Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Persian Rugs, Stars, Action Makes, Crocodiles, Heavy Cream @ NXNE in Toronto (June 17, 2011)

Crocodiles: photo by Michael Ligon
  Crocodiles: photo by Michael Ligon

Since I had Friday[June 17] off from work, I'd had hopes off making it out to some of the daytime NXNE festivities but alas it did not happen. It figures just when it seems the daytime NXNE-affiliated or NXNE-related shows are stepping it up, I don't make it out to any of them. On the other hand, I made a conscious decision to try to start the night out early.

My 8 pm pick went to Toronto indiepop group Persian Rugs. In my NXNE preview post for this night I picked Persian Rugs as my choice for the 8 pm slot and in that same post, I kind of eulogized the death of indiepop in Toronto when Toronto's The Airfields called it quits (went on hiatus?) a few years ago. It was a pleasant surprise when lo and behold up on the stage of the Silver Dollar I see Ian Jackson, ex of The Airfields and The Diableros. Also behind the drumkit was Diableros drummer Mike Duffield. Filling out the band was a female on alternate lead vocals and keyboards as well as a gent on bass guitar. Very much in the vein of C86 / Sarah Records-inspired indiepop, the alternating lead vocals between Ian and their female vocalist was a nice change. As well the varying textures from song to song going from sweet, float-y synth, to more dissonant guitar work kep things interesting. Not quite sure what happened to The Airfields although if I understand correctly that was the project of a one David Lush, so it is nice to see that Mr. Jackson's struck out with his own band. Thin crowd at the Silver Dollar but given the confined quarters there, a thin crowd didn't seem all that thin actually.

For my 9 pm timeslot I shot up to Yonge Dundas Square to catch Stars. I had to dig back through the archives but I believe the last time I saw Stars live was when they played a free show at University of Toronto in September 2007 as part of Frosh Week. And now here they are headlining a big show at Yonge Dundas Square. As I fully expected it was packed so I reserved myself to watching the show from the back amongst which as you might guess is far less exciting than watching a show from near the front. So I got to see Torquil's big face on the video screen, as well as of course the lovely Amy Millan. Busting out their 'hits' such as "Elevator Love Letter", "The Night Starts Here", and "Your Ex-Lover Is Dead", Stars' fans got what they wanted. I remember seeing Stars several years back when they played Lee's Palace(one show of a multi-night stint there) and it was really fantastic but the effect of the band's sophisticated pop songs felt diluted in the Square. Good points to the set other than the music - Torq's articulate / humourous banter such as his dedication of their song "We Don't Want Your Body" to the lady-adorned H & M billboard atop the Eaton Centre staring back at him from across the street.

The garage rock / pysch scene in Toronto is proudly heralded and promoted by Toronto indie label Optical Sounds although it's largely a scene I don't have partake in that often. Toronto garage act Action Makes who were playing the Silver Dollar at 11 pm were my next stop. As I arrived, the band were already playing to a sweaty packed crowd, with a select bunch of patrons really getting their dance on. With mop-topped lead vocalist Clint Rogerson, and four other gents on keys, guitar, bass, and drums, the band stomped through a melodically-infused set of garage rock tunes. They were as good, maybe even better, than other bands of the genre I've heard. They play live in Toronto occasionally and I do recommend they'd be worth your time.

The big draw of the night, at least for me, was the next band to hit the Silver Dollar stage for a midnight set - that belonged to San Diego buzz act Crocodiles. With a co-ed membership, the females of the group on drums and Farfisa, with the males of the group on lead vocals, bass and guitar, the band played a setlist of tunes with titles like "Neon Jesus", "Summer of Hate", "Hexes" and "I Want To Kill". The lyrics may have not been all sunshine and lollipops but musically, the upbeat tempos and melodies showed the band to be far more fun and less serious than you might have imagined. For God's sake, they played a totally fun Farfisa-driven cover of The Ramones "Beat On The Brat" - loved it. Making the set even more special was what seemed like a totally spontaneous moment when NXNE-participants, Dum Dum Girls [Dee Dee's husband is Brandon Welchez of Crocodiles] jumped onto stage and started to dance and jump up and down vigorously during Crocodiles' set. Crocodiles were Silver Dollar promoter Dan Burke's pick to play a 3-night stint at the venue for NXNE and this very well could have been the best show of the bunch, well at least I hope it was.

Ending off the night for me was garage-punk outfit Nashville's Heavy Cream who were playing next door at The Comfort Zone. The 3/4 female group were setting up still as a I arrived and I was a bit disappointed to see the venue less than packed. I'd seen them live during last year's CMJ in NYC and I'd missed their set during this year's Canadian Musicfest so I was glad to take in their set during NXNE. Taking their musical cues from The Ramones with short bursts of rock n' roll tunes (although perhaps less melodic), as well as visual cues with their t-shirts and denim, Heavy Cream gunned through a set with just the right amount of punk attitude, especially from vocalist Jessica McFarland (now sporting a platinum-blonde, longer haircut rather than the tomboy-ish, brown-ish 'do she had last year during CMJ) who's snarling vocals always seemed genuine and never cartoonish. This is a band I could have imagined would have fit in quite well with the CBGB's / 1977 NYC punk scene. I might not be cool, but they are.

Photos: Persian Rugs, Stars, Action Makes, Crocodiles, Heavy Cream @ NXNE in Toronto (June 17, 2011)
MySpace: Persian Rugs
MySpace: Stars
MySpace: Action Makes
MySpace: Crocodiles
MySpace: Heavy Cream

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