With so many bands packing Toronto's venues and streets for NXNE, sometimes it can be tough to tell just which set of bearded, flannel folk-rockers you're there to see.
When I arrived at Cameron House in the bright-and-early 8 pm slot, the sounds of folk were already wafting to a sizeable group formed in the front room. Confused, I asked the bartender if there was a band playing in the back room, also. "Yeah, about twelve," he responded, exasperated.
So I made my way to the back, where the crowd was slower to form for Toronto's Inlet Sound. Normally a five-piece, they played as a trio for this "acoustic set," but given how much of their sound is rootsy harmonies and foot-stompin' melodies, the core of their aesthetic was untouched. (They get the full band treatment tonight at 3030, 10 pm.)
It was a short, damp stroll from there to the Hoxton to see Montreal's Red Mass. At least that's why I was there, but it was apparently part of an "influencers" party with an open bar, so naturally people were paying more attention to the glow-sticks, party photographers and projected Twitter wall than the band. That changed once DJ Ghislain Poirier hit the decks, giving the free drinkers a dancehall soundtrack.
NXNE conveniently dovetailed with Ell V Gore's debut EP, Sex Static, so they used their Blk Box theatre set as their long-awaited record release. The barely-lit basement venue was the perfect spot for the band's gothy post-punk. The EP sharpened their sound, but here they let their freak flag fly. Elliott Jones' untamed yelp pierced through sharp-angled danceable noise.
It was also the right spot for shoegazers No Joy. The Montreal band's sophomore album, Wait To Pleasure, is a little brighter than their debut, but their live aesthetic is satisfyingly unchanged: guitars mixed deafeningly high, blond hair in face, dreamy vocal melodies, plenty of reverb.
Their set was short and sweet (and loud), which meant a long delay before Tonstartssbandht started theirs, still about ten minutes early. I had no idea what to expect (or how to pronounce their name), but it wasn't this. It's a cliché to say a two-piece sounds like four or five members, but this sounded like four or five different bands, often within the course of a single song (all of which were about ten minutes long).
Just when I thought I'd had them pegged as a jangle-pop band, a pair of noise-drone experimenters or freewheeling psych-rockers, out of nowhere they'd drop into a face-melting Sabbath riff. And maybe it was my late-night, NXNE loopiness, but somehow it all made sense.
Unforgettable: Ell V Gore's Elliott Jones finishing the set by using his beer bottle as a guitar slide, then pouring it over his head and the drum set, to the noticeable annoyance of the drummer.