NXNE: Day 2 (Pictorial Review, Video)
by Steven Spoerl
After Day 1 of NXNE got the festival off to a strong start, Day 2 is when the madness kicked into high gear. From late afternoon to well past midnight, there were sets from Caddywhompus, Speedy Ortiz, PS I Love You, Pissed Jeans, The Pizza Underground (although it’s still unclear if that could actually be called a set), Shannon & the Clams, Odonis Odonis, The Yips, and Sam Coffey & the Iron Lungs. These were spread out across four venues and, at the bottom of these writings, there’s visual documentation of all of them.
Day 2 started off at the gorgeous (and gorgeously lit) Mod Club Theatre, which boasted a stacked bill that was headlined by Pissed Jeans- who delivered what would be one of the most memorable single sets of the festival. Before that, there were several standout moments from each of the three bands preceding Pissed Jeans. Caddywhompus set the wheels in motion with their enticing combination of traditional math elements and post-punk. From their surprisingly sweet vocal melodies to the power drumming and guitar fireworks that drove the momentum of their set, it’s easy to see why people are starting to latch onto this band. Proving even more impressive was their use of noise-prone ambient transitions to seamlessly segue between many of their songs. Somewhere between their terrifyingly precise tempo shifts and their soaring choruses, they’ve carved out something even more impressive; a wide-open future.
Site favorites Speedy Ortiz were next to take the stage and delivered a set laced with great moments from Major Arcana as well as a song they’re currently prepping to release as a single for an Adult Swim series that’s entitled “Bigger Party”, which is the band at their most definitive. Grass is Green‘s Devin McKnight has taken up the space recently vacated by guitarist Matt Robidux and managed to come off as an integral (and more importantly, incredibly dynamic) part of the band. By the end of Speedy Ortiz’s set, they’d made the most of their penchant for irreverence by keeping the between-song moments lively with genuinely funny banter and a great rapport. There were no lulls or dull moments; the evening had hit its stride early with what would ultimately become one of the night’s most engaging sets.
Canadian favorites PS I Love You were the next ones up and have the benefit of a great new album on deck that they seemed eager to tease. Immediately apparent was their fondness for blistering volumes, which in lesser hands may have distracted from their musicality- not here. Add in a generous layer of fuzz and the jaw-dropping guitar heroics of Paul Saulnier (who also controlled blasts of bass-driven organ chords through wired presets on a pedalboard- and had sweat dripping off his fingers less than three songs into their set) and it wound up being a fairly staggering showcase for both Saulnier and the relentless drumming of Benjamin Nelson. While their set did drop its momentum after the ecstatic highs brought on by a genuinely impassioned performance of “Facelove“, things were restored by the very end of their set thanks to the strength of the songs on their outstanding upcoming full-length, For Those Who Stay.
After PS I Love You called it night, one thing suddenly became very clear: everything was about to become all about sludge-indebted hardcore titans Pissed Jeans. They didn’t disappoint. All but storming the stage, vocalist Matt Korvette started their set by immediately declaring that the band had a very important announcement to make: “We are no longer Pissed Jeans. We are now Virgin Mobile Pissed Jeans”- a possible dig at the festival’s increased incorporation of corporate sponsorship. Following that subtly-tinged bit of possible vitriol, their levels all quickly rocketed to seething. With Korvette absolutely owning the Mod Club Theatre stage (both Nick Cave and Iggy Pop frequently came to mind- and that’s saying quite a bit), his band exploded around him and consistently matched his energy level. Between songs, he would faux-berate the audience for not trying hard enough or for not being more into the performance- and at one point he even paused to conduct a music lecture on guitar composition (extended fives, sweeping fours, and triple sevens were all covered).
Never letting the energy levels drop even a fraction, Pissed Jeans annihilated just about every expectation and ended with what’s undoubtedly one of the strangest encores to ever be performed at NXNE. Here’s what happened: after a small but meaningful attempt from the audience to get the band back on stage for one more song, Korvette reappeared and took the reigns on bass and began playing a tribal-sounding bassline over and over, occasionally walking from the stage to the wings before disappearing completely (while still playing the bass). At one point, the guitarist became the drummer for a strange misdirect- and didn’t play a single note before getting off the throne and exiting the stage. Finally, after Korvette hadn’t appeared for about two minutes, he suddenly slid the bass out quite a ways onto the stage floor from his spot in the wings and the show was officially over. All of it caused one audience member to scream out “What did that even mean?!” which was shortly followed by his still-very-confused “…like, technically?!”. If only anyone knew.
Going from what was arguably the festival’s highlight to Lee’s Palace for what was inarguably the most uncomfortable set (courtesy of The Pizza Underground) was a little jarring. As mentioned up above, it’s difficult to know whether or not this could even be called a set- it was more of a comedy variety hour. At any rate, Maculay Culkin’s Velvet Underground-aping Pizza project had a hard time finding or developing any sort of noticeable rhythm and it kept tripping over itself to bring in new ideas or guests- among them: Plop Dylan (Bob Dylan songs with the lyrics altered so that they were about feces), a karaoke section from #PUSSYJOEL (Billy Joel songs about cats- the only thing the internet loves more than pizza), and a bizarre Tony Danza-impersonating stand-up comedian. The most clever of these wound up being the least tactful; Kurt Cobain’d- a man dressed up as Kurt Cobain (who was arguably the best musician to be featured throughout their set) doing Nirvana songs where all of the present tense verbs were switched to the past tense. By the end of their set, they were barely doing any of their original (a term used very loosely, all things considered) material. At least they bought Pizza for everyone.
An additional benefit of The Pizza Underground’s set? Culkin’s celebrity draw prompted one of the biggest non-Yonge Dundas Square turnouts and several of them stuck around- and were subsequently blown away- by an incendiary set from Shannon & the Clams. The band had previously caused a lot of people to fall pretty hard for them with an extraordinary track record of releases through Burger Records and Hardly Art. Live, the band more than lived up to the promise of their studio releases and quickly filled the spots in Lee’s Palace that had been abandoned after The Pizza Underground left a bad taste in much of the audience’s respective mouths. Not too long into their set, the entire standing section was full of people grinning widely and dancing their hearts out to Shannon & the Clams’ throwback rock n’ soul basement pop. All things considered, that lasting image was one of the best takeaway moments of NXNE.
After Shannon & the Clams had left everyone smiling, the plan was to go to Smiling Buddha to settle in for The Yips and Sam Coffey & the Iron Lungs- fortunately, after running into Speedy Ortiz- we were redirected to Odonis Odonis’ set at The Garrison. Arriving mid-set meant the audience was already packed. The members of Speedy Ortiz, looking a touch exhausted, snagged a spot at the adjacent bar and advised us to go in to catch the band. Already being anxious to catch Odonis Odonis (who appeared on Heartbreaking Bravery’s First Quarter Finish mixtape), caused no hesitation in a move for the venue doors. Only a few songs were caught but it didn’t take long for Odonis Odonis to establish their connection to METZ: both bands have the same intense careening-all-over-the-place stage presence and love of ear-shattering volume levels. Their spastic synth-driven noise-punk freakouts managed to re-establish a new energy precedent for the evening and wound up being the best surprise set of the festival.
The Garrison was then left behind for the second consecutive night at Smiling Buddha (which would be visited again on nights 4 and 5) for late shows from The Yips and Sam Coffey & the Iron Lungs. Both bands made the best use of a very small stage that they didn’t quite seem to fit on. All five members of The Yips kept grinning and bouncing off each other as if they were having the time of their lives- a trend that was continued by the six member lineup of Sam Coffey & the Iron Lungs. Where The Yips played surf-friendly basement pop that hinted at some art-friendly trappings, Sam Coffey & the Iron Lungs went the full blue-collar basement punk route. Both bands drew huge reactions from the crowd and there was more than one instance of crowd surfing. The Yips had people dancing. Sam Coffey & the Iron Lungs incited mass crowd sing-a-longs. There was clear-cut camaraderie between the bands and their audience in a small-scale environment- which is what all of the best festivals strive to achieve. It was a genuinely incredible end to an extraordinary day of sets and sent expectation skyrocketing for Day 3.
Watch videos from Caddywhompus, Pissed Jeans, Shannon & the Clams, The Yips, and Sam Coffey & the Iron Lungs below (apologies for the slightly blown-out audio)- beneath those, the photo gallery containing each band mentioned n the review. Enjoy.
Shannon & the Clams
Sam Coffey & the Iron Lungs