Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Boat cruise, Yonge Dundas Square and The Great Hall wrap up NXNE

Saturday meant not going to my office and a full day to partake of the North By Northeast Music Festival. And since it was a beautiful day, why not spend three hours of it cruising Toronto's harbour aboard the Captain Matthew Flinders soaking up sun and suds, chatting with folks and enjoying some rock-and-roll below deck.

My invitation aboard the "Bruise Cruise" from M for Montreal came with a free Moosehead beer, which I sipped while wandering around the ship and checking out DJ Jonathan Toubin spinning some great vintage pop, rock and soul 45s, which created a smooth transition for Hooded Fang's performance.
Hooded Fang

The Toronto band's Tosta Mista was my seventh favourite record of 2011 and made my initial ballot for the 2012 Polaris Music Prize to choose Canada's top album. The 25-minute live set lacked some of the subtle exotica lounge charms of the record, but the group's pop hooks and garage rock licks were irresistible.

I went on the deck to talk to friends and have a beer in the sunshine while admiring the view, and I missed Teenanger's performance and the first part of Mac Demarco's set. I wasn't familiar with the artist or his band, but I enjoyed their rootsy rock so much that I was whisked away from a conversation with a lovely woman to take part in a "gay dance party."

Bleached was the headliner and I liked the partial set I caught of the three-woman-fronted, garage rock-influenced, pop-punk act in March at the South By Southwest Music Festival in Austin, Texas. The vocals were mixed too low, but that didn't stop lots of people from dancing. "Think of You" from last year's Searching Through The Past was my favourite, but a new song also caught my attention and a cover of The Ramones' "Today Your Love, Tomorrow The World" was a fitting closer for the Los Angeles combo.

I made a beeline for the LCBO after disembarking and picked up a couple of cans of Denison's Weissbier for my walk up to Yonge Dundas Square to see Hollerado. It's been more than a year since I've seen the band and I was due. I arrived mid-set to hear a new song played in front of a good-sized crowd, which clapped and sang along to "Got To Lose." Singer/guitarist Menno Versteeg shot off a lone confetti cannon in honour of headlining act Flaming Lips, who he called the pioneers of the prank. "Americanarama" and an extended "Do The Doot Da Doot Doo" ended things on a major high.

I wasn't familiar with Oberhofer, so I used the opportunity to go across the street to the Eaton Centre for some delicious Indian food from Amaya and to the LCBO for two more cans of band-watching provisions, and still made it back in time to hear some Oberhofer. The quintet leaned to the enjoyable rather than pretentious side of indie rock, so I was satisfied.

Some of Of Montreal's recorded material had left me wanting, but I thoroughly enjoyed a set in Austin a number of years ago, so staying at Yonge Dundas was the best 7 p.m. option. Flamboyant frontman Kevin Barnes and his collection of psychedelically theatrical bandmates show their rock influences more live than on their records, which I feel can tend to be too artsy and precious. And having a number of dancers who made repeated costume changes enhanced the spectacle considerably (one of them crowd-surfed over us from the stage and we were around the midpoint of the square for the set).

The playfulness and music made Of Montreal a good fit for Flaming Lips, and a song list that included "Miss Blonde Your Papa is Failing," "The Party's Crashing Us," "Forecast Fascist Future," "Plastis Wafers," "Id Engager," "Helmdalsgate Like A Promethean Curse" and more ensured everyone in the ever-growing audience had a good time.

I only had fleeting knowledge of Portugal The Man from a few songs I'd heard online, but the music had a quality roots rock edge to it live. One song segued into The Beatles' "Helter Skelter," which was welcomed and was my favourite part of the performance. I feel no need to acquire any albums or see the band again, but it certainly wasn't a waste of 40 minutes. I like Portugal The Man much more than Portugal the annoying car horn-honking soccer fans that plague my neighbourhood every Euro Cup soccer tournament.

The crowd had filled in the closed down Yonge Street when I made one last trip to the LCBO at 8:25 p.m. Where there was no lineup in the store 90 minutes earlier, I waited for almost a half-hour on this second sojourn. I found out about the stage collapse that killed a man and injured others at the Radiohead concert that was supposed to take place at Downsview Park earlier in the day, and it seemed that many of the more than 40,000 people who had purchased tickets for that show squeezed themselves into Yonge Dundas Square as a consolation prize after that gig was cancelled.

Flaming Lips arrived late and each member came out individually starting at 9:30 p.m., with fur collar-clad singer Wayne Coyne bringing up the rear in his signature giant clear inflatable bubble in which he rolled over the crowd. Once he made it back to the stage, he shot off a confetti cannon, picked up a megaphone and watched the release of giant balloons that were kept aloft by fans throughout the show. It was a rock-and-roll circus.

Female dancers in school girl outfits graced the stage for a brilliant run through "She Don't Use Jelly," and things didn't let up with "The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song (With All Your Power)."

Coyne then acknowledged the Radiohead tragedy and directed good karma to the man who died and those who were injured, as well as the band. "Peace be with these hearts tonight," he said before a song that sounded a bit like Radiohead's "Karma Police."

"Waiting For A Superman" and some slower and mellower songs with no on-stage antics followed. Coyne seemed to be quite affected by the day's events, which may have drained him and the performance of a little of the normal exuberance seen at Lips' shows, taking away from the spectacle aspect that most Lips shows possess.

After Coyne made another heartfelt tribute to the people at the Radiohead concert, the set ended with "Do You Realize?" and more of a party vibe again as confetti cannons went wild. There was no encore.

A streetcar was waiting at the corner when the show ended at 10:50 p.m., so I hopped on because I thought it would be the best way to get across town to The Great Hall at Queen and Dovercourt. It took an hour because of all the traffic, so I could have made it just as fast by walking all the way.
Teenage Head

The delay made me miss the Celtic punk drinking songs of The Mahones, but I was right in front of the stage when Teenage Head came on and ripped into "Let's Shake." Pete MacAulay is now fronting the band after singer Frankie Venom's 2008 passing and, while he lacks some of the charisma of the band's founder, his voice could handle the band's garage punk material well. He was joined by guitarist Gord Lewis, bassist Steve Marshall and drummer Jack Pedler.

"Picture My Face" was followed in quick succession by "Wild One," "Top Down," "Take It," "Teenage Beer Drinkin' Party," "Bonerack," "Lucy Potato" and "Infected." It's been 35 years since some of these songs were written and they still sound great, and a lot of us old punks were totally in thrall to them. "Disgusteen" was on the set list, but unfortunately wasn't played. I'd seen Sadies bassist Sean Dean on the cruise earlier in the day and he also made it here. I'm glad he shares my fine taste in music.
The Nils

The crowd thinned significantly, but old school ska on the sound system kept me happy until another vintage Canadian punk band, Montreal's Nils, took the stage at 1:10 a.m. Bassist/singer Carlos Soria (who formed the band with his late brother Alex) said he was 15 when he first played on a bill with Teenage Head, and he just turned 50, and then called the Hamilton, Ont. outfit the best band in the world.

There was no classic after classic like with Teenage Head, but The Nils' brand of punky power pop was enjoyable until it abruptly ended just 20 minutes after the band began. The group returned quickly, however, which was a relief since this was the first (and probably last) time I'd see it. But I was shocked and disappointed that the quartet didn't play what's perhaps its best known song, the timeless "Scratches and Needles."

It was almost 2 a.m. and though there were some other bands I wouldn't have minded seeing playing at other bars until 4 a.m., it had already been a full day and I was a 10-minute walk from my house, so I think I made the right decision in ending my NXNE and going home.


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