Friday, June 21, 2013

Teen Violence and Beach Day end my NXNE on a high

Teen Violence
The North by Northeast Music Festival returned again last week, which meant a lot of running around Toronto trying to catch as many bands as possible.

Here's what I caught on night four:

After taking a break for a few hours after the afternoon's "Bruise Cruise," I hit the clubs again with a 9 p.m. start at The Painted Lady with a young Kitchener, Ont. quartet called Teen Violence. Hearing one song on the NXNE website was my only familiarity with the group to this point, but after its set I can unequivocally say that it was my best discovery of largely unknown talent at the festival.

Teen Violence displayed a vintage '60s Mod-Britpop sound for most of its set, and midway through it played a song it said was inspired by The Everly Brothers. Not only were they talented, they were troopers, as the drummer played with a broken right foot. If you like short, sharp songs with a frequently forceful jangle, give a listen to Teen Violence. It definitely won't hurt.

The Dildoniks

Beach Day
A relatively new bar called May was just east on Dundas Street West, and I soon found out it had Kensington Watermelon Wheat on tap in addition to hosting The Dildoniks. There was nothing wrong with either the beer or the band, but both left me less fulfilled than I had hoped they would. The Toronto trio started with an instrumental that that would have done Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet proud, and I preferred the other surf-based instrumentals the group played over its songs with lyrics. They had more reverb and seemed to be performed with more energy, and the singer's voice and words were nothing special anyway.

French Girls
There were two bands I was really hoping to see during NXNE since I missed both of them at the South by Southwest Music Festival in March. And wouldn't you know it, they were both playing tonight at 11 p.m.: Shannon and The Clams at Silver Dollar Room and Beach Day at Handlebar. I figured the Silver Dollar might be more crowded, it was farther away, and I'd never been to Handlebar before, so the Kensington Market venue won the competition. And as a bonus, it had Kensington Fish Eye, a decently hopped pale ale that I'd never tried before.

The Hollywood, Fla. trio fronted by sexy singer/guitarist Kimmy Drake, played '60s girl group pop with a garage rock edge that's totally infectious. They write songs about love, shoes, having fun and, on the lead single named after the group, spending a day on the beach. The group's Trip Trap Attack debut album was just released and, if it provides just half of the good vibes that the live show does, it will be an entertaining listen.

I moved south to Queen Street and Hideout for French Girls, a San Francisco quintet making its first Canadian appearance that's located at the point where garage and alternative rock intersect. The music got people dancing and clapping along and, while it had all the elements I usually love, I only ended up being merely satisfied by the revival rock.

I planned to see The Blank Tapes at The Cameron House, but there was a long lineup and I was told I'd have to wait to get in, so I moved a bit west to the Horseshoe Tavern, where I thought there would be an even longer lineup to see Fucked Up. I was somewhat surprised that I was able to walk right in, but the club was packed once the band reached the stage.

Fucked Up

Lead singer Damian Abraham said it was his dream come true to play the Shoe again since his conceptual hardcore punk act's success has moved it on to much larger venues. Not surprisingly, his shirt came off during the first song. The moshing, stage-diving and crowd-surfing that ensued throughout the set came as no shock either, and Abraham high-fived most fans who made it up beside him.

I'm a bigger fan of the singer as a person than I am of Fucked Up and its music, but "The Other Shoe" was a clear musical highlight and watching Abraham carry fans on his shoulders and stage-diving while singing showed his dynamism as a frontman that he's been able to translate into other opportunities beyond the band.

Soupcans was on my list to see at 2 a.m. and, while I didn't have to leave the Horseshoe to see it, I became too engaged in talking with friends at the bar to pay any attention to what was happening on stage. When 3 a.m. rolled around, I figured it was a good time to start the walk home and end my NXNE for another year.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Sun, bands and booze on NXNE "Bruise Cruise"

The North by Northeast Music Festival returned again last week, which meant a lot of running around Toronto trying to catch as many bands as possible.

Here's what I caught on day four:

M for Montreal's "Bruise Cruise" has become an NXNE tradition for me over the past two years and, since Saturday was shaping up to be warm and sunny and the talent lineup interested me, I saw no reason not to extend it to a third year.

Captain Matthew Flinders didn't pull out from the dock until about an hour after its scheduled 12:30 p.m. departure time, but there were people to meet, beers to drink and sunshine to enjoy on deck before the music started down below.
Fat Tony

Fat Tony, a Houston rapper who performed with a vocal partner but no musicians, sounded okay and could put together decent rhymes. But it wasn't my thing so I went back up top to take in some views as the 575-passenger ship moved east from Harbourfront past residential islands to the north and Leslie Spit to the south. A military plane flew low overhead and I later saw it land at nearby Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport, which I didn't know hosted such aircraft.
We Are Wolves

Odonis Odonis
We Are Wolves, a Montreal trio that made my personal Polaris Music Prize long list for its 2013 album La Mort Pop Club, came on at 2:20 p.m. Lead singer/guitarist Alexander Ortiz, keyboardist Vincent Levesque and stand-up drummer Antonin Marquis' post-punk, primitive electro-rock has both crunch and texture in its minimalist approach. Some songs are more aggressive, while others are more danceable and keyboard-focussed. There was no doubt what end of the spectrum the group's final number, a largely faithful cover of Black Sabbath's "Paranoid," fell on.

Captain Matthew Flinders sailed around the Toronto islands and continued about as far west as the Boulevard Club before circling back east and, while it was beautiful on deck, it was time to head back inside at 3 p.m. for Odonis Odonis. The Toronto trio's lo-fi punk rock set didn't hold a lot back and, though I didn't know anything about the band going in, I liked it. So did other cruisers, as Odonis Odonis prompted the most dancing of anyone so far -- including some mild moshing.

We were just docking when Mikal Cronin hit the stage at 3:50 p.m. I'd seen the guitarist and his three bandmates on Thursday night at Silver Dollar Room but, since this was one of the most hyped acts of the festival and friends are totally into it, I had no issues with trying these rockers on for size again. "Situation," a fine piece of power pop, got things started. "Am I Wrong" and "Apathy" kept the momentum going and inspired moshing and one brave (or stupid) crowd-surfer who was repeatedly battered against the low ceiling.

NXNE staff told Cronin to shut things down, but the band gave the crowd one more song: a cover of Wreckless Eric's "Whole Wide World" that was sped up considerably in places and featured a lot more guitar-jamming than the original. I hope Eric Goulden is making some decent royalties from all the interpretations of his 1977 classic that seem to have emerged over the past few years. He deserves them.
Mikal Cronin

I disembarked and walked home along the shore of Lake Ontario, stopping to buy two beers from Keith's new hops series of beers along the way. The first one made the jaunt more pleasant and the second provided fuel for hitting the clubs later in the evening after taking a break to make dinner.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Danks, Blowfly and that's all on NXNE night three

The Danks
The North by Northeast Music Festival returned again last week, which meant a lot of running around Toronto trying to catch as many bands as possible.

Here's what I caught on night three:

Playing baseball kept me out of the clubs until midnight and, just as I had the night before with Invasions, I elected to give a band that didn't knock me out three months earlier at the Canadian Music Festival a second chance.

The Danks were plagued by lead singer/guitarist Brohan Moore's voice problems in March and, while it still seemed a bit scratchy at certain moments, it was much improved this time. The Charlottetown, P.E.I. pop-rock quartet just released its sophomore album, Gank, and its set was logically heavy with new material, including "Sycamore," "Summer Lovin'" and "Not News." "Die Young" and "What We're Doing" represented 2009's fine Are You Afraid of The Danks well, and the group again covered the Pixies' "Alec Eiffel."

These guys have a definite knack for incorporating catchy hooks into short, snappy songs. And this set was much more energetic than the last one I saw, which was probably helped by a larger and more receptive audience. Don't be afraid of The Danks. Their music is well worth checking out.


A cult legend who I'd heard of but never heard before drew me to the Horseshoe at 1 a.m. for a performance that's still leaving me a bit puzzled. Clarence Reid was a straight-ahead soul singer/songwriter who had some success in the '60s before he adapted his Blowfly alter-ego in 1971. He started wearing bizarre costumes, performing sexually explicit songs and laid a legitimate claim to being the first rapper.

On this night Blowfly strolled on to the stage in a sparkly gold outfit with a BF insignia on the front similar to a Superman get-up, complete with a blue cape. A matching gold and blue mask was soon thrown aside as his six-piece band (complete with saxophone, trumpet and trombone) fired him up for "Funky Party." That turned out to be his cleanest number, as he followed up with songs that included the lyrics "doing it like a dog," "you've got to fuck the boss" and "I fuck everything because everything is you," as well as song titles including "Rapp Dirty," "Pussy Hell" and "Incredible Fulk."

Blowfly's original songs were augmented by parodies of Sam Cooke's "Chain Gang" ("that's the sound of the men butt-fucking on the chain gang"), Sam & Dave's "Soul Man" (which became "Hole Man"), Michael Jackson's "Ben" (with lyrics about the sexual misadventures of members of the Jackson family) and "Beat It," and The Clash's "Should I Stay or Should I Go?" ("you've got to let me know, should I fuck that big fat ho?").

I admit that I chuckled along to a lot of the songs before realizing that, if Blowfly wasn't 74 years old, I'd be criticizing him as a homophobic, misogynistic pig with freakily long fingers and fingernails instead of cutting him some slack and writing his schtick off to being a dirty old man. I've probably seen Andre Williams a dozen times and, while he's another septuagenarian who still fancies himself a ladies man, he does it with more class and his innuendos don't beat you over the head like Blowfly's blunt words do.

The other thing that I felt was a bit strange was that I had passed several black people standing outside various showcase venues while on my way to the Horseshoe, but I didn't spot any at all in the crowd of approximately 300 people who came to see a performer who plays soul, funk and rap.

Another act followed Blowfly on to the stage at 2 a.m., but I couldn't pay attention as I talked to friends about what we'd just witnessed.

Social Distortion and Mikal Cronin dominate night two of NXNE

The North by Northeast Music Festival returned again last week, which meant a lot of running around Toronto trying to catch as many bands as possible.

Here's what I caught on night two:

A streetcar delay made me arrive late at Yonge Dundas Square for Social Distortion's 9 p.m. set, but luckily I got there just in time to hear "Story of My Life," which has always been one of my favourites from the band. I was pleasantly surprised by the large size of the crowd, considering it was cool and raining, and the performance didn't seem to be dampened -- even though Social D isn't what it was when I first saw the band about 20 years ago. Lead singer/guitarist Mike Ness was dressed all in black except for red suspenders and I realized, with a Citytv video screen behind the stage offering the cue to get me thinking, that Ness is starting to resemble Moses Znaimer -- if the television pioneer was covered in tattoos.

Social Distortion continued to mine its rich catalogue of roots-influenced punk rock with songs including "Cold Feelings," "Crown of Thorns" and the always great "Ball and Chain" before ending the set with "Misery Loves Company" from Ness' 1999 solo debut, Cheating At Solitaire.

The group emerged back on stage after a short break with Ness wearing a fedora as he launched into "Reach For The Sky," "It Coulda Been Me" and "Winners and Losers" before concluding -- as Social Distortion has every time I've seen it -- with a scorching cover of Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire."

Mikal Cronin
I walked west on Dundas Street West and scored a bargain by snagging four pizza slices for a buck each, which I ate en route to The Silver Dollar Room, where I arrived for the second half of Invasions' 11 p.m. set. I saw this Toronto surf-garage rock band during Canadian Music Festival in March and, while I wasn't completely sold, I said I'd give it another chance. There seemed to be more energy, from both the band and the audience, this time. The trumpet also stood out more, which was a plus. But the group's cover of The Kinks' "Dead End Street" left me lukewarm once again. My friend Matzoh Ball described Invasions as "Glee doing a tribute to Calexico," which I laughed at but can't verify since I've never watched Glee.

Mikal Cronin was the main reason I was at The Silver Dollar, however, as he launched a three-night residency at the club. The place was packed and the front of the stage was full of moshing and crowd-surfing by those excited to witness the San Francisco-based singer/guitarist's brand of lo-fi rock and roll. "Apathy" and "Change" were my personal highlights of the short but explosive set. I'd meant to see Cronin at the South by Southwest Music Festival in Austin, Texas in March, and friends who saw him there or elsewhere have raved about his performances. Perhaps that set my expectations too high because, as much as I enjoyed Cronin and his three bandmates, I didn't find it mind-blowing.

Toronto's Pow Wows had their work cut out for them to try and elicit the same response from the now much smaller Silver Dollar audience, and the trio's unexceptional garage-psych rock wasn't up to the task and sent me on my way home before it finished.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Star & Micey and Los Oxidados bookend first night of NXNE music

The North by Northeast Music Festival returned again last week, which meant a lot of running around Toronto trying to catch as many bands as possible.

Here's what I caught on night one:

Star & Micey

Star & Micey is an act I tried to see in Austin during the South by Southwest Music Festival in March but didn't, so I was happy to get another chance at NXNE. The Memphis, Tenn. quartet arrived late and didn't start until 25 minutes after its scheduled 8 p.m. start time, but made up for it with an effervescent performance of fun and easy-to-listen-to, guitar-driven pop-rock songs. The group topped things off by parading through the venue and standing on the bar while playing its final song. It was worth the short wait to hear.


The Mouthbreathers
Star & Micey's late finish altered my scheduling, so I rerouted to Kensington Market and the small Detour Bar to see S.M. -- and it wasn't because we share the same initials. The Sarnia, Ont. trio had an audience four times its size when I arrived part-way through its set of lo-fi rock. The vocals were somewhat atonal and the musicianship wasn't exemplary, but I stayed for the duration because I had to finish my Stigl tallboy and there was nothing else in the neighbourhood that I had on my list to see for the time slot.

Samantha Martin
I moved around the corner to The Boat for The Mouthbreathers, a quartet from Sackville, N.B. fronted by a singer/guitarist who was celebrating her 23rd birthday. The performance was reminiscent of the slacker guitar rock you'd hear more commonly in the early '90s. It was far from exceptional, but pretty good, well-paced and improved as the set went on. An Eric's Trip song was thrown in for good measure as a nod to a musical influence from the band's home province.

The Normals
I had a small window to grab a bite to eat and still make it to Supermarket at 11 p.m. for Toronto's Samantha Martin and The Haggard. Martin plays guitar and was backed by an electric guitarist, bassist, drummer and two female harmony singers. I was pleasantly surprised that her brand of blues incorporated soul, rockabilly and even reggae, and Martin's powerful voice matched the repertoire well. That passionate delivery was in full effect for an energetic, set-closing performance of Ike and Tina Turner's "River Deep - Mountain High."

Montreal's The Normals formed in 1977 and only lasted a year, but the old school punks are back together. While the trio's brand of punk may be a bit formulaic, I enjoyed what I heard and the set improved as the guys warmed up. "I Don't Want To Go To Work" was a sentiment that most people in attendance probably shared the next morning, and a cover of The Buzzcocks' "What Do I Get" ended my time at Cherry Cola's Rock n' Rolla Cabaret & Lounge on a high note.

The last stop of my night was at 1 a.m. at Hideout, where I was surprised to find that the Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks were playing a third overtime of their National Hockey League final. But I was more interested in a group from Mexico City named Los Oxidados, which played a very fun set of instrumentals from the schools of surf, garage and spaghetti western. All three members wearing black eye masks was also a nice touch. While the music moved my feet, the sexy belly dancer who took centre stage throughout the set made something else move below my waist. It was a great way to cap off a good, if not great, night of music.

Los Oxidados