Scene and Heard is all over local music news, concert announcements, record releases and festivals like a cheap rug. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to send hot scoops and band gossip.
NXNE is now officially over and I feel like a giant skin bag of garbage. Writing will be minimal. Happy vibes will be a-plenty. Wonderful times were had.
On Saturday afternoon I went to see former Haligonians (and former neighbours) The Danger Bees play in a bordello, apparently:
However the band's high-energy set cut through the vulpine atmosphere and had our heads bobbing. Their brand of crackly indie-pop is grungier than I expected and pretty irresistible. Also - and this is another weird embarrassing Toronto thing - the keyboard player from Moist walked in and I pretty much had a heart attack. He was my favorite Moist member, many moons ago. I kept looking at him (he was digging the band) and texting my friend about it and then I realized I was completely regressing and talking about Moist, and I had to leave. Immediately.
Rode to an ace barbecue, prepared by my lovely pal Lisa:
Then we found out the news that the Radiohead stage collapsed. With the potential influx of 40,000 pissy people headed to Yonge/Dundas square for the Flaming Lips show, we decided to re-route ourselves (I have issues with crowds after a simultaneous pickpocketing/bum-squeezing incident in West Africa a few years ago.) More CanCon. Limblifter reunion! First though, we had to sit through one of the worst bands I've ever seen. I will not mention their name, but their arrhythmic baby-music-filtered-through-unpracticed-Animal Collective-spasticity-vibe forced us outside, where we watched an old drunken man stop, listen to the band for a minute, and throw his head back in unrestrained and cruelly mocking laughter. "I am missing Bloodhouse and the Flaming Lips coming out of a giant vagina right now," we muttered.
Then there was a cute duo called Shellshag. They looked like faintly crunchy, possibly vegan punks, and played simple, sweet little songs about love and magnets. Although the female drummer kept losing the beat on her stripped-down kit, I found her cymbal substitutes - a chain of bells wrapped around her legs and ankles that clanged when she jumped - pretty endearing. They were also from Brooklyn. "I wonder what kind of life these guys lead in Brooklyn," my friend mused.
I had to pee so fucking badly through Limblifter's set that to be honest I can't really attest to how they were. They sounded decent, considering that only one original member - Ryan Dahle - was representing. Sloan's keyboard player, who was assuming guitar duties, wore a Sappy hat. I really tried to stay up front for "Tinfoil" but the pee issue was too much and I ended up hearing it from the back of the bar with two sad friends who had traveled from Montreal for Radiohead and were, in their words, "drinking haterade."
Then the Breastfeeders came on! I have missed this band about 800 times so we were happy to see them. And yep they're pretty much the best. Best outfits, best vibe, best dancing. Whiskey.
Let's fast-forward through most of Sunday, where I endured horrible abuse and suplexes from my seven-year-old nephew, who has bestowed me with the flattering nickname "Uncle Female", and go straight to Sneaky Dee's, where I sweated profusely (pattern!) and watched the last band of the festival for me, a Halifax band, CROSSS. They were looking pretty fresh considering they were on the end of a tour or two. Rhythm mates Ryan Allen and Nathan Doucet were quite excellent, and Andy March's vox spooked and calmed. What a great way to close off this crazy week/weekend.
I have to get back to work, and the crazy guy across the street is playing "When the Saints Come Marching In" on his flute across the street, the way he does when it threatens to rain. All is right in the world.
I'll try and keep this one short because I know you get bored easily and breakfast is calling my name. After biking nearly 15K on Thursday night we decided to stick at one venue the next night. First we met up with some familiar faces at the Exclaim!/Jagermeister BBQ, where free samples were indeed offered and enjoyed. The HPX folks and I marveled at our unintentionally matching tangerine t-shirts. We piled on the lanyards and did our best douchey pose. As there were many actual douches afoot, it was easy to do.
Then a slow stroll down College, where A Taste of Italy was in full swing. This meant steak sandwiches:
And a packed street, closed off to traffic:
And fife bands (loads of fifes! EVERYWHERE.) And little kids jamming with their dads on the street.
We rolled to the venue covered in sweat. I got a beer and realized I didn't smell too great. Whoops. Then METZ started and the entire world imploded.
Not only were METZ the best band I saw that night but I'm pretty sure they will be the best band I see for the rest of this festival. Sorry, everyone else. Recently and rightfully signed to Sub Pop to record their first record, METZ are piercing hellfire, gnashing skrokky punk, perfect screams, and the wildest, most electrifying presence I've seen in ages. I don't know what else to say. It was unreal. This is the feeling I've been chasing and it was buried in METZ's black scratchy heart the entire time.
The Men came on next and the room filled up. Sweat dripped from the ceilings and down my spine as I watched these capable fellows bust out a set of pure fierce rawk. Pages torn from the Dinosaur Jr songbook, and when I say that, I'm including the heavy influence of classic rock and tasty guitar solos in general - my husband astutely stated that they were a group of punk dudes who never quite shook off their parent's Deep Purple and Creedence playlists on summer car trips. Solid solid set. No photos due to moisture.
Then the Death Set came on. They are basically the Australian Japanther. Not quite the same but you get the idea. The somewhat-emptier room turned into a giant joy-dance mosh pit. We fell into tables and people were flying all over the place. Uncomplicated but very fun, and a great way to round out the night.
So yesterday kind of became the anti-NXNE day (sorry, festival organizers). First off, England was facing Sweden, so there was no way I was going to miss that.
So after about four hours of watching the game at The Duke of York and eating a pretty hefty meal of bangers and mash (England!!!) I headed down to The Burroughes building at Queen and Bathurst to watch the Skate 4 Cancer benefit show.
S4C’s concert wasn’t technically part of NXNE, but it was certainly during the same week, so that has to count for something, right? Also, I liked the lineup more than most of the concerts going on at the surrounding venues, with acts Dusted, Great Bloomers and The Wooden Sky fitting the bill.
It was also a pretty unusual venue to see a concert in. From what I can understand, The Burroughes Building was an old furniture warehouse way back in the day, but since then all seven of it’s floors have been converted into loft style workspaces, with the top floor being used primarily for galas and receptions. The building also has a rooftop patio and dance floor, which was worth the price of admission alone to see the Toronto skyline that high up at night.
I was a little skeptical of how the concert would turn out at first. I think S4C is a great cause and I hope if you’re reading this you’ll click on the link posted above and give them a look, but something about the event screamed a little bit too much Toronto hipster for me, being that the bar was purely Pabst Blue Ribbon.
I had never had PBR before that night, but I had always heard two things about it. 1: People who drink it are trying to seem cool. 2: If someone likes the taste they are a lying, because it tastes like a Budweiser took a piss in your mouth after eating asparagus for dinner. I now understand that both of these statements are true. I’m hungover and I only had four drinks over a five hour period. Damn you, PBR!
So early on after the doors opened Dusted took the stage (which was actually just the front of the loft tapered off with electrical wiring). I had never heard of Dusted before this week, but they had been getting a lot of buzz at NXNE and had been hitting multiple venues during the festival. They were a pretty cool band. I think the crowd could have been a bit more responsive, but as a guitar and drums duo they were super fun to watch. The drummer in particular was interesting because he played multiple synthesizers while wailing on the drums, which is obviously a pretty dexterous endeavor. Near the end of the set I realized the guitarist was in Holy Fuck, but at this point I’m too tired to continue researching if I am correct in that assumption.
Great Bloomers hit the stage ten minutes after that to play one of the best and biggest shows I’ve ever seen them perform.
I’ve caught them in Halifax over the years and if you saw them open for The Hold Steady two years ago, this show was quite a bit bigger and rowdier. This band seems to be a magnet for extremely drunk girls dancing uncontrollably at the front of the stage and this night was no exception. The band played a mix of songs off their new album (which I think frontman Lowell Sostomi said will be wrapped up next week and should be coming out soon) and a surprisingly good amount of old ones. The old ones in particular sounded amazing and had a lot more depth live than their original recordings.
After a short break The Wooden Sky came on to a crowd that had thinned out a bit over the evening as people broke off to see more NXNE shows. The band sounded great as usual, but something about the loft space weirdly didn’t do the band’s sonic palette justice with a bit of the more atmospheric numbers being muddled out over the crowd. They did a trio of pretty tight covers at the end of the show with Nirvana’s “All Apologies” and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ “Last Dance with Mary Jane” and “American Girl”. It was a pretty great performance and I hope next time they swing through Halifax they get posted at St. Matthews because they would kill that place.
I was then offered a ticket to see Radiohead, so I decided to head home and get some rest to prepare for the 36,000-person crowd at Downsview Park on Saturday.
And with that, goodbye NXNE! I wish I could see more of you, but duty calls!
Woke up on Thursday feeling a little fuzzy, but there was another Cold Warps show at 2pm so there was no time to dither around, moaning.
We headed down to JangBang Bar and Grill, a tiny little spot that serves Korean tacos. There we sat in a fog of booze sweat and found a clutch of Halifax folk, including the estimable and babely Shannon Webb-Campbell and Stephanie Johns. Army Girls opened up. These Blocks Recording Club kids have been getting lots of buzz in T.O. and justifiably so, I think. Lead singer/guitarist Carmen Elle is a ripper and oozes easy, unassuming cool. As Steph and Shannon walked in she was playing the guitar behind her head as easily as brushing her teeth, and the room kind of gasped around me, and I'm pretty sure I was grinning like a fool. Good times, Army Girls. Listen to the jams here.
Then Cold Warps played again, and did very well, considering they were probably more tired than I was and had to drive to Sarnia later that day. A bunch of folks who had been at the show the previous evening at Parts and Labor were there, I noticed. We danced. It ruled.
After a bit of a rest stop at home, we headed out again to check out Hind Legs - backed up by Alex Currie and Jenna Empey of Fuck Montreal - at Rancho Relaxo. Again there were tons of Halifax folk around and it was super fun. We also enjoyed a slice of Massimo's pizza, which I have been craving since I first moved here.
Then we biked to the Drake Hotel. I am not the biggest fan of the Drake. The drinks are expensive as hell and it feels like everyone is coolly appraising each other and no one laughs. But we were intrigued by the possibility of catching B L A C K I E, who the internet described as both "harsh-wave" and "the Hulk to Gil Scott-Heron's Bruce Banner" (props to Little Red Umbrella on that one!) First we had to sit through the Toronto group Doom Squad. I wondered if their name was a cute play on Jennifer Egan's A Visit From the Goon Squad and then I realized I didn't care. Rather than attempt to describe the band, I will share a photo of my notes:
Then we watched B L A C K I E set up his own sound system, which appeared to be a bunch of heavy duty amps piled on top of each other. Dude took off his shirt and tapped his foot with his back to us for awhile. Then he hit play on his iPod and BOOM. YELL YELL YELL! Lyrics I can't decipher! Chest and head beating! Seems very angry! Getting in your face! Grinding on the floor! Jumping around fuck! Very sweaty indeed!
This one was taken right after he kicked a glass candle holder off a table and smashed it.
For someone described as an "affirmative rapper" this guy seemed really angry. My companion accurately described him as the best hardcore frontman without a band that he'd ever seen. It felt like he was yelling about important, genuine stuff, but over the wall of noise-grime and his screams, I couldn't understand it. While I was glad I saw a bit of B L A C K I E, there is only so much of this type of shit that I can take in an hour. In some ways I am very grateful that this anti-music spectacle happened at the Drake. We left and giggled as a woman in high heels and a fancy dress and a man in a pressed suit walked jovially down the stairs, completely unaware of what they were walking into.
Then we biked to the Velvet Underground for Cousins. Lots of Halifax stuff going on! I guess that means I miss Halifax. There was also a decent buzz for Cousins' set (they were due to play at 2am that night too, and are playing again tonight at a $30 BBQ on Manning Street.)
There were some sound issues and guitar shit happening but Aaron and Leah were typically charming about it and the audience loved them. There was a fortyish guy who looked like Michael Douglas in Falling Down beside me wearing shirt buttoned up to his collar and a black tie, and he was looooving it, fist-pumping and whooping it up.
Then we went to the El Mocambo to check out A Place to Bury Strangers. Billed as the "loudest band in New York," we were duly stoked, as was the packed room. The first song was pretty insane - heavy bass and propulsive drumming, crazy spooky lights and a weird thrum that exploded into wild, Jesus and Mary Chain-style guitar histrionics. Not a lot of vocals. They are like uber heavy weird post-rock. Cool stuff, especially if you like weed, but not something I would put on while cleaning the house. As the guitarist and bass player scraped their instruments against the ceiling of the venue, I was pretty enthralled. As the set continued and each song sounded progressively the same, I was less enthralled. Then a bunch of drunk girls kept falling over and we left.
Then at last we went to the Silver Dollar Room to see the band I had been waiting for ALL DAY. I fucking loved Bleached. The two Clavin sisters Jennifer and Jessica - formerly of the mighty Mika Miko - delivered a note-perfect set culled from their three 7", "Searching for the Past," "Carter," and "Squeeze." Perfect sunshine pop-punk with a tiny bit of grit. They also unleashed the sweetest cover of the Misfit's "Horror Business" that I've ever heard. Best band of the day, and they play for two more nights so you (or me, most likely) get to see them again!
Then this adorable girl came up afterwards as we stood outside and handed us demos of her own two-piece band, Puffy Shoes. I'm listening to the CD right now. It's awesome. I thought she was so great that we took a photo together.
Then it was 4am, so we went home and DIED. See you later!
I’ve always been enamoured by Asian music. Well, at least Asian interpretations of Western music. You may or may not remember (probably not) my name-dropping of Japanese kraut-rock enthusiasts Cornelius in 2011's Best of Music year end issue. But my love of Japanese art rock doesn’t stop there. Who could ignore the stoner riffs of glam-metal juggernauts Boris, or the nauseating arrangements of Japanese psychedelic godfathers Boredoms.
But when it comes to Asian pop, I know nothing about the history of rock n’ roll in China. So after picking up my NXNE press pass I headed down to Toronto’s National Film Board headquarters to watch the Canadian premiere of Andrew Field’s Down: Indie Rock in the PRC.
It turns out there was a reason I hadn’t heard of many Chinese rock bands—they didn’t really exist until a few years ago.
The film charts the country's affair with popular music, beginning with a massive performance by Wham! in the mid-1980’s. This is the point when rock n’ roll first reached the People’s Republic of China. Yes, you read that correctly. Wham! brought rock n’ roll to China.
But as society progressed a slew of new punk bands cropped up in China. Drawing influences from Nirvana and Joy Division came bands like Subs, Carsick Cars, Lonely China Day, and PK 14. Even though this sounds like the bill from a high school battle of the bands in 1994, the bands were surprisingly good, delivering a kind of sludgy interpretation of ‘90s slack-rock with production that resembled the punk sheen of At the Drive-In.
It was a pretty eye-opening experience. And with that I went back to my brother’s apartment and picked up some Mamma’s Pizza and fell asleep watching Game of Thrones.
After some pretty lucid dreams involving multiple beheadings and overtly gratuitous incestual sex, my brother and I grabbed something to eat at Whole Foods (because we’re verrry punk rock) and headed down to catch headliners Bad Religion at the free punk showcase at Yonge and Dundas Square.
Now, I grew up in Toronto, but I was never living in the city when Yonge and Dundas made it’s transformation from creepy wasteland into a pseudo-Times Square/cultural hot spot for the city. When I think of Yonge and Dundas, I think of glue-sniffing derelicts trying to rob me outside HMV and people buying drugs at Popeye’s, not free punk rock shows.
Anyways, if you end up heading to the free Matt Good show tonight or Saturday’s Flaming Lips concert, let me give you a tip: don’t arrive three hours after the show has started, because you’re not going to see anything.
No joke, this was the best vantage point I could find. Actually, that’s note true.
This was taken after finding a bunch of garbage to stand on top of. We actually debated going to Milestone’s and getting a seat on the patio four storeys above the venue, but that was even a little too anti-punk rock for two dudes who just had dinner in Yorkville. So yeah, get here early for concerts.
I didn’t get a chance to see Bad Religion when they played the Forum a few years ago, but if I know the Forum, I’m sure it sounded like poop. Nothing against Bad Religion, but a bingo hall with a tin roof usually doesn’t have the best acoustics. But the sound at Y&D was surprisingly clear for a bunch of punk rock blasting through the open air between skyscrapers and LCD televisions. I attribute this to the fact that unlike most punk bands Bad Religion has three guitarists, so they sound pretty freakin' powerful.
For a band that is made up of a bunch of guys in their late 40’s, Bad Religion sounded insanely tight and looked pretty healthy (minus all the balding). There was the usual pointless stage banter that accompanies most punk shows—jokes about Reagan, Celine Dion and Justin Bieber—but there were a few gems amongst all the nonsense. Graffin mentioned that the band had a new album in the works they expect to come out next year (which would be their 16th. Who are they, Yes?) and bassist Jay Bentley said the band’s next tour would be a strictly Canadian endeavour.
And with that we left before the encore to beat the crowd and find a good bar playing the OKC/Miami game, bringing a close to my mostly un-punk rock day of punk rock at NXNE 2012.
Hey guys! I'm doing some NXNE stuff and blogging about it right here. This is my first NXNE EVER so I have no idea what I'm doing. I guess the purpose of the blog is for you to learn from my mistakes.
A really good thing to do before you attend a big multi-day festival in Toronto is not lose all your ID. Unfortunately, I did this during a move across town. Fortunately, I have some wrinkles and a generally harried expression most of the time, so I am using these attributes to help get into bars at the moment.
After I picked up my pass on Wednesday afternoon I went to check out a talk with Sam Sutherland, who writes for Exclaim! and just finished a big book about Canadian punk, and Damien Abraham, who is the lead singer of Fucked Up. For an hour or so they talked about their favorite modern punk bands and their enduring influence. Sometimes when two people talk about punk it can be a bit of a dick-measuring contest, but these guys were hilarious as well as being insanely knowledgeable and articulate. Damien told a story about Henry Rollins ignoring him and then later waving to him from the window of his Prius. "I guess I was the guy whose name he wished he could almost quite remember," he said.
In between stories and jokes they played songs. I had heard about Toronto legends the Viletones before but had never listened to their music, and well, now I'm a fan. Also I didn't realize the lead singer, Steven Leckie, is in American Psycho for a minute.
Afterwards I biked over to College Street for a zine launch. I am still a really shitty biker and by the time I got off the bike and entered the store I was panting like George Wendt. The launch was cute and held in a vintage store, the type of place that had pen and ink drawings of James Brown mugshots on the wall:
After awhile I had eaten all the celery and hummus and I realized I couldn't afford to buy records or vintage clothes, so I left. The zine is called Static Zine and it's fun. You can check it out online here.
Then I went home and Eric and I biked over to Parts and Labor to see COLD WARPS!
My old leathery face got us through the door and into some cold beers. Lots of friendly former Haligonians in the crowd. The bar had a nice scuzzy basement-y type feeling that made us feel right at home. Then the band started and we all jumped around and sang along. A guy kept stepping on my feet so I poured my beer on him. AND WE ALL LAUGHED.
Everyone was dancing and sweating. Paul wore a tank top and kept jumping into the crowd and making wry remarks. A guy beside me kept looking around and grinning beatifically, like he couldn't believe this was happening. I feel like Toronto doesn't see many bands like Cold Warps, so when they do, it's twice as fun. Summer's here!
I missed the second band due to smoking and returned for the K Holes - a wonderfully-named group who performed weird swampy noisy songs that reminded me a bit of Siouxie and the Banshee mixed with Fear. I actually don't know if I liked them or not but they were fun to watch.
Then we biked home and I pretty much died, being a) old and b) slightly drunk. Hopefully we will get better at biking as the week progresses, and hopefully I won't get carded! Stay tuned!