Wintersleep Filling Up My Last Night of NXNE

View from my hotel room windowReaders of this blog may recall I was in Toronto last month for the North by Northeast (NXNE) festival. It was the third year in a row I’d attended, and the second year I’ve gone officially as press, for which I thank festival organizers who granted me accreditation so I could provide my perspective as an NYC-based blogger, reporting on an extravaganza where upwards of 1000 bands play at more than 55 different venues over 4 nights stretching all over the city. NXNE just had its fourteenth year, and they really know their game. Without a doubt, this was the most fun, productive, and musically rewarding NXNE yet for me. By my personal count I heard 35+ live acts over the four days and nights. This shows how futile it is to comprehensively cover the festival; still, thousands of music fans, musicians, and music writers have a great time trying.

I tweeted hundreds of times and published three full posts while in Toronto from June 12-17, and have put up three more posts since returning to NYC, now including this write-up.* I’m glad to be able to continue my coverage with this report on the last day’s bunch of bands I heard and lots of pictures.

On Saturday morning I met friends Michael Martin and Margot Stokreef for breakfast at the popular Lakeside Diner, near Ossington and Dundas. Michael and Margot are longtime sales representatives for many fine independent publishers. We had a nice time catching up and then Michael offered to me drop me back near my hotel. After a quick pit stop there I headed out again to have a beverage at a cafe called the Tampered Press with Toronto friend Patti Henderson, whom I had met in 2012 at Book Camp, an ad hoc publishing conference.  Another publishing vet, Patti is also a marvelous photographer who assembles the excellent blog, Vagabond Photography. When Patti and I split up I walked over to nearby Trinity-Bellwoods Park where the unofficial CBC Radio 3 picnic hosted by Grant Lawrence was slated to begin around noon, an event I covered earlier with this post: Recorded Music I’ve Collected at NXNE + CBC Radio 3 Picnic.

After enjoying all the conviviality at the picnic, where nearly 100 Canadian indie music fans met up, I headed back downtown via streetcar and on foot so I could hear Sarah Harmer play a live outdoor show at David Pecaut Square as part of the Luminato Festival, a Toronto celebration of the arts taking in music, literature, and film that overlaps with NXNE. Harmer played such familiar songs of hers as “Captive” and “One Match” and I left the outdoor performance space very happy.  Taking advantage of the Alexandra Hotel’s central location, as I had been able to do all week, I went back to my room for a cup of tea and a refreshing nap before my final night of music at NXNE (the view I had from my comfortable room, through the window that slid open, is shown at the top of this post).

The first club I visited that evening was Czehoski on Queen Street West, to hear a Chicago solo artist who plays under the provocative name of Briar Rabbit. A tall African-American singer/songwriter, he writes and plays music that examines race and historical perceptions of color. At one point, he told the audience that he’d made a study of American minstrelsy and the tradition of actors singing in black face make-up, next playing a song, “I Feel Invisible,” and then one called “Coon.” Briar Rabbit will be in NYC soon, with a show August 10 at the Living Room and August 13 at Rockwood Music Hall and I plan to hear him again at one of those venues.

My next show was quite a ways across town at Danforth Hall on the east side of Toronto, to hear Dinosaur Bones and the headliner, Wintersleep. Using streetcar and subway, I reached the converted movie theater just as Dinosaur Bones hit the stage. A 5-piece, their set built up a heavy melange of crashing guitars, keys, and drums that always stayed on the bright side of tuneful, with my fave song of theirs being a memorable one called “Ice Hotels,” which you can listen to along with other songs by them at their CBC Radio 3 artist page.  Montreal’s Hour magazine describes their music as “packed with feeling. . .whose delicate darkness almost belies its pop sensibility.”

Next up, Wintersleep, from Halifax, Nova Scotia, who played a terrific show. The sound in the hall was outstanding, full and rich, not too loud, with every instrument of their five pieces clear and distinctly audible. Lead singer Paul Murphy was in good form, as the set list ranged across their ample catalog of great songs. The band has been around ten years, releasing five albums since 2003. From the latest, “Hello Hum,” they played “In Came the Flood,” and “Resuscitate.” From earlier albums they played many of my favorites, including “Black Camera,” “New Inheritors,” “Weighty Ghost,” and “Preservation.” Their artist page at CBC Radio 3 has all these songs and more, if you want to hear them for yourself. I was standing at center front near the stage for Wintersleep, and happily hung through it with some great folks I enjoyed meeting. There was Toronto musician Courtney Lynn, who had come to this show with her brother and sister, all of them fun company. Also nearby was  Clayton Drake, keyboard player from The Almighty Rhombus, the Sudbury, Ontario, band I had enjoyed so much on Wednesday night, whose show I had written up on Thursday. In fact, on Sunday, Clayton and I exchanged a droll series of tweets that concluded with quite an amusing line from him:


In the middle of Wintersleep’s second encore, I reluctantly left the hall so I could get back to Toronto’s West Side, where the punk band Fucked Up were playing a set at the Horseshoe Tavern. True to form, they played a wild and crazy show with moshing and hijinks from lead singer Damian Abraham.  When they finished it was after 2:00 AM and I happily headed back to my room for a few hours of sleep before waking Sunday to meet Marcy and Abe Fish, cousins of mine who live in Toronto, a day I covered with this post.

For readers who’d like to know, over the next couple weeks I’ll be publishing two more posts related to my NXNE 2013: 1) A large grab bag of photos that I haven’t so far shared in any of the six previously published posts. 2) A tourist guide to Toronto, with additional info on the well-situated Alexandra Hotel; ranking of the music venues; sightseeing tips, and photos of buildings and city scenes. For now, here are pictures from all the Saturday shows I attended. (Please click here to see all photos.)

* For the record, I invite you to read the earlier posts I published from my Toronto trip. They were 1) Day I of NXNE: A Musical Banquet; 2) NXNE Day II–Another Musical Bounty; 3) Recorded Music I’ve Collected at NXNE + CBC Radio 3 Picnic; 4) NXNE Day III–Six More Great Bands w/a “Best Live Show” as the Topper; and 5) Families that Make Art Together, a post not directly related to NXNE, but involving members of the Toronto chamber pop group, Ohbijou.

NXNE Day III–Six More Great Bands w/a “Best Live Show” as the Topper

Counting up the acts I heard and the venues I visited last week NXNE in Toronto I see that over the four days of live music, I heard thirty acts at sixteen different venues, including outdoor events in Trinity-Bellwoods Park; in-store shows; and nightclubs. Even so, there were at least a dozen or two more acts I really wanted to hear, but whose shows I just couldn’t get to. I’ll be making an effort to listen to their recorded music over the coming weeks and months, and before I’m done covering this year’s NXNE I’ll mention the bands I couldn’t get to hear. Much as I’d like to say I found time this year for a film or a comedy club, I limited my recreation to live music. Even at that, I missed lots of acts I would like to have heard. I  hope one of these years to catch a documentary or some comedians. While still in Toronto I posted about Day I (Wednesday) and Day II (Thursday) and about the CBC Radio 3 picnic, on the Saturday afternoon. Now that I’m back in NYC, caught up on other work, and with all my pictures downloaded and cropped, I’ll write here about the the live shows I heard on the Friday of NXNE.

The Urban Outfitters store on Queen Street West has a second level that is actually not a bad performance space. Late Friday afternoon I went to hear the duo Dusted, with exciting electric guitarist Brian Borcherdt, formerly of the band Holy Fuck. During NXNE 2011 I heard Borcherdt play solo, so it was nice to hear him working with a drummer, who also had a keyboard nearby. Dusted plays a raw, basic sound that was easy to like, and quite melodic. In Spin magazine, the single from their album “Total Dust,” got this praise:  “'(Into The) Atmosphere,’ is ‘a dewy lo-fi pop ramble, with sweetly multi-tracked vocals, cavernous layers of melancholy guitar strums, and galloping, off-kilter percussion.’”28 Brian Borcherdt

A party for the end of the CBC Beetle Road Trip was the next item on the Friday afternoon/early evening schedule, the culmination of the 7000KM drive taken in a Fender guitar-branded VW. CBC Radio 3 host Grant Lawrence helmed the drive, with CBC staffers Brian Cauley and Brent Hodge producing audio and video content for CBC Music. The caravan (they actually had two cars) stopped in different cities along the way and taped live sessions with more than a half-dozen Canadian indie groups. The arrival party was a blast, with The Darcys playing. They gave Grant a Blue Jays cap. I’m going to write about it separate from this post. Meantime, here’s a picture of Grant’s arrival:28b Beetle

From CBC HQs I walked north and east to the Cameron House on Queen St. West where was holding a showcase, with country singer Kayla Luky and her band up first. I had not heard her before, and was pleasantly taken with her clear voice, original songs, and her excellent lead guitarist, who looked like he just got down off a hot tractor, in overalls and sleeveless flannel shirt. 31 Kayla Luky

I’m a big fan of Winnipeg band Imaginary Cities, and though I’ve seen them several times before, I made a point of catching their set this night at the Mod Club. This was a much larger venue than I’d ever heard them play before, and their power pop sound, with Marti Sarbit’s intensely likable voice, was well up to the task of filling the big space and capturing the interest and attention of a couple hundred listeners, many of whom it seemed hadn’t known this great band or their songs at all. Their second album, “The Fall of Romance,” has been about a month, and by now, I like all the songs from it as well as their great debut, “Temporary Resident.”32a Imaginary Cities

After leaving the Mod Club I remembered I hadn’t had dinner, so I stopped at a vendor’s stand on College Street, where a street festival was in full swing. I bought a pulled pork sandwich and munching away, walked down Ossington Street to the Dakota Tavern to hear Paul Langlois, a veteran member of one of Canada’s long-lived and most popular bands, The Tragically Hip. The Dakota is a great venue with a relaxed vibe where acoustic players and pickers are often showcased–on weekend mornings they even serve a bluegrass bunch. But the band Langlois assembled for this show–a high-revving 4-piece–was no stripped-down outfit, including as it did the Hip’s shredding lead guitarist Rob Baker. This was meant to be a showcase for Langois’ own material, and though I’d never heard these dark excursions in minor keys, my ear took right to them.34 Paul Langois

Another act soon took the stage at the Dakota, a band called Tin Star Orphans. I had time to listen to only two of their country rock songs, but I liked what I heard.  34a Tin Star Orphans

I now had about twenty minutes to get to my next show with The Matinee, a great live band from Vancouver, British Columbia, who were scheduled to play a 1:00 AM show at the Supermarket, near my hotel in the Kensington Market neighborhood, where Shred Kelly had killed it the night before. I didn’t want to be late so took a cab down Dundas Street and walked the rest of the way up Augusta Street to the club. When I arrived I saw lots of friends from the CBC Radio 3 fan community. The Matinee had played on 2012’s Track on Tracks rock n’ roll extravaganza which traveled with ten bands and lots of fans from Vancouver to Toronto, a railroad excursion that made The Matinee fan favorites of many folks. I had heard and enjoyed them last year, but the set they played this night was leaps beyond anything I’d heard from them before. The songs on their one album, “We Swore We’d See the Sunrise,” are bright and country-tinged with sweet harmonies (listen to “Sweetwater” for latter-day Everly Brothers harmonies). They also blessed to have as their lead guitarist Matt Rose, a true guitar god sort of player. He’s tall and athletic in his movements, with long arms and legs, long black hair, and just a stunning riff-ripper. He clearly relished and fed richly off of the audience’s boisterous enjoyment of his cutting lines. During their encore he jumped down from the stage in to the audience, playing right among us. At the end, he heaved his acoustic back on the stage as a kind of declamation of satisfaction, not worrying about the instrument. Here are a couple pictures from The Matinee’s great show, one of the very best shows of my NXNE. In the first pic, that’s Matt Rose on the right, playing a Fender Telecaster and moving so quickly I couldn’t capture him in focus, flanked by lead singer Matt Layzell. The second picture shows Matt Rose and bandmate Geoff Petrie amid the crowd during that wild encore.

36 Matinee37 Matinee
Before going to bed that night I tweeted this:

After I got back to NYC from Toronto, CBC Radio 3 Fan of the Year Christine McAvoy, a professional photographer, shared many of her NXNE pictures, including this one (on the right). In it I am surrounded by R3 friends, listening to The Matinee at a quieter moment of their show, holding my IPad, and tweeting about it in real time. Since I started writing this blog it’s the first “action shot” of me, so to speak, at work. I thank Christine for quickly giving permission for me use it here.
PT at The MatineeTo return the favor, the next photo (on the left) shows Christine (holding her camera high, in straw hat) at The Matinee show during the encore. 38 Matinee

My friends were moving on to a 2:00 AM show with We Are the City, but I declined to join them, feeling satisfied to end the night with The Matinee’s show. I headed back to my room so I could get some sleep before a Saturday morning breakfast with book business friends Michael Martin and Margot Stokreef.

NXNE Day II–Another Musical Bounty

Up early Friday after another night (and day) of great music and fun times with good friends at many different venues, from outdoors in a green Toronto park to crowded nightclubs. I'm meeting two journalist friends this morning, but I’ll get started on this recap now and work on it throughout the day.

Thursday afternoon, I walked to Trinity-Bellwoods Park to do one of my favorite things–listen to music outdoors. I heard sets by Olenka and the Autumn Lovers, a trio whose sound is tinged with Eastern-European tones; Maylee Todd, who with her 6-piece band wowed the happy crowd seated on the grass with her R&B sounds and the expressive dancers that accompanied her songs; and Kalle Mattson, a talented singer-songwriter who with his three bandmates played a song he co-wrote with Jeremy Fisher, another favorite Canadian musician of mine. Under threatening clouds, we were all really glad the rain stayed away long enough for these three sets.




In the early evening I walked down Bathurst in heavy rain to a party sponsored by the e-reader company, Kobo. I know them of course as a book industry presence, and was really glad to see them representing at NXNE. Held at a club called the Hoxton, I was excited when I bumped in to several friends from the CBC Radio 3 blog community, folks whom I would see at other venues later in the evening.


The rain let up as I walked to the Cameron House to hear Inlet Sound, who played last night as an acoustic trio, sans their usual drums&bass. Playing seated, they showed great voices which the big room could barely contain. Their own songs are terrific, but they really surprised and pleased with a cover of Wintersleep's rock classic, Weighty Ghost,' great to hear in this unplugged setting. After their set, I was excited to get a copy of their album, The Romantics.


Shred Kelly, a stoke folk outfit from ski haven, Fernie, British Columbia, played one of the most rousing sets of music I've ever had the good luck to hear. Foot-stompin' hardly does justice to the live show this 5-piece put on last night at the Supermarket club in Kensington Market. I love their style and am eager to hear them again tomorrow when they'll be playing an acoustic set at the annual CBC Radio 3 picnic, also held in Trinity-Bellwoods Park, coordinated by CBC host Grant Lawrence.


Next, I cabbed over to the Great Hall with two CBC Radio 3 friends for a mostly solo bluesy set by Michael Rault.


From the Great Hall I walked to the nearby Drake Hotel where in their Underground club Loon Choir was to play an 11PM set. There I met Katherine Cauley, who plays fiddle in this 7-piece outfit from Ottawa. Also in the house were Katherine's parents and her brother Brian, who until the other day had been on the CBC Beetle Road Trip that's brought Grant Lawrence all the way from Vancouver in a 6000KM road trip. Brian is a radio engineer, who's been producing radio segments that are then being shared on the CBC Radio 3 website and in social media. Brian and Grant were joined on the trip by videographer and filmmaker Brent Hodge, who was also there last night to hear Loon Choir. Other Radio 3 fans in the room were friends who I know mostly by their blog and twitter handles: @Shonica and @HedgeHogFriend. Loon Choir is a terrific live act with lots of dynamic energy, particularly from their lead singer, Derek. At one point, he unfurled a banner emblazoned with a message, Occupy Gezi Park, in support of the current uprising by progressives in Turkey. The music had lots of uplift and great power chords that made the tunes, many of which I hadn't heard before, instantly likable. I got their two CDs and look forward to hearing their studio sound.


At 11:45, I hailed a cab and asked the driver to take to the Mapgie, where rootsy band Union Duke would be playing at the top of the hour. I had been invited to this concert by a new friend I made this week, Toronto journalism student and TV company staffer, Harriet Luke. She has a few friends in this band, and I was delighted to have been alerted to them. Like Shred Kelly, they are another foot-stomping 5-piece featuring banjo, handmade percussion, and great vocals. The room was humid and warm, and soon people were shedding their jackets and hitting the dance floor.

I cooled down on the walk back to my hotel and soon hit what my late father Earl Turner used to call the featherball, i.e., the pillow, eager for Friday and another day of fun at NXNE.


Day I of NXNE: A Musical Banquet

I heard terrific music last night at some excellent Toronto venues. All the artists I heard were new to me. Here's a rundown:

Right on time at 8 PM at the club Central, I sat at a front table and listened to Marta Pacek, an Aussie-born, Toronto-dwelling singer songwriter who led a terrific 4-piece band. Her accent was evident in her between-song banter, but not in her strong singing voice. After their set, I enjoyed meeting Pacek and her friend, writer Neil Murchison, who gave me a download card so I can later hear more of Pacek's music. Here's a pic I took during the show.


Next up was a lively outfit with a rather dolorous name, The Maladies of Adam Stokes. They played a 9 PM set at the Legendary Horseshoe Tavern, the only club I know of that manages to squeeze an adjective like that in to its name! The venue has earned it, though, as they recently marked their 50th anniversary of presenting great live music. I'm sure I'll be back at the 'Shoe' several times this week. Here's a shot of their lead singer and keyboard player.


Next, I took a Toronto street car then walked to reach a club called The Boat, near Kensington Market, where young punk band The Mouthbreathers were playing a 9:45 set. This 4-piece–two women guitarists & a two-man rhythm section on bass and drums–had all the energy associated with 80s punk–playing brief songs fast, loud, and hard. It was the lead singer's 23rd birthday, pictured below on the right. I stood on a riser near the merch table to get this shot, raising myself a bit above the boisterous crowd who stuck with the band all the way.


From The Boat I walked with friend Amit Saha–known as @XCanuck on the CBC Radio 3 blog–to a club on Queen Street West called Czehoski. We wanted to check out The Almight Rhombus, from Sudbury, Ontario, who were playing at 11 PM. They turned out to be one of the highlights of my evening. This 5-piece, which includes 3 brothers, played hooky songs with great energy on the club's very narrow stage. The joy they took in playing their own material was infectious. I met one of the brothers after the show and introduced myself as the writer of this blog. He gave me a copy of their self-titled five song CD.


I left Amit at the Czehoski bar where he was watching the first overtime of Game 1 in the Stanley Cup finals, for what turned out to be a triple overtime game. I walked down Queen Street to one of my most favorite venues, the Cameron House. I barely bothered to check who was even playing, because they always have good bands. The Cameron's front room usually features country and acoustic-oriented acts, while the back room has fuller bands. In the back room, I discovered the excellent Julian Taylor Band, fronted by the extravagantly dreadlocked and handsomely suited Taylor, who played funk and soul-inflected pop with a reggae touch. His keyboard player, shown below on the left, was terrific, too. They ended their set with a crowd-pleasing cover of I Shot the Sheriff.


I moved on to the front room where a 5-piece country outfit called Dear Sister were showing post-midnight revelers a great time. Fronted by two talented women (not sisters, I learned), and featuring an excellent lead guitarist who didn't fit on the tiny stage, they played original material and got many in the crowd dancing and making graceful moves to their sweet harmonies.


With that, I walked back to my hotel room happy and satisfied with all the great music I heard on just my first day at NXNE. Below is a shot of my NXNE badge that's getting me in to so many great shows. Can't wait for what's to come today and tonight.


Hey Rosetta! Plays Brooklyn–Newfoundland Comes to New York

Hey Rosetta! is a great band with intelligent songwriting, empathetic vocals, terrific instrumental playing, and are a very exciting live act. If you enjoy well-played and intelligent songwriting, I urge you to seek out their music online and go hear them when they come to your town.