I wasn't the only one bailing early from an iffy set by local hip-hop vet K-OS at the Luminato launch to jump on the streetcar heading off to NXNE shows across the city. But perhaps there's a limit to festival mania - finding out at the last minute that College St. was closed to traffic for the Taste of Little Italy wasn't exactly welcome news when you're trying to get to a band's set on time.
Luckily, many still managed to make their way to the Mod Club in time to catch Winnipeg quintet Imaginary Cities, who brought a welcome poise and energy to their all-too-brief set (under half an hour). Even if she hadn't shimmered under the spotlight in a silvery dress, singer Marti Sarbit would have still been the linchpin with her distinctively soulful voice and warm stage presence. While the tunes from their brand-new album Fall of Romance sounded appropriately huge for a decently sized room like the Mod, it was still the hooky Hummingbird from their debut that got the crowd singing along.
Speaking of bringing it, hometown buzz act July Talk could teach most other bands a thing or two about how to put on a show - not only is it an impressive feat for a fairly new local band to fill a venue the size of the Mod with some pretty rabid fans (including the two overgrown fratboys next to us attempting to, uh, "dance"), but to also follow through by delivering a blistering stadium-ready set was nothing short of impressive.
The group's retro-tinged White Stripes-ian blues-rawk spliced with Americana certainly may not to be to everyone's taste, particularly guitarist/singer Peter Dreimanis' Tom Waits-ian growl juxtaposed with vocalist Leah Fay's breathy Marilyn Monroe croon, but there's no denying the raw onstage chemistry between the two. Throw in a full-sized bed on stage (upon which Dinosaur Bones' bassist Branko Scekic promptly pretended to take a nap), a killer light show, and Fay's effervescent star turn (evoking a young Emily Haines), and it was a sendoff to remember as the band embarks on their first major tour this week.
Seemed fitting to end the night with yet another band that defies neatly fitting into any particular genre - while it's a shame that C'est What was nearly empty for the Jessica Stuart Few's 1 a.m. set, the trio didn't let that trip them up, delivering their jazz-folk hybrid with the confidence that comes with non-stop touring. Highlights included a deconstructed cover of Rihanna's "Only Girl in the World" (sounds strange, but it worked), and Stuart's incredible finger-picking skills on the koto (a Japanese zither) on the sprightly "Don't Ya."
Unforgettable: The confetti-shower of white feathers that fluttered from the ceiling onto the crowd at the Mod Club for July Talk's finale. Magical.