Thursday, June 18, 2015

NXNE off to great start on Wednesday

The opening night of the North by Northeast Music Festival was so good that I'm afraid it will only go downhill from here.

My night began at The Garrison with Twist, a four-piece band fronted by BB Guns' singer/guitarist Laura Hermiston. Don't expect the more garage rock-oriented material of her other band, but a larger and more expansive rock sound with atmospheric moments and occasional tinges of psychedelia. Effects are used and things get loud. While I wish Hermiston had a stronger voice, the blend of different elements was quite effective and left me impressed. 

Wreckless Eric
The night's guest of honour was no doubt Wreckless Eric, a 61-year-old, self-described "bubblegum with dementia" artist from England who apparently hadn't played Toronto since 1979. I was lucky to see him in Austin several years ago, but for most of the people I knew in the too-small crowd, this solo performance was their first time.

I consider Amy Rigby's husband's early albums for Stiff Records near classics and was hoping to hear lots of songs from them, but the man born Eric Goulden focused on more recent and unfamiliar-to-me repertoire. The lyrics and between-song banter were very reminiscent of Robyn Hitchcock, which can never be a negative in my book. The underrated wordsmith ended the set with his signature song, the much-covered "(I'd Go the) Whole Wide World," which had the whole wide crowd singing along. 

Blaire Alise & The Bombshells
I left with a big smile on my face and that didn't leave when I arrived at the Bovine Sex Club to see Blaire Alise & The Bombshells. The trio's combination of '50s pop and garage rock, presented with an old school girl group feel and a modern edge, hit the spot perfectly. It makes sense that the band is from Detroit, a city close enough that welcomed return visits should be in order.

Les Chausettes
I really wanted to stay for the entire set, but another similar group was playing its only set of the festival down the street in The Cameron House's back room and I wanted to see a bit of it as well. Les Chausettes also combine elements of '60s surf and garage rock with girl group pop, but include male/female lead vocals and harmonies. The band wasn't as polished or proficient as Blaire Alise & The Bombshells and I didn't like it as much, but it was still enjoyable and I'd like to see more than the 20 minutes I caught.

Johnson Crook, a roots rock band not affiliated with NXNE, was in the front bar and provided a great intermission soundtrack during the changeover in the back.

Young Massachusetts quintet LuxDeluxe ended my night and was the most eclectic band of it. One song was indie rock with a vague Guess Who influence, some incorporated reggae, ska and wore rhythmic elements, while others were more straight-up rockers. But all of them were good, except perhaps one in which three keyboards were used. This was another act that deserved a bigger crowd than the 25 folks it had at the beginning, and which dwindled as things went on.

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