There's so much happening at North by Northeast, it's impossible to catch everything. Here's some of what you missed last night.
North by Northeast got progressively crazier last night, with bands playing late-night shows in the park and people lining up around the block to see a group of very loud, bearded New Yorkers.
Pre-Show Hype: Moderate. The square was full, but with fans or gawkers, we can’t be too sure.
Performance: On-point sound, tight riffs, a seemingly ego-maniacal frontman making visual love to the crowd.
Best Moment: The handsome vocalist glancing down at the camera pit, then strategically propping his foot up on the amp while playing.
Miscellaneous: The drummer is a former member of Broken Social Scene, while the other two members of the band were in The Stills.
Verdict: Performance was lacklustre, but as much can be expected from a Canadian indie band playing a show to a mixed-generation crowd before dinner time.
Pre-Show Hype: Low. Just down the street from this café, Taste of Little Italy was already in full swing—so stepping inside was immediately a quieter affair.
Performance: Strong. Though Atkinson rotates between a number of instruments, her charm really shines through when she’s playing the accordion. The intimate nature of the café also gave her set a real home-like feel.
Best Moment: At one point, her hair started to defy gravity and lifted up on its own. She explained, “My friends say my hair has a different style for each of my songs.”
Miscellaneous: There was one song where she encouraged us to sing along like pirates: “Or as they say in theatre, give a piractical performance. Actually, I don’t think they say that in theatre.”
Verdict: Well worth seeing, and a worthy addition to Free Times Cafe’s singer/songwriter lineup.
Pre-Show Hype: Fairly strong. A band doesn’t come all the way from Australia for nothing, and while they may have had a terrible, early set time, the venue was still three-quarters full.
Performance: No one ever, ever wanted to refer to a band—particularly one as good as DZ Deathrays—as playing “groove metal.” It’s a phrase that brings to mind terrible funk fusion bands and ill-advised side projects. That said, it’s a very accurate way to describe the band’s sound. The self-described “party thrash” duo play music you can both dance to and slam dance to, and do so with the intensity of a nuclear meltdown. Drummer Simon Ridley pounds his instrument as hard as anyone in the game right now, and has the ability to play complex patterns without sacrificing power. Guitarist and vocalist Shane Parsons moves around the stage like a maniac and is capable of generating an almost mind-blowing volume for one man. These guys are just straight-up fun.
Best Moment: When Parsons began slam dancing in the crowd, his guitar still strapped to him.
Miscellaneous: Apparently the band played a party in a park after the show.
Verdict: These guys are your new favourite band, and if they’re not, there may be something wrong with you.
Pre-Show Hype: Surprisingly high. Though the band call Toronto home and shows are not exactly a rare occurrence, the packed house was a good indicator of the strong buzz surrounding them.
Performance: Feeding off the energy in the room, it was an ebullient set that did not disappoint. They may not be the showiest group, but what they lacked in theatricality they made up for in old-fashioned musicianship.
Best Moment: The incessantly catchy guitar line on “Vacationation,” one of the stand-out tracks from their new album, Tosta Mista.
Miscellaneous: Bassist April Aliermo laid down reliably tight grooves while draped in a stunning (and probably toasty) white coat that screamed “rock star.”
Verdict: Not quite best-of-the-fest material but steady and enjoyable nonetheless.
Pre-Show Hype: High. The show was only marginally affiliated with NXNE—the festival’s logo appeared on the poster, but they weren’t on the official roster and only 100 wristbands were accepted—but the venue was still packed to capacity.
Performance: Twenty-one years after they started, the veteran pop punk act—who went on hiatus from 2004–2008—have scarcely lost a step. The band has always been skate punk’s kings of shout-along choruses, and the crowd nearly drowned out vocalist Trever Keith on songs like “Ordinary” and “Disconnected.” Wisely, the set list tended to favour material from the band’s mid-to-late ’90s heyday, although a few songs from their 2010 comeback album, Laugh Now, Laugh Later, did manage to sneak their way in.
Miscellaneous: Trever Keith released two electronic albums under the moniker The Legion of Doom during the band’s mid-00s hiatus.
Best Moment: Keith: “Are there any crusty motherfuckers in the crowd who saw us when we opened for NOFX here in 1993?”
Verdict: Between Thursday’s throwdown at Yonge-Dundas Square and Face to Face’s perfomance last night, it’s been a great week for skate punk in Toronto.
Pre-Show Hype: Through the roof. Word must’ve spread from their Thursday night show, because the lineup outside the bar went nearly to the end of the block.
Performance: The Men isn’t exactly a subtle band name. You’ve got the long hair, shirtless performers, and music powerful enough to rip your face off if you aren’t careful. With the music actually seeming to increase in volume from song to song, intense isn’t even the right word to describe this set. But so it was—a non-stop barrage of guitar and drum solos.
Best Moment: The set at times could be overwhelming, with songs and genres blending together, so that when they finally broke into the accessible “Open Your Heart,” a straight-up rock song and the title track of their latest album, it felt like they were playing an old classic (even though it’s really just a few months old).
Miscellaneous: The audience itself was one of the highlights of this show. Though the venue was hot and packed, people would jump on stage and start dancing, crowd surfers were everywhere, and the front half was a giant mosh-pit. Even those stuck at the back were standing on chairs just to see what was going on. Everyone was into this.
Verdict: See these guys in a small venue while you still can—it feels like they are destined to take over the big-stage festival circuit.
Pre-Show Hype: High. Since signing with Glassnote Records (Mumford and Sons) in the summer of last year, the band released its first album, Time Capsules II, in April.
Performance: It may be unfair to still compare all New York bands to The Strokes at this point, but there is an inherent apathy while on stage that seems endemic to the city. And though the group did still carry that too-cool-for-school attitude about them, it was enlivened by welcome bursts of glockenspiel and whistling. At times, the instrumental stretches veered into a tad too much style over substance, with walls of swirling noise standing in for genuine experimentation.
Best Moment: When lead singer/guitarist Brad Oberhofer instructed the crowd between songs, “On the count of three, everybody make a sound like a dog.” And they did.
Miscellaneous: After an epic closer that began with Oberhofer asking that the stage lights be turned off, things ended rather anticlimactically when he simply announced following the song, “We’re done!”
Verdict: It would be a stretch to deem the performance great, but it was enough to serve notice that the name is one to watch in the future.
Pre-Show Hype: Huge. Phèdre were profiled, interviewed, or at least tipped by just about every publication in town.
Performance: The hype was justified, in terms of spectacle at the very least. Most of the band entered in a procession snaking its way from the back of the venue through the crowd to the stage, waving enormous feather fans. April Aliermo and Daniel Lee were joined by three back-up dancers, plus a few other special guests.
Best Moment: Tough call. Aliermo had a great turn of crowdsurfing; Lee, failing to knock apart a confetti and streamer filled piñata, threw it into the crowd, where it was promptly torn to bits. But our favourite moment was a brief snippet of crowd conversation, where someone said Lee, who was crooning along in his metallic half mask and white sports coat, “sounds like a slowed-down Billy Idol.” Odd comparison, but it totally worked for us.
Miscellaneous: Arowbe of Times Neue Roman emerged from a gold lame coccoon to spit some stellar rhymes over several song in the set. (He’d play with his own band at 2 a.m.)
Verdict: Phèdre’s live show may not quite match the bacchanalia of their first viral video, “In Decay,” but it’s a seriously fun time just the same; Lee, Aliermo, and pals kept the crowd pumped and primed.
Pre-Show Hype: High—though admittedly, the anticipation was more of a curiosity thing. Not many had seen this guy live before, but had heard whispers of his “performance art”–like act.
Performance: Incredible. Let’s set the stage: Maus has worked in bands like Animal Collective and Ariel Pink. He comes out on stage with just a mic—no backing band, just music blasting out of the speakers. He’s quiet at first and then he screams (there’s this reverb effect that makes his vocals echo). And then he goes nuts. He starts running around the stage, punching himself in the face, pulling his hair, even at one point channeling his inner Michael Jackson (that arm-extended-howl)—the sheer energy that he was able to generate with just his body was awe-inspiring.
Best Moment: Most of the set felt like a chamber, with his music and screams blending together to form something like a rave, but then he got to his final song, “Believer,” and for a flash, this alien-like animal on stage felt strikingly human.
Miscellaneous: This was the first time so far that it looked like the crowd might force an encore—alas, the NXNE schedule is tight so it was not to be.
Verdict: Speaking to some of the crowd members after the set showed that reception was split. Some wanted Maus to play instruments, others wanted it to be more like Animal Collective—most, though, were talking about how they had never seen anything like it. At the end of the day, this is a must-see act—an electrifying performance that was unlike anything else at NXNE (and possibly, anywhere).
Pre-Show Hype: Fairly high. Comedy may still be a relatively new addition to NXNE, but the combination of potential nudity and extended bar hours proved a strong draw.
Performance: The comics were slightly hampered by a crowd that was too drunk and talkative to pay attention, but they managed to put on a good show anyway. Host Georgea Brooks-Hancock and special guest judge Alex Tindal did a strong job of keeping things moving, while acts like Diana Love, Keven Soldo and Sarah Hennessey brought some solid material, while creatively avoiding disrobing completely. (Love demanded additional clothes from Tindal, Soldo wore about seven pairs of underpants, and Hennessey wore a helmet, although stripped down to her underwear anyway.)
Best Moment: When Steph Tolev took off her skirt to reveal a massive dildo hanging out of her underwear.
Miscellaneous: There seemed to be a lot of comics heckling other comic for the express purpose of getting them naked.
Verdict: It’s hard to tell jokes in your underwear.
This post originally named the incorrect member of Times Neue Roman who took part in the Phèdre show. It was actually Arowbe, and not Alexander The.