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NXNE: sans wristband

nxne

My first June in Toronto, and my first North by North East (NXNE): a ten-day festival of art, music, film and comedy. While it’s arguably losing touch with the city’s music scene, it’s still an opportunity to check out local bands. Anyway, no wristband for me. I didn’t know if it would be worth the cash and by the I had seen the list of bands I’d like to see, the price had doubled (from a reasonable $75 prior to the new year to close to $150 just before the festival). I made it to four shows in three days (two of which were free and one was not connected at all with NXNE).


What I saw…

20 June 2014: Swans, Eagulls, Omar Souleyman @ Yonge-Dundas Square

@ Yonge-Dundas Square [20 June 2014]

Swans @ Yonge-Dundas Square [20 June 2014]

Swans killed it. It was a unearthly environment in which to see them. The sterile, corporate surroundings of Yonge-Dundas (complete with Budweiser Girls) served as a curiously appropriate yet completely discordant venue. Front-man Michael Gira yowled to the sky an urge to “bring down” the towers to commerce that encircled the venue. After a 10-minute Gong-centric beginning to the show, the band lead off with new track “Frankie M”: a 20 minute beast that features a heavy and infections yet very controlled build (sometimes you just want the whole thing to explode!). After, they played “The Apostate” from 2012’s The Seer and ended with “Bring the Sun/Black Hole Man”. Reviews have been mixed: some love, others not so much. I only wondered how this struck the random on-lookers in this very public space.

21 June 2014: METZ, Nice Head, Fresh Snow, Eagulls @ Lee’s Palace

I had never seen Toronto’s favorite noise rock band, METZ. They’ve been described as the best live show in Rock ‘n’ Roll by Jonathan Poneman of Subpop Records. After their show on Saturday night at Lee’s Palace, I’m almost inclined to agree with him, or at least put them in my top ten current bands. They were visceral, aggressive and noisy, all while maintaining excellent rapport with hometown crowd, often making fun of ill-timed crowd-surfing attempts.

METZ @ Lee's Palace

METZ @ Lee’s Palace [21 June 2014]

They played nearly every track from 2012’s s/t Subpop debut full-length release with a fervent intensity that was impossible not to be engaged by. The drummer, Hayden Menzies, hits hard and is really the backbone of the live show. Fresh Snow (Toronto, ON) has been garnering considerable local attention for their hypnotic and often noisy instrumental tracks featured on their debut I. Masks were off for this show and the music was driving as the crowds began to pack Lee’s floor. The standout for me (aside from METZ), however, was played to a nearly empty room. Nice Head (members of Hamilton favorites Cursed, Burning Love, Sailboats are White) were brutal, feedback driven and intoxicating all at the same time. Really outstanding stuff. I’ll be looking to see them again soon.

22 June 2014: Greys @ Edward Day Gallery

The sun was out and it was getting warm for Greys’ third and final NXNE show (read about the first one). I missed the first two but was sure to catch this one. They are another Toronto band getting a lot of love, both from within Toronto and beyond (yes, that’s their new album If Anything on Buzz Records streaming at the Wall Street Journal).

3/4 of Greys @ Edward Day Gallery [22 June 2014]

3/4 of Greys @ Edward Day Gallery [22 June 2014]

It was brief, but intense, 20 minute set. Driving punk rock infused with force, noise and an infectious energy. I picked up their new LP at the show (see below) and have been putting it on the player quite frequently over the past few days. Definitely worth a listen and seeing them if you have the opportunity. Looks like their next Toronto show is at SHIBGBs in August.

22 June 2014: METZ, Holy Fuck, Pleasant Left @ Smiling Buddah

A last-minute “surprise” show by METZ in a more intimate locale. This show, which had nothing to do with NXNE, was an excellent way to end the weekend. The lineup also included Toronto’s Holy Fuck and Pleasure Leftists (Cleveland, OH).

METZ, Holy Fuck, Pleasure Leftists @ Smiling Buhddah [22 June 2014]

METZ, Holy Fuck, Pleasure Leftists @ Smiling Buhddah [22 June 2014]

Holy Fuck is a massive live band. They are beat-driven, pulsating and hypnotic integrating experimental effects and abrupt transitions. They shook the Smiling Buddha. The METZ setlist did not change much from the night before, but they did add one more new song. The crowd was into it, the music were intense and they consistently and rightly urged the audience to support the amazing local Toronto music scene as much as possible.

METZ @ Smiling Buddah [22 June 2014]

METZ @ Smiling Buddah [22 June 2014]

The Lee’s performance was great because it was the first time I had seen them, but the Smiling Buddah felt like we were all seeing this incredible live band together.


What I picked up…

Greys
If Anything LP
(Buzz Records, 2014)

This record is infectious, aggressive and inviting all at the same time. Check out the songs above. Marble grey vinyl.

 

WTCHS
It’s Not a Cross, it’s a Curse 12″
(Out of Sound/Perdu/Sonic Unyon, 2014)

I saw this Hamilton, ON band in March here in Toronto but unfortunately missed their two NXNE performances. I picked up the 12″ at the record fair at the Edward Day Gallery on Sunday. They play loud, dark rock ‘n’ roll with pounding drum rhythms. I am especially a fan of the album opener Girls. The only minor complaint is that it’s a short 5 songs, though I’m told they’ll have a new material on Sonic Unyon in February (2015). White, one-sided vinyl.

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