In completing my coverage of NXNE, the Toronto music festival I attended June 17-24 as accredited press, I’ve used Storify, the platform that lets bloggers incorporate social media posts in with their own writing. Once a piece is published on Storify, you can grab a handy embed code and paste it in at your websites, where it populates precisely as you assembled it. The piece is titled “Great Music & Great Times in Toronto for NXNE 2014,” “a collection of illustrated social sharing culled from my timelines 6/17-6/24, w/commentary; links to bands & venues; plus content I’m borrowing with acknowledgement of & appreciation for other music fans who shared about NXNE, creating a visual diary of the festival.” Please click here to read it on Storify, or here on Honourary Canadian. I hope you enjoy reading the piece which includes travel and tourism info about Toronto, offering some notes on restaurants, bookstores, shopping, and architecture, along with my music coverage.
For the fourth consecutive year I’ve traveled to Toronto for the North by Northeast festival (NXNE); to see my client ExpertFile.com; and hold some publishing meetings. I am having a great week and have been posting frequently on Twitter and Facebook about the great events I’ve attended, and on the sister blog to this one, HonouraryCanadian.com, where I wrote about comedian and podcaster Marc Maron’s rousing keynote remarks.
Late last night I lucked in to an impromptu show at the great venue the Cameron House w/one of my musical heroes, Matt Mays. He had been invited by frontman Sam Cash to sit in with his band the Romatic Dogs. Matt began by leading the band, and the audience, in Neil Young’s “Helpless.” Matt and I spoke afterward, exchanging heartfelt appreciations. I conveyed my condolences for the sudden loss last year of his bandmate Jay Smith. He thanked me for remembering his old friend. I told him about Honourary Canadian and he told me he was already a reader of the blog. Thrilled to hear that, I gave him my card for which he thanked me and said it would be going in “a special place.” Here’s a shot of Sam and Matt from last night:
I’ll also be posting more here about NXNE after I return to NYC next week.
Readers 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:
— The Almighty Rhombus (@AlmightyRhombus) June 16, 2013
@philipsturner What an awesome show last night though eh?
— The Almighty Rhombus (@AlmightyRhombus) June 16, 2013
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.
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.’”
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:
From CBC HQs I walked north and east to the Cameron House on Queen St. West where ManitobaMusic.com 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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
— Philip Turner (@philipsturner) June 15, 2013
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.
To 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.
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.
On my final day in Toronto last Sunday–after the NXNE festival had waned to a grateful, glorious end after 4 days of good times and memorable music–I spent the morning with my dear relatives Marcy and Abe Fish (pictured below with me, in a picture taken June 2012), eating brunch at their house, and then in the evening going to a gallery opening put on by some friends in the local music and art community.
For the latter, before I’d left NYC I wrote to Jenny Mecija, to let her know I would be in town. With her sister Casey, Jenny forms part of the chamber pop group, Ohbijou. Jenny replied and invited me to an opening on the Sunday night for an exhibit, My Father, Francis, the culmination of Casey’s Masters degree work at the University of Toronto, her subject being their father. I was eager to join Jenny and her family for the occasion, even before I learned that the gallery, in Toronto’s enviably authentic and still-bohemian Kensington Market neighborhood, was only a 10-minute walk from my hotel.
When I arrived I found a bright gallery space filled with warm evening light, a friendly crowd, and many useful steel and plastic objects and implements presented for viewing, all designed and fabricated by Mr. Mecija. I greeted Jenny and after a hug she explained that their father had over the years often worked odd shifts at the brewery where he was employed. With some free time, and access to found or discarded materials, he could freely repurpose them for projects of his own. The result is a fascinating collection of handsome and useful objects that concretize the elder Mecija’s affection for his family, and his desire that they have access to useful objects that will improve the quality of their daily lives.
Speaking of quality of life, the whole evening was put on in special fashion, with delicious food being served at the Filippino social hall Kapisaanan, a few doors down Augusta Street from the gallery, Videofag. During the evening I had enjoyable conversations with many people: Jenny, Casey, and guests: James Bunton, also a member of Ohbijou, and a record producer who did Loon Choir’s latest album; Heather Kirby, bassist in Ohbjou; Hannah Dyer, Casey’s companion, and the author of a perceptive essay (below) about being a daughter; Hannah’s sister, Monica, who works for the UN from Toronto, and is often in NYC; her companion, Drew, who works in alternative energy; Dina, Casey’s thesis advisor at University ot Toronto, who shared with me her impatience with people who actively disdain social media, refusing to see that for many people trying to forge ahead nowadays, creating and maintaining a socially networked presence is for them an imperative. In addition, a third Mecija sister was at the gallery with her childen, making this a proper three-generation affair.
I also met Francis, Casey’s father, and conmplimented him on his creative handiness. Mr. Mecija was cheerful the entire evening, and his wife, Casey and Jenny’s mom, was hospitable to everyone. Seeing my own relatives and then hanging at the gallery with the Mecija family was a great way to spend Father’s Day. Please click here to see all pictures.
Almost too busy to post or write about yesterday’s NXNE. This being Saturday it’s probably the fullest day of programming all week. But I’ll share something here, pics of the CDs I’ve gotten since arriving here on Wednesday. Some have been given to me, some I was glad to pay for. It’ll be great when I get back to NYC and unpackage them. Sunday should be quieter, so probably more coverage coming here.
Below is an EP and a full album by Crissi Cochrane, a friend from the CBC Radio 3 blog community, and an emerging artist in her own right. I had never met her before today at the annual CBC Radio 3 picnic, nor heard her sing. She has a beguiling voice and presence, as shown in the pic below her recorded music.
As noted in my Day II post below, on Thursday night I heard Toronto band Inlet Sound at The Cameron House. I really enjoyed hearing them, and was glad CBC Radio 3 host Grant Lawrence also invited them to the picnic today. Like Crissi, they are also pictured below their album “The Romantics.” Alongside it is the album I picked up by Union Duke, also on Thursday night.
Also, here’s an album by The Darcys. They were the musical guests at CBC HQs last night where Grant Lawrence ended the 7000KM cross-country CBC Beetle Road Trip. Last is The Matinee‘s “We Swore We’d See the Sunrise.” They played last night at the Supermarket, after which I tweeted:
@philipsturner: The Matinee just played one of the best live sets ever. They owned the crowd&the stage. @NXNE @thematineemusic http://t.co/u2LJxEYREX