Day II at NXNE gets off to a rough start. I wake up remembering first that I’m in Canada. Second, that I’ve been meeting and writing about rock stars, and third, that my laptop was stolen. Then I have a troubling thought: Who are you Tim Horton????
My Attorney is gone. I find out later he’s talking to a jolly bus driver (who disregards the road in front of him the minute he finds out Dimitri is from Boston).
“HOW ‘BOOT THEM BRUINS??!” he says. “USED TO KNOW THIS GUY NAMED BOSTON BILL!!”
he spits enthusiastically, babbling about the Bostonians he loves. Apparently he met a group of Bruins fans in Mexico who made it “snow” on a daily basis.
We get a $40 ticket on the way to downtown Toronto for making an illegal left turn.
Here is where I start an arbitrary point system, Canada vs. U.S.:
-40 for the ticket. +40 for the officer seeing I was filming his every word and laughing instead of arresting me. We’ll give the jolly bus driver a +24 for good measure, but a -3 for every Tim Hortons (a mysteriously overly-popular Canadian fast food chain found on more street corners than Starbucks in Manhattan). So that brings us to a solid tie considering we saw about eight Tim Hortons on the way back to the center of the NXNE festivities yesterday. Don’t you hate trying to pluralize brand names that end in ‘s?’
Oh, and Canada still has to make up for the -1,001 points they lost yesterday for stealing my laptop.
After ordering falafel wraps in a creepily silent Shwarma place, we head over to the Hyatt Regency to see who we’ll find. The hip NXNE PR girls in the Press Office give us maps and proceed to lead us astray with wrong directions to the Music Gallery on John Street.
After walking aboot three miles in the wrong direction, realizing we’re going the wrong way and missing the tram while getting change for it (as well as the band we wanted to see at eight) I furiously hail a cab.
$15 cabs in Canada: -15.
191 John Street doesn’t seem to exist to our cabbie, so we jump out and take matters into our own hands. 190 is to the right, a big leafy park ahead, and…. holy hipster!… a sea of rising smoke and flannel surround a great stone church around the corner.
I have to steady myself before I pass out from excitement.
I walk through the vestibule and into a huge, echoing space with a high arched ceiling and a rainbow-colored stained glass mosaic at the forefront of the venue; the altar is the stage. People fill the white pews in this quaint little church straight of out of Medieval times, while folk tunes waft into the night from within.
We make it just in time for Forest City Lovers, a local Toronto quartet whose front singer and songwriter Kat Burns opens with a piano solo. Her voice is smooth, slow, melodic—it melts you like popsicles. Exactly as beautiful as Regina Spektor’s, but without the accent and 30 times more subtle.
I am in a church. She’s playing a baby grand and Jesus, there’s no better way to describe it: as the waning light filters through the stained glass and illuminates her face, she reminds me of an angel. And my photographer has fallen in love with yet another Canadian hipster.
Her entrancing lyrics make me want to “come away now” with her.
She takes the stage with her violinist, keyboardist, and bassist (the only guy in the band) to continue with a set of delicately fingerpicked lullabies.
“I’d just like to tell everyone that I’m playing through a Marshall stack,” Burns says, smiling. “That’s the first time this has happened.”
I wish Forest City Lovers would appear when I’m sitting on the bus having one of those deep meditation sessions about existence or something sad, sit down next to me, and start playing the soundtrack of my life.
Abruptly as this transition between paragraphs, we walk from the hidden church to Yonge Dundas Square and are blasted with a PUNK ROCK SHOW. +1000 points to Canada!
We wrongly assumed Dundas Square is another big tree-y park. More like Times Square. A crowd of thousands and thousands of punks mosh in front of an enormous stage where The Descendents are playing a free show for all of downtown Toronto.
Words are unnecessary. This clip should speak for itself.
We book it to a smaller punk scene in a rather sketchy part of Toronto. The Garrison is tastefully grimy, a dark whole-in-the-wall punk rock venue full of boots and leather where they play Gang of Four between sets. Here’s a familiar analogy for you: If indie Rivoli from last night is The Model, The Garrison is the Silhouette. I’ll take a shot of whiskey and a beer any day—this is a fuckin’ punk rock show. +568 for Canada for the next two bands.
I can’t get over Uncle Bad Touch, a punk trio from Montreal with a girl bassist and the happiest bare-foot drummer I’ve ever seen. It’s refreshing to hear distorted punk chords played with such a level of intensity and precision. So far, these guys are my favorite band from NXNE.
Many of their songs are simple, characterized by bluesy minor chords and enlightening upward chord progressions. By the way they shred the solos in “Baby, Baby, Baby” and “I Want to Love You,” you can tell whoever wrote these riffs exudes musical talent. They close with our favorite song, a grungy punk anthem called “Strange City, Sing to Me.”
More stories with these guys to come, as the drummer and I plan to jump off tomorrow’s booze cruise into Lake Ontario to reenact the final scene from Titanic.
And get pumped: Uncle Bad Touch has just recorded 14 new songs that will be released soon, according to Sean the drummer, who grew up right here in Toronto. Look for new tracks on digboston.com.
The cig-smoking punks outside convince us to stay for the next band (it doesn’t take much, as Uncle Bad Touch was so good). They tell me there was a huge fight at the Descendents show after we left; not surprising, though—I’m sure it was all in good fun.
The next band is another one to look up: Ty Segall. Blew me away, or at least sucked me into the mosh pit for the whole set.
Funnest. Shit. Ever.
There is a big-hair-band, beer-drinking bassist and a drummer who looks like a vampire-Cher.
“Here’s another new one about your head exploding, and your brain all over the wall.”
Then BOOM. Punk rock show!
We end the night waltzing into Rivoli, which was again full to capacity with about 30 hipsters still waiting to get in at 1 a.m. I feel kind of grimy coming from a punk show covered in sweat with my hair all over the place and walking past the line into the stylish venue …. so I assume the mentality of Ty Segall and think to myself “what the fuck ever.”
I was looking forward to seeing Bruce Peninsula, a progressive folk band from Toronto that has been praised by local magazines such as Everything Toronto and the Torontoist. Unfortunately, I think the punks won by a landslide. Someone should tell these indie bands gently that 10-person ensembles are sometimes superfluous (we can’t all be Rusted Root). Maybe the punks should tell them. They all have 3-4 people on stage and are killing it with as much energy as Propagandhi in their prime.
Stay tuned for Day III of NXNE; Corbin from the Torontoist is getting us bikes, there’s going to be some outdoor day shows as well as a huge electro rager with Richard Aucoin, who biked across the country (Canada country) dressed like the Grinch who stole Christmas.
That’s a +999. You’re slowly redeeming yourself, Canada.
Check out Day I coverage here.