Friday, June 20, 2014

NXNE 2014: Thursday rockin' on the 501

Shannon and The Clams
I've unfortunately missed Shannon and The Clams on past visits to Toronto and during the South by Southwest Music Festival in Austin, Texas, and I didn't expect that I'd be riding a streetcar the first time I caught the Oakland, Calif.-formed group.

MiO, which makes liquid water enhancer, enhanced its marketing by commandeering one of Toronto's streetcars and taking it back and forth along Queen Street. The customized 501 "Squirtcar" is inviting bands and fans to take a ride for three nights during the North by Northeast Music Festival, so I hopped on for a round trip.

Shannon and The Clams is a trio that masterfully blends doo-wop from the '50s and girl group pop and garage rock from the '60s while giving them a 21st century spin. It's a testament to a band's concentration if it can play nine songs while rolling along without missing a beat, and Shannon and The Clams pulled it off. Bassist Shannon Shaw and guitarist Cody Blanchard (who's also a member of Hunx and His Punx) shared lead vocals and infused a playful spirit into their tunes. While it was almost as much fun to see the reactions of pedestrians and motorists as they gawked, pointed, waved and snapped photos as we drove by as it was to watch the band, I definitely want to see it again in less cramped quarters.

Bloodshot Bill

I'm a fan of Montreal one-man band Bloodshot Bill and his mix of rockabilly, garage and surf rock. I last saw him open for Catl two months ago, and from his opening cover of The Rivieras' "California Sun" through nine more mostly original songs until  the ride came to an end, he was as entertaining as ever. His vocal gymnastics and guitar work, augmented by foot pedal-powered drum and cymbals, would make any commute a lot more fun. Bill asked for a cold beer, which I would have appreciated as well, but I was content with free bottled water and MiO.

The Demos

Beer was waiting at Hideout, where I arrived just after The Demos had begun their 11 p.m. set. The young Rochester, N.Y. band's "Nervous" is a perfect piece of summertime power pop that deserved to be a hit. Nothing else in the repertoire lived up that high, but it's brand of melodic, straight-ahead rock and roll and classic '70s power pop (with one Strokes-like tune thrown in for good measure) would make me want to see it again as an opening act. I'd just recommend making better use of the keyboards, which were under-utilized until the closing number.

Gay Nineties

I'd heard good things about Vancouver's Gay Nineties and think that its new "Letterman" single/video is another summertime song that should be getting widespread exposure these days. If you like Hollerado, you should like this song. I was surprised to see that the lead singer/guitarist had long hair and was wearing a bandana. That didn't fit the mental image I had of the band. Five songs into the set, I realized that the group's other songs weren't doing anything for me so I hit the Rivoli exit.

I've seen Alejandro Escovedo a number of times, but I'm unsure if I can add one more show to the list after walking in on the Austin-based singer/songwriter/guitarist's last song with Poi Dog Pondering violinist Susan Voelz at the Horseshoe Tavern. Oh well. I'm sure I'll see him again.

Whitney Rose

I stayed at the Shoe for a set from what Six Shooter Records founder Shauna de Cartier called "the future of Americana" in her introduction. It featured three young singer/songwriter/guitarists performing three of their own songs each while joining a talented back-up band that included under-appreciated guitarist Nichol Robertson.

Whitney Rose is small but has a very big and dynamic voice that at times can sound as sultry as she looks. Her music has an air of classic country about it and it would be great to see her succeed in the modern world.

Joe Nolan

Joe Nolan is a roots artist that Six Shooter is big on, seemingly for good reason based on what little I've heard.

Sam Cash is the son of former L'Etranger member (and now Member of Parliament) Andrew Cash, and he's definitely the most rocking of the three. He fronts a band called The Romantic Dogs that I look forward to catching soon.

The three of them took turns singing lead on a spirited cover of Bruce Springsteen's "Hungry Heart" to end the night. 

Sam Cash

I don't know if Rose, Nolan and Cash are the future of Americana, but I'd be happy if they played a decent role in the future of Canadiana.

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