Monday, June 22, 2009

NXNE in Toronto (Thursday June 18, 2009)

Marcie Bolen of Silverghost @ Neutral:photo by Michael Ligon
Marcie Bolen of Silverghost @ Neutral:photo by Michael Ligon

Forgoing the NXNE festivities of last Wednesday night(eg. The Courthouse, The Drake) I started out the festival the following night with a full night of shows planned although it was a last minute decision on my part to check out my first band of the night, Silverghost.

Well, actually the first band I saw was an in-store set at Sunrise Records on Yonge St. by Toronto's The Coast. Small-ish crowd on hand, the band played a brief set of songs mostly from "Expatriate" as well as a new song or two. It was all worth it just to hear them perform 'Killing Off Our Friends' with it's soaring guitar interludes and rootsy verses, in my opinion a classic. So where was everybody? Maybe at Yonge Dundas Square perhaps? After their set, it was off to the Hyatt Regency to pick up my media pass, then to decide where to go next.

Silverghost is a Detroit male-female duo consist of ex-Von Bondie guitarist/vocalist Marcie Bolen and keyboardist/vocalist Deleano Acevedo and were a terrific start to my NXNE. A last-minute decision based on the band's description in the NXNE guide and off I was to see them at Neutral, a venue I'd never been to before. A dark, dank venue, it was as good a venue to experience the duo's garage-y, fuzz-pop-rock tunes. Marcie, wearing a red 70's inspired polyester outfit, displayed some some well-versed guitar chops and some subtle rock attitude in her vocals while Deleano, in his Rolling Stones logo t-shirt, held his own with his melodic keyboard arrangments and vocals, and simple electronic rhythms. Really, the duo exemplified that all you really need to be a good band is a solid set of tunes. Drummer & bassist need not apply.

Next up for me was Parisian four-piece outfit Film Noir who were playing down the street and around the corner on the second floor of the El Mocambo. There seemed to be a decent-sized crowd on hand though the band never seemed to connect with the audience. Musically, their music is of the jaunty Libertines/Strokes-inspired pop-rock variety, perhaps a little too reminiscent of their influences but overall well-executed. Though the band's from France, lead vocalist/keyboardist Oan Kim sung in English, a selling-point that I'd have thought would have helped connect to the audience. The rest of the band, guitarist Alex Choiselat, drummer Assen Tzankov, and bassist Erwan Jaffre were all more than competent on their instruments. Though not for lack of trying, their stage presenced seemed a little forced at times, like Oan's spastic gestures at his keyboard, his attempt at dancing, or bassist Erwan's feeble effort at trying to jump off the the bass drum rock n' roll style at the end. Though not necessarily unconfortable on stage, they just seemed a little awkward at times, with their music getting lost in the translation.

It was a hop, skip and a jump relatively-speaking as I headed to The Boat to catch Austin quartet Built By Snow. The young outfit, each wearing a t-shirt in a different colour, impressed the crowd onhand with their peppy, new-wavey pop-rock tunes performed energetically with guitars, bass, keyboards and drums, following a musical lineage from current brethren Tokyo Police Club to The Rentals and back to Devo. Bespectacled lead vocalist JP kept the yelp factor in the vocals to a mininum and had some energetic fist-pumping action going on as if he were hyped up on caffeine. Impossible not to have enjoyed them.

After having spent the last three timeslots within the Bathurst-Spadina neighbourhood, it was off for me to C'est What down near the south end of downtown east of Yonge, although with a little bit of luck with transit and a brisk walk to the venue I got there just after Angela Desveaux's midnight set had started. Like last year's NXNE set at the same venue with Olenka and The Autumns Lovers, Angela's set only had a sparse crowd on hand which I'm more prone to blame on the venue's isolated location than anything else. Backing her was her band The Mighty Ship featuring Mike Feurstack(aka Snailhouse) on guitar/vocals, Eric Digras on bass and Gilles Castilloux on drums. Playing songs off her most recent album "Angela Desveaux & The Mighty Ship", plus a Townes Van Zandt cover and a new song written by Mike, it was a soothing set of pop music, countrified at times, and overall filled with beautiful melodies, Angela's comforting vocals and intoxicating harmonies(courtesy of Mike). It's a shame more people didn't come out for her set. Consistently under the radar for too long, I can only hope more people'll take the time to give her music a chance.

Last on the agenda for me was Ottawa's that's the spirit [yes with small case 't'] also playing C'est What. that's the spirit is the project of Ben Wilson, and joining him was bandmate Tom Thompson on pedal steel and guitar. It's ironic that that a band who play music of such subtle and quiet melodicism call themselves that's the spirit, although in keeping with the band's modesty maybe that's why the band name in print is spelled with a lower case 't'. Ben's vocals were sung with a subtle effort, with simply strummed or picked electric guitar while Tom added some ambient lap steel effects or second guitar. In this duo setting, the music had the effect of being reminiscent of say Red House Painters although a sampling of Ben's band efforts on their MySpace does show a fuller side to his musical compositions. As with Ms. Desveaux's set, that's the spirit's set was so baron in terms of patrons that at one point I think it was only me, a bartender, an NXNE volunteer and Ms. Desveaux and band who made up the audience. Such a shame as that's the spirit performed an intriguing set of quiet, beautiful, melodic songs that really deserve a bigger audience.

Photos: NXNE in Toronto (Thursday June 18, 2009)

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