Now that summer 2010 is winding down, I find myself revisiting music-related moments of the past few months. The live music highlight for me was definitely the June weekend I spent in Toronto. I went with some friends to attend the Toronto Island Concert, and we were lucky to have a chance to check out North by Northeast (NXNE) as well. Though I was only there for three days, I cannot even capture all the greatness of the trip in one post. Today I'll talk about NXNE.
I had never heard of NXNE prior to stumbling upon it and quickly learned I had really been missing out. Modeled after Austin's South by Southwest, it is a weeklong extravaganza of music and film that takes place at multiple venues throughout the city (and as an appreciator of cities, Toronto is truly a great place to be). I didn't see any films, though I think they almost all had a musical theme, but I can say the arrangement for performances was innovative and spectacular. From about 9:00PM to 2:00AM, or even later depending on the venue, a new artist would start playing on the hour, each hour. By purchasing a daily or weekly wristband you can stay in one place or explore as many of the roughly 40 different host sites as you can get to. Plus, there is a more traditional outdoor concert each day at Yonge-Dundas Square. Friday's headliner was Sloan, Saturday's was Iggy and the Stooges and it was free!
The scope of the event is incredible. Geographically, the host sites cover a great deal of ground, but the participation of hundreds of artists is what's truly staggering. The lineup includes a bit of the well-established, more of the up and coming, and plenty of the virtually unknown. I find it a great thrill to have the chance to wander into a new bar to hear what could become a new favorite band and be able to do that all night long. While not limited to Canadian acts, the majority come from the country in general, and Toronto in particular. But as a recent popular film shows (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, worth seeing), Toronto has a vibrant, expansive music scene that is more than worthy of such a showcase.
With the vast array of options, it was almost too hard to pick what to see, but we decided to begin our night at the Great Hall, a two-story, historic, multi-purpose cultural facility. The upstairs has a room with a large wood floor and semi-circle balcony, and there, looking a little like Lou Reed and sounding a lot like Neil Young, A.A. Bondy performed a set of Americana-tinged tunes both plaintive and powerful. From there, it was off to the Garrison, which was packed with a huge crowd eagerly awaiting Best Coast. It was so filled we could barely see Bethany Cosentino and company, but the jangly, wistful surf-pop provided a nice soundtrack for us to enjoy a beer in the lounge on a beautiful summer night. Here's a song that will always remind me of this summer:
Best Coast – When I'm With You
Most of the crowd quickly dissipated after the show was over, allowing my friends and I the chance to get a good spot for the Soft Pack. Previously known as the Muslims, the Soft Pack kept the west coast surf vibes, and then kicked the energy up a few notches. They were easily the loudest and most entertaining band I took in that evening. The guys from San Diego may not be doing anything all that complex or intricate, but I dug their genuine desire to play the music they want to and play it with zeal. It was the kind of music that translated well to a festival atmosphere, where making an immediate impression is key. Here's a song that stuck with me:
The Soft Pack – C'Mon
After the sweaty set, we headed over to a more low key bar, the Painted Lady. It was certainly our most bizarre stop of the night. The performers were the Rival Boys, a trio of two guys and a girl. They had a catchy indie rock sound, but perhaps not one well-suited for the burlesque show that suddenly ensued. A woman appeared on the bar wearing an inexplicable ensemble that mixed a pin-up girl and a devil Halloween costume and proceeded to dance and take off most of her clothes. I guess that happens regularly at the Painted Lady, but I'm not sure if the band knew that. I give them credit for continuing to play unfazed as the woman whirled her tassels. Our final stop was the Dakota Tavern, a cool subterranean bar with lots of hanging lights and a saloon feel. The band there was called Young Doctors in Love. This five-piece was another local band, and I really enjoyed the harmonies of their two female vocalists. Both they and the Rival Boys conveyed an infectious sense of excitement to be part of this awesome local event, and I'm sure they will only continue to grow. Check out this footage from the Young Doctor's performance that night:
In short, NXNE rocks.
I had a great time. I highly recommend going – dates in 2011 are June 13 to 19. Check back soon for a little recap of the Toronto Island Concert, which I went to the next day.
Also, you should check out all of the artists mentioned in this post. All highly diggable.
Myspace / Web: