Heartbreaking Bravery

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Tag: CAN

Sonic Avenues – Teenage Brain (Music Video)

sonic avenues

With another good day for great music winding to a probable close, once again, we’re left with a few things to cover. Among them: an outstanding Yves Saint Laurent-commissioned single from Cherry Glazerr called “Had Ten Dollaz“, the first look at former Texas is the Reason vocalist Garret Klahn’s upcoming 7″, and a catchy bit of weirdness from Trouble in Mind psych-poppers The Paperhead. Over in the more visual mediums, Mazes made one hell of an impression by balancing the nightmarish and the surreal with a comedic touch in their video for the already-outstanding “Salford“. Even with that taken into consideration, the temptation to feature Sonic Avenues’ music video for their most recent effort (and not the reissue of their should-be-classic self-titled effort) proved to be too much, so today’s feature falls to “Teenage Brain”.

Mistakes has proven to be one of 2014’s easy highlights and “Teenage Brain” still managed to stand out, so giving it a video was a logical move. What defies traditional logic is how the David Dunham-directed video gets maximum impact out of decidedly minimal effects. “Teenage Brain” on its own is a coursing, no-holds barred basement punk ripper with a tremendous amount of pop influence- recalling (to an almost frightening degree) the music Jay Reatard was cranking out during his transition from Goner to Matador. All the video does is throw the band over various low-budget effects creating a manic psychedelia that plays into the band’s penchant for frenzy extraordinarily well. Everything clicks here on a level that surpasses any expectations that the pitch for this video likely brought about. To top the entire thing off, they included a credits end-tag brimming with a distinctive brand of subtle humor. None of this should work as well as it does but it’s hard to argue against perfect execution. All in all, this is easily one of this month’s most compulsively watchable videos. Watch it and hit repeat.

“Teenage Brain” can be seen below and Mistakes can be ordered from Green Noise here.

METZ at Smiling Buddha – 6/22/14 (Review, Photos, Video)

METZ XXVII

The last full bill to get taken in during the Toronto trip wasn’t part of a festival but it was at the venue that housed several of the best NXNE shows: Smiling Buddha. Up to bat for the all-ages isolated bill this time around was Pleasure Leftists, Holy Fuck, and noise-punk titans METZ. Pleasure Leftists had already torn apart Soybomb HQ the night before, in what was easily the most stacked non-festival bill to take place all week and were more than poised to take Smiling Buddha over in the exact same fashion: fearlessly and without pause. Once again, vocalist Haley Morris proved to be as spellbinding as the music pouring out of the cabs behind her. Frantically shifting from side to side, Morris commanded attention and channeled the relative bleakness of the increasingly spectacular songs into something entrancing and indefinable. There’s a certain spirit permeating throughout Pleasure Leftists’ work and presentation that so many bands are trying to do but failing miserably in their attempts. It’s an intangible element and it resonates throughout all of their songs to an absurd degree. Moments of nervousness, dread, tension, fear, anger, and the unknown all get emphasized in one way or another through Pleasure Leftists’ songs and the band, time and time again, manages to find a way to harness it. Both of their performances were unforgettable affairs but the masterfully mixed levels at Smiling Buddha put their second performance just a notch above the first. Both outings proved that the band has found the perfect balancing point between the graceful and the intimidating. Both times it was extraordinary.

Toronto noise/electronic/experimental trio Holy Fuck graced the stage after Pleasure Leftists’ set left a few more uninitiated attendees completely stunned. If there was any trepidation over how well Holy Fuck’s set, a relative outlier, the band eased those doubts within a few songs. Being one of the few acts playing their brand of music to feature live drums on a full drumkit worked out to the band’s advantage in more ways than one. Did it make them a more suitable fit for the bill? Yes. Absolutely. Was it beneficial during the band’s early sound problems? Undoubtedly. Each member of the trio attacked their instruments with unbridled passion, clearly loving every moment of their time on stage. While the drums were being pounded into oblivion, both multi-instrumentalists set about utilizing everything in their arsenal to its maximum potential. Their audience ate it up; people were headbanging, dancing, and attempting to project as much energy onto the band as the band was projecting onto them. What some assumed would be an unmitigated booking disaster instead wound up presenting a clearly-loved contrast (or reprieve) from the moodiness exhibited by both Pleasure Leftists and METZ. Holy Fuck kept things going for as long as they could, smiling all the way through. At set’s end, they were all drenched in sweat, still smiling, and looking at an entire venue smiling right back at them.

After delivering an insane set last year in a very small room of an arts center in Champaign-Urbana, IL as part of the Pygmalion Festival, expectations were considerably lofty for METZ- especially considering the fact they were playing to a hometown crowd. They didn’t disappoint. They didn’t even come close. METZ didn’t even manage to make it through their first few songs before the crowd had tipped over into verging-on-volatile, killing the stage flood lights completely. Instead of getting hung up on an understandable technical issue, the trio subverted expectations in a way only they can, pleading with the photographers present to use their brightest flashes to create a natural strobe light effect. All of them obliged. What followed from that point forward was an exercise in endurance for both the audience, a constantly shifting heaving mass of bodies, and the band themselves, who each managed to turn their clothes a few shades darker via profuse, hard-earned, sweat. The band’s self-titled Sub Pop LP is still their defining achievement and most of it was played- but they did manage to throw in a crowd-assisted cover of “Neat Neat Neat” as well as a new song or two, while providing discography balance wherever they could. Audience members were actively encouraged to climb onstage and hang out for a song or two while also being given the standard reminder that “if you see anyone fall down in the pit, pick their ass back up, give them a kiss on the cheek, and keep going”. No one gets hurt at a METZ show and everyone looks out for each other. No matter how much screeching feedback, pure chaos, total noise, and unrelenting darkness there was, it never felt too dangerous. METZ refused to let it get too dangerous, even though they know exactly how to walk right up to the border. That underlying humanism is part of what makes a METZ show feel so enlightening; this is outstanding music being made by genuinely great people- and it’s worthy of being celebrated on all accounts.

Follow the link provided below to see a photo gallery of this show. Beneath that is a video of Pleasure Leftists’ set hitting its stride.

Smiling Buddha: Pleasure Leftists, Holy Fuck, METZ (Photo Gallery)

Perfect Pussy at Soybomb HQ – 6/21/14 (Review, Photos, Video)

Cellphone V

While NXNE provided a lot of the most memorable moments I’ve had so far this year, I’d be completely and totally remiss not to pay special attention to one of the non-festival shows: an absolutely stacked lineup flying under the Summer Melt banner and taking place in the middle of a halfpipe. Originally, the show (heavy on local Toronto acts) was going to be headlined by the Cleveland-based Pleasure Leftists– an incredibly casual last-minute offer allowed Perfect Pussy to step in literally hours beforehand as a secret headliner. To their credit, their secret remained a secret (unlike the Spoon debacle just a night before) and caught several attendees by surprise as they entered the venue (which had set times drawn up on a long sheet of paper and in plain sight). A late arrival meant missing a slew of talented bands including Wrong Hole, Das Rad, Toronto Homicide Squad, Petra Glynt, and Teenanger.

Even five bands in, the night was far from over. It didn’t take long for Cellphone (pictured above) to set up and it took even less time for them to impress. On record, the quartet emphasizes their roughness, eclecticism, and electronic leanings. Live? They explode with a fury worthy of the hardest-hitting bands of STT’s golden age. Hüsker Dü, Black Flag, and (especially) Dinosaur Jr. all came to mind as apparent touchstones during different parts of their set, which stayed rooted in something totally intangible and unique to them. Hardcore influences and progressions cut apart riff-heavy melodicism and the band frequently sounds like they’re on the verge of spiraling out of control. It’s a controlled mania that had more than a few people shoving and dancing as hard as they possibly could by their set’s end. It was one of a very large handful of shows the band played throughout the NXNE dates and the practice showed- the end result was the best set of the trip from a band I’d previously never heard of.

Toronto’s Ice Cream may not have had the blinding energy of Cellphone but they certainly weren’t lacking in intrigue. The band’s a very minimalist post-punk act made up of nothing more than vocals, bass, a very occasional guitar, and synth. While they were stealthily making their way through their set (and the bottom of a bottle of liquor), they ran a bubble machine to its dregs. A little more than halfway through their set, a very-probably-inebriated audience member kept trying (and partially succeeding) at getting the bubbles back up and running, as the band played on, relatively amused and unconcerned. Most of their set hinged on bright melodies and pop-leaning basslines but when they deviated away from this, especially towards the end of their set, they found new life and hit new peaks. When their set finally wound down, they’d succeeded in creating an impression while simultaneously leaving the space wide-open for Pleasure Leftists to do just about anything they wanted.

Pleasure Leftists took full advantage of what was essentially a new slate after Ice Cream wound things down. After a string of strong releases on Deranged Records, the Cleveland band was in rare form, which was likely in part to the excessive amount of touring they’ve been doing lately. They’ve sharpened their brand of brooding post-punk and the fangs  that they’ve grown along with it. While the whole band is incredibly formidable in their respective roles and fully capable of creating towering soundscapes of tension-filled dread, vocalist Haley Morris still stands out. Onstage, Morris is a force to be reckoned with; a constant- and constantly expressive- larger-than-life presence. Pouring an endless supply of nervous energy and pure feeling into her delivery, Morris commands attention so completely that it occasionally runs the risk of losing track of what’s happening around her- don’t make that mistake. Pleasure Leftists’ instrumentalists are so well-versed in post-punk that on first listen someone could easily mistake them for a long-lost 70’s UK band that split small club bills with Warsaw. Their set was everything anyone could hope for and was rousing enough to leave the audience absolutely stunned. Everything that Pleasure Leftists are currently doing is clicking so neatly into place that it’s impossible to expect their trajectory to stabilize in anything other than ascension.

Finally, at a time roughly between 3:00 and 3:30 A.M., Perfect Pussy had set up and was off with their usual intensity. It’s no secret how I feel about this band and this won’t be the last time I write about them- or come even remotely close. I have made my feelings about them very public on multiple occasions and will continue to do so- because they are firmly rooted in all of the ethos that I believe in. Morality, integrity, independence, acceptance, and a commitment to DIY are all present in both their music and their interview. Vocalist Meredith Graves, in particular, has been very vocal about things that people need to start being more vocal about (and almost all of them are extensions of basic human kindness, compassion, and empathy). I would probably know next to none of this if I hadn’t been absolutely blown away by their 2013 demo I have lost all desire for feeling and made it a point to get as close to the band, who were making music I loved so fiercely and championing ideals I so firmly believed in, as I possibly could. It’s been a downright honor to watch the public interest in them skyrocket since the release of that demo and when Say Yes to Love came out, it made them feel revelatory all over again.

As with any band experiencing success, this meant seeing the venues housing them gradually grow- and the tickets fly much faster than they used to. So, when Graves pulled me aside after their Great Hall appearance for a beer at a Toronto bar to catch up and explain the events of the previous night, I was already on a barely-contained adrenaline rush. When we were interrupted by a guy offering to add Perfect Pussy onto an already-stacked bill that was being topped by Pleasure Leftists in a halfpipe in the middle of the night, all I could do was look at a noticeably excited Graves and hope she’d say yes. After all the details got figured out, it became evident fairly quickly that this was probably going to be the show that I remembered most from the Toronto stay. A band I’d loved and been chomping at the bit to see for the longest time (Pleasure Leftists) playing in a small, DIY space with who is arguably my favorite band of the moment playing after them as a secret headliner? With local support to top everything off, it seemed fail-proof. It was. Even though the late slot meant playing to an exhausted/subdued crowd, when Perfect Pussy tore into their set, it finally felt like they were at home. It was the exact kind of space that the band has fostered mutually symbiotic relationships with- even as their stature would suggest they’ve outgrown them.

It felt like a subtle, extraordinary moment and it was a privilege to be there to witness something like that happen. Even though the band’s set was abbreviated (even for them), it still hit with the force of an all-out military strike and the band laid just about everything they had on the line. Drummer Garrett Koloski was simultaneously battling to keep his kit upright and continuing to beat the living shit out of it- bassist Greg Ambler was tapping into an inward violence- guitarist Ray McAndrew was thrashing about more spiritedly than ever- synth/noise artist Shaun Sutkus was tucked away in the back, occasionally letting the music move him into making frantic body motions- and vocalist Meredith Graves (easily one of the finest bad leaders that this generation’s produced) commanding as much attention as humanly possible without being consumed by the din around her. All of the songs they played that evening were initially written down on a sheet of paper, cut into ribbons, and placed in a hat where the setlist was drawn out of- with the exception of one, which McAndrew took it upon himself to launch into, without warning, adding an element of surprise for both the audience and his bandmates. That moment was the only sly sidestep in an otherwise pulverizing, straightforward set that re-confirmed Perfect Pussy as one of the most entertaining live bands currently playing shows. By the time “Advance Upon the Real” wound down into Sutkus’ noise epilogue, they’d provided the evening with enough punch and verve to ensure that it wouldn’t be an evening that anyone who was present for it forget about it anytime soon. It didn’t feel like they’d officially arrived; it felt like they’d arrived home.

The photo gallery of this show can be accessed by clicking the link below. Beneath that link is a video of Perfect Pussy ending their set with “Advance Upon the Real”.

Soybomb HQ (Photo Gallery)

NXNE Day 3: Perfect Pussy (Review, Photos)

Perfect Pussy XLV

This was it; this was every single reason I came to NXNE. A band that means so much to me that I refuse to write about them from my usual distant vantage point headlining a bill stacked full of personal favorites. A finale where vocalist Meredith Graves, whom I love dearly and have called the patron saint of this site, shed her skin so completely that you could see her soul. A set that literally set an amp head on fire. A split crowd that was as violent as it was enchanted; both sides frozen to their spot, shouting out insults or silently praying for the well-being of Graves as she sank to the floor, adjusting the microphone with her. A bass that was split in half over the knee of Greg Ambler, broken out of frustration, regret, and helplessness.  A kiss on the cheek. A small but meaningful exchange several minutes before the chaos that Perfect Pussy has so capably controlled in the past finally reared its head and did its best to consume them; the unfailing resilience of three people desperate to fight back. A fierce performance that turned into an unforgettable event. A religious experience.

Nearly all of that happened in the band’s final ten minutes and that was nearly every participant’s takeaway. Accusations started rolling in almost as soon as the band was forcefully escorted off of the stage by the same staff that refused to help them when their bass amp finally gave out. “The bassist is abusive to the rest of the band”, “the singer can’t handle pressure”, “that fucking sucked”, “this is exactly what happened at the bridge a few months ago at SXSW”. Wrong, wrong, and wrong. Wrong again. I’ll get to all of that in a moment but not before I get to what nearly everyone writing about this has seemingly forgotten: prior to that point, while still struggling with some sound issues (most notably bass and vocal levels), Perfect Pussy was careening headlong into their set and had whipped an audience- that had previously been almost uniformly gentle- into an outright frenzy. Bruises, cuts, and blows were given and earned at roughly the same rate. No one had any intention of stopping as the band, as they do at their best, ceased resembling a band and instead became more reminiscent of a white-hot wrecking ball. All of the songs came at a blink-and-it’s-gone clip, one after another: “Driver”, “Bells”, “Work”, “Big Stars”, each song inciting a new aggressive push in the audience- and in the band.

Then, everything was broken wide open; smoke started emanating from the bass head as the circuitry caught fire, a visibly shaken Graves looked out into a spot of nothingness and repeated “I don’t know how to ask for help”. A guitar that was re-purposed as a bass was split over a knee and handed off to a hungry audience (the instrument was no big loss- Ambler hadn’t expected it to last the weekend). Then, a few moments of confusion passed, looks were exchanged, and without warning Graves, drummer Garrett Koloski, and noise extraordinaire Shaun Sutkus all started to sink their teeth in as Ambler and guitarist Ray McAndrew exited the stage. What, just moments ago, had been an explosive set was now taking on new life as performance art.

It didn’t take long for the jeering to begin: every variation of “you suck” and “get off the stage” were directed at the surviving trio. Most damningly, though, was the repeated chant of “fuck off and go die”. Initially, after hearing Graves’ exhaustion in a short exchange before their set, I was filled with concern for my friend as I watched her tremble, on the verge of tears, before her exaggerated breathing fell in line with the rhythmic propulsion provided by Koloski and Sutkus. As Graves seemed to pull herself further inward, she began to fall into a quiet desperation and began repeating the mantra of “jealousy, anger, hate, regret, fear” (this same mantra is buried within the recesses of “VII”, the outstanding album-closer from Say Yes to Love). As this was happening, I stopped taking pictures. I considered jumping the edge of the stage to embrace my friend (a few of the people attending this with me urged me to do the same); someone who I was convinced was on the verge of a complete breakdown. My feet were cemented to the spot, I’m not sure I could have moved if I had tried.

Then, it clicked. I saw something in Graves’ eyes- a certain determination that is unique to her. It’s that same determination that’s helped make her one of the most compelling performers of this generation (a claim I don’t make lightly and one I’ve firmly believed since well before our first few talks). After receiving that small reassurance, I pulled my camera back out and began documenting- still concerned but no longer overcome with fear and anxiety. Once again, I found myself surrounded by a pool of silenced onlookers and unfiltered vitriol; the critical-commercial contrast of Perfect Pussy come to complete and total fruition. That contrast is one of the things that drove me to the band in the first place, two extremes so vocally present in two separate mediums: the content of the article vs. the comments section. Only that night, the two audiences that stood in contrast to each other weren’t critics and readers; it was the actual audience vs. the band itself. And all of the sudden, that mantra “jealousy, anger, hate, regret, fear” took on a new, layered meaning.

The five qualities contained in that mantra are the five you’re supposed to live without. It’s a philosophy that Graves has embraced- only on the night of June 20, 2014, she got hung up on one: regret. Graves would eventually break the mantra to repeat “regret’ over and over, taking as few breaths as possible. I would find out later, as she repeated the word each time, she was crawling back into her past and doing her best to address and forgive all of the regrets that she was still clinging to. Reality began to flirt with art once more and a newfound sadness crept into Graves’ repetitions. As each breath became shorter, each new face inflected with more pain, and each word grew more impassioned, the microphone was drawn closer to the floor. A few minutes into this brutally rigorous self-examination, the moment took hold of Graves and the weight of it drove her incrementally down until, finally, she was kneeling on the stage, flush, short of breath, a few tears escaping, and doing her best to manage her demons.

In those moments, everything around me felt quiet, even though the chants continued. Graves didn’t have that luxury; she instead chose to fixate on that harrowing “fuck off and go die” chant coming from at least one person. “Fuck off and go die”. “Fuck off and go die”. “FUCK OFF AND GO DIE.” Each new iteration was what Graves chose to take from the audience in front of her- and she obliged it. Graves would steal me away for a beer and talk about this at length the next day, which is a conversation where I’d learn new lengths of her empathy and understanding: “Fuck off and go die?” “Okay, if you want to see me die, I’ll destroy myself in front of you. Maybe then you’ll finally find some happiness.” This, in a nutshell, is one of the strongest reasons for my celebrations of Perfect Pussy. That dedication to compassion for all sides, a trait exhibited most strongly by Graves and adamantly reinforced by the best of the band. There’s an earnest quality to Perfect Pussy that stands in direct opposition to the apathy so prevalent in music earning acclaim today. This performance, more than any other offering the band has given, cemented their conviction.

Graves would later go on to say that during her reactionary exchange with the bold heckling, she couldn’t stop thinking of Serbian performance artist Marina Abramović- her piece “Rhythm 0” in particular- and it’s hard to blame her. The parallels that she’s had to endure are eerily similar; it’s never easy to be subjected to a public trial when more than half of the audience seems intent on doing their best to make you aware that they can end you. I’ve been back to Perfect Pussy’s performance in my head time and time again, each time with a little more contextual information. Nothing can ever fully duplicate what it was like watching everything unfold but each revisit’s provided at least one more new answer or one more stray thought. My certainty about some aspects increases while my curiosity about the rest of it grows exponentially.

At least those accusations that were quoted above can all be dealt with simply: “The bassist is abusive to the rest of the band?” No, Ambler’s “hissy fit” wasn’t pure impulsion; everyone in the band had done all they could to warrant attention to some potentially venue-threatening problems, he did what was quite literally one of the only things that they could have done to finally get it. “The singer can’t handle pressure?” No. That’s what most of this piece has been about; it’s also worth noting that I shared a few words with a guitarist from The Kickback, who had come for Spoon but secured a spot for Perfect Pussy, who may have put it most adeptly: “I loved it. It was in your face and you just had to deal with it. They made you deal with it. It was what punk’s supposed to be.” Ambler’s bass-breaking was certainly a far cry from his flinging a previous bass off a bridge in Austin during SXSW– while it’s true both instances were motivated in part by frustration and both took place at music festivals, that’s literally their only connecting threads. “That fucking sucked?” I know I can’t definitively state whether something’s good or bad- but I will do my best to argue that particular assumption every time I come across it.

One part that keeps haunting me, no matter how many angles I approach it from, is how the set ended. It didn’t end on the artist’s terms and felt like a total violation of artistry in general. It was the pinnacle of an evening that was full of behind-the-scenes hostility. Whether it came from ill-mannered heckling, whether it came from a beer being literally grabbed out of one of the previous performer’s hands backstage by the crew that was on hand for the evening, by the (likely unintentionally) overbearing nature of the marketing campaign to let just about anyone know that Spoon was the “secret” headliner well before doors, and the ever-present corporatization of a lineup full of artists that do their best to champion independent ideals. Then, in a final egregious public manifestation, that hostility took on its most present form by way of NXNE security marching onstage to remove the three remaining members of Perfect Pussy by force.

First they came to Sutkus, who looked at them with some disbelief, heard something and shook his head “no” before wordlessly exiting the stage; Koloski followed roughly the same routine while throwing his hands up in mild disgust. I’d find out later that they were both asked to escort the now crumpled-on-the-floor Graves from her position at the microphone. They came for her last, as she was still shouting “regret”, visibly shaken and deep inside her own thoughts: “Regret!” “Regret!” “Re-GRET!” “REGRET!” ringing out more clearly than ever, now with no synthesizers to back it- only some light, propulsive drumming. “REGRET!” “REGRET!” “REGRET!” Now, more furiously than ever. “REGRET!” “REGRET!” “REGRET!” “REGRET!” “REGRET!” Now, on its own, with only jeers and stunned, apprehensive silence serving as the backdrop. “REGRET!” “REGRET!” “REGR-“. A hand on the shoulder, a look up, a sad acceptance. A snapped trance. A return to real life with a new lease. A stunned audience.

And then, as Graves was being forcibly helped off the stage by the same staff that refused to help her when she needed it, she flashed a bleary smile, in one final and defiant act of heartbreaking bravery.

All I could do was applaud.

An extensive photo gallery of this set can be accessed here.

NXNE: Day 3 (Review, Photos, Videos)

Spoon XI

Since there were a lot of personal allowances factoring into Day 3 for me, I’ll forego the usual narrative rule and allow myself the use of first-person for this paragraph (and the last). My entire decision to attend NXNE hinged on the lineup for what would be the only show I would see on June 20, 2014; the show at The Legendary Horseshoe Tavern- which was re-branded Budweiser Music House at The Legendary Horseshoe Tavern thanks to some (admittedly frustrating) corporate sponsorship. What was initially supposed to be an incredible lineup featuring site favorites Greys, Benjamin Booker, Viet Cong, Speedy Ortiz, Swearin’, and, of course, Perfect Pussy, generated even more interest when word leaked out that Spoon was added on late as a secret headliner. This would cause some complications and push the venue past capacity towards the end of the night- but also ensured that as many people bore witness to Perfect Pussy delivering one of the most genuinely unforgettable sets I’ve ever seen (this being the case, it will be covered as a full review in an additional piece). It was the night’s defining moment but didn’t detract from what would be several outstanding performances from each of the other featured bands.

These performances kicked off with Greys, who wasted no time in setting the night’s tone; fiery, intense, full of verve, and impassioned as hell. Every band would live up to this and deliver their own variation on it but few would have a moment as incendiary as the perfect, manic transition of “Guy Picciotto” into “Use Your Delusion“. Greys’ set was twice as fiery as they were at their impressive Day 1 appearance and despite their set being shorter, the reception was still incredibly strong. Once again, their cover of Mission of Burma’s “That’s How I Escaped My Certain Fate” proved to be a set highlight that helped sustain their incessant momentum. By the time they exited the stage, they’d done everything a young band was supposed to- and likely won a few more converts along the way.

Benjamin Booker took up the torch that was set ablaze by Grey’s and held it at a slight disadvantage; people haven’t heard his debut album- or really know who he is at all. Greys at least had the benefit of a local draw- but Booker had the support of a stellar bill around him and knew he’d have quite a bit to live up to. He delivered, on all accounts. After his incredible appearance on Letterman, though, it was hard to expect anything less. His New Orleans roots were clearly evidenced in his music’s tendency to lean towards being a punk-tinged rock n’ soul throwback (or, in less confusing terms, everything The Black Keys are supposed to be). With a self-titled debut due out on ATO Records, expectations for Booker are high- and if that’s fazing him, he didn’t let it show. It was a triumphant set that hit all the right notes and created a lasting impression. Booker’s last song, in particular, was a noisy, chaotic stunner that was the heaviest song in the set- a trend that would be enforced by every band on the bill. That last song also prompted the very first “one more song” chant of the evening, while Booker’s dropped guitar was left onstage feeding back. He’s a rare talent that has genre sensibility in spades, and infuses his music with a deeply-felt blues. It won’t be long before his name’s appearing in a lot more places.

By the time Calgary’s Viet Cong took the stage, the venue had started to get a little crammed. Viet Cong’s Cassette has been generating a lot of interest in a lot of circles- and given people who loved the short-lived band Women something to love again. After seeing their live performance; it’s earned. All of the critical acclaim and adulation that the band’s certainly going to be receiving throughout the year- it’s all earned. Deftly combining spiky post-punk with a commitment to creative minimalism while emphasizing a tone more somber than celebratory, they’ve landed on a recipe for success. An apathetic demeanor slips in and out of their music, lending it a certain tension and dread that some bands spend their entire existences trying to find. While these songs sound great on record, they breathe in an arresting new way in a live setting. No matter what small setbacks their set experienced (sound difficulties were another unfortunate trend of the evening), the band found ways to manage them. Most memorably, after guitarist Scott Munro broke a string, vocalist/bassist Matt Flegel spearheaded a tribal minute-and-a-half song and followed it with a bit of snark: “If it was [other guitarist] Danny breaking a string on the spot, I wouldn’t have made up a song on the spot, I would have called him a showoff.” It was a welcome bit of unexpected humor from an almost terrifyingly precise band. Viet Cong ended their set in a blaze of fury and chaos and left no uncertainty to the fact that this is a band fully intent on heading places.

Returning to the playfulness of Viet Cong’s broken string reprieve was Speedy Ortiz, who took the stage all smiles and full of quick jokes. Throughout their set they would introduce songs as being about some of the following: The Toronto Raptors, birthdays of band members (that weren’t celebrating their birthdays), and LMFAO- who they gave a well-informed history lecture on (specifically the fact that the duo share a family relation- they’re uncle and nephew). Best of all, though, was their song about “beating Viet Cong up behind the Horseshoe Tavern” after expressing excitement over sharing a bill with sharing so many of their friends- and promising to beat up the ones who weren’t already. On a separate instance, they spent a solid two minutes trying to figure out where the term “hoser” originated from and if it was derogatory or not and eventually deciding it was something to do with gardening or hoses. As great as it is to reminisce about great banter, the fact that Speedy Ortiz delivered one of the most complete sets of the evening- if not the festival- should not be understated. “Doomsday”, “Bigger Party”, and a chill-inducing “No Below” all stood out as highlights in a particularly explosive set. Guitar heroics and sharp drumming were on full display. While sound continued to be an issue, they managed their levels as well as they could and played their hearts out. It was the kind of set that inspires people to starts bands.

Swearin’ was next at bat and wound up being as perfect as ever. They’re a band that’s meant a lot to a lot of people and the support surrounding them was clear. The only thing that even partially marred what was another flawless set was the continuing prevalence of frustratingly low levels for the vocals (this would ultimately come to a head with Perfect Pussy and will factor heavily into the ensuing post). With a discography-spanning set that was equally kind to What A Dump, their self-titled, and Surfing Strange, the band took advantage of the night’s atmosphere and played harder than ever. All of their songs came with a hint of either menace or vulnerability, depending on which route they decided to go (“Empty Head” was the highlight in the case of the latter, while “Dust in the Gold Sack” was the former’s high point). Wasting little to no time on banter, they tore into every song of their set with an intensity more common of a hardcore band than one playing 90’s-leaning basement pop. It was another extraordinary set that hit its peak with the 1-2 What A Dump double punch of “Irrational” and “What A Dump”. By the time guitarist/vocalist Kyle Gilbride’s straplock came rocketing out into the audience during those heavy “Kill ‘Em With Kindness” breakdowns, the band looked like they were ready for anything- and kept the evening pushing forward at breakneck pace.

Original headliners Perfect Pussy played next- and, as mentioned previously, will be covered in full in the post that follows this one. A quick summation for the sake of providing Spoon’s review context: Perfect Pussy played most of their set before a bass head caught fire, no one came to help them despite their most earnest pleas, bassist Greg Ambler snapped his bass and left it to the audience, guitarist Ray McAndrew joined Ambler as he walked off, Shaun Sutkus’ synths and Garrett Koloski’s drumming urged on vocalist Meredith Graves as she slowly sunk to the floor repeating an important mantra with every inch of herself over the chaos, looking very much on the verge of tears and in a state of overwhelmed frustration, the audience reacted- some with unbridled vitriol in an urge to see Spoon (an unbelievably disgusting chant of “Fuck off and die” was repeated several times by at least one individual)- some in an outright trance waiting to see what would happen. They were abruptly escorted off the stage, one-by-one, and Spoon’s set-up time began shortly after. It was a moment of unhinged insanity that bled passion and wound up feeling like a religious experience.

By the time Spoon took the stage, the venue had started spilling out past maximum capacity and the vocal problem was fixed after some communication between the stage and the soundboard revealed the vocals were being run through line 2 rather than the acoustic channel (whether or not this was true for the entire evening is unclear- but it certainly was for Spoon). By the time Spoon took the stage, the mood still felt hostile after the aftermath of the unforgettable ending of Perfect Pussy’s set and made the atmosphere uncomfortable. With the privilege of some inside information regarding the behind-the-scenes going-on’s of the night, it became increasingly difficult to stick around for Spoon’s entire set. Spoon, for their part, played extraordinarily well- each a magnetic presence with Britt Daniel, especially, exuding charisma and star magnetism. After approximately five (admittedly excellent) songs, the preceding events kicked in and I left my spot at the front of the stage for someone who wanted it more- and to check in on my friends (and was subsequently assured everyone was alright and led to a story that will- again- factor into the ensuing write-up). After watching a few more songs from the wings, I wound up meeting up with Speedy Ortiz who spun even more horror stories about the events of the evening. Speedy Ortiz would wind up waiting hours past Spoon’s closing time to load their equipment out thanks to what was essentially, frankly, a disgusting technical condition. After hearing every side from every angle, one thing was clear; it was a frustrating evening for just about anyone that played- but everyone played with everything they had, leaving it, at it’s worst and at it’s best, an incredibly memorable evening for everyone involved.

Videos and links to the photo galleries of Day 3 below.

NXNE Day 3: Greys, Benjamin Booker, Viet Cong (Photo Gallery)
NXNE Day 3: Speedy Ortiz, Swearin’, Spoon (Photo Gallery)