WHITE RIBBON GIG
Phoenix, Tues, June 6
Backstage scene. A nattily attired Gordie Johnson wanders around with a perma-grin while Tea Party singer and event host Jeff Martin calms his pre-gig jitters. Moist's David Usher, cucumber cool, quickly reviews lyrics he'll be singing momentarily as part of the annual White Ribbon benefit concert helping to end violence against women. The house is packed, house band the Dexters are carpeting the room in smooth grooves, and life is good -- roughly $20,000 is raised. An excellent start to NXNE.
EMI PUBLISHING BASH
119 Spadina, Thurs, Jun 8
About half an hour into EMI Music Publishing's annual NXNE rooftop throwdown -- having already spotted Kim Stockwood, Jaymz Bee, Great Bob Scott, brutally jet-lagged members of Australia's Mr. Brown, John Critchley, treble charger's Greg Nori and Bill Priddle, Dan Bryk, Simon Wilcox, Andy Stochansky, Moe Berg, Elwood, Brendan Canning, Sum 41, j. englishman, Kevin Fox, members of the Headstones, Intergalactic Rock Stars and Pure, Superhalo's Wolfgang Webb, Carnival Diablo's Scott McClelland (serving up burgers as a part-time caterer, no less) plus a massive chunk of the record industry -- there was no doubt that this was the most coveted invite of the night.
A malcontent with a grenade could have effectively brought the country's music scene to its knees, though a sudden, brutal shortage of beer was the scariest thing to transpire all afternoon. All that and it didn't rain. Fabbo.
BRYK KEYED UP
Holy Joe's, Thurs, June 8
Piano problems almost sank acerbic singer/songwriter Dan Bryk's North By Northeast showcase -- but not quite. Unfamiliarity with the keyboard -- he says his own Wurlitzer got busted while in the hands of Sloan sound guy Brendann McGuire -- forced Bryk to stop dead in the middle of the opening tune.
"I hate this piano," he grumbled, one of many times throughout the set that he complained. Fortunately, Bryk's got a great instrument in his voice, which comes across powerful and pure as it wraps around those bitter ballads.
Hey, Dan. This was an important show. Next time bring a band.
FOSTER'S DEAR DIARY
The Cameron, Thurs, June 8
Jennifer Foster figured out a clever way to entertain the audience while she changed guitars and tuned up between songs. She got sideman Moe Berg to read her high-school journal, whereupon her way-serious teen musings got the irony treatment big-time.
Somewhere out there, there's a guy named Kurt who should have been paying more attention to the girl.
RED SUEDE RED HOT
C'est What, Thurs, June 8
Keep yours ears open for Red Suede Red, the new band from former Lost & Profound principals Lisa Boudreau and Terry Tompkins. They've toned things down considerably and, with producer/writer Joað Carvalho, have concocted some drop-dead beautiful, dreamy pop, sung by Boudreau with intelligence and intensity. They're in the studio now, so watch for their release.
CRUD TEEN EXITS
El Mocambo, Thurs, June 8
The wet 'n' wild Teen Crud Combo showcase at NXNE was not only notable for the damage done to microphones, stage monitors and Beatle Bob's slick suit, but it was also apparently drummer Mark J's final gig.
According to guitarist Allyson Crud, Mark's budding career in video -- he's currently starring in the Flashing Lights' Elevature clip -- wasn't a factor in his decision to leave the band.
"I'm really not sure why Mark wanted out," she concedes. "I think he just got tired of being in the band. It's unfortunate, 'cause we all like Mark, but if he's not excited about playing with us it's probably a good thing that he's leaving now.
"We've got our single coming out soon and we'll be playing a lot of shows, so if he's not gonna give it all he's got we need to get someone who will. Right now it looks like Ryan Elinsky from Countdown to Oblivion, who's an amazing drummer."
Barcode, Fri, June 9
Vancouver rockers Blinki passed the stress test at their showcase last Friday. With lead singer/songwriter Tracy Williams in typical charismatic mode, the band thrashed and burned through the heady tunes off their self-titled disc and sustained an awesome energy -- in front of a crowd of five. Any band that can keep focus under these conditions deserves some credit. But then again, Williams appears to be an unstoppable force.
BEATLE BOB'S UP
A music conference just wouldn't be a festival without the infamous Beatle Bob dancing fancy at showcases.
The St. Louis-based Jet Lag magazine roving reporter -- known for his trademark mop-top and flashy footwork -- has been a familiar sight at high-profile events like Austin's South By Southwest and the New Orleans Jazz And Heritage Festival, and now considers NXNE a prime destination on his annual conference tour itinerary.
"It's a mark of a great festival when your schedule has two or more bands circled in each time slot, and that's been happening every night," Beatle Bob enthuses. "I've been really impressed by the diversity of music represented here -- particularly the local bands. I had no idea there was so much going on in Toronto.
"But it takes more than good music to make a great music conference, and NXNE seems to be a really well-organized event. The shows happen on time and the clubs are close together, which makes it possible to see a couple of bands in each time slot. Each venue has really good sound, too.
"Everyone I've met, from the people at the showcases to the bands and even the club owners have made me feel welcome. The guys at the Horseshoe were giving me free drinks and letting me dance right on stage -- it's a lot of fun!"
Comfort Zone, Fri, June 9
Planning is everything at music festivals, so it came as something of a shock to hear that Detroit MC Obie Trice was a no-show and uptown crew Nefarius's set had suddenly changed from 1 am to 11 pm. So much for all that careful scheduling.
Don't believe everything you hear, though. Obie Trice did make it, but the Comfort Zone was so far behind schedule that he blew out his set and joined Da Grassroots at Reverb for a guest spot. Nefarius, on the other hand, was bumped back until nearly 2 am. Those who saw Nefarius said they rocked. The rest of us, who went by the book and missed it, were not amused.
Horseshoe, Sat, June 10
With the Horseshoe stuffed to capacity Saturday, chances of visually seeing Mike O'Neill strum through songs from his new What Happens Now? disc were slim. Plus, the Stanley Cup playoffs were into double overtime.
So rather than risk passing out because of the heat, a crew of music-industry types including Exclaim! publisher Ian Danzig and Warner Music's Steve Jordan wisely listened to O'Neill from the relative comfort of the front bar, smack in front of the TV. Just like being at home, with 50 or so pals and a live band in the spare bedroom.
KING COBB STEELIE
Reverb, Sat, June 10
With most of the playing on King Cobb Steelie's just-completed new album apparently sample-based, the question was how the crew would pull off the goods during their first gig in recent memory. "Admirably" would be the proper answer.
With beats split between samples and drummer Sam Cino, the band cruised through the new tunes, bringing up guest singers including Tamara Williamson, Spookey Ruben and Michelle McAdorey to help on vocals. Compared to King Cobb's older material, the new stuff sounds considerably more pop-oriented -- in a good way -- and a lot less jammy. Expect the new album in October.
Reverb, Sun, June 11
Yes, it was tough to leave the house after three nights of music to see another show, but Blackalicious was worth it. The Bay Area crew put on the best hiphop show this city's seen since the Roots' classic Opera House gig way back when. Just ask the Super Furry Animals.
There was no DAT tape. Chief Xcel cut out the beats on the turntables while MC Gift of Gab was joined by two supporting MCs and a backup singer as the group roared through a 90-minute opening set. There wasn't a slow minute, but the highlight had to be Gab's Alphabet Aerobics, where he rhymes words from each letter of the alphabet, getting faster and faster until he sounds like an auctioneer. You just had to hear the audience explode when he got to Z.