Monday, June 23, 2014

NXNE Friday begins with Pizza and ends with Spoon

The Pizza Underground

It takes a lot for a band to get a journalist out to see a band play at 10:30 a.m. when clubs had extended their liquor licences until 4 a.m. the two previous nights. It takes a lot less to piss people off. The Pizza Underground managed to do both on Friday.

Home Alone child star Macaulay Culkin and friends Matt Colbourn, Deenah Vollmer and Austin Kilham (Phoebe Kreutz didn't make the trip, so Toby Goodshank filled in) have formed a band that performs Velvet Underground and Lou Reed songs, but with the lyrics changed to be filled with pizza references. As a huge VU and Reed fan who likes pizza, and was curious about the Culkin factor, I had to check it out.

But the promised 10:30 a.m. start turned into 11:40 a.m. for reasons that weren't explained to the 100 people who showed up at The Edward Day Gallery. Things took so long that the group's giant pizza slice backdrop fell down, but the stage crew had time to rig it back up again well before the group appeared. Luckily, there was free Panago pizza and Vitamin Water to quell any possible revolt.

Once things got rolling, they were pretty much as expected. The tunes were recognizable and the changed lyrics were pretty sophomoric. Medleys allowed the band to fit a lot of songs into a small time frame and not drag on the joke for too long. And several jokes were told between songs to fill time. The comedy quotient was turned up a notch when Goodshank dressed up as Kurt Cobain to sing Nirvana songs in the past tense. It was fun, but the novelty again wore off quickly.

Odds with Steven Page and Chris Murphy

The delayed start time threw off my work/play schedule for the rest of the day, which I wasn't happy about, but I had time to vote in an advance poll for the upcoming federal by-election in my ward on the way to the Horseshoe Tavern to see a 3:50 p.m. set by Odds as part of the Hidden Pony Records fifth anniversary party. I was a big fan of the group's power pop and it had significant success from 1987 until it went on hiatus in 1999. The band reformed in 2007 to play occasional gigs and has released an album and two EPs that haven't resonated with me like the earlier work.

A healthy crowd was on hand to hear old favourites like "Make You Mad," "Write It In Lightning" and "Eat My Brain" as well as a few less familiar newer songs. Former Barenaked Ladies member Steven Page came on stage to join the group for a mash-up of BNL's "It's All Been Done" and Odds' "It Falls Apart." He stayed on stage when Sloan's Chris Murphy and Jay Ferguson came up for a mash-up of Sloan's "Underwhelmed," Odds' "Someone Who Is Cool" and The Beatles' "Hey Jude." The Pursuit of Happiness' Moe Berg was also in the crowd, but we were denied a chance to hear "I'm an Adult Now" mixed with "Jack Hammer" as the entertaining set came to a close.

Congratulations to Hidden Pony founder "Parkside" Mike Renaud on the first five years, and thanks for the beers and burrito.

I moved on to the M for 159 Manning house party so see Death Hymn Number 9, but the group's basement performance was so packed that I couldn't see anything and decided to head further west to the SOCAN-SESAC mixer at The Edward Day Gallery. I chatted with several friends and had a free beer and hot dog before it was time to hit the clubs for more music.


I'd never been to the Smiling Buddha Bar before, but it was hosting acts I was interested in so I made the trip. The venue seemed a bit sketchy, but it had a decent selection of Ontario craft beers to put me at ease.

Ottawa's Boyhood came on at 8 p.m. The quartet utilized two keyboards, guitar, bass and pre-programmed beats, but I was most attracted to the female singer's austere vocal delivery that fit the band's minimalist approach. Unfortunately most of the songs sounded too similar for my tastes and I ended up bored through much of the set.

Tess Parks

Toronto's Tess Parks, fronting three other musicians, performed dark and mysterious-sounding film noir guitar music. I'd compare it to Mazzy Star, but with more
oomph and a heavier psychedelic element. I would have liked to have heard more, but Parks played an extra short set and told me as she was walking out the door that she was off to see Spiritualized at Massey Hall. That connection makes sense.

My preferred 10 p.m. shows didn't fit well with the rest of my schedule, and I had planned on being at The Garrison for a couple of hours anyway, so I went early and saw Brooklyn, N.Y. duo Weeknight. Guitar, synthesizers and pre-programmed backing tracks produced a dark and brooding sound that wasn't bad but wasn't my cup of orange pekoe.


The crowd had filled in significantly by the time Beliefs came on at 11 p.m. to hear songs from the Toronto band's self-titled debut album from the Hand Drawn Dracula label. Guitarists Josh Korody and Jesse Crowe shared lead vocals on songs that built to big crescendos in an impressive set that  had a lot of energy and wasn't mopey like some bands of this ilk can be. Slowdive and My Bloody Valentine are influences, and this performance prompted thoughts of a less experimental Sonic Youth.

Crystal Stilts

I've enjoyed past performances by Brooklyn's Crystal Stilts and took advantage of another opportunity to see the Jesus and Mary Chain-influenced group. It's dark but not as brooding as some might expect, as more upbeat numbers were mixed in with slower ones that my friend compared to Joy Division. That verve shone through on one song that was even a bit reminiscent of Sigue Sigue Sputnik's "Love Missile F1-11."

The Marvelous Beauhunks


A rather lengthy walk got me to Rancho Relaxo after The Marvelous Beahunks had already started its 1 a.m. set. The Oshawa, Ont. band formed in 1990 and reformed in 2010 after an 18-year layoff, and it plays a mix of power pop and old school punk. There was a bigger audience than I expected, so folks are obviously happy that the group is back, and I'd like to catch more of it sometime in the not too distant future since what little I heard was right up my alley.

The Horseshoe was the final stop of the night for a 2 a.m. "secret" performance by Spoon that wasn't advertised ahead of time. The word must have got out, however, as the club was packed. The critically acclaimed Austin, Texas indie rock band was headlining a free public show in Yonge-Dundas Square on Saturday night, but it was much better to see it in an intimate club with friends since I'd seen it play larger venues before.


The Britt Daniel-fronted group showcased songs from its long-awaited eighth album, They Want My Soul, which will be out in August. But older fan favourites including "Don't You Evah," "I Turn My Camera On" and the set-closing "Black Like Me" drew the biggest responses. The crowd demanded and received an encore and went away happy after hearing "The Underdog."

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