Tag Archives: North by Northeast

NXNE review: Flag @ Opera House, June 14, 2013

Flag play classic Black Flag songs to Toronto fans

Former Black Flag members (reformed as Flag) performed the music of Flag at the Opera House on June 14 as part of North by Northeast.

Former Black Flag members and Descendents guitarist Stephen Egerton (reformed as Flag) performed the music of Black Flag at the Opera House on June 14 as part of North by Northeast. (Photo: Tom Beedham)

Keith and Chuck and Bill and Dez and Stephen. It took me a long time to get to calling this lineup Flag, and not the name of the members’ former band. I’m not alone either. When they played at Toronto’s Opera House on June 14, even opening act Genetic Control singer Mike Price had to correct himself after calling them Black Flag onstage.

By membership alone, Flag consists of double the original members the new Black Flag lineup boasts (Flag’s only member without previous Black Flag credentials is Descendents guitarist Stephen Egerton). But the cropped title makes sense. Some of the members have been away from the songs for over 30 years and even left before most of the group proper’s back catalog had life breathed into them, and Keith Morris has made it clear that Flag won’t be penning any new material.

It’s not a Black Flag cover band, per se, but it’s not Greg Ginn’s insistently progressive recording outfit, either. The latter is a position Greg Ginn is latching onto with the group with whom he’s presently touring around the world and recording a new album under the “official” Black Flag banner. It consists of early Black Flag vocalist Ron Reyes as well as drummer Gregory Moore – who played with Black Flag for some reunion performances in 2003 – and bassist Dave Klein of Screeching Weasel. They’ve already released some new material, which sort of sounds like what you’d get if Greg Ginn and the Royal We grabbed Ron Reyes – a great Black Flag short distance vocalist – to sing over some longer, sludgier, Family Man-esque instrumentals.

As an aspiring Black Flag completest who never got to see any of the band’s pre-breakup lineups live (I was born in 1988) and has a genuine love for the songs, I’d love to get the chance to see the Reyes-and-Ginn-steered band, but Flag’s performance at the Opera House had all the intensity of the classic Black Flag concert footage viewable in documentaries like Penelope Spheeris’s first installment of The Decline of Western Civilization and Paul Rachman’s American Hardcore – as well as the countless snippets of fan footage available online – without the pretension of Greg Ginn.

For the majority of the show, the members stuck to what they knew from their personal experiences with the band.

Whether or not they were intended as a jab at Ginn’s new band and his long-bemoaned history of failure to pay out royalties to where they have been due, the group kicked off the set with “Revenge,” with Keith Morris fronting the act (on that note, they didn’t play “You Bet We’ve Got Something Against You!” – perhaps just because it’s a Ron Reyes song).

Morris also sang “Police Story,” “I Don’t Care,” “Depression,” “No Values,” “Gimmie Gimmie Gimmie,” “Clocked In” and “White Minority” (songs Black Flag had recorded with the singer, originally intended for inclusion on their first release before he quit in 1979, resulting in the group re-recording most of them with Reyes for Jealous Again­ ­and eventually Henry Rollins for Damaged).

When one fan interrupted Morris with the bait that he should “Shut up and die” while the singer was in the middle of relating how “White Minority” has been historically misunderstood and how that’s brought flak to the members of the band in their private lives was also an easy reminder of so many Black Flag versus fans stage confrontations (it was also a moment that recalled Morris’s new band OFF!’s opening performance at a 2012 Refused reunion concert at the Sound Academy, where Morris’s mid-set ramblings on the comparisons of the United States and Canadian governments were greeted with some impatient rejection).

The singer also performed lead vocals on all of the tracks off of the Nervous Breakdown EP, as well as the inadmissible “My War” and “Rise Above” – Damaged-era anthems famously sung by Rollins.

For the latter half of the set, Dez Cadena put down his guitar to take over the mic for the Six Pack EP’s title track and “American Waste,” as well as Damaged tracks “Padded Cell,” “Spray Paint,” and “Thirsty And Miserable” – all for which Cadena once recorded a nearly complete version of vocals before the group acquired Rollins as a lead vocalist and re-recorded them.

This all happened in front of fans young and old yelling the words and manifesting the physicality of the music in always-active mosh pit.

After taking a brief break between their set and an encore, the group returned to thank everyone for showing their support. Morris delivered a fittingly slotted Rollins-era “I Love You,” Cadena sang “Damaged,” and the show was over.

If you missed the show or just want to relive the celebration, one fan managed to record the entire set and publish it on YouTube. Check it out before Greg Ginn escalates his Greg Ginn-ness and actively tries to deny credit being offered to the unofficial Black Flag-ers.

(Full setlist compiled below video) 

“Fix Me”
“Police Story”
“I Don’t Care”
“I’ve Had It”
“No Values”
“My War”
“No More”
“Gimmie Gimmie Gimmie”
“White Minority”
“Jealous Again”
“Clocked In”
“Nervous Breakdown”
“American Waste” (Dez Vox)
“Spray Paint”
“Thirsty And Miserable”
“Padded Cell”
“Six Pack”
“Rise Above” (Keith)
“Loiuie Louie”
“I Love You”


NXNE review: Dusted @Urban Outfitters, June 14, 2013

Brian Borcherdt and Leon Taheny debut new song at NXNE

Dusted played a free afternoon gig at Urban Outfitters as part of NXNE. (Photo: Tom Beedham)

Dusted played a free afternoon gig at Urban Outfitters as part of NXNE. (Photo: Tom Beedham)

Following a slew of performances from bands mostly double their size, Toronto lo-fi duo Dusted spent comparably longer putting their modest guitar, drum and keyboard setup together at the Urban Outfitters popup stage on June 14, 2013.

But they had a good excuse.

After apologizing for the late start, Dusted guitarist/vocalist Brian Borcherdt (Holy Fuck) explained to those gathered at the clothing store’s Queen Street West location that, after spending so much time off of the road holed up in the studio to record the follow-up to their 2012 debut, Total Dust, the frontman and percussionist Leon Taheny were a little rusty when it came down to arranging their gear.

The set wasn’t all apologies, though. The two made up for their late start by debuting a new track they’ve been honing in preparation for their new album in the middle of a set that was otherwise comprised solely of Total Dust tracks like “Property Lines,” “(Into the” Atmosphere,” and “All Comes Down.”

The delivery didn’t come without some hesitation (Borcherdt could be heard asking Taheny “How’s it go again?” before they ripped into it), but the band’s generous offering – especially for an outfit counting award-winning producer Taheny (Final Fantasy, Ohbijou, the Wooden Sky) amongst its two members –of something fairly unpolished shouldn’t go without acknowledgment.

Dusted served the track up to the crowd without a title, but after the gig, Taheny confirmed it was called “Backwoods Ritual” and that it would release with the new album “Hopefully this fall.”

NXNE Review: Program @ The Garrison, June 12, 2013

Program played a small crowd at The Garrison as a part of NXNE on June 12. (Photo: Tom Beedham)

Program played a small crowd at The Garrison as a part of NXNE on June 12. (Photo: Tom Beedham)

Fitting in equally with Toronto’s apparent new wave (but not New Wave) of shoegaze bands and the recent realization of post-post-punk revival (can we just call them post-punk?) groups that seem to be popping up widely across the western world (and thus the Venn diagram of circles interested in hearing those forms collide), Program builds songs by methodically magnifying the impact of their smaller elements. They start small, arresting a bar for your initial consideration, and then inflating it with chord variations, pedal effects, and the addition of complimentary instrumental parts – all until they’ve arrived at a lapping, atmospheric wall of sound with plenty of introspective appeal.

Playing the generously cavernous and frankly underused space at the back of The Garrison, Program played to a relatively small (albeit captivated) audience on June 12, but the poor turnout wasn’t all a bad omen for the group; the thinned crowd just seemed to allow the delay-heavy guitar, keyboard and bass sounds that Program relies on a new, more physical route to warp-echoing their way into infinity.

New NXNE takes over Toronto

Music festival is bigger and better than ever before

16 June 2010


Sketchy, the unofficial mascot for NXNE has travelled far and wide to promote Toronto's ever-changing music festival. (Courtesy)

Sketchy, the unofficial mascot for NXNE has travelled far and wide to promote Toronto’s ever-changing music festival. (Courtesy)

Since 2005, pictures of Sketchy, an androgynous – and apparently dead – rabbit have blanketed Toronto’s telephone poles and flyer-bombed concert hall walls and other cluttered surfaces. This year, Sketchy’s twisted visage has leapt from the confines of two dimensions into clubs, parks and Yonge-Dundas Square; as usual, he’s here to let people know the annual North by Northeast (NXNE) festival is back.

Sketchy is a mere five years young, but the event behind the unofficial mascot is a little further on in its years. Birthed in 1994, NXNE has brought together local acts from the GTA, Canada and other countries for 16 years. The festival can also take credit for unifying the efforts of 50 typically competitive concert venues.

This year’s musical bricolage consists of about 650 musical acts, up 400 from the year of its inception. The performers range from folk troubadour solo artists to post-punk dance dub groups and beyond; they include acts from Eagles of Death Metal, Sloan, Hawksley Workman, Attack in Black and PS I Love You.

2010’s NXNE will also include a massive free concert headlined by music legends Iggy and The Stooges on June 19 at Yonge-Dundas Square. Yonge Street will be shut down for the festival, something that NXNE managing director, cofounder and co-owner Andy McLean says will make the event “arguably the largest downtown city concert the city’s seen.”

The Stooges have endured a bandmate’s death, the comings and goings of several members, a breakup, several hiatuses, personal demons (including lead singer Iggy Pop’s heroin addiction) and a coup against the sound David Bowie gave them on the album Raw Power.

And like The Stooges’ lineup, NXNE has seen ongoing changes.

“It’s not like you just churn it out,” McLean insisted. “It’s custom-built every year.”

But while McLean ensures NXNE-goers that this year will be no carbon-copy of last year’s festival – he promises you’ll see 500 brand new and emerging bands there – he isn’t just talking about the artists.

NXNE’s technology has also developed over the years.

For musicians, said McLean, “everything’s done digitally, by email, uploaded here [at NXNE headquarters].” The NXNE website has become the main interface as the festival has adapted to the information age with a Facebook group and Twitter feeds, as well as two new mobile apps developed for the iPhone and Blackberry in order to help keep fans in the know on the go.

While the technology has changed for McLean, the industry he gets his talent from has gone through a metamorphosis of its own. But what McLean is determined to preserve is the experience of seeing bands up close and personal.

“You can cruise the Internet looking for bands,” said McLean. “But I think still going out and feeling that kick drum in your chest when you walk into a club – you’ll never replace that by going online.”

In order to perpetuate the band-audience exchange, McLean and people like Michael Hollett and Yvonne Matsell have put together workshops, conferences and interactive sessions headed by speakers like Alan Cross and Ze Frank. Here, musicians can learn about how to make money playing music, gather networking skills, meet with media and more.

Now that it’s time to unleash the musicians, NXNE is paying dues by throwing a festival of epic proportions, having opening night parties at the CN Tower, The Phoenix, The Courthouse and The Mod Club. And with many participating NXNE venues serving drinks until 4 a.m. throughout the rest of the week – a NXNE tradition fresh from last year – it will be a long and electrifying haul until the festival’s close on Sunday.
(Originally published by Excalibur on June 16, 2010)