Tag Archives: NXNE

NXNE photo dump 2014: Swans, St. Vincent, Speedy Ortiz, Fresh Snow, PS I Love You, & White Poppy

By Tom Beedham
Swans @ Yonge-Dundas Square. June 20, 2014. Photo: Tom Beedham

This year’s North by North East was a pendulum experience that swung from frustrating lows to really solid sensory experiences.

Lacking the web #metrics NXNE press handlers were demanding this season, I simply didn’t bother applying for accreditation, but I tried my luck and brought my camera with me anyway. That lack of credentials ultimately meant being turned away at the door at the Pissed Jeans/GOAT show at Lee’s after a solid Swans/St. Vincent shoot I managed from the crowd at Yonge-Dundas, so I stashed my camera at a nearby friend’s place, rushed back for the chaos, and between leaning into white-knuckled bike rides to gigs straight from my day job over the next few days, I didn’t manage to get it back until today. Bonus excuse: I could have also given you photos of the Maica Mia/Circuit des Yeux/Thoughts on Air showcase at the Garrison on Wednesday, but I straight up forgot to pack my camera with an SD card. Technology!
Marking my first year not having to answer to an editor for my NXNE experience, I decided to limit the venue hopping and stick to checking out showcases, and I have to say this is the way to do the festival. Forget about the gamification and just lock in to a good lineup. While I am bummed I couldn’t get shots of GOAT’s kaleidoscopic costumes or the secret (technically not a NXNE show) METZ show last night, I do have to say (mark my words, Yonge-Dundas smartphone praisers) it was a relief to have a concrete excuse to put the camera down and just enjoy the experience for what it was.

Anyway, here are shots from two out of the five days I attended NXNE this year.

P.S. I Love You @ Mod Club - June 19, 2014. Photo: Tom Beedham Speedy Ortiz @ Mod Club - June 19, 2014. Photo: Tom Beedham Speedy Ortiz @ Mod Club - June 19, 2014. Photo: Tom Beedham White Poppy @ The Great Hall - June 19, 2014. Photo: Tom Beedham Fresh Snow @ The Great Hall - June 19, 2014. Photo: Tom Beedham Fresh Snow @ The Great Hall - June 19, 2014. Photo: Tom Beedham Fresh Snow @ The Great Hall - June 19, 2014. Photo: Tom Beedham Fresh Snow @ The Great Hall - June 19, 2014. Photo: Tom Beedham Fresh Snow @ The Great Hall - June 19, 2014. Photo: Tom Beedham Swans @ Yonge-Dundas Square. June 20, 2014. Photo: Tom Beedham Swans @ Yonge-Dundas Square. June 20, 2014. Photo: Tom Beedham Swans @ Yonge-Dundas Square. June 20, 2014. Photo: Tom Beedham Swans @ Yonge-Dundas Square. June 20, 2014. Photo: Tom Beedham Swans @ Yonge-Dundas Square. June 20, 2014. Photo: Tom Beedham Swans @ Yonge-Dundas Square. June 20, 2014. 6 Swans @ Yonge-Dundas Square. June 20, 2014. Photo: Tom Beedham Swans @ Yonge-Dundas Square. June 20, 2014. Photo: Tom Beedham Swans @ Yonge-Dundas Square. June 20, 2014. Photo: Tom Beedham Swans @ Yonge-Dundas Square. June 20, 2014. Photo: Tom Beedham Swans @ Yonge-Dundas Square. June 20, 2014. Photo: Tom Beedham Swans @ Yonge-Dundas Square. June 20, 2014. Photo: Tom Beedham Swans @ Yonge-Dundas Square. June 20, 2014. Photo: Tom Beedham St. Vincent @ Yonge-Dundas Square. June 20, 2014. Photo: Tom Beedham St. Vincent @ Yonge-Dundas Square. June 20, 2014. Photo: Tom Beedham St. Vincent @ Yonge-Dundas Square. June 20, 2014. Photo: Tom Beedham St. Vincent @ Yonge-Dundas Square. June 20, 2014. Photo: Tom Beedham St. Vincent @ Yonge-Dundas Square. June 20, 2014. Photo: Tom Beedham St. Vincent @ Yonge-Dundas Square. June 20, 2014. Photo: Tom Beedham

Fucked Up perform new song at NXNE (video)

Fucked Up performed new material at their NXNE performance at Toronto's Horseshoe Tavern on June 15.

Fucked Up performed new material at their NXNE performance at Toronto’s Horseshoe Tavern on June 15. (Photo: Tom Beedham)

Having just spent some time recording their follow-up to 2011’s David Comes To Life at Steve Albini’s Electrical Audio studio in Chicago, when Fucked Up returned to Toronto for a performance at the Legendary Horseshoe Tavern on June 15, 2013, they came bearing some new material and tested a new track on their hometown.

Although a little shaky due to the crowd love-in that is every good Fucked Up show and a little off audio-wise, here’s some video footage of the new track (title unknown).

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) 

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

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 reviews: Beach Day @Urban Outfitters June 14, 2013

Florida surf-pop group Beach Day played a free NXNE showcase put on by Urban Outfitters's Queen Street West location.

Florida surf-pop group Beach Day played a free NXNE showcase put on by Urban Outfitters’s Queen Street West location.

Providing songs explicitly called out by singer/guitarist Kimmy Drake as making reference to easily relatable subjects including “a boy,” “shoes,” and “going on a trip,” the set provided by Florida-based Beach Day seemed to make the most sense of all the bands featured in the consumer backdrop of yesterday’s NXNE showcase on the second floor of Urban Outfitters’s Queen Street West location. That’s not to suggest Beach Day was insincere consumer bait; fast-paced, bass-driven surf pop just sort of works amid the colourful backdrop of a retail environment pushing a fresh summer line of clothing and accessories, and no less in the middle of the afternoon.

It did make it kind of difficult to imagine that listening to their sun-soaked soundscapes at an 11 p.m. watering hole show (which they’ll do tonight at the Handlebar) would be better, though.

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.

NXNE review: Bernice @The Piston, June 12

Bernice played The Piston for NXNE 2013's first night of music. (Photo: Tom Beedham)

Bernice played The Piston for NXNE 2013’s first night of music. (Photo: Tom Beedham)

“So you guys gonna check out lots of shows? We’re probably holding you up. It’s okay if you have to go.”

Held up from playing while drummer Phil Mélanson tended to an issue with a midi cable, Bernice singer Robin Dann treated the crowd to her casually awkward brand of stage banter. And although the music portion of NXNE had only just begun a couple of hours earlier, she was right; there were already plenty of bands playing sets across the city. But those that stuck around were compensated for their patience.

Although they filled out the The Piston’s tiny backroom stage just in their numbers and instruments – and the space was further crowded by the fact that guitarist Colin Fisher (notthewindnottheflag, Caribou) was confined to a seated performance (he’d hobbled into the venue on crutches, but still demonstrated his shoegaze savvy as he systematically switched through his fairly extensive pedal board) – as they felt out the space the band even added a sizeable amp to the stage mid-set.

While the combined lack of organization and clumsy candor might just sound like a recipe for disaster, it sort of just fit the output of Bernice’s soothingly emotive RnB-infused indie rock.

At least it literally had the crowd singing, “Ooh and I need it” along with the band at the end of their set.

NXNE review: Iggy & the Stooges+more

Iggy & The Stooges / The Raveonettes / Wavves / Surfer Blood / DD/MM/YYYY / The Soft Pack / Mini Mansions / De Staat / Queen Kwong / Burning Boyz @ Yonge & Dundas Square, June 19th 2010 in Toronto, Ontario

Iggy and the Stooges live at Yonge-Dundas Square on June 19, 2010

Iggy and the Stooges live at Yonge-Dundas Square on June 19, 2010

I got to Yonge & Dundas Square just before noon, and there were some round tables and patio chairs set up, so I cracked open a NXNE copy of NOW and got right to the Q&A with Iggy Pop.

Still overcast and gloomy, around quarter after, the Burning Boyz (a group of ten-year-olds that promised their own interpretations of old rock classics and even reinventions of some contemporary material) started their sound check, and I left my seat to make my way up to the stage. The sound check guy said, “drums, mic” and as if in a display of sarcasm over the formality of the entire process, their drummer got right up in the mic and said, “I like dinosaurs.” Sound Check Guy laughed, and I knew I was in for a good time. These kids killed it for an hour, pulling off originally executed covers of tracks like “We Will Rock You,” “Very Superstitious,” “Hey Joe,” and “Seven Nation Army” (complete with a slide guitar solo).  They even brought out a cover of the theme to the 007 movies with one of the dirtiest bass riffs I’ve ever heard.  When the crowd cheered these guys on, it wasn’t a nod of sympathy – the Burning Boyz earned it.

Queen Kwong live at Yonge-Dundas Square on June 19, 2010

Queen Kwong live at Yonge-Dundas Square on June 19, 2010

The photo pit was packed for Queen Kwong’s set, which was good planning on the media’s part, because Carré Callaway gave them all she had. At points it was as if the photographers were hypnotized by Callaway’s hair.   I can only imagine how many close-ups were taken of her screaming into the air, her hair dancing chaotically around her head in throes of passion – if there was an insect or any other entity within a two-foot radius of her head, it better have feared for life.  If she couldn’t exterminate such pests with her hair, she probably could have done it with her voice.  Even away from the mic she could carry sound; it was as though she had a megaphone implanted in her throat.  One fan in particular displayed his appreciation for Queen Kwong’s set when Callaway told the crowd the band was going to play a couple more.  Out of the mass he shouted, “How about a couple three?” to which Callaway laughed and said “A couple three?  Ok I think we can do that…”

Next up was De Staat.  By then the clouds had parted and the sun had come out as if with the combination of the Burning Boyz and Queen Kwong’s set, NXNE’s free concert had earned the approval of Mother Nature.  Within one song, I thought, if Christopher Walken makes a trip to Holland, De Staat is the band he’s going to want to see; with more cowbell than the Blue Öyster Cult could ever offer, they sounded the way Queens of the Stone Age would if they were injected with some fulltime electronic effects, Josh Homme got a deeper voice and in his singing became consistently cheerier and more enthusiastic about his lyrical subject matter.

De Staat live at Yonge-Dundas Square on June 19, 2010

De Staat live at Yonge-Dundas Square on June 19, 2010

When multi-instrumentalist Rocco Bell broke out a theremin, the small crowd that surrounded the stage for this treasure from Holland seemed entranced, as if dominated by the influence of foreign sorcery. To be sure, for anyone unaware of the theremin’s existence, its presence instantly becomes an object for fascination. It involves no physical touch, emitting sound based both on the user’s hands’ proximity from the base of a vertical rod and from the rod itself.  Employing it like a secret weapon, Bell waited to break out that toy until the last song, and it stole the audience’s captivation for the remainder of De Staat’s set.

After De Staat’s set, I made my way over to Queen Kwong’s merch booth and set up an interview with Calloway, which we did five minutes later across the street in O’Keefe Lane.  Right towards the end of our conversation, Mini Mansions had started their set, so when our conversation was over I headed back to the stage.

Mini Mansions live at Yonge-Dundas Square on June 19, 2010

Mini Mansions live at Yonge-Dundas Square on June 19, 2010

A trio of instrument flip-floppers that always kept their auxiliary tools close at hand (and sometimes right on their backs), Mini Mansions is a band that weirds you out like you just witnessed a surrealist car crash and makes you move your head to every peculiarity of their sound (and there are a lot).  As if in an act of sonic anesthetization, Michael Shuman would paralyze the crowd with a psychedelic guitar introduction and then carry the rest of a song standing up, playing a minimalist drum-kit that prompted partnered dancing and a swaying mass. For me, their re-imagination of Blondie’s “Heart of Glass” was like a synesthetic tie-dying of the original hit. I felt like I was on a checker boarded New Wave island surrounded in every direction by an ocean of ever-changing colours, waves brushed with the vibrancy of 1979.

When they were done, I left Yonge and Dundas Square to find a washroom across the street in the Eaton Centre.  It’s not a place I frequent on my trips to Toronto, but since I didn’t see any Johnny-on-the-spots I went there and tried my luck with the consumer-friendly Sistine Chapel. This “minor” detour made me late for The Soft Pack.

When I finally made it back, I found that a large portion of the crowd – which earlier in the day had cowered at the cloud coverage – had taken to seeking shade in the square and finding a good place to sit down and lay back while The Soft Pack did their thing. By then it was past four o’clock, and feeling four hours of standing was a lot, I joined in this practice.  Not much of a stage theatrics band, I felt like this would suffice anyway.  I coveted the back supporting chairs and umbrella shaded comfort of the seating in the beer gardens to the left of the stage, but not willing to pay ten bucks a drink, I avoided that awkward conversation and sat on the ground.  There was still some sway-dancing going on in the small crowd in front of the stage, but I felt like this band was perfect for situations like my own.  The Soft Pack is chill out music, the kind of thing you want a lawn chair and a cooler to enjoy properly.

DD/MM/YYYY live at Yonge-Dundas Square on June 19, 2010

DD/MM/YYYY live at Yonge-Dundas Square on June 19, 2010

Eventually The Soft Pack got off the stage – maybe a little bitter about the crowd response – and DD/MM/YYYY got on.  The crowd for this band was a head bobbing and foot stomping horde, feet pounding the ground weirdly in sync with a sound that made you feel like you were in some avant-garde space station of an entirely different galaxy.  With dual drummers and keyboard technicians that played opposite one another, I felt like the performance I was watching was more a struggle between band members to communicate with each other than a concert – members engaged in a kind of tribal sound-speak that involved shouting one syllable at a time while methodically hammering their respected instruments.

Surfer Blood came on and the crowd got back into a sway-dancing fix.  DD/MM/YYYY interrupted that with their more spontaneous sound, but I was convinced that whoever was in the ranks for Mini Mansions and The Soft Pack had made sure they stuck around to catch Surfer Blood on time; rocking back and forth was not an option, but a way of life for these people – they were born to sway, and Surfer Blood would know it!

Wavves live at Yonge-Dundas Square on June 19, 2010

Wavves live at Yonge-Dundas Square on June 19, 2010

Next up was Wavves.  Fucked Up’s Damian “Pink Eyes” Abraham introduced these guys after Surfer Blood’s set, saying that the second “v” stood for “voluptuous,” and if you are of the opinion that time is money, you would have agreed with him.  These guys seemed rich on time – that is, they were certainly in no rush to get off the stage – perhaps in no rush to do anything.

Quoting Pauly Shore one-liners between every song, I could feel the patience of the crowd evaporating – with crowd numbers growing at an exponential rate, it was getting to be quite the mob. I should say here that I have no qualms with the great and powerful Shore, but if you’re a stoner surf-punk band that happens to be opening for a band like The Stooges and you try to steal the show, even the most drug addled and sun drunk crowd member will be on the verge of endorsing the same level of maturity and authority as the clerks in the convenience store scene of Encino Man.

In modern times, perhaps it was their perpetuation of the lazy, spaced out stoner stereotype that earned them the indignant crowd they faced.  Either way, with songs that made you feel the way you do on joy rides, I was having trouble understanding why they didn’t stick to their music—such a commitment alone could have sustained a friendly crowd. C’est la vie.

The Raveonettes live at Yonge-Dundas Square on June 19, 2010

The Raveonettes live at Yonge-Dundas Square on June 19, 2010

Between Wavves and The Raveonettes’s sets, it became very apparent that garage punks Sune Rose Wagner and Sharin Foo had made quite a name for themselves in Ontario’s capital, as the stage technicians were receiving hollers as they prepped the stage for the Danish duo.  That was confirmed when they got on stage with some extra stage presence (The Raveonettes often borrow help to deliver the sound they want to broadcast) and practically the entire square cheered to let the band know they’d been waiting.  While they combined elements of folk guitar and airy trance sounds or trip hop drum beats with Cure-reminiscent guitar and near-whispered lyrics, the crowd responded by making the atmosphere a little hazier, as a thick cloud of pot smoke meshed with the fog from the band’s fog machine in front of the stage.  When Wagner shot out a distorted guitar bend and the strobe lights responded I just closed my eyes and let the colours in my eyelids play with my mind. It was like driving down a highway in cottage country, the light making its way between the trees for the brief moments you spent passing it; delivering you to some completely different level of alertness.

With hundreds of late comers filtering in throughout The Raveonettes’ set and still more coming, once Pink Eyes got off the stage, saying farewell to the crowd presumably to find himself some space to watch the band from and the bumper music initiated, premature mosh pits ensued.

This is the part of the night where you take your wallet from your back pocket and stuff it far down one in the front.  You trust no one, and try your damnedest to hold your ground.  About six rows of people from the barrier in a crowd of thousands, I was playing a game where I had my territory—meager as it was—and I wasn’t going to give it up, no matter how much another person might have felt they deserved it.  This one guy, he got his right leg in front of my left one, trying to wedge his way in front of me from behind me to the left.  You just make these people feel awkward, and they leave you alone. I didn’t look at him ­– he kept trying for about a minute and I just kept all other possible entry points covered – and then he stopped, extracting his leg probably the most miserably lame experience he’d had in a long time.

Iggy and the Stooges live at Yonge-Dundas Square on June 19, 2010

Iggy and the Stooges live at Yonge-Dundas Square on June 19, 2010

Only into the first song of the night, at the climax of “Raw Power,” Iggy leaned over the crowd right in front of the barrier.  I was still pretty close at this point, and I could have taken a decent picture if it weren’t for the tempest-like conditions of the pit.

It’s hard to imagine finding anyone you know when you’re in the heart of Toronto’s biggest mosh pit in forty years, but within only two songs I had run into four old friends – some of them people I’ve known since elementary school.  These interactions were short, and they all went the same: we grabbed one another by the shoulders, shaking each other like we’d met in some old war, yelling out opposing names and then “Iggy Pop!” and as if satisfied with each other’s upbringings and consequential musical bents, parted – within seconds engulfed by the beast that was the pit.

After “Cock In My Pocket” – The Stooges’ fifth song of the night – Iggy took a break to address the crowd.  “Now… now… now… I feel lonesome.  I want the entire crowd on the stage! Mathematically impossible, but through the power of emotion! You, you in front come here. Don’t worry about the bouncers, they’re cool. Come on. Come on, let… let ’em up. Come on, we need dancers… wild Canadians.  Do we have any wild Canadians in the wings? come on!”  And the band broke out into “Shake Appeal.”

If I have heard a better incitement of pandemonium, my memory certainly failed me then, as it does now.  When he said “Mathematically impossible,” he might as well have said “morally impossible.”

As far as I can tell, the only physically possible way for a human being to bypass a mass of fans in order to make it over a barrier and onto a stage is by way of Ye Olde Crowde Surfe.  The thing about crowd surfing is, it only works when there are people to keep the body afloat, and under normal conditions, it’s easy to find that leg-up that will get you above the crowd.  However, when The Stooges, various inebriants, and a three-minute song are all factors facing a sea of thousands who were just told to get on stage with the aforementioned godfathers of punk; the altruism of the concert-goer is hard to find: forget finding a leg up, let alone people with enough care to sustain your buoyancy.

I myself tried to get above the crowd, but I failed for the reason I have just described – there is not much reasoning to be had with a mob.

By the time “Shake Appeal” was over, there were about fifty fans making their way off of the stage. Iggy let them get off the stage and dove right into “1970.”

I stayed in the pit up until “Death Trip” and then I had to get out.  I’d seen a water fountain to the right of the stage earlier in the day and the only thing I wanted above Iggy Pop was water, so I went for it.  I was fully aware it might end up being a long wait, but when I got there I saw that there was no line and I took the time to fill up a water bottle.  “Death Trip” didn’t end much longer after, and then Iggy announced that the band would play a ballad, so when they got to playing “Open Up and Bleed” I continued my break from the pit.  When finished that song, the band got off the stage and I swore under my breath.  “These guys better play an encore” I thought, “there’s no way they end a show on a ballad.”  Sure enough, the crowd cheered, and they got their just desserts.

The Stooges played through “Loose,” “Fun House,” “No Sense of Crime,” and all the while the pit seeming completely revitalized.  But, having announced just before “No Fun” that the band would be playing its last song of the night, a whole new level of mayhem ensued.

“No Fun” was infamously covered by The Sex Pistols as their last song ever performed just before their breakup in 1978.  At the end of that performance, Johnny Rotten laughed at the crowd, saying “Ahaha, ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated? Good night!” but I have a hard time believing that anyone present for The Stooges’s own performance of the number left anyone feeling cheated.  I felt like everything had come full circle.

Iggy had the last words, “Well ladies and gentleman, and children of all ages: it’s been fun, it’s been real, and now: I gotta go get drunk!  So let’s hear you sing along with me…No fun!  No Fun!  No fun…”

Stooges Setlist:

Raw Power

Kill City

Search and Destroy

Gimme Danger

Cock In My Pocket

Shake Appeal

1970

Beyond the Law

I Got A Right

I Wanna Be Your Dog

Your Pretty Face Is Going to Hell

Death Trip

Open Up and Bleed

Encore:

Loose

Fun House

No Sense of Crime

No Fun

 

(Originally published by Truth Explosion Magazine on June 20, 2010)

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)