades. Though they hail from Toronto, the band's reference points were almost all British: the Cure, the Smiths, maybe a bit of Joy Division. They performed it well, with all the disaffection that style entails, but it felt a little too close to caricature every time Mike Kaminski slipped into an English accent. Thankfully, they stayed on the right side of that line more often than not.
The venue felt even more like a sweatbox as tie-died Californian Mikal Cronin and his band took the stage for the second show of their three-night Silver Dollar residency. The "triple-header" thrives on buzz, so it helped that, by all accounts, Cronin had delivered on night one. You'd think the momentum would carry the band through to Friday night, but they took a few songs to settle into their groove.
Cronin's songs walk the line between sophisticated power pop and the sweaty fuzz-rock of his other gig in the Ty Segall Band, but by the time he found the balance, the crowd turned into beer-spraying, stage-diving maniacs in no time. Definitely worth checking out at the Bruise Cruise or at the Silver Dollar again tonight at 1 am.
Unforgettable: Mikal Cronin's long, noise-drenched rockout at the end of his set, punctuated by the most immediately successful stage dive I've ever seen.