Heartbreaking Bravery

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Tag: NXNE 20th Anniversary

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: 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)

NXNE Day 5: Courtney Barnett, Army Girls (Photo Gallery)

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A note: All night tonight Heartbreaking Bravery will be running photo galleries from the recent Toronto trip. All of these galleries will have full reviews to accompany them in the near future. The preceding galleries all came with additional notes out of necessity but this will be the short reminder that runs with the remainder. Enjoy the photographs below and keep an eye out for the upcoming reviews.

NXNE Day 3: Speedy Ortiz, Swearin’, Spoon (Photo Gallery)

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A quick recap: apologies for the delays, they were due to fairly extensive managing of the photographs being posted tonight. Each of these photo galleries will receive an accompanying review in the near future. This is the second part of Day 3, which will be combined with part 1 for the written portion- Perfect Pussy’s set from this show will be given a separate review for a myriad of reasons. Included in this gallery are Speedy Ortiz, Swearin’, and “secret” (more on that later) headliners Spoon. Enjoy the photographs and expect the accompanying review to run sometime next week.

 

NXNE Day 3: Greys, Benjamin Booker, Viet Cong (Photo Gallery)

Viet Cong II

Once again, an apology for a delay in posting is necessary. Radio silence in regards to new content has gone on far longer than it should have. It should be noted, though, that during this latest silent interim, photographs were being assembled, run through, and edited in a variety of programs. Looking through the old posts, an unusual loading time was noticeable for the featured photography. In an attempt to amend this, all night tonight Heartbreaking Bravery will be running photo galleries. Now that Days 1 and 2 are both firmly in the past and set in stone, everything posted will be broken up into galleries that will have full reviews written for them in the near future.  Day 3 will be an exception due to the fact it yielded the most photographs. To that end, the first of these photo galleries will focus on the first half of the show that wound up being the festival’s main draw for a great many people and the gallery devoted to the second half of this particular lineup will run soon after- with one exception. There will be an entire gallery dedicated to Perfect Pussy’s set (easily the year’s most memorable) as well as a full review. So, without further ado, here are a selection of photographs from The Legendary Horseshoe Tavern (which was re-named Budweiser Music House at The Legendary Horseshoe Tavern for the evening). Enjoy the visuals now and expect the written content to appear next week.

 

NXNE: Day 2 (Pictorial Review, Video)

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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.

Caddywhompus

Pissed Jeans

Shannon & the Clams

The Yips

Sam Coffey & the Iron Lungs

NXNE 2014: A Listener’s Guide (Mixtape)

It’s been 200 days since the idea of Heartbreaking Bravery was actually put into motion. In that time, multiple recurring features have been launched and it began to become something a little more than just a hobby. The more effort that was put into the content that went up, the greater the response was. Now, the site’s been viewed in nearly 80 countries, been granted media accreditation outside of the country, and helped form some meaningful relationships. Most importantly, though, it served- and will continue to serve- as a place of unwavering support for artists rooted in the DIY scene doing things on their own terms.

Now, anyone who has been paying attention to recent content will know that this site’s been running a lot of coverage in anticipation of this year’s NXNE. Anyone who’s been following the content for a long time will know that every 50 posts brings a new mixtape. This being the case, it only made sense to draw up a mixtape that served as an abbreviated listener’s guide for anyone who needed a crash course before heading to Toronto next month. That mix can be found below and features both long-held favorites and a few artists outside of this site’s normal comfort zone. All of the songs are worth a listen and the tracklist for the mix can be found below. Below all of that are hyperlinks to posts 100-199 (post 100 includes hyperlinks to the first 99). Enjoy.

Heartbreaking Bravery Presents: NXNE 2014: A Listener’s Guide

1. Swearin’ – What A Dump
2. Spoon – Don’t Make Me A Target
3. METZ – Wet Blanket
4. PS I Love You – Facelove
5. Greys – Use Your Delusion
6. Perfect Pussy – Interference Fits
7. Swans – My Birth
8. St. Vincent – Cheerleader
9. Courtney Barnett – Avant Gardener
10. Odonis Odonis – I’d Prefer Walking
11. Eagulls – Nerve Ending
12. White Mystery – People Power
13. Beliefs – Long Wings
14. Run the Jewels – A Christmas Fucking Miracle
15. Pusha T – Nosetalgia
16. Mac DeMarco – Brother
17. Future Islands – Seasons (Waiting On You)
18. Christian Hansen – Ma-Me-O
19. Mutual Benefit – Golden Wake
20. My Darling Fury – Blots in the Margin
21. Low – Murderer
22. Robert Ellis – Only Lies
23. Typhoon – Common Sentiments
24. Speedy Ortiz – No Below
25. Tim Hecker – Live Room

Here’s the last set of 100 articles, hyperlinked for convenience. Enjoy the exploration.


HB100: Heartbreaking Bravery: A Retrospective

HB101: Great Cynics – Whatever You Want (Music Video)
HB102: Watch This: Vol. 12
HB103: Bleeding Rainbow – Tell Me (Stream)
HB104: Beverly – Honey Do (Stream)
HB105: Brain F/ – Sicks (Stream)
HB106: Vertical Scratchers – Memory Shards (Stream)
HB107: Carsick Cars – Wild Grass (Stream)
HB108: Summer Twins – Carefree (Music Video)
HB109: Archie Powell & the Exports – Everything’s Fucked (Stream)
HB110: Perfect Pussy – I (Music Video)
HB111: Watch This: Vol. 13
HB 112: Mozes and the Firstborn – Bloodsucker (Music Video)
HB113: Cheap Girls – Knock Me Down (Stream)
HB114: Watch This: Vol. 14
HB115: Perfect Pussy – Interference Fits (Stream)
HB116: PAWS – Tongues (Stream)
HB117: Screaming Females – Lights Out (Live) (Stream)
HB118: Technicolor Teeth – Can You Keep Me Out of Hell (Stream)
HB119: Silence Dogood – Chairman of the Bored (Stream)
HB120: Watch This: Vol. 15
HB121: Nervosas at Center Street Free Space and Quarters Rock N Roll Palace – 3/1/14 (Live Review)
HB122: White Lung – Drown With the Monster (Music Video)
HB123: Tweens – Be Mean (Music Video)
HB124: La Sera – Losing to the Dark (Stream)
HB125: Creepoid – Baptism (Music Video)
HB126: Dum Dum Girls – Are You Okay (Short Film)
HB127: Watch This: Vol. 16
HB128: Green Dreams – Bug Sex (Music Video)
HB129: Playlounge – Waves and Waves and Waves (Stream)
HB130: Molybden – Woman Who Left Behind (7″ Review)
HB131: La Dispute – Rooms of the House (Album Review)
HB132: Perfect Pussy – Say Yes to Love (Album Review)
HB133: Watch This: Vol. 17
HB134: Mr. Dream – Cheap Heat (Stream)
HB135: Fucked Up – Paper the House (Music Video)
HB136: Bleeding Rainbow – Images (Music Video)
HB137: Sleep Party People – In Another World (Stream)
HB138: Help Save Fort Foreclosure (Indiegogo Campaign)
HB139: Tashaki Miyaki – Cool Runnings (Music Video)
HB140: Thee Oh Sees – The Lens (Music Video)
HB141: Diarrhea Planet – Babyhead (Music Video)
HB142: Green Dreams – Eye Contact (Stream)
HB143: Watch This: Vol. 18
HB144: Tumul – Nature Master (Music Video)
HB145: Young Widows – King Sol (Stream)
HB146: Priests – Right Wing (Stream)
HB147: Antarctigo Vespucci – I’m Giving Up On U2 (Stream)
HB148: Ernest Undead (Short Film)
HB149: Watch This: Vol. 19
HB150: First Quarter Finish (Mixtape)
HB151: Perfect Pussy at 7th St. Entry – 3/30/14 (Live Review)
HB152: Perfect Pussy at Township – 4/1/14 (Live Video)
HB153: The Sleepwalkers – Come Around (Music Video)
HB154: Watch This: Vol. 20
HB155: Tweens – Forever (Music Video)
HB156: Reigning Sound – Falling Rain (Stream)
HB157: New Swears – Midnight Lover (Music Video)
HB158: Shannon & the Clams – Mama (Stream)
HB159: Gold-Bears – For You (Stream)
HB160: PUP – Lionheart (Music Video)
HB161: The So So Glos – Speakeasy (Music Video)
HB162: Archie Powell & the Exports – Holes (Music Video)
HB163: Mean Creek – My Madeline (Music Video)
HB164: Watch This: Vol. 21
HB165: Greys – Guy Picciotto (Music Video)
HB166: PAWS – Owls Talons Clenching My Heart (Stream)
HB167: Perfect Pussy – Candy’s Room (Stream)
HB168: Watch This: Vol. 22
HB169: 5 to see at NXNE 2014: Vol. 1
HB170: Girl Band – The Cha Cha Cha (Stream)
HB171: Cloud Nothings at High Noon Saloon – 5/2/14 (Pictorial Review)
HB172: Watch This: Vol. 23
HB173: 5 to see at NXNE 2014: Vol. 2
HB174: Savages – Fuckers (Music Video)
HB175: Midnight Reruns at Polack Inn – 5/7/14 (Pictorial Review, Video)
HB176: Watch This: Vol. 24
HB177: Watch This: Vol. 25
HB178: PAWS – Owls Talons Clenching My Heart (Music Video)
HB179: Priests – Doctor (Stream)
HB180: Lady Bones + Horsehands (Split Review)
HB181: Fucked Up – Sun Glass (Music Video)
HB182: 5 to See at NXNE 2014: Vol. 3
HB183: Cymbals Eat Guitars – Jackson (Stream)
HB184: Dead Stars – Someone Else (Music Video)
HB185: 5 to see at NXNE 2014: Vol. 4
HB186: Lower – Bastard Tactics (Music Video)
HB187: Bad History Month – Staring At My Hands (Stream)
HB188: White Lung – Face Down (Music Video)
HB189: Greys – Use Your Delusion (Stream)
HB190: 5 to See at NXNE 2014: Vol. 5
HB191: The Rich Hands – Teenager (Stream)
HB192: Clap Your Hands Say Yeah – As Always (Music Video)
HB193: The Pharmacy – Masten Lake Lagoon (Stream)
HB194: 5 to See at NXNE 2014: Vol. 6
HB195: Naomi Punk – Television Man (Stream)
HB196: Watch This: Vol. 26
HB197: Geronimo! – Euphoria (Stream)
HB198: Watch This: Vol. 27
HB199: PUP – Guilt Trip (Music Video)

5 to See at NXNE 2014: Vol. 6

It’s been said here before countless times already but the NXNE lineup for this year is absolutely ridiculous. Featuring an endless array of rising stars and premier acts from a wide selection of genres, Toronto’s set itself up quite nicely for an influx of incredible music, dedicated journalists, and devoted fans. Music wristbands are still available for an incredibly reasonable price and are well worth taking advantage of. It’s the best way to get access to the festival’s final leg and a shot at entrance to see the sets from the artists listed below, the volume 6 class of the 5 to See series.

1. Benjamin Booker

What to Know: Benjamin Booker just signed to ATO Records and will be releasing his self-titled effort in August. From the short previews of Benjamin Booker that have been available so far, it’s increasingly apparent that ATO made the right move. With a sound that incorporates equal amounts of blues, soul, punk, motown, and their evolutionary trajectories over the last handful of decades, it’s already positioned as a likely crossover hit. Live? It’s incendiary. Watch the fiery Letterman clip below for further proof.

What to Watch:

2. Pusha T

What to Know: Pusha T rose to prominence as half of Clipse, who created an untouchable classic in 2006 with Hell Hath No Fury. Since the release of that reord both Pusha T and No Malice have chosen to go their separate ways and explore solo routes. This resulted in another modern classic with Pusha T’s 2013 stunner, My Name Is My Name. With a live set to back up why he’s become one of the most acclaimed and celebrated artists in rap/hip-hop, this will be a set that fills up capacity fast. Don’t miss it.

What to Watch:

3. Future Islands

What to Know: Already hailed as one of 2014’s best live acts, Future Islands have been doing their best to earn that title. There was an explosion of interest in the band after their hypnotic Letterman performance drew national attention. While a lot of it seemed to be directly linked to vocalist Sam Herring’s unique dancing, it also came as an exclamation mark to a wave of buzz that had been steadily building around them. Reports of recent shows have made it abundantly clear that their shows have been constantly verging on getting out of hand thanks to frenzied audiences. Like Pusha T, this is going to be a priority set for a lot of people attending the festival- so get to wherever they are as early as possible, the crowd reaction alone should be a sight worth seeing.

What to Watch:

4. Camera

What to Know: Camera’s Radiate was a little-discussed triumph. Emphasizing the more punk elements of krautrock, the trio’s staked their name on guerilla performances in public places. Don’t be surprised to see them set up just about anywhere during the course of their Toronto stay- and don’t be shocked if their playing stops a lot of people dead in their tracks. Great music’s universal.

What to Watch:

5. White Mystery

What to Know: The Chicago duo have become mainstays of the DIY punk circuit, touring fiercely and building their reputation on frantic live shows. Four LP’s and two 7″s deep into their discography, the duo (composed of siblings Alex and Francis White) is still performing behind their most recent (and strongest) effort, Telepathic. A few late night show appearances have boosted their profile and they’re gearing up for what looks to be a major run towards bigger things. This is a set that won’t be worth missing.

What to Watch:

5 to See at NXNE 2014: Vol. 4

It’s literally impossible to stress just how varied and stacked the lineup for NXNE is this year. Toronto’s going to be overflowing with bands, bands’ friends, and fans of bands in just over a month (moreso than usual). To help make the process of picking out who to prioritize on any of the potential “to see” lists floating around out there, Heartbreaking Bravery is presenting the 5 to See series. Virtually all of the announced bands have been listened to (provided their music was available to listen to online) and things as trivial as genre preference were thrown out the window in order to accommodate as wide of an audience as possible. While the selections for features do still boil down to subjective taste, it’s a broader field than would usual be featured here and, as such, it should be a little easier to take something away from it. All that said, let’s get onto the picks for this series’ fourth installment.

1. Guerilla Toss

What to Know: It shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that Guerilla Toss are most likely the most insane band at NXNE this year. They’re usually the most insane band on any given bill that they’re on and that alone should make them worth seeing. Putting them over the top is the fact that they’re one of the fiercest art-punk bands currently going and are quickly gaining themselves an enviable reputation based on word-of-mouth from their live shows alone. All of that should make them very hard to miss.

What to Watch:

2. Maica Mia

What to Know: There are certain artists who have one trait that immediately sticks out. For some it’s their instrumental prowess, for others it’s composition, for Maica Mia it’s a voice, Maica Armata’s, to be precise- and what a voice it is. There hasn’t been much in the way of music in this realm, operating at this level since Cat Power’s You Are Free, which was a record worth holding onto for eternity. Maica Mia’s music’s as haunted as it is haunting, acting as an open invitation before pulling listeners in under its subtly menacing spell. Something genuinely special’s happening here and it’d take a fool to miss it.

What to Watch:

3. Low

What to Know: Are Low considered an institution yet? If not, they should be. Often hailed as the act that pioneered (and subsequently perfected) slowcore, the band’s been active for over two decades and have a handful of classics to their name. There isn’t much to be said about them that hasn’t already been said in tones as hushed and sacred as the bands music feels, so just watch the attached video as a pleasant reminder of what this band’s capable of.

What to Watch:

4. Bailiff

What to Know: One of the only Chicago bands making the trek over to NXNE, Bailiff will make sure that city’s represented well. Offering up a blend of left-field pop and cinematic crescendos that are often downright vicious, their set will be a highlight for anyone lucky enough to catch them. For further proof of this, watch the video below. If the last half doesn’t manage to convince anyone that watches it to make sure they’re keeping an eye on their set time(s), then nothing will.

What to Watch:

5. Typhoon

What to Know: Why Typhoon aren’t one of the biggest names in music right now remains a strange mystery. They’ve perfected an incredibly intelligent blend of several styles that are currently at the forefront of popular taste, write genuinely great songs, and are an extraordinary live act. Yet, for whatever reason, they’re still at “best-kept-secret” status. One look at the provided video will likely dissuade anyone from making the mistake of overlooking them.

What to Watch: