NXNE Day 2: Spirit Oak, Static and Snow, Blackstone Rangers, Invasions, Mikal Cronin, Quiet Company, PUP and The Dirty Nil
And boom, just like that, night 2 is upon us. I tried to not let the rainy weather get me down as I headed out to meet Jeff at our first stop….even though I hate walking around with wet feet. That’s how you get colds, people! No time to waste, here we go:
Spirit Oak @ Magpie
I kicked off my second night at Magpie on Dundas west. This cozy hideaway housed a pretty big, attentive audience. My pals in Spirit Oak is what persuaded me to make this our first stop for the night. Their modest set-up and stage presence matched their sound; serene, melodic and their use of echo effect pedals created a dream like tone that helped the audience forget the fact that it was raining outside. Breanna Johnston’s vocals are powerful yet beautifully reserved. I was completely captivated. Mark Rendall’s hollow body riffs punctuated the sound well, almost as if it were singing along with Johnston. Perfect space for these guys and gal-so pleased to see such an appreciative respectful audience fill a tiny venue.
Static and Snow @ The Supermarket
Me and Jeff’s goal for this year’s NXNE was to hit as many random venues/bands as possible. And I mean going in blind-no show gophering ahead of time at all. I suppose I’m mentioning this to explain how we ended up at The Supermarket for Static and Snow. Clearly catering to a bit of an older crowd, their country rock (more rock I suppose) tunes resonated in this always tight sounding venue (I’m sure I’ve talked about my professional-boner for the sound guys here). All and all, everything was tight; their harmonies and their transitions, albeit slightly predictable for the genre, were executed well. Held their own pretty well for a three piece. They definitely had what it took to work a crowd. Their Rock and Roll capabilities rang true with their last song which was a heavy in attitude surf rock number.
Blackstone Rangers @ Rancho Relaxo
So 0 for 2? It never fails that I happen to catch one band per festival that makes me say, ‘What the eff?’. Let me start off by saying that I respect any band that dares to be different, and lord knows I’m a tough nut to crack. But honestly, what are you doing? I feel like these are jazz music students that decided to start a band but knew they had to do something to set themselves a part…but put very little thought into trying to figure out what that needed to be. You started 20 minutes late? I regret making you my 11pm slot choice. Your set-up wasn’t that complicated or original; much like your songs. I barely made it through the first song before I gave up and left a sad and empty Rancho Relaxo, and I’ll admit it; maybe they got better as the set progressed? (Sidenote: When we started NXNE this year, Jeff told me; ‘You’re not as mean as you used to be with your reviews.’ Well Jeff, there you go.)
Invasions @ The Silver Dollar
In a frantic rush to wash the taste of Blackstone Rangers out of my mouth we ran to The Dollar for some musical sanctuary. Invasions gave me just what I needed. This Surf Rock quartet with their swing rock vocalist leading the troupe was an unexpected highlight of my evening. Super glad I caught their set. A fun/different take on rock and roll is what I’m all about (must be all that Ska influence). You accent your showcase with an organ and a horn? Yes, please take my love. I am not worthy. I’m little, so the packed house at The Silver Dollar made it very difficult for me to actually watch the band, so, I watched the audience. Side note: why in the hell are Toronto audiences so hard to please? There were some dancers among the negative nancies, but for the most part nothing beyond a few bobbing heads. Get over yourselves, Toronto, it’s okay to like a band that isn’t Broken Social Scene.
Mikal Cronin @ The Silver Dollar
Short and sweet tunes, high in energy and positive in nature; but not without a punch in the face of pent up anger. Made me reminiscent of bands that were the soundtrack of my life in 1998-2001; grunge like vocals with similar tone but with more of an intricate underbelly. The on-lookers were pushing up against each other to take him in as close as possible. He’s playing the Dollar twice more during NXNE, I’d be curios to see if he fills it this much each time. Thanks for salvaging my night.
The gang at Last Frame Pictures and Musi teamed up to throw an amazing after party to celebrate the official premiere of LFP’s “Authentic: Young Rival’s Journey Through Canada“. And man, do they know how to show their friends and colleagues a good time. I got stepped on, shoved countless times, saw friends, jumped high and hard, discovered new musical infatuations and forgot to wear earplugs. All and all, it was a pretty rad night. Quiet Company is at the top of my list of what I’ve seen thus far; I enjoyed their presence, their energy and their humility. As always, PUP awakened all the rowdiness I tend to keep under wraps when I’m lost in a judgmental Toronto audience (yes, I admit it, I do it too). I can’t watch The Dirty Nil without grinning. I just wanna say thank you to all the bands, the dudes who put this shit on, the wicked crowd, thank you for the fun. Thank you for Thank you for reminding me that I love what I do. So far this show/party is unrivaled by any other; so to the next couple of nights I bid you good luck.