Tuesday, June 17, 2008

NXNE 2008 - Day 1

concert review: NXNE @ various venues (Toronto, Ontario), June 12, 2008

Olenka and The Autumn Lovers @ C'est What (June 12, 2008)
Olenka and The Autumn Lovers at C'est What: photo by Michael Ligon

Let's get right to it.

Two Hours Traffic [MySpace] @ Sonic Boom (7 pm)

After a little snafu with getting my media pass at NXNE headquarters at the Holiday Inn on King St., I figured I'd start the night out early and check out Charlottetown powerpop four-piece Two Hours Traffic who were playing an instore at Sonic Boom. Just when I thought powerpop was dead, Two Hours Traffic renewed my faith in it, performing a tight set of fully fleshed out pop tunes, injecting tasty bits of melodic guitar chords and keyboards and lead vocalist Liam Corcoran's effortlessly casual yet tuneful vocals. I chatted briefly with fellow music blogger HistoryJen who called them 'cute', and with good looks on their side, they should be huge. Well it wouldn't hurt.

The Mahones [MySpace] @ Yonge Dundas Square (8 pm)

The Mahones set was more of an afterthought since I had time to kill before 9 pm and Olenka and The Autumn Lovers' set at C'est What. Specializing in the same brand of Irish folk/punk that Ireland's The Pogues made famous, The Mahones were perfectly competent I guess and their mostly black attire suited their image just fine. Like any respectful artist, lead vocalist Finny McConnell gave some props to one of his favourite punk bands Teenage Head who were headlining the bill that night and for whom The Mahones appropriately warmed up the crowd. As an aside, I thought I'd mention that their blonde female bass guitarist is quite the looker. The Mahones will be playing the Annex Wreckroom this coming Thursday June 19 as part of Punk Aid 4 - Sick Kids Hospital Benefit.

Olenka and The Autumn Lovers @ C'est What (9 pm)

My favourite discovery of this year's festival was London, Ontario's Olenka and The Autumn Lovers led by lead vocalist Alexandra Krakus leading a merry band of musicians including a mini string section, stand up bass, accordion and glockenspiel. No drums surprisingly. Fans of Basia Bulat and Beirut are sure to be drawn to Olenka and The Autumn Lovers who delve into similar musical genres like folk-rock, rootsy pop('Flash In The Pan') and a bit of country but also add some elements of Eastern European folk music(like on 'Iron Pump') utilizing accordion and glockenspiel, and waltz-ian time signatures. Like Basia Bulat, Alexandra exuded a natural charm and displayed a genuine fondness for the live performance despite the small crowd on hand (although I think her mom was in the crowd). The Eastern European influence did become more prominent on a few raveups reminiscent of indie fave Beirut's interpretation of the influence, including at least one which she sang in her native Polish. I think it's only time before Toronto and beyond are fawning all over them.

The Wet Secrets [MySpace] @ Horseshoe Tavern (10 pm)

Already running late on schedule having to make my way westward from C'est What, I ditched options to go to see Medallions at Rancho Relaxo and Rah Rah at The Boat and when I got off the streetcar at Queen and Spadina I decided to go check out Edmonton's The Wet Secrets who I'd glanced at their name and photo in a profile in NOW earlier in the day. I hadn't actually had a chance to read the profile but their photo looked interesting. I got into the venue as the band apparently had just begun, and the place was pretty packed. Led by bassist/vocalist Lyle Bell of Shout Out Out Out Out and his shouty/raspy vocals with a drummer, keyboardist and featuring a prominent two female horn section (trumpet & trombone), the entire band was in full marching band attire, and added to that the ladies wore the tallest platform boots I think I've ever seen and wore marching band headwear. The whole wardrobe was perhaps a bit campy, but then this afterall is rock n' roll. With song titles like 'Get Your Own Apartment', it was all good rock n' roll fun.

Small Sins [MySpace] @ Horseshoe Tavern (11 pm)

I decided to stick it out at the 'Shoe to see Small Sins. Only casually familiar with the electro-pop sounds of Toronto's Small Sins, I was rather taken back when the live set ended up being more guitar driven than I expected. They didn't necessarily trade in the keyboards and electronic rhythms but featuring more prominent guitar, their sound was much more powerpop. The tunes were frequently energized by percussionist/'clap assassin' Kevin Hilliard who rocked out hard - the guy's insane and I mean that in the nicest way. I quite underestimated Small Sins draw as they always seemed to fly under my musical radar but the band translated their energy to the crowd and the crowd appreciatingly reflected it back.

Money Mark [MySpace] @ Horseshoe Tavern (12 am)

So what if most conversations I overhead before Money Mark's set was one person saying to another that Money Mark is the keyboardist for Beastie Boys. I'll admit that was my only point of reference and in that regard his playing, mostly of the soulful, funky variety, was outstanding. Money Mark strolled onto the stage holding a tape recorder which was playing some jazzy, swing music then proceeded to hold it up to the mic and against an electric guitar, seemingly experimenting with the sounds he could produce and amplify. Performing with a band including a fellow keyboardist, the set was an eclectic mix of various styles including funk, soul, and even Billy Joel style piano-pop, with vocals from Money Mark that were similar tone in my opinion to Damon Albarn but without the British accent of course. It was all new to me although it was audibly apparent that there were some hardcore fans in the house. Money Mark even took a turn at guitar, bringing out the instrument which apparently was one he owned for years and was in fact the first guitar he ever owned. Terrific set overall, although when it was over I was glad since my own tiredness was setting in.

These New Puritans [MySpace] @ Reverb (1 am)

I gathered enough strength (the fresh air walking from the Horseshoe to the Reverb did me good) to go and check out NME-approved UK's These New Puritans. The four-piece (3 gents and 1 girl) looked barely out of highschool though performed with enough confidence that gave the impression of a more seasoned band. Lead vocalist Jack Barnett Jack Barnett, wearing a gold feathered metallic looking shirt exuded a confident stage presence with the rhythm section of twin brother George Barnett on drums and Thomas Hein on sampler and bass guitar showed enough spunk of their own. Band member Sophie Sleigh-Johnson behind the keyboard and Mac laptop seemed barely able to crack a smile nor move at all that I wondered if she was actually doing anything other than pressing a few buttons and looking pretty. The bigbeat, danceable post punk tunes were carried with urgency by the Jack's ever constant sing-speak reminiscent of The Fall's Mark E. Smith. Many younger twentysomethings seemed to have made it out to their set and as the set gained momentum the crowd got increasingly in to it to the point that a mosh pit formed and a audience member or two actually tried to stage dive/crowd surf. Hey they're not necessarily my thing, but I can see why the kids like 'em.

Check out my photos from Day One of NXNE over at my Flickr.

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