NXNE: Smorgasboard of sound

Photo by Heather Davidson
Photo by Heather Davidson

From June 11-16, Toronto was transformed into a smorgasbord of musicians and venues.

With North by North East (NXNE) now in its nineteenth year, could anyone expect any different? Featuring 1000 bands, 150 comedians, and 30 films, the options were overwhelming and numerous.

Headliners included The National, Ludacris, Billy Talent, and Social Distortion whom all played in Yonge and Dundas Square.

Honeyrunners @ The Silver Dollar

The Honeyrunner’s pride themselves on a sound that they describe as “Motown rock.” Their performance on Wednesday June 12 at the Silver Dollar confirmed the accuracy of their claim.

The smooth Motown-esqe vocals combined with a heavier sound creates a sound that you didn’t realize you needed in your life until you listened to it.

As well their sound was a perfect mix of the guitar and drums- based sound of a rock band with the heavy bass and rhythmic guitars of a blues/funk band.

The performance itself was strong, but nothing out of the ordinary. It was plain that the band was talented but the band was so absorbed in their music that they failed to put on a grand performance as they stood around rocking out. The band was friendly and interactive with the audience.

Santiago x The Natural @ Crawford

Santiago x The Natural, a rap/R&B duo hailing from Chicago, are not the stereotypical gangster rap duo rapping about “bitches, money, and hoes.” Instead they are a continuation of the recent “intelligent rap” movement.

Their sound varies from song to song: they went from rapping over the background guitars of Jack White’s “Blue Orchid” to a more reggae, dancehall sound in other songs, most noticeably “Warrior.” The common element is charming vocals of Santiago, the excellent rhythm of The Natural and clever lyrics.

The venue was a bit of a disservice to them. They played at the Crawford, but in the small downstairs basement with a small stage. It allowed for Santiago x The Natural to be extremely close to their audience, but there was little movement on stage. It was a little awkward to watch them shuffle around the stage, wondering if they were going to hit each other.

BABYSITTER @ The Detour Bar

Watching BABYSITTER perform was my first time at Kensington Market. I was freaked out walking down the empty, graffitied street at midnight only to stumble upon a glorified punk/metal show. We left after ten minutes.

BABYSITTER sounds vastly different from performing live and on their album. Their album is full of heavy, distorted guitar, grungy wails and loud drums. Just from listening to their album, it becomes obvious that this band is actually good.

Their performance takes all of these elements and amplifies them until they are just parodies of themselves. This does not lead to a good performance, but it was obvious that the absolute distortion of noise and sound was their intention.

Comedy Acts @ The Measure

Despite each comedy set only lasting about 15 minutes each, Hip.Bang!, Two Weird Ladies, and British Teeth all  made their own impression with the smaller audience at The Measure on Thursday June 13.

Hip.Bang! began their set with an announcement: all the material they were about to perform was completely improvised and has never before been performed anywhere ever.

When a group makes an announcement like that, they are either going to be absolutely terrible or absolutely hilarious. Thankfully, they were decently funny. The Canadian duo seamlessly transitioned from one subject/skit to another with no communication between them.

Two Weird Ladies came running from the audience with a ukulele to serenade their “dying grandmother” with songs about how Nana won’t live forever and where she hid that damn will. They took the most pretentious or ridiculous parts of society and lampooned it to a parody of the parody.

British Teeth was the most conventional act of the three if not only for the fact they were the only ones to put on the stereotypical comedy performance most people associate with as a comedy act. The skits were rehearsed and they used little to no props but the result was hilarious. They were easily the funniest of the three acts. The audience was laughing and cheering as loud as they could. The best skit was the Starbucks skit, where they put on their best Canadian accents and tried to figure out what the hell “venti” means.

DIANA @ The Legendary Horseshoe Tavern

DIANA sounds exactly like if ‘90s R&B and the vocals of Emily Haines, of Metric, joined forces and created a super group.

Though they began with some technical difficulties, the performance was one of the best that week. Lead singer Carmen Elle’s vocals are haunting as she fights to be heard over the over-powering synth-rock electro-noise of the rest of the band.

DIANA was named one of NXME’s Top Ten New Bands and it’s easy to see why. The band played to the large audience at the Horseshoe like they’ve been up on a stage all their lives.

The National @ Yonge and Dundas Square

Brooklyn-based indie veterans, The National, took the main stage at NXNE by storm to a massive crowd of young and old. Fans of the band were greeted with a performance of a variety of songs from many of their albums, including 2007’s Boxer and their most recent effort, Trouble Will Find Me.

The National is an acquired taste, both on record and live, but their sound — once acquired — is riveting. Vocalist Matt Berninger’s baritone voice sounded flawless and at times better and more energetic than what is on The National’s albums.

With raw intensity in his voice, Berninger clearly expressed how much he loves performing live during the hour and half long set, especially when he took his performance to the crowd by singing with his fans. The show ended on a high note with an all-acoustic version of “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks,” that was sung by almost everyone in the crowd.
With files from Justin Smirlies

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