Every night during NXNE, our music writers hit the town, taking in as much as they can. The next day, their NXNE Crawl diaries report the good, not-so-good, and out-and-out weird at this year's fest.
Flying solo to a concert is a routine scenario for most music critics, but also a beneficial one. It allows time to observe and meditate in order to formulate new and mind-numbingly precise ways to relate things like "every song sounded the same," or "pretty good."
But no matter how mediocre the wankery onstage, attending a concert alone is worlds easier than performing one. My first night at NXNE 2013 began with a pair of vastly different solo performances by Quebecois singer-songwriter Coeur de Pirate and electronic impresario Dan Deacon; two very different acts that enjoy creating intimate and interactive rapports with their audiences.
As Coeur de Pirate, 23-year-old Béatrice Martin has cultivated a devout fanbase in English Canada with her collection of winsome French pop ditties. For her current tour, she has dispensed with her backing band in favour of a back-to-basics solo piano set. Sadly, her show at the Great Hall was a textbook example of how a late-night festival showcase can work against an act like this.
Competing with the thunderous noise emanating from punk band Ell V Gore's show in Blk Box below, and battling a case of bronchitis, Martin struggled to stay focused throughout the 30-minute set. Despite the obstacles, her plaintive singing was proficient, and her piano playing was relaxed if rarely animated.
An attentive crowd of cellphone-wavers and less-attentive necking couples interrupted their respective activities to clap and sing along on command. But only when she levelled with everyone before final song Comme Des Enfants did the chatty crowd by the bar zip it.
"I know it's a showcase but if you want to tone it down a bit, that'd be great," she pleaded. "It's so hard to sing when you can hear everybody."
A half-hour later at the Horseshoe Tavern's NOW Showcase, the vibe was more appropriately festive. A stench of BO guarded the entrance and hip-house track Boom Boom Boom blared from the sound system as a tipsy crowd eagerly awaited Dan Deacon.
Beloved for his comic and frenetic live performances, the balding, bearded and bespectacled Baltimorean is returning to orgiastic dance party gigs after touring with an ensemble. Deacon set up shop on the club floor surrounded by a tangled mess of electronic circuitry and two large speakers, and launched into one of several stream-of-consciousness diatribes.
The Horseshoe is too cramped and narrow for everyone in the audience to appreciate or participate in the sweeping commands he threw at the crowd ("I want everyone here to move to the left side of the venue!") but enough people obliged that it didn't matter. He presided over a dance contest to his Congotronics homage Konono Rip-off No.1 and orchestrated a mass exodus to the street via a tunnel of human arms.
It was a tough act for Vancouver hardcore trio Nü Sensae to follow, but their taut concentrated bursts of noise galvanized a mosh pit of enthusiastic thrash dancers. The band seems increasingly interested in infusing melodic pop elements to their intimidating sound since the release of last year's Sundowning album, but some of the more mellow moments did not resonate as intensely as their straight-up aggro material. Oakland post-punk trio The Soft Moon rounded out the night with a sleazy set of throbbing bass-led synth jams and yelping.
UNFORGETTABLE: The wall of BO that hits you when you arrive at a venue just as the crowd attending the previous show is making for the exits.