It didn't matter if you came out looking for punk, pop, hip-hop or celebrity children, the first night of NXNE had something for everyone.
Forget compasses, GPS, or helpful Sherpas. From June 11 to 17, Torontoist is here to be your guide to everything NXNE.
The first night of NXNE may have got off to a bumpy start, with the sudden cancellation of the hip-hop showcase at The Rivoli, but thankfully a night full of strong performances helped make up for it.
Pre-Show Hype: Minimal. Minutes before the show began there were only a few people in the pub.
Performance: Engaging, if not for slightly uneven sound quality.
Best Moment: “Come closer.” The gig became much stronger and intimate once the crowd was invited to come a few steps nearer to the band.
Miscellaneous: The Tavern’s grand piano sounded great—a very nice touch for this set.
Verdict: Very easy-going music and a nice way to enter NXNE—check them out if you’re looking for something calming or an album to listen to on a long car ride home.
Pre-Show Hype: Growing by the minute as show-time approached. The word appeared to be out on this one, as an empty room became a bustling hotspot in an instant. There were likely more than a few rubberneckers in attendance curious to see if Scout WIllis (yes, daughter of Demi Moore and Bruce Willis) was capable of carrying a tune.
Performance: The duo, backed by a bassist and drummer who apparently don’t warrant additional ampersands in the band’s name, ambled through ragged blues-tinged numbers that straddled a pleasing line between rock and country. While the temptation for most may be to dismiss the group as the mere dalliance of a spoiled celebrity daughter, Scout’s voice carried a soulful tone that lent itself perfectly to the genre. She still has a reluctant stage presence (perhaps owing to her age), with a tendency to pick her fingernails or hook her thumbs into her Daisy Dukes when not singing. And there’s something about her relationship with baby-faced Gus that seems tailor-made for an upcoming reality television show. At face value, though, a solid festival appearance.
Best Moment: It was poised to be the tender kiss that Scout planted on Gus’S cheek after one of his barn-burning solos, until she later finished the set by rewarding him with a full-on lip-lock. Possibly a great conclusion to an episode of the aforementioned hypothetical reality show?
Miscellaneous: Even drummer Noah seemed surprised when he was introduced by Scout as “the baddest motherfucker you’ll ever meet.”
Verdict: The girl can sing. Though there are rough edges to be polished, this remains a combination to keep an eye on.
Pre-Show Hype: Strong—the venue had a healthy number of people before the show started (and the excitement was definitely showing).
Performance: Solid, boosted by the choice of a small venue. These guys could definitely benefit from including an instrumental or two in their set though.
Best Moment: Announcing “we’re going to slow it down a bit” and then launching into what was essentially a dance-inducing jam.
Miscellaneous: The disco lights added nicely to the atmosphere.
Verdict: The venue was a perfect choice for this set—intimate and small enough to fill up with their sound easily. The instrument transition in the last two songs made the set worth seeing, though it would have been even better if they had boosted the sound of the mics.
Pre-Show Hype: Pretty much nil. We were actually there to see The Lytics, but there was a schedule change.
Performance: If there’s one problem with NXNE-type festivals, it’s that the acts don’t always blend together very well. For example, it would be hard to imagine a worse lead-in for Tess’ dance-pop flavoured R&B than the testosterone-laden aggro-rap of Tomasi. That said, the New York–based songstress did a great job of playing the hand she was dealt: stretching her voice to the limit, coming into the shy Toronto crowd, dancing until she was dripping in sweat, and breaking into tears on one of the slower, more emotional numbers.
Best Moment: Undoubtedly when she covered The Police’s “Roxanne,” then passed the mic to the audience during the chorus.
Miscellaneous: Her back-up singer, Jack Fuller, has a powerful enough voice that he could easily be a leading act in his own right.
Verdict: The next time Tess plays Toronto, it will be on a much, much larger stage.
Pre-Show Hype: Fairly palpable. One of those Canadian bands deserving of a wider audience, they released their second album, Goodnight My Dear… I’m Falling Apart to strong reviews earlier this year. As singer Jonathan Chandler remarked at one point, the venue appeared to be filled with the familiar faces of loyal fans, but also some new converts.
Performance: The strength was all in the delivery, as the sextet provided the kind of loose and fun set that can only develop with hard work and time. With offerings that ranged from jangly, earnest anthems like “Slow as the Weather” to melancholy-laced slow burners, they nearly all succeeded in hitting their desired mark. Each band member brought his or her own invaluable contribution to the mix.
Best Moment: It’s hard to pull off an effective background vocal sing-along with any audience, let alone one in Toronto, but this improbable feat was achieved to satisfying results.
Miscellaneous: The band has generously made the new album available as a free download on their website.
Verdict: A great way to get the festival started and another reminder of the level of talent flying under the radar in Canada.
Performance: It’s hard for a band to live up to that kind of expectation, but Teenanger managed to pull it off. Their jam-packed half-hour set was fast and tight, and lead vocalist Chris Swimmings’ nasal vocals were loud enough to rattle your chest. They didn’t talk between songs, but they did drink, spit, sneer, and generally kick ass.
Best Moment: Any time Swimmings spat into the crowd.
Miscellaneous: When they finished their set, they pretty much just dropped their gear and walked off stage.
Verdict: Teenanger is loud, snotty, obnoxious, and pretty much everything you’d ever want from a punk band.
Performance: The Detour had a healthy (though not capacity) crowd when we arrived at midnight, and Teen Violence was already into their set. Frontman Marcus Wanka and lead guitarist Geoff Albrecht were joined by a bassist and very capable drummer for a four piece set-up, and the crowd seemed appreciative, though not initially pressing the stage. The first full song we heard was “The Only Way (We’ll Stay Together),” which had some unison vocals from the two regular members, and a decent surf-pop vibe. Our initial impression: punkier Monkees.
Best Moment: After several invites to dance or come closer, Wanka got the crowd to close the gap for their final three songs, all new (“These are fresh! Fresh as hell!”), two minute miracles.
Miscellaneous: “I like the Everly Brothers” announced Wanka mid-way through the set, and sure enough, their ’50s/’60s sound was worn heart-on-sleeve. Also, their horizontally striped attire made an impact.
Verdict: A strong first impression. While their 7-inch wasn’t on hand as they’d planned, that recording and a second EP are in the pipeline, as well as two videos. We’ll be keeping tabs on them.
Pre-Show Hype: Minimal.
Performance: Blake Carrington is a machine. His stage presence borders on epic. He jumps around like an over-sugared toddler, but doesn’t let it affect his smooth, measured delivery in the slightest. He managed to occupy every inch of The Crawford’s tiny stage (seemingly at once), did a masterful job of engaging the crowd, and did it all without ever seeming to tire.
Best Moment: When Carrington invited MC/producer Rich Kidd on stage with him. Kidd was supposed to headline the cancelled SmashMouth showcase at The Rivoli, so it was good to get to see him get a little stage time.
Miscellaneous: Carrington was actually supposed to go on stage at midnight. Remember what I said about hip-hop standard time?
Verdict: Young rappers should watch Carrington and take notes. He may be one of the best live performers in hip-hop right now.
Pre-Show Hype: Minimal.
Performance: Things got off to a rough start when technical difficulties forced the band to stop twice during their opening song. Thankfully, their performance was worthy of the crowd’s patience. Elsa Gebremichael’s smooth vocals combined nicely with electro dance beats and guitarist Ash Lamothe’s rock infusion.
Best Moment: “Islands,” off their upcoming album, Pyramids
Miscellaneous: Gebremichael used to be in a band called From Chimpan-A to Chimpan-Z.
Verdict: This young prairie duo has a lot going for them.
This post originally referred to the back-up singer for Tess by a nickname; his full name, Jack Fuller, has been added above.