NXNE 2014 Preview: Pop and Rock
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NXNE 2014 Preview: Pop and Rock

For our 2014 pop and rock ‘n roll picks, the lion’s share are playing the festival’s larger venues, like Yonge & Dundas Square (as part of a free concert series that’s proved immensely popular) and the newly rebranded Sennheiser Room at Massey Hall. There will still (of course) be plenty of terrific acts playing smaller venues—Toronto’s own Andre Ethier, will be at the Smiling Buddha Bar on Thursday night, a recently reinvigorated Lovely Feathers at the Dakota Tavern on Thursday at midnight, and shapeshifting Montreal act Xiu Xiu at the Great Hall on Friday night. But these acts below are the ones we think you’ll want to anchor your evening around, while taking a chance on lesser known acts at other venues in between.


When: Thursday, June 19, 8 p.m.
Where: Massey Hall (178 Victoria Street)

When: Saturday, June 21, 2 p.m.
Where: The Great Hall (1087 Queen Street West)

Heading into 2014, we were pretty sure Toronto’s Weaves would be a band to watch. And we were right—because the band has spent the first half of 2014 being lauded by Rolling Stone and just about every other online music publication. The members of Weaves seem to be constantly experimenting with songs, no two of which sound similar, and the band has proved impossible to pigeonhole into a genre—but if we’re talking about “pop,” well, it cannot be denied this band has certainly become popular (plus they do like to use crunchy guitars more often than not). You’ll want to check out this (still-new) local band—we think you’ll want to be able to say you “saw ’em when.”


When: Thursday, June 19, 10 p.m.
Where: Massey Hall (178 Victoria Street)

Merrill Garbus draws on all sorts of creative influences for the bubbling melting pot that is tUnE-yArDs: a background in puppetry, time spent studying Haitian drumming, and even a few years in the Montreal music scene. Her third album, Nikki Nack, released last month, is as delightfully eccentric as her debut, Bird-Brains, was—but just a bit more polished and self-assured (and seemingly ukulele-free, with Garbus focusing on vocals and percussion). If you want to rock out to the sort of artist who tweaks the aesthetics of Pee-wee’s Playhouse for the first video from her album, and who takes performing seriously enough to apply “war paint” for most gigs, then this is the show for you.


When: Saturday, June 21, 9 p.m.
Where: Yonge and Dundas Square (1 Dundas Street East)

Britt Daniel and the boys of Spoon, more than just about any other band out there, have got rock hooks down to a science—mathematically correct, as it were. Spoon’s been quiet the past few years, since 2010’s Transference, and Daniel has been working on projects like Divine Fits, his collaboration with Montreal’s Dan Boeckner. But shortly after they were announced for NXNE, the band revealed details of a new album scheduled for August entitled They Want My Soul, and they debuted opening track “Rent I Pay” on June 10. They’re the highest-profile act playing the free Yonge-Dundas Square showcase series, even when compared to heavily buzzed acts like St. Vincent (playing Friday night) and Mac DeMarco (who opens for Spoon).


When: Saturday, June 21, 10 p.m.
Where: Massey Hall (178 Victoria Street)

We like to lay claim to Rhye as a Toronto act, what with singer Mike Milosh—he of the otherworldly falsetto and honey-smooth crooning—being a native. But Milosh and his Danish collaborator Robin Braun have been based in L.A. for a while now, so hometown gigs have been rare. Their debut album, Woman, was on many best-of-2013 lists, and its sultry sounds have become a popular choice for make-out sessions.

Courtney Barnett

When: Friday, June 20, 12 a.m.
When: Saturday, June 21, 12 a.m.
When: Sunday, June 22 10 p.m.

Where: The Silver Dollar Club (486 Spadina Avenue)

Last year at NXNE, it was garage rocker Mikal Cronin who held court for three nights at the Silver Dollar. This year, the weekend residency goes to Australia’s Courtney Barnett, whose introspective lyrics are melded with sunny jams that recall both Sheryl Crow and Pavement. If you make some time for them at NXNE, you’ll hear just what Pitchfork, NME, and other outlets are buzzing about: fuzzed-out chords and clever stream-of-consciousness humour.