Friday, June 19, 2015

Surprisingly good NXNE Thursday

I had schedule holes to fill and I wasn't sure about all of the bands on my North by Northeast Music Festival to-see list when Thursday started. But despite a couple of missteps, things turned out much better than I was expecting.

I got an earlier start and arrived at The Garrison's front bar just in time to see Michigan trio Heaters take the stage at 4:20 p.m. There wasn't a lot to set it apart from other psych/drone bands, but I enjoyed its mix of instrumentals and vocal songs delivered with a '60s vibe.

Free Panago pizza was offered after the set, and a couple of small slices hit the spot before EZTV came on. When I saw the drummer wearing a Dwight Twilley T-shirt, I was pretty sure I had made a good choice -- and I did, particularly since there were few alternatives at this hour. The New York City quartet was relatively EZ on the ears with its chiming guitar-driven power pop, but I started noticing the lack of big hooks as the set went on. The group was solid but not that exciting.

Mick Futures
Moss Lime was supposed to play next, but was a no-show, and I found out that Naomi Punk had been moved from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m., so I figured my best option was to have another pint and wait for a 7 p.m. set by Mick Futures, which I hadn't planned on seeing. The quartet delivered short, snappy and energetic punk and post-punk songs with indecipherable lyrics. This proved to be the first of a few acts that I ended up catching on Thursday that weren't in my original plans.

The Garrison has the best selection of craft beers of any music venue in Toronto and, during my time there on Wednesday and Thursday, I tried five that were new to me. Here's how they rated:

Good: Great Lakes Brewery Thrust IPA, Duggan's Raspberry Hefe
OK: Cruiser Pale Ale, Spearhead Wheat
No thanks: Old Woody Alt

I had time to kill and a void to fill so I got a steak and cheese sandwich at Subway and a tall boy of Double Trouble Kickin' Ginger Red IPA at the LCBO and had them while watching softball in Trinity Bellwoods Park. The beer was disappointing.

Wave of Terror
My friend David told me that The Comfort Zone was a late venue addition to the NXNE schedule, and he recommended a few acts playing there that weren't on my radar. The first, at 9 p.m., was Wave of Terror. The trio was high on all surf, garage and indie rock quotients and, while its short songs were nothing that I hadn't heard before, I'm a fan of those genres and was satisfied.

Unlike The Garrsion, The Comfort Zone ranks down there with Virgin Mod Club and Revival for having the worst beer selection of any live music venue in Toronto, and tall cans of Pilsner were the best I could do.

The Muscadettes
Montreal's Muscadettes were on my agenda for Friday, but I took the opportunity to see the blonde twin-fronted group at The Comfort Zone. The sisterly connection was evident in their vocal interplay and their guitar and bass contributions were backed by members of one of my favourite Montreal bands, Les Breastfeeders, and a drummer who Grant Lawrence told me was from The Stills. The nine-song set of '60s garage-inspired indie rock was as inspired as that pedigree suggested it would be.

Like at 9 p.m., I had an empty time slot at 11 p.m., so I stuck around for Needles//Pins, a Vancouver trio that played short, melodic punk songs. They were pretty good, but far from great.

I had planned on seeing Gen Gorman at Coaltion at midnight, but was told by the NXNE volunteer working the Comfort Zone door that the club had reached its capacity of 25 for badge and wristband holders, even though there were only 50 people in the club, since people who left and came back were counted twice. If I left and come back like I had planned, I would have to pay to get back in despite my badge. I wasn't informed of this when I first entered the club, and the door person agreed with me that it was a stupid policy, but she had to follow the orders she was given.

I stayed, and it turned out to be a good decision after all. Vancouver's Tranzmitors came on stage wearing suits and played a very high tempo 11-song set. The group follows in the footsteps of Vancouver's Pointed Sticks,  but with more of an emphasis on punk than power pop. Things ended on a high with "Weekend."

Guantanamo Baywatch
The group that I most wanted to see was on last. I missed catching Guantanamo Baywatch in Austin, Texas during the South by Southwest Music Festival in March, but the band with the best name of NXNE also turned out to be one of the best bands with an explosively enjoyable mix of instrumental and vocal tunes. There was nothing but good times included in the group's first Canadian performance, which included a nod to our country via an amazing cover of Paul Anka's "Diana."

The music made me dance, or whatever it is I do when my feet and arms are moving, and moshing broke out during the encore that the appreciative audience demanded. There were minimal jiggling breasts and no torture, just a lot of fun courtesy of Guantanamo Baywatch. I purchased its new Darling … It's Too Late album as I left the club and then hit the pavement for the walk home.

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