Wednesday, June 23, 2010

NXNE in Toronto (June 18, 2010)

  PS I Love You: photo by Michael Ligon

While my previous night's NXNE schedule was confined to a relatively small part of the city[Queen West, from Dovercourt to just west of Dufferin], my second night of NXNE had me venue-hopping taking me from Little Italy on College, to Little Portugal at Dufferin and Ossington and back up to the Annex at Lee's Palace. The Taste of Little Italy festival took place on the same night in Little Italy on College St which caused some TTC delays for me and eventually led me to scrap by 11 pm timeslot plans but otherwise the thrill of the venue-hop was in full effect.

(08 PM @ Sneaky Dee's) - Dark Mean (Hamilton, Ontario)
I'd been coming across the Hamilton band's name and read a few good things along the way since last year and had only given them a cursory listen, so I decided NXNE was as good an opportunity to check them out. Strange as it seemed to watch a band in Sneaky Dee's when the sun was still up and no curtains covering the windows there was a decent crowd on hand to witness the seven-member group's set. The band's polite demeanor aside, there was a good deal of personality in the group's dark-tinged pop rock music. I was reminded a bit of The National in the band's textures in guitars, keys, horns and rhythm section but The National are merely a point of reference - Dark Mean by all means are distinguishable from them. Their live presence is somewhat lacklustre and they haven't yet grasped the skill of stage banter, but these may be one of the times where it may be preferable to listen to the recorded material before checking them out live again. What better way to check out their recorded material than free tracks - you can download the band's "Music Box" EP, released this past February, here.

(09 PM @ Whippersnapper) - Inlets (Brooklyn, New York)
With Whippersnapper Gallery my next stop of the night, this meant a stroll through the crowds taking in the Taste of Italy festival on College St. Killing a few minutes at Soundscapes to purchase the new issue of The Big Takeover, I then strolled over to the second floor gallery Space where the Whippersnapper Gallery resides. I'd got a few e-mails about Inlets which is one of the reasons why they were on my radar. Inlets is the outlet of songwriter Sebastian Krueger, and while he'd played solo for part of the set he also played part of it as a duo with a drummer accompanying him. With Mr. Krueger on vocals and guitar, his music treads the same baroque pop terrain of Toronto's own Owen Pallett with equally satisfying results. The accompanying drums at times added a slight more grit but otherwise it was a lovely set in the rather intimate settings of the gallery space witnessed by a decent crowd of spectactors cross-legged on the floor.

(10 PM @ Whippersnapper) - Silje Nes (Norway)
While the first two acts of the night were must-sees for me, the rest of the night was more tentative. I did end up choosing to stay at the Whippersnapper to check out Norweigan singer-songwriter Silje Nes whose minimalist pop songs on her MySpace I remember liking. It also didn't hurt that I could stay longer in the relative comforts of the gallery rather than venture back into the throngs of the Taste of Little Italy festival happening outside. With Ms. Nes seated at centre stage and flanked by a violinist on her right and a drummer on her left, it was a set of whispered vocals, and minimalist pop instrumentation. There was a folksy ambience to her songs, and a bit of an experimental edge in the percussion[I don't think I've ever seen a drummer scratch his arm close to a mic as a percussive element]. The blond-haired Ms. Nes obviously exudes a natural physical beauty the Norweigans are known for but her music showed quite a bit of depth that one might not have expected. Her forthcoming full-length is entitled Opticks with the first single being "Crystals" which you can hear over at her MySpace. She's currently on a North American tour, and also hitting one final Canadian date on July 2 when she plays the Sled Island Festival in Calgary at the Arrata Opera Center, and I highly recommend you check her out.

(12 PM @ The Garrison) - The Soft Pack (San Diego, California)
I missed my 11 PM timeslot choice [which would have been X's John and Exene performing an acoustic set at The Great Hall] due to TTC delays. Once I finally caught a streetcar, which turned out to be a rerouted #506 which would be running along Dundas St, it seemed logical to head to The Garrison for midnight where San Diego four-member outfit The Soft Pack would be playing. When I arrived at the venue, Best Coast were still playing to a packed and as I would find out extremely warm venue. I had to wait in line shortly, but I was able to get in after the throngs emptied the venue after Best Coast's set. Don't worry, though - the venue would soon fill up again for The Soft Pack who were coming up at midnight. In any case I was right up front for The Soft Pack. I'd last seen The Soft Pack live in March 2009 at Lee's Palace when they opened for White Lies and Friendly Fires. It seems then they've caused a minor stir in the indie rock scene, slowly building a loyal following. Granted I didn't remember much about my previous experience with them but they soon proved how good they are. Visually, they present a general slacker wholesomeness[think, how Pavement looked like], but musically there was a gritty, garage, punkiness to their songs. For all intensive purposes they are a great rock n' roll band and whatever garage/punk tendencies the band has are displayed with a refreshingly modern perspective rather than dated nostalgia. Put guitarist Matty McLoughlin as one of my favourite aspects of the band and one of the most fun guitarists in recent memory to watch onstage - no gimmickry or wankery from him, but rather a guitarist who plays with gusto and looks cool doing it.

(01 AM @ Lee's Palace) - PS I Love You (Kingston, Ontario)
To end off the night, I chose Kingston guitar/drums duo PS I Love You who'd been racking up points in the local music scene over the last little while, especially with their split 7-inch with Toronto 'it' artist Diamond Rings released back in August of 2009. John O'Regan aka would eventually joing the duo on stage, even mentioning that the duo were his favourite band. Such accolades would seem like hyperbolic praise but after hearing PS I Love You, I realized such praise was not without credibility as the duo worked up the far-from-full but decent sized crowd. What I'd heard from the band live was a bit different from the samples on their MySpace; their recorded output based in drums and guitar also included some electronic keyboard flourishes at times, although their set at Lee's Palace last Friday night was pure drums and guitar. My best description of their songs is indiepop music with occasional grungy/metal guitar inflections. With the guitar/drums duo being commonplace nowadays [The White Stripes, Japandroids, The Pack A.D.], PS I Love You have succeeded in carving out their own niche and not sounding like those other bands. Fantastic.

Photos: NXNE in Toronto (June 18, 2010)

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