This year at North By North East, also known as an annual music, film and interactive conference festival held in Toronto, more than 850 bands gathered in the big city walls for a week on non-stop showcasing, featuring the best of the up-and-coming of the music scene. For our greatest pleasure, our dear city was very well represented on the stellar line-up which featured the young and the bright representatives of the indie scene, such CTZNSHP, Parlovr, Charlotte Cornfield, among others. We were also given performances by the well-established with Portugal.The Man, and Plants and Animals, watched Bran Van 3000 and Hollerado, setting-up crazy ambient party, not to mention no-less-than legendary Flaming Lips, who settle up for a free outdoors concert that will be remembered for a lifetime for certain. Wrap-up of a festive music marathon where discovery and amazement went altogether.
Wednesday, June 13
Our festival experience kicked off in the best manner when I paid a visit to hometown friends from Lakes of Canada at Le Central. The sextet is forging ahead in quite a beautiful manner with release of debut album, Toll The Bell, unveiled earlier in May. If we acknowledge Lakes Of Canada distinct folk sound on this record, it is even more poignant live, composed with baroque influences, phenomenal four-part harmonies and intricate melodies led by Jake Smith indefatigable strumming and higher range vocals. None-could escape here the comparison with the Fleet Foxes or Simon and Garfunkel, but when talking about high-caliber work, why not simply tell things they way they are.
Charlotte Cornfield is another Montreal folk act receiving high-praise from whoever ears her compositions. I am myself very impressed by the ability of this 21 years old whose music emulates the level of those who might one or more decade of experience. The golden lady is just returning from a two month tour which brought her to different places of United-States and Canada; we had caught her last performance in Montreal when opening for The Wooden Sky, and it would be rightful to say that she sounded better than ever although she already was incredibly good. She thanked the red squares for being present in the crowd and we thanked her for being there too with her comforting ballads.
NXNE is all about discovering new music; I had a first epiphany with The Balconies playing an astonishingly striking midnight set I should have known from the eager crowd of night-owls packing up in the venue that I might witness something special- Having never heard of the band I could not have known that they were a well-known indie-rock band from Toronto. For this special showcase, The Balconies stepped away by offering an acoustic performance with the three musicians playing string instruments, sitting somewhere between chamber music and folk. Sterling hymns stirred from the singer’s crystal-clear vocals, with which she sang without ever parting from her instrument, sharing parts and harmonies with some devoted band-mates. If I could get some more of this "Serious Bedtimes" and "Ghost Fever" executed the same way that I had heard them that night, I believe that I would live happily ever after. Hauntingly beautiful.
Thursday, June 14
On a hunt to catch the best of this second night of concerts, we squeezed in just in time watch Eastborough perform with her 5 piece-band. I became aware of this Ottawa-native singer-songwriter earlier this year when she called upon my heart with her genuine debut album Your Place, composed out of romantic sensitivity and undeniable gift for humble indie-pop arrangements. Lo-fi compositions were then turned into an energetic mellow-rock by her energetic delivery - she once “sang in a punk band” she said- and it shows.
For my second discovery of the week, I must cite Toronto-based duo Army Girls, who really move some air with their abrasive garage-rock Oh my, oh wow. They can really make sound travel in some incredible manner you would not even suspect a two-piece band being capable of rocking an incredible number of decibels. Definitely one most impressive acts I’ve have seen in a while. With androgynous beauty Carmen Elle mastering power chords like no others and demonstrating impressive skills, even losing a shoe for just being too intense while playing; she gets the best of her powerful raspy vocals while drummer Andy Smith forcefully banging his pots so ardently anyone else would have broken an arm. Incendiary and aggressive performance, these guys are real rock stars.
“Are you excited for Bran Van ?” asked Army Girls front-woman Carmen Elle in the middle of their gig. “Hell fucking yeah”, was the only answer that came to mind, feeling like I had been waiting for this moment all my life: Bran Van 3000, playing in some underground setting on a hazy summer night. This 1am gig at the Legendary Horseshoe Tavern turned out to be one of the craziest party experiences of my entire life; the cavern-like venue was jammed pack with enthusiastic fans ready to set the place on fire. Bran Van treated us to a 40 minute medley of their hits, “Grace (Love on The Block)”, “Afrodiziak”, “Ave Mucho”, “Astounded” and other newer ones from their meritorious album The Garden, adding to a piece recently composed by James Di Salvio as an answer to the strange times their hometown Montreal is currently cursed with. Positive tension built up in the room until it all exploded into one memorable confetti-filled party, and then, nothing more appropriate than closing the set with Bran Van’s famous hymn “Drinkin’ In La” , which in my memory had never been sung so strong. An awesome and heartfelt performance.
Friday, June 15
I admit I was very cynical when I heard of this recently-formed band called Eight and a Half for the first time, for very personal reasons. Now relocated in Toronto, this trio is composed of an ex-Broken Social Scene member, Justin Perrof, whose previous band’s dissolution is on the list of the biggest non-sensical events of the year; along with Dave Hamelin and Liam O’Neil from beloved band The Stills, whose 2011 break-up had literally brought me to tears. Ranking itself in the category of melodious synth-rock, Eight and a Half’s minimalist aesthetics stand quite far from its epic background, nothing transcendent there, but but nothing harmful either - I’ll keep cherishing my old Stills and BSS records, without dismissing this one.
If I were to express my love for Plants and Animals, which I admit grew quite tardily to the party, chances are that I would make a complete fool out of myself - hopefully, Warren Spicer fell for it, kind enough as he was to let me ask him a few questions. P&A have acquired the reputation of being one of the most creative band of their generation, equally on record as on stage, you are never able to predict what is going to happen but the result is always brilliant. How favorite musicians were at the top of their game that night, with a particularly loquacious Warren making jokes about Dundas-Yonge Square’s billboards. Plants and Animals showed up wearing wigs, floral shirts, and red squares and kicked it in with some terrific set list, featuring all the heavy ones: “Undone Melody”, “The Mama Papa” (album La La Land), “Crisis”, “Lightshow” (album The End Of That), “Bye Bye Bye” (album Park Avenue), during which Warren took off hat and wig to salute Nick’s celestial auto-harp solo, finishing up with the magnificent “Faery Dance” (Park Avenue), growing a mysterious and dreamy ambiance then turning it into a progressive jam session. I could have happily died there, and promptly come back to life knowing that it would not be long before I see them again playing in Osheaga in August.
On the rush to meet with “our kind” again, we rushed to the Silver Dollar Room, where Parlovr was only waiting for us to arrive. This Montreal power-trio recently unveiled their first full-length album in four years entitled Kook Soul, which is doubtlessly one of the best to come out this year. “Scream your anger - we’re all angry for different reasons!” merrily vociferated Alex Cooper singer-guitarist as an introduction to the concert. One should know that Parlovr’s music from this latest album is probably the most joyous way of feeling miserable : written out of grief, this album explodes with the rawest energy, rock-and-roll inflicted, and catchy to a point that is very hard to explain or describe. Loud and terrifically melodious, Parlovr’s sound and performance are mesmerizing - seeing them live and listening to this album can truly change your perception about rock and roll and heartbreak.