Tuesday, June 21, 2011
Lower Dens: photo by Michael Ligon
Over the last several years NXNE has taken strides to improve, one factor being that it kicks off stronger on the Wednesday night than it had historically. The Thursday night of the festival traditionally was the official first night of the festival but in recent years Wednesday night has provided more musical options, I guess to satiate the appetite of festival-goers who couldn't wait to get started. While generally I find this a good thing, this year I'd eased slowly into this year's festival with only two shows on the Wednesday night since I hadn't booked off work the day after[I'd only booked Friday off work] - next year, I think I might just book most of that week off. In the long run, I think easing into the festival with just two shows the first night was prudent as I hit the rest of the festival relatively harder and am only recovering now. And of course two shows the first night makes this blog post a whole lot easier to do.
By the time I'd started out this night, I'd already missed any bands or artists playing time slots from 9 pm or prior, and so then decided on checking out the 10 pm set by Baltimore's Lower Dens at the Garrison. I'd hadn't even heard the band's music prior to this night, but they were one of the buzzier acts of the festival and on top of that were playing the Garrison who've booked a number of good acts (most of which I've not actually caught unfortunately). Any anxiety I had of encountering a lineup at the venue was soon diminished as I got in with no problems and found the venue to be comfortably filled at about half capacity. A little background - the five member Baltimore outfit are led by the androngynous-looking Jana Hunter and they released their debut full-length Twin Hand Movement in 2010. Prior to that, Hunter was a solo artist, most notable for being the first artist to release an album on Devendra Banhart and Vetiver frontman Andy Cabic's label Gnomonsong. At the time I'd arrived, it looked like the band just began their set. With the general configuration of bass, guitar, synth, drums, and vocals, my initial impression was a bit underwhelming, although mostly due to the band's lack of stage presence but partially due to the sluggish pace of whatever song they were playing at the time. However as I listened more closely, the band's musical qualities became more apparent. Their music was a far more subdued version of shoegaze, choosing atmosphere, subtle dissonance, and echo-y melodic guitar lines over feedback. But what really tied it together nicely were the song's bubbling melodies and the enchanting, distant-sounding vocals of Hunter along with the contrasting back-up vocals of bassist Geoff Graham. Not an exemplary live experience by any standard due to the PA problems, but musically I'm convinced and I hope to catch the band live next time they come to town.
Next venue I headed to was the Drake Underground to see the 11 pm set by Ume. Austin, Texas female-led rock trio Ume have been simultaneously been making waves in the music scene and remaining a little under the radar for a few years now. I'm expecting them to really hit it big any day now. I've read that they've been named one of the top 16 unsigned bands in North America by Rolling Stone and after finally experiencing their live set, and well actually really hearing their music for the first time, you wonder why they haven't been signed yet. Led by husband-and-wife duo Eric Larson (bass) and Lauren Langner Larson (guitar/vocals) plus recently acquired new drummer Rachel Fuhrer the band tore through their hard rock, slightly punky tunes carried effectively by the melodic vocals of Langner. Langner was also exemplary as a guitarist ripping through riffs and displaying a strong personality and stage presence as front-person of the band. I'd half expected the venue to be at capacity and was more than a little surprised that the venue was only half full. Disappointly though, most of the crowd seemed fairly tame but overall the crowd was appreciative of the band's rocking set. Ume have now come through Toronto a number of times now and been constantly touring over the last few years, acquiring fans gradually. Ume's time will come, just you wait.
Photos: Lower Dens, Ume @ NXNE in Toronto (Wednesday June 15, 2011)
MySpace: Lower Dens