Heartbreaking Bravery

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Tag: NXNE 20

NXNE: Day 4 + 5 (Review, Photos)

Courtney Barnett XIV

[AUTHOR’S NOTE: Once again, apologies are necessary for the long drought of material. I have been organizing, writing, shooting, editing, and attending more events than usual. This has taken up a considerable amount of time but Heartbreaking Bravery hasn’t been forgotten. In fact, most of it has been for the site and will be posted about shortly. Full attention will return shortly and regular posting will resume along with it.]

NXNE is now more than a month in the past but it’s difficult not to keep returning to those shows. The last two days of that Toronto trip were made up of some of the most explosively visceral and gratifying shows anyone could possibly ask for. Two of those shows won’t be accounted for in this review as they weren’t official parts of the festival. Both shows will be given their own full reviews following everything here. Now that all of that’s out of the way, onto the shows themselves.

Day 4 of NXNE kicked off at Sonic Boom where noise/hardcore duo Creep Highway immediately set about providing as much sonic destruction as they possibly could. The duo, led by guitarist/vocalist Michael DeForge, played a fierce, ragged set that saw inflections of powerviolence weaving in and out of their songs. It was an arresting start and both DeForge and drummer Patrick Kyle looked exhausted, but happy, when the last bits of feedback were finally cut off. After happily enduring their onslaught, it was a mad dash over to The Great Hall for Perfect Pussy, looking to avoid another unfortunate situation.

Not two steps were taken into a crowded Great Hall before hearing Graves’ earnest “Hi, we’re Perfect Pussy” led the band straight into their usual chaos. Only this time, unlike the (admittedly mesmerizing) performance not even twelve hours prior, everything went off without a hitch. Their levels were mixed well, Graves’ confrontational pleading was audible, Greg Ambler’s bass- and bass amp- were both in tact, and the audience fed into the band’s energy with a strong display of their own. All of the usual highlights remained extraordinarily strong moments (“Interference Fits”, in particular- still as much of a contender for “song of the decade” as it’s ever been) and by the time Shaun Sutkus’ loops were turning into decays in the epilogue section of “Advance Upon the Real”, Graves was sitting onstage with her backpack, entranced by her bandmate, and looking deservedly pleased. All in all, it was over in about twenty minutes and wound up as another strong example of their live prowess.

After sticking around to hear a few enchanting songs from ANAIKA and leaving with Graves for a very revealing conversation about the previous nights events, it was off to the Ryerson University outdoor stage for an enchanting set from Frankie Cosmos. Graced with good weather and good sound, the young (and very prolific) singer-songwriter delivered each of her songs in high spirits to a small but appreciative crowd. Fan favorite “On the Lips” proved to be an easy high point; it’s as sweet and startling as it’s ever been. All of Cosmos’ bands played off her to near-perfection, each seeming like a natural extension of her songs themselves. By the end of the set, they were all miming their respective parts before falling down in a memorable bit of unassuming humor that wound up being the perfect capper to what was one of the festival’s most endearing performances.

When Frankie Cosmos’ set had come to a close, it was difficult to keep up (any serious festival attendee or reporter will attest to how exhausting the most extensive can be) so there was a dead-zone until Swearin’ took things over at Smiling Buddha. After dealing with some unfortunate mixing situations the previous night, it was a thrill that bordered on catharsis to enter a venue and hear the band in fine form, mixed to perfection. Once again, they offered up an incredibly balanced set that had clear highlights in particularly fiery renditions of “What A Dump”, “Dust in the Gold Sack”, and “Movie Star”. By the time their set had drawn to a close, they’d thrown down the perfect reminder of why they’ve earned so much critical adoration and fan loyalty. Swearin’ are one of the best bands out there- not an easy claim to make, but an impossible one to ignore after seeing a set like that one. A perfect way to end the official festival portion of Day 4.

Day 5 would be split between two venues and only one of them was an official NXNE showcase, which is why this is being included here instead of given separate billing. That showcase took place, once more, at Sonic Boom (and was graciously hosted by the inimitable Chart Attack– who had hosted the previous day as well). It began with a rousing set from one of Australia’s finest exports, Courtney Barnett. An early crowd had formed for the on-the-rise artist and Barnett delivered the way she always does; with warmth, grace, and an endless supply of smiles. No one in the band seemed able to contain their happiness or gratitude and were even smiling through their technical difficulties (which were expertly maneuvered into noise sections that fit the songs so perfectly that it almost felt like they should be integral parts of the band’s sound/records). It was a surprisingly ragged set (made even more ragged by Barnett’s virtue of refusing to use a pick) that sounded as blissed-out as the band looked, even in some fairly startling heaviness the band’s adopted into their palette. Everything about Barnett’s set pointed to one thing: her name isn’t one that will be disappearing anytime soon.

Local band Army Girls‘ bluesy post-punk leanings were next to be featured and the duo lived up to the promise of their recordings. It was one of their first appearances in a while and if there was any rust, it didn’t show. Between seriously impressive displays of fretwork and control from guitarist/vocalist Carmen Elle and drummer Andy Smith, Elle would offer up some biting banter before launching into the next song. Nearly everyone in Sonic Boom couldn’t seem to take their eyes off of them; even Courtney Barnett was dancing in between the aisles and shouting between-song encouragement. She wasn’t alone. Army Girls’ set had an even, practiced feel to it that warranted both attention and investment. If this band ever decides to make a serious run, it’ll be one to keep both eyes on. That their set was the last official NXNE showcase to be taken in felt appropriate; it was another perfect example of the independent spirit that the festival built itself on- and of the city that hosted it. Here’s to NXNE XX- and here’s to looking forward to the 21st installment.

The photo galleries of both days can be accessed below.

NXNE: Day 4 (Photo Gallery)
NXNE: Day 5 (Photo Gallery)

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)

5 to See at NXNE 2014: Vol. 3

With the 20th anniversary of NXNE set to take place in a month (the music leg runs from the 18th to the 22nd, though there are film, comedy, and interactive legs before that), it’s time to kick the pre-fest coverage into high gear. After all, there’s a lot to cover considering how extensively packed this year’s lineup is. While Heartbreaking Bravery does its best to place an emphasis on the bands currently engrossed in the DIY circuit, it’s good to remember that most major acts started on the same foot. Which is why in this volume of the 5 to See series, both emerging and established artists will be covered. It’d be downright cruel not to shine a spotlight on someone as artistically creative as, say, St. Vincent. With all of that out of the way (and kept in mind), here are five acts absolutely worth catching next month in Toronto.

1.  Spoon

What to Know: There are few bands out there who have managed to define their identity the way Spoon has. As influential as they’ve become, it’s still difficult to find good bands that sound even remotely like them. It’s not something that should come as too much of a surprise, though, it was a fairly singular style to begin with. If anything, structurally, the band leans closer to classic jazz than anything in the modern canon. All nerve, razor-sharp precision, and erratic blasts, they’ve earned their level of celebrity. They’re worth celebrating for being one of the bands that went against the grain and won. Boasting a remarkably consistent discography (they’ve yet to make anything that comes even close to approaching blandness) and an impressive live show, this is an act that’ll be tough to afford to miss.

What to Watch:

2. Mutual Benefit

What to Know: Jordan Lee’s outfit has now earned itself places on two Watch This installments (Vol. 19 and Vol. 25), earned itself well-deserved raves with last year’s gorgeous Love’s Crushing Diamond, and become an unlikely success story that it’s easy to feel good about. Expect this to be one of the most well-attended (and most haunting) sets of NXNE. One look at the video below should be enough to sell just about anyone.

What to Watch:

3. Spiritualized

What to Know: Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space is a tranquil masterpiece. Seeing any one of those songs played live may be just the come-down that’s needed after a day of running between one venue and the other, trying to frantically catch every band possible. It’ll likely be another instance of a set that feels removed from the chaos that surrounds it- and that’s always worth something. For a transcendental quietude, look no further.

What to Watch:

4. Eagulls

What to Know: Eagulls’ self-titled effort from earlier this year has proven to be one of the better records of recent memory and their were countless reports of their live show from SXSW that fell way closer to completely enamored than not. A band that’s very much on the up, their set will undoubtedly draw a pretty strong (and frenzied) crowd. They’ll be a must-stop destination for people looking to get their adrenaline pumping to avoid the risk of exhaustion. It’s hard to imagine that people are sleeping on this.

What to Watch:

5. St. Vincent

What to Know: For once, the collective music industry’s crush on an artist seems completely justified. Annie Clark’s project grows defiantly weirder as it progresses, running the danger of maxing out the art-pop genre and perfecting it once and for all.St. Vincent is currently 2014’s most acclaimed major release and she’s accentuating more weirdness than ever post-David Byrne collaboration. Anyone who champions the filthiest and most disgusting guitar tones and manages to throw as much sludge as possible at what would otherwise be conventionally beautiful pop songs is more than worth anyone’s time. Her set will be a can’t-miss appointment.  

What to Watch:

5 to See at NXNE 2014: Vol. 2

The 5 to See series continues from where it left off since Vol. 1. Now that the cases to see METZ, Swearin’, PS I Love You, Greys, and Perfect Pussy have been made, it’s time to lean in to Volume 2. A brief description of the featured band will be provided and accompanied by a video. All of this will lead up to the festival itself, which will be celebrating its 20th anniversary in style. Keep tabs on all of this and make the necessary adjustments when faced with schedule conflicts. Now that the exposition’s out of the way, let’s get to the bands.

1. Mac DeMarco

What to Know: Mac DeMarco’s Salad Days is his best work to date and his live shows continuing to earn raves. He’s a living archetype: the slacker sleazeball personified. It’s part of what makes him and his music so effortlessly endearing. Take the normal manic pace of a festival into account and DeMarco’s set may easily be the most enjoyable bit of escapism that NXNE has to offer.

What to Watch:

2. Pet Sun 

What to Know: At this point, there isn’t much to know about Pet Sun other than that the Hamilton-based band has released an incredibly promising demo and that decent live footage of the band is hard to come by. That said, as lo-fi as recent clips of the band have been, they’ve indicated that the band’s capitalizing on their early promise- possibly exceeding it- and that it’s pretty clear they put on one hell of a live show.

What to Watch:

3. Speedy Ortiz

What to Know: Whether they liked it or not, the band was positioned at the forefront of a 90’s revival on the backs of 2013’s incredible Major Arcana. Since then, they’ve been anything but quiet, capitalizing on opportunities to create new music and demonstrate a knack for trustworthy politics. Oh, it also helps that somewhere along the way they became a tenacious live band. Expect their set to be as much of a force as they’ve proven themselves to be.

What to Watch:

4. Beliefs

What to Know: Beliefs, like Vol. 1 features METZ, will have the advantage of playing to a hometown crowd. Coincidentally, the band also put out an incendiary split 7″ with Greys (another Vol. 1 feature). Their sound lands between the most industry-conscious no-wave of the 80’s and the most incandescent shoegaze of the 90’s. Put all of that together and it’s very clear things are going their way- which always makes for good sets. Don’t miss theirs.

What to Watch:

5. Swans

What to Know: What hasn’t been said already? There’s a very real possibility that Swans are the darkest and most nightmarish band going right now. Micahel Gira & co. have been mining utterly intense levels of dread for so long that it’s difficult to imagine any one of their members exposed to sunlight. Their past two records, The Seer and To Be Kind, may just be their two finest. Nothing at NXNE will come to being even remotely close to this ominous (has anyone ever created music this terrifyingly apocalyptic before?)- and it’s very possible that nothing will come close to being this oddly beautiful as well. Swans’ music forces the listener into self-examinations, self-actualization, and total transcendence. Make sure to be wherever they are when they play. This is just about guaranteed to be the most bruising, massive set of the entire festival.

What to Watch:

5 to See at NXNE 2014: Vol. 1

We’re a little over a month away from NXNE, the Canadian equivalent of SXSW, which means it’s time to start prioritizing which bands at the fest to see. Over the course of the next handful of weeks, we’ll cover a decent fraction of the bands that have been announced (approximately 400 as of this posting) in anticipation for the festival. NXNE itself is celebrating its 20th anniversary and has pulled out several stops to make this one particularly memorable. The lineup for this year’s absolutely stacked, which means that this’ll be the first entry in an ongoing series. Kicking things off are five acts that helped define Heartbreaking Bravery’s identity. Get to know them.

1. METZ

What to Know: Seeing METZ dismantle a library with their sonic assault in Champaign-Urbana last year was a life highlight. Both the band and the crowd were all wearing clothes that were at the very least a shade or two darker than when they came in, looking haggard, spent, and ecstatic. To see them play a festival of this magnitude on their home turf is almost guaranteed to be something special.

What to Watch:



2. Swearin’

What to Know: Between What A DumpSwearin’, and Surfing Strange (the first record to ever be reviewed here), they’ve got one of the most impressive early discographies out there. They’re a band with a fiercely intimidating pedigree, composed of members (or ex-members/touring members) of: Bad Banana, P.S. Eliot, Great Thunder, Waxahatchee, Big Soda, and Radiator Hospital. Easily one of the most exciting bands playing shows right now and an absolute must-see.

What to Watch:

3. PS I Love You

What to Know: PS I Love You is an inventive guitar and drums duo that revels in aggressive distortion, piercing feedback, shaky vocals, and general explosiveness. Between their first two full-lengths, Meet Me at the Muster Station and Death Dreams, they’ve garnered quite a bit more critical acclaim than the film they share a name with. They deserve it; their music’s intelligent and catchy as hell.

What to Watch:

4. Greys

What to know: Like METZ, Greys will be playing on their home turf but METZ is already a well-established brand, Grey’s are at the start of that trajectory. They’ve been making all of the right moves and appearing in all of the right places lately, building heavy anticipation for their upcoming record. This is very much a band on the rise and they’re capitalizing on that momentum. Don’t be surprised if they wind up playing the best set of the festival.

What to Watch:

5. Perfect Pussy

What to Know: As has been said before, no band has been covered more on this site than Perfect Pussy. They’re one of the most exciting bands on the planet, both on record and in the live setting. Say Yes to Love is one of the best records, if not the best record to have been released so far this year. Led by the endlessly fascinating Meredith Graves, they’re worthy of something approaching devotion. This is not a band that takes things lightly; they lay everything on the line during their ferocious sets- and at an average of roughly 20 minutes, they’re perfectly suited to showcase slots. If, when the schedule is finally announced, they wind up as part of a conflicting time bracket, just go ahead and cross everyone else’s name off. This is the band to see.

What to Watch: