NXNE Festival 2010 round-up – full review and photos
The Festival: North By Northeast (NXNE) 2010
Where: Various venues across Toronto, Ontario, Canada
When: 14-20 June 2010
In One Word: Groundbreaking
North By Northeast 2010 saw Toronto and Canada’s premier music festival move to a whole new level. I first experienced NXNE in 2007 and to see how it’s grown and expanded in just three years has been incredible. Now in it’s 16th year, NXNE is not only Toronto’s premier music festival but also now makes a very strong case for being Canada’s ultimate annual music event. The organizers, staff, artists and all the bands and fans involved deserve an A++, and plenty of gold stars and smiley faces for creating what is now an international showcase festival that Toronto and Canada can be proud of.
My experience at North By Northeast 2010 started a couple of days earlier than most. On Tuesday and Wednesday of NXNE week I checked out NXNEi, which is the new ‘interactive’ element that was introduced to the festival this year. Aside from the free coffee and a couple of interesting conversations with people from out of town, most of what I experienced at NXNEi left me unimpressed. In fairness, it was the first year of NXNEi and I do believe it has a lot of potential. I don’t want to soil this review with mild grumbles about NXNEi, so I’ll save that for my next Editorial Pissings. Let’s just talk about the music, shall we?
Wednesday, 16 June
For those who bought a ticket, or the 200 NXNE pass or wristband holders who got to the Phoenix early enough, NXNE 2010 kicked off with a wicked gig by Eagles of Death Metal. See the full concert review and photos here.
Thursday, 17 June
Thursday was the first full night of NXNE, and blind faith led me to stop in at the Hideout on Queen Street. Bella Clava, “I Didn’t Come Here To Love You” but your music caught me and found its way into my affection chamber. A four piece with vocals being shared between the leading duo of guitarist Steve Suttie and keyboard player Caitlin Dacey, there was plenty of classic rock grime to counter the catatonic honky-tonk chime. Suttie was the showman, noodling on his guitar for solo departures while throwing shapes. Their whole set had me gripped, a real highlight of NXNE 2010.
77’ era Los Angeles punks X at Dundas Square? You bet I was there. Seeing Exene Cervenka, John Doe and co. perform at Dundas Square was a trip.
By 11pm on Thursday I’d found my way back to the College/Spadina block. I stopped in at the El Mo an Silver Dollar but nothing sparked my interest. For some reason I ended up in Comfort Zone where I stuck around till the end of the set from a dreary Toronto bunch called Another Blue Door. Their music was pretty damn depressing, but enjoyably so. Maybe you have to come from Scotland or some other part of Grey Britain to relate. I enjoyed the deadpan banter between songs “this next song is our upbeat dance number…” and there was a similar kind of drab sensibility and dark humour to the vocals.
I headed over to Sneaky Dee’s at midnight to see L.A. noise outfit HEALTH and saw a huge double line-up of people snaking West along College Street outside the venue. This show was a hot ticket, and Sneaky’s was at capacity and not allowing anyone else in – thankfully, I had a friend on the inside and I became one of the lucky ones to catch HEALTH play a mad set. HEALTH maxed out my Thursday night in the best kind of way. Fucking insane.
My mix of catching old and new bands on Thursday night was complete by seeing Montreal old-time punk rockers 222’s at Bovine Sex Club. I’d never heard a thing by the band before but I thoroughly enjoyed this set from these Canadian punk veterans. As old school punk rock goes, the lyrics were pretty smart and lead singer Chris Barry held a captive audience with an engaging, fully committed performance.
I don’t think I could’ve seen a better set of bands in one evening at NXNE if I tried. Thursday was an absolute blast.
Friday, 18 June
Out of pure curiosity, I began my Friday evening by attending Avi Buffalo’s show at The Great Hall. This is one venue I’d never been to before, so that seemed like a good enough reason. So, The Great Hall is pretty neat – an authentic old theatre hall, with seats up top for people to look down on. As for Avi Buffalo? Their ‘freestyle brand of alt rock seemed to fall flat among the sparsely accommodated venue. It was a little awkward and stifled… stuffy. A brief but all too brutal guitar solo rendition of “Star Spangled Banner” was my cue to leave. The band will be playing at the Opera House on 31 July and providing they pull a strong crowd, I’d fancy that gig to be a complete contrast to tonight.
The Mercy Now had made a great first impression and kicked off their set at the Hideout with an explosive start. Perhaps too explosive… moments into their second song of their set, there was a total blackout at the Hideout. Credit to them, the Mercy Now kept on playing in the dark, going fully acoustic… well, until Russ Fernandes’ voice got too hoarse and strained from shouting to be heard. Thankfully, that led to the band gaving up before anything got too kumbayah. A shame about that power failure, I’ll be sure to seek out the Mercy Now in the future.
A good chunk of Queen West had been knocked out by the power-cut but thankfully Bovine Sex Club still had juice. I caught the tail-end of De Staat, from Rotterdam, Holland before watching Queen Kwong. I’d been looking forward to seeing Queen Kwong after hearing some of their tunes on Myspace. It was disappointing to witness Queen Kwong stumble through their set. The band were frustrated and distracted by problems with the sound. They never got into any kind of a groove but the Bovine crowd remained hospitable.
Some typically slow-to-the-point-of-being-non-existent Friday night service by the TTC (Toronto transit) led me to eventually give up on any hope of getting to Bloor street via the Bathurst streetcar, so I hot-footed it up from Queen and made it to Lee’s Palace just five minutes into Japandroids set. Japandroids, a garage rock duo from Vancouver, BC were one of Canada’s greatest exports in 2009 and their popularity continues to swell, deservingly show. Japandroids were unreal and had the whole of Lee’s Palace jumping.
More than have the crowd in Lee’s excited after Japandroid’s set, but those of us who stuck around got to enjoy more great music from another solid Canadian garage duo. Kingston, Ontario’s PS I Love You are a grungier, gnarlier, and fuzzier garage rock monster – well, depending on which stomp boxes Paul Saulnier is using for a particular song. For the last song PS I Love You were joined on stage by Diamond Rings, which is the camp-as-you-like electro-pop solo departure of D’Urbervilles frontman Johnny O’. Diamond Rings, dressed in gold spandex pants, plugged in his strat and pedals and joined in the garage thump of PS I Love You. Great stuff.
Saturday, 19 June
In total contrast to their mildly shambolic Friday night gig at Bovine, I saw Queen Kwong play a strong set under the blazing midday sun at Dundas Square. This second outing (their third and last at NXNE) was tight and got increasingly better with the band seemingly buoyed by the fact that they were both sounding good and could hear themselves properly in their monitors. Queen Kwong are still working on building their set, and it’s evident because it is a bit on the lightweight side. I’m hoping they can come up with more songs of the calibre of their hot n’ dirty thump “Pet”, and the Garbage reminiscent “A Better Bet”, with their debut album set for release by end of this year. [Hear more about Queen Kwong with an interview I did with the singer and star of the band Carre – that’ll be published soon and a link will be added here.]
Before running away from the scorching sun, I stuck around at Dundas Square to catch another band from L.A., Mini Mansions. Mini Mansions were a real surprise package. This trio deliver poperpop with a psychedelic, alternative twist, while a Beatles influence is unmistakable, especially in the harmonies. The band played features Queens Of The Stone Age bassist Michael Shuman who handled lead vocal duties while standing right at the front-centre behind a snare drum, cymbal and floor tom. Flanked by a keyboardist and bassist on either side, Mini Mansions create a surprisingly full sound from such a lo-fi set-up. Mini Mansions have Canadian and US dates for the remained of June and early July – check them out if they’re coming near you this summer.
After escaping the sun for a few hours, I returned to Dundas Square later that night where I saw NXNE headliners Iggy and the Stooges. Epic. Click here for the full review and pictures from Iggy and the Stooges at Dundas Square.
My experience at NXNE 2010 ended by playing in the charity football match at Toronto FC’s stadium BMO Field. What a way to end the weekend! I played in the media team, “The World”, versus “The Rockers”. I played right-back, playing in defence alongside Olympic 3-times medal winner kayaker Adam van Koeverden and went up against players including Brendan Canning of Broken Social Scene and Murray Foster of Great Big Sea. That’s something for me to write a postcard home about. We won on penalties after the match ended 2-2. It was a fun send-off to an outstanding week. After a post-match BBQ and a few more beers I found myself hibernating for a day to catch up on all the lost sleep after all those nights out past 4am in a row.
NXNE 2010 was brilliant and I already miss it. I can’t wait for next year.
© Brian Banks, Editor, Music Vice
NXNE 2010 Photos
Pictures of bands at NXNE 2010 featuring: Bella Clava, HEALTH, Avi Buffalo, Another Blue Door, De Staat, Queen Kwong, 222’s, Diamond Rings, PS I Love You, Japandroids. Click here for pictures of Iggy Pop. Click here for pictures of Eagles of Death Metal. All photos by Brian Banks.