So my first day at North by North-East, having passed on Wednesday's opening night festivities was a lot of fun and set the stage for what hopefully is going to be a great weekend. Last night I caught five bands at three different venues, making fantastic use of my press pass: it was a corking good time!
Arts and Crafts Showcase @ The Courthouse
Obviously, the first band I would catch at NXNE this year was the consistantly mighty Zeus at the predictably high-profile Arts and Crafts showcase at the Courthouse, a venue which I had previously never heard of. Clearly this was one of the places to be Thursday night (A&C being Toronto's indie juggernaut and all) and the show did not really deliver. With a lineup boasting some pretty heavy hitters and a handful of this year's buzzy bands in the form of Zeus, Timber Timbre, Still Life Still, The Most Serene Republic and a secret special guest, who I was told was to be the Stills, this the second Arts and Crafts showcase was peppered liberally with media, musicians and a who's who of the Toronto indie rock scene. Unfortunately the Courthouse is probably the worst venue for such an attractive event with wretchedly poor acoustics that severely marred what would have been an otherwise enjoyable concert in such a visually stunning room. Even the perpetually face-melting Zeus, whom I frequently tout as my favorite local group, found their performance hindered by the offensively inadequate sound at the Courthouse.
Midway through Zeus's set I had already made up my mind that I would not stick it out much longer, because if this monstously badass and moustachioed quartet were having their set diminished in quality by the room, what chance would a groups that I would consider comparitively lightweight like Still Life Still or the Stills have? The calibre of Zeus's performance was predictably very high and even as they ran through a sprited set of their White Album-esque guitar pop, it was very clear that there was something very wrong: they did not seem comfortable with their surroundings, a far cry from the Dakota Tavern that they are used to. This apeared to be more of an obligation to the label than something that they actually wanted to be doing.
Second on the bill was Timber Timbre, whose debut album has made a considerable buzz around town this year and which will be rereleased on A&C later this month. Appearing onstage as a three-piece with a saxophonist, a pedal-steel player and head-honcho singer-songwriter guitarist-bass drummer Taylor Kirk, Timber Timbre seemed to stand a slight better chance against the Courthouse than Zeus, solely on account of their being a much more etheral and minimalist group. I stuck around for about half the set before I booked it out of there. Timber Timbre were very cool and though I had heard the buzz surrounding them, I hadn't listened to their music very much and suffice it to say, I was rather impressed. However, my mind was made up and I decided to high-tail it to the Boat.
The Boat in Kensington Market is, of course, a much smaller venue and this was, of course, a much more low-profile gig featuring several fun indie-pop groups including Arizona, SB favorites Whale Tooth, Built By Snow, Les Handclaps and Cowlick. I managed to stick around for the full sets of Whale Tooth and Built By Snow and both groups put on extremely energetic and tight sets that engaged very well with the boisterous crowd at the Boat.
Whale Tooth are quickly becoming pretty big players in the Toronto Pop scene and their set at NXNE cemented this much-deserved status. Sugary boy-girl harmonies, giddy and spectacularly tight instrumentation and a profoundly sincere attitude had the crowd a-buzzin' with glee. This is the third time I've seen Whale Tooth and they are getting progressively better with each passing month.
Following Whale Tooth were Texas geek-pop group, Built By Snow, a bunch of modest looking guys who all clearly have a deep love for both the Cars and for their synthesizers. Their set was interesting in that not only was it very spirited and exciting, but it was also very short because they unfortunately had burned through their entire catalog before the thirty-minute mark had hit. Sheepishly, they made a point to play their last track as slowly as possible before departing in characteristic awkwardness. I would have liked to stay for Les Handclaps, but I was very interested to check out the happenings at Wrongbar that night, which were to be capped off by Artist of the Year, Dat Politics and Gravity Wave.
By the time my associates and I made it to Wrongbar, the gig was already an hour behind schedule, so when I reckoned that we would be hitting the place by the time that Artist of the Year would be taking the stage, Kids on TV were just getting started. Kids on TV were very, very weird: the men in the group appeared in colorful dresses and vast quantities of glitter peppering their beards. They were bandying about a hyper-active, eccentric and disjointed brand of electro-pop which was very effective, however extremely odd. I enjoyed their set quite a bit, all things considered, unfortunately by the time they finished, it was already very late and we waited for what seemed like ages for Montreal electro-indie weirdos Artist of the Year to take the stage but it seemed as though it would never happen, so we went home having never seen the groups we had come to see at all.