Hitting the stage 15 minutes late ate into valuable club-hopping time, but Toronto's Alastair made up for his tardiness with a solid set of reggae/soul. Aside from some awkward between-song banter and cheesy keyboard fills, it was a solid showing, especially when the band shifted into a deep roots groove and ditched the showmanship. A few more songs and Alastair could be onto something.
fairmount girls, 360
It's hard to say who made the bigger impression, Cincinnati's garage-y Fairmount Girls or the new-look 360, with Playboy magazines on the table and a sound system that actually works. The Girls had their moments but couldn't get beyond their singer's squealing vocals.
fiyah, the cameron
Local hiphop artist, poet and dancer FIYAH (like fire, but with an "ah" -- get it?), slated to appear at 11 pm, appeared fashionably late and only performed three songs, during which time her turntables fucked up repeatedly, sending her back to the beginning of the songs. She finally managed to get through some very all right rhymes about the sorry situations of both hiphop and women dating drugged-out dudes, proving that she might very well have something substantial to offer if she could just pull it together.
merkury burn, kathedral
Glam punks Merkury Burn got the smallish crowd dancing with a high-energy show. Frontman Kelly Clipperton offered up a mini-striptease during the first song and performed the rest of the gig in red vinyl briefs. Two lucky (and sorta stupid) fans won albums after chugging the contents of tiny bottles of Tabasco sauce (Merkury Burn's hot NXNE party favour). Local spinner DJ Wasabi was seen rocking out but left midway through the set.
Local shoe-gazers mellonova had a dazed-looking room at the Rivoli nodding in time to their blissed-out guitar rock at 1 am. Hulking frontman Michael Brennan busted out riffs barefoot (as usual), and the set was pretty intense. But it's tough to impress folks in the wee small hours. One jaded indie kid near me left in a huff early on, griping, "Do Godspeed's lawyers know these dudes have stolen their entire sound?"
Confusion set in as we neared the door of B-Side, hearing not Mentalemetic's groovy, trippy new new wave dance punk but straight-ahead hiphop and rappers.
"They didn't make it over the border," the door guy replied. "We just found out a few hours ago."
tift merritt, horseshoe
The early buzz was all about Tammy Faye Starlite, largely due to a growing contingent of brew-hoisting beardos spreading the word that the New York-based country caricature was prepared to drop her drawers at the Bovine Sex Club to captivate a crowd of jaded music biz types. Raleigh, North Carolina's, charming Tift Merritt proved she had the songs and the voice to leave the doubters gasping in awe with her clothes on. Check out Merritt's impressive Bramble Rose (Lost Highway) debut to find out what all the fuss is about.
silver hearts, silver dollar
Peterborough's Silver Hearts packed the stage at midnight and played a meandering set to a seriously tipsy crowd. One dude in the audience was so drunk he nearly knocked over the theremin.
Knoxville, Tennessee, power pop crew Superdrag got the festival off to a driving start with an incredibly tight set of Weezeresque power pop. The group has clearly done the music festival shuffle before. There were no interminable breaks between songs and no grumpy whining about their 9 pm time slot, just a heads-down, balls-out performance that got the crowd's complete attention and left people wanting more.
eric ziegenhagen, tranzac
There was enough open dance-floor space here Thursday night to hold jet landing classes, but moonlighting Chicago playwright Eric Ziegenhagen revelled in the small turnout, which suited the rec-room intimacy of his performance style. His self-effacing between-song banter was just as entertaining as the tunes he crooned, accompanying himself on his lap-strummed acoustic guitar. Ziegenhagen's closing tale of the Degradator -- "He eats up cities and shits out malls" -- was a festival highlight.
d-sisive, tequila lounge
For the last couple of weeks, T-dot hiphop showman D-Sisive had been telling everyone who'd listen that the D-Siggy's Playhouse event he'd be staging at NXNE was going to best all of his prior outrageous exhibitions. He made good on the lofty claim thanks in part to a bizarre support cast that included a ventriloquist host, Chuckie the Sodomizing Chicken and a Remy Shand impersonator who came out to croon to MuchMusic's George Stroumboulopoulous, who was clearly caught off guard by the show of faux affection. Even with all the kooky shenanigans, the fully amped D-Sisive maintained masterful control of the microphone and the stage in a stoopid-brilliant display that was both hilarious and confounding.
godzillah, comfort zone
Reggae/hiphop artist Godzillah and posse's poetic musings and dub toasting to canned beats were a fun discovery. The Jamaican-born local rapper is lyrically talented and has plenty to say about the sorry state of society. Could, however, have done without the shout-outs to self, as in "We're the best thing out there, and the industry won't touch us because they're afraid..." What is it with hiphop egos?
graph nobel, rivoli
The Toronto soul/rock sparkplug gets more confident with every show, even if her well-afroed backup singer threatened to steal her thunder. Rocking along at the front of the stage was Los Angeles spoken-word preacher Saul Williams, in town shooting a movie and checking out some beats between scenes.
maplemusic all-stars, horseshoe
Considering the impressive list of CanCon talent the MapleMusic label has been quietly stockpiling, the mysterious Friday-night slot listed as simply MapleMusic All-Stars seemed worth investigating. But when three members of the Supers came out to plug their forthcoming disc for 30 minutes, there wasn't much time left for any stars. Barenaked Ladies man Ed Robertson made Jason Plum's moment count by joining his production protégé on a brilliant new tune, Satellite, that sounds like a massive radio hit. And then Plum passed his guitar to Jim Cuddy, who got harmony help from Andy Maize and Josh Finlayson on a stunning version of Andrew Cash's You've Got A Lot Of Nerve. Not even a bare-assed Tammy Faye Starlite could top that.
beth orton, opera house
The Opera House was packed and buzzing before Beth Orton's 10:30 set Friday night. Not your typical NXNE crowd; a few industry folks hid in the back of the room, sticking close to the bar. It was a first-date type of show. Perennial opening act Dayna Manning played her dull set sitting down, clad in a hippie-ish batiked shawl. Manning should write some new tunes before she takes any more opening spots -- I haven't heard any new material in a decade. Orton was goofily shy, keeping the stage banter to a minimum. Apart from a quickie bad joke about inflatable teachers and an oblique dis of some Toronto weekly writer, the Brit electro-folkie focused on the music. She showed off mostly new material that was closer in tone to her bluesy acoustic Best Bit EP, recorded with folk-jazz great Terry Callier, than to any of her other work. Backed by a full band, including a stellar string ensemble, Orton shone -- even the old stuff was better live and revamped.
young and sexy, rancho relaxo
Vancouver popsters Young and Sexy rocked an insanely packed Rancho at midnight. Folks were lined up around the block for the gig, and it was hard to believe anyone could live up to the hype, but the Young'uns did a damn fine job. They opened with a killer cover of the Velvets' I Found A Reason that saw frontman Paul Hixon Pittman doing his best Lou Reed impression while bandmates Lucy Brain and Ted Bois offered Pips-ish doo-woppy backing vocals. The rest of their set had the audience making feeble attempts at dancing in the steamy, claustrophobia-inducing space. Live, Young and Sexy's tunes have a helluva lot more bite than they do on the group's lovely debut CD. Screw all those Belle & Sebastian comparisons; the Scots couldn't rock this hard if they tried.
deadly snakes, horseshoe
The charismatic and stylish Deadly Snakes delivered quite the tight, wicked rock 'n' roll set to a sweaty room. Impressive. The ladies loved it.
shy child, clinton's
New York duo Shy Child cut their take on the 80s electro revival down to the bare essentials. A vocalist moaned poetry while plinking out a melody on a strap-on keyboard while a drummer tapped out a robotic beat on electric drums and muttered support into a massive strap-on mike. Puzzling, to say the least -- and the sad situation was compounded by someone crooning karaoke upstairs, threatening to overrun the group's music altogether.
young ideas, lounge 88
Deep into Ben Folds territory, Toronto's Young Ideas closed the fest on a soft note. Their piano-driven pop was delightfully unassuming, filled out by lovely trumpet shades and a relaxed air. The drunken College Street partiers who stumbled into the club looking for a good time didn't know what to say.