It's been many years since I've played a gig as part of NXNE, so I was somewhat eager to see what it was going to be like this time around. Having said that, I'm also not expecting that much - NXNE can be great if there's already a buzz behind your band, but otherwise you can expect to get lost amid the competition.
We're supposed to load in at 6 pm, which is pretty early by rock club standards. Predictably, the club itself is still locked up, and there's a bunch of musicians and gear spread out on the sidewalk. Time to get a coffee and wait.
Eventually someone shows up to unlock the doors, and we all bring our equipment down into the recesses of the Comfort Zone. It's pretty surreal being in hear with the lights on, as it's a drastically different vibe than the infamous all-day after-parties that they're known for. It actually looks a lot cleaner and less sketchy than you'd expect.
Watching the other bands lifting their amps down the stairs, I'm already wishing that we hadn't decided to use the NXNE provided back line (ie. the amps and drums provided). Not that there's anything wrong with the Marshall stack I'll be playing through, just that you get comfortable with your own gear, as you know how it's going to react and sound.
One of the organisers pulls us aside and tells us she has some bad news. Apparently, the night before the club was visited by the liquor police, who decided to revoke their temporary special events permit, meaning that there would be no booze at the rock show. Uh oh. At least the Silver Dollar upstairs has a proper bar, and they share a patio, so we scoot up there for some refreshments.
The patio is full of potheads, as there's some High Times related event upstairs. I like weed as much as the next Canadian, but I have to admit that many in this bunch are making a poor case for the pot head stereotype. Lots of sandals-and-socks, poor personal hygiene, assorted fashion disasters, and disturbingly violent coughing.
I spot Dean Dallas Bentley, who's been filling in on drums for James Payment while he's been away on tour with Do Make Say Think. He holds up his arm, which is wrapped in a tensor bandage, and tells me he hurt it the night before at one of the several C'mon shows he played. Not a great omen for his first show with us. He says he probably won't have to hit the drums hard tonight anyway, as it's a very 'live' room.
Suddenly it's almost time to go on, so I descent into the Comfort Zone to set up. Get what seems like a reasonable tone and volume, and look out to see about 4 people in the audience. Oh well - it isn't even 9 yet, and there isn't any booze, so what can you expect.
We launch into the first song, and immediately I understand what Dean meant - all I can hear is the drums, and a wash of noisy reverb bouncing back at us from the room. Midway through the song I get a chance to turn up enough so that I can at least hear what I'm doing, but I'm just hoping that in the audience it sounds more like music than what we're hearing on stage. To be fair to the venue, it's not normally a live club, and as a dance club, it actually sounds pretty good by Toronto standards.
Bodies start trickling in over the next couple songs, which is encouraging. As far as I can hear, we're playing reasonably well, and our organ player Shelton Deverell has cranked up his volume too, so I know that at least the two of us and Dean are doing the changes in the same spots.
As long as I'm being a whiny musician (aren't blogs all about being self indulgent?), can I just take this moment to say that I think Marshall amps are overrated? I mean, they do what they do very well, but getting them to do anything else is pain in the ass. I don't mind when other people play through them, but the only time I've even enjoyed playing through one myself was through an old late 60s model, which is quite a different beast. It's my own fault for not trucking out the Ampeg that I usually play through, so I should probably stop complaining.
Suddenly it's the end of the set - I guess I'd forgotten how short these showcases are. I throw my effect pedals and cables into my bag and pack up my guitar to make room for the next band, and slip out the door so that I can make it across town in time to meet my photographer and do my Now Magazine duties.
Overall a bit under whelming of an experience, but not significantly different from the other times I've played this festival (or CMW for that matter) with different bands, so I knew what to expect. Lessons learned? Bring your own gear if you're a prima donna like me, hide a flask in your guitar case just in case, and maybe hire a publicist or two to try to hype your gig.