Saturday, 23 June 2012

NXNE 2012

Thursday June 14
NXNE now starts with some films on Monday, but you can't really pick up your press pass until Wednesday so I missed a few worthy films. I did pick up my pass on Wednesday but didn't get around to seeing anything that night. So we start off with;

Bad Religion (Dundas Square);
Bad Religion is one of those classic punk bands the appeal of which has always escaped me. Don't get me wrong, I think they are a good band and all, tight and consistent, and I respect their integrity in founding a label (Epitaph) which played a pivotal role in bringing punk to the masses without selling out. But I have always found them basically faceless. Perhaps this is not entirely their fault, we can hardly blame them for the fact that so many other punk bands lifted their sound. But at the same time they never came up with a real distinctive sound like their contemporaries The Offspring, or an ability to develop and grow creatively like Green Day. Their refusal to do interviews doesn't help either. At any rate I was happy to head down to see them at Dundas Square. Until I got there. The Dundas Square shows were always an uncomfortable experience, having to stand for hours on a crowded concrete square hoping to get a brief glimpse at the band on stage while being constantly jostled and sweated on is no longer my idea of fun. NXNE has blithely made this even more of a trial by expanding the drinking tent and worse by cramming the square with merch tables like it's a flea market in Istanbul without the charm (or food). And by merch I don't mean band merch like t-shirts, CD's and posters. That wouldn't take up much space at all. No we are talking about giant booths for the likes of Sprint or Verizon, which nobody there would have the slightest interest in and who do not exactly suffer from lack of exposure. I mean seriously, is anybody really going to take time out from a concert to compare cell phone plans? Is a potential customer off the street going to push his way through the crowd to do so? The booths have also gotten larger this year, with metal superstructures and roofs just to make sure that they block everybody's view. I ask you is it asking too much not to have corporate ads everywhere? Just to make doubly sure they annoy the largest number of people they also chose to place the booths not only along the sides of the stage but ringing around the front as well, thus not only blocking the view of anyone behind them but also hemming in those in front. If there had been some sort of stampede for any reason people could have been killed in the crush of such an enclosed space. Oh well I guess it's a small price to pay in the name of youth oriented product placement. It's soooo punk rawk mannn! All this made it seem more crowded than Iggy Pop two years ago even though there were less people. Not that I'm blaming the band for this of course. They sounded fine, played a long set and I even caught a brief glimpse of them once or twice. Just a glimpse mind you, enough to make sure there was actually a band on stage rather than just a backing tape.


Glory Hound (The Bovine);
After leaving Dundas Square I made a beeline to the Bovine too catch the Nils but I actually got there early enough for the openers. Gloryhound are from Nova Scotia I think and are a fairly bombastic hard rock band who are tight enough but nothing special.

The Nils (The Bovine);
Of all the stories of Canadian bands that should'a made it but didn't The Nils were the most cursed. A Montreal punk band from the late eighties formed by two brothers Carlos and Alex Soria that I grew up on. Their first two indie eps are still among the very best Canadian punk of the era, or any other. At the time they were bandied about as Canada's answer to the Replacements. Unfortunately their only major label album was a disappointment and they soon broke up. A couple years back Alex killed himself while in the midst of a comeback attempt. Eventually Carlos decided to struggle on with some sort of lineup and recorded a new album. They only played a few of their early songs here which I can sort of understand but found disappointing, especially the hurried way they whipped through them. Their newer songs are OK, their cover of Neil Young's "Everybody knows this is nowhere" was pretty cool though.


Revolvers (The El Mocambo);
I was getting pretty tired so after taking a much needed munchie break I wandered down to the El Mo. The Revolvers are a local noisy garage band, or a garagey noise band, whichever. I don't actually recall their songs but they were pretty good at the time.

Bleached (The Silver Dollar Room);
Note to the Black Belles and the Dum Dum Girls (see below); garage punk should have more than one tempo, preferably fairly fast. Another all-girl garage buzz band this year. Bleached pay less attention to looking cool and more to being a good old fashioned rock and roll party. The fact that the band is led by two sisters, Jessica and Jennifer Clavin, from a previous band, Mika Miko, certainly helps. They have the experience and confidence not to worry about their chic outfits and just rock out. They also have better songs (and more of them) and they play better as well. They are also more comfortable and fun on stage. Turns out a little experience really does matter.


Friday June 15 2012;


Ja Javla Metal; The story of Swedish Heavy Metal;
The title says it all really; all things metal from Sweden from Yngvwie Malmsteen (sorry that should read Y,,,,,, J Malmsteen, wouldn't want to get him confused with all the other Yngvwie Malmsteens out there) and Europe to Bathory and Candlemass to Entombed and In Flames. With the focus on the 1980's and early 1990's and done in a methodical just-the-facts style that offers no flash but probably appeals to the metal fan's latent desire to be taken seriously. And now I know more than I ever thought I needed to about Swedish Metal.


My father and the Man in Black;
Did you know that for from the 1960's to the 1980's Johnny Cash's manager was a Jewish guy from London, Ontario? Me neither. Sol Holiff was his name and he was almost a stereotype of the sort of Jewish businessmen (often with little or no entertainment experience) who became managers, record label owners, film moguls and comic book publishers in the early to mid twentieth century. He was a serious, sober, hard working, suit wearing, humorless, hard nose who devoted himself to client 24/7 and treated his family like despised employees. He felt bad about though and after he killed himself a few years ago he left behind a whole store room of documents, photos and tapes that his alienated son use to base this movie on. It provides a more nuanced story of the enigmatic figure of cash than "Walk the line" while also giving us a deeply personal family as well. It's self indulgent of course but given the subject matter it gets away with it.



The Coppertone (The Horseshoe);
Fronted by Toronto based Amanda Zelina's big voice and 1970's stadium guitars Coppertone conjure up obvious comparisons like Heart, Suzi Quartro, The Headpins and Toronto (the 80's band that is). There are certainly plenty of worse role models lord knows.

The Black Belles (The Horseshoe);
The latest buzzband are an all girl garage four piece from Nashville via Jack White who dress up like Go-Go Morticia Adams with matching long black hair and top hats and black lipstick and eye liner. They look great of course and I can certainly see the appeal of four cool goth garage chicks. Just like the Dum Dum Girls last year. Unfortunately I found their one tempo, three chord drone a little dull after a while. They are going to have to change it up a bit. Just like the Dum Dum Girls. Bonus points for their trudge through a version of the classic Nickerbockers' 60's nugget "Lies" which may not be nearly as good as the original of course but was still kinda cool.


Andre Williams & The Sadies (The Horseshoe);
As one of the last men standing of the classic R&B era we should be amazed to have Andre still alive let alone fully active. Not only performing but recording new material as well. Considering the dissolute life of drugs he led for the last fifty years he is lucky to be alive at all, let alone capable of doing a show in the summer heat. He knows it to, delivering a nice little speech of thanks to those (like the Sadies and Toronto audiences in general) who kept the faith while he got into rehab. By all accounts he has been fully on the wagon now for a couple of years and he does look healthier and more alert than in years past. The set was not very long but he kept out a good energy level. Of course having a quick mid-set pimp gear costume change probably helps but if anyone can pull off that sort of vanity move it's Andre. As per usual the Sadies provide their usual empathetic backing making the whole "Andre Williams sings cow-punk" concept seem natural. To be honest Andre's voice is pretty much shot by now but he was always more of a presence and a composer/arranger than a pure singer anyway. At any rate as one of the last guys of his era still around and capable of still doing adventurous work that appeals to those younger and hipper than your average oldies crowd Andre owes it to us to keep on truckin'.


The Reigning Sound (The Horseshoe);

Led by former frontman for North Carolina's garage vets The Oblivians (and briefly Toronto's Deadly Snakes) Greg Cartwright, gave a short class in neo-garage. Short punchy three chord songs? Check. Catchy choruses? Check. Hummable solos? Check. Farfisa borrowed from Dell Shannon? Ditto. A modicum of variety so that all the songs don't sound exactly the same? Got it. Granted they look a little paunchy but I do hope the Black Belles were taking notes.

THE REIGNING SOUND ~ "Can't hold on";

Saturday June 16 2012;


Jobriath A.D. (NFB);

This is a requiem for a lightweight. In the early 1970's Jobriath was New York's answer to David Bowie. His complete and utter failure was proof that most Americans had never asked the question after all. Everything that Bowie did Jobriath went even further. Bowie wore make up and dresses? Then Jobriath would wear tights and jester makeup. Bowie sang about space and declared he was from Mars? Jobriath wrote space operas and claimed he was from Heaven. Bowie dabbled in the theater? Jobriath would use ballet and performance art of the most ridiculously overblown type. Bowie would rely on wildly bombastic hype? Jobriath would have billboards you could practically see from Mars. Bowie had an egomaniacal manager with delusions of grandeur? Jobriath could find an even shadier megalomaniac manager. Bowie claimed he was bisexual? Jobriath shouted he was rock and roll's first "true fairy". It was all too much, especially for America circa 1973. He put out two big budget albums on Elektra and even with massive publicity and a television appearance they both sank without a trace. And that was that. He was washed up in his early twenties. He would end up years later playing Cole Porter tunes in a piano bar. When he died of AIDS in 1983 it went unnoticed. Even the gay community didn't care, they had disco by then. Of course like all artists who fail completely he has gained a small cult following with the likes of Morrissey, Klaus Nomi and Jayne County. And he was certainly not without talent. A classically trained pianist and composer/arranger he had total creative control of everything and manged to get the likes of Led Zeppelin's John Paul Jones, Disco diva Gloria Jones and Richard Gere into the studio. The results are thoroughly competent pomp rock not wildly dissimilar to some of the contemporary work of Bowie or Queen. With the notable absence of a catchy single for radio. He also had never been in a band before, or played a single gig. His only prior experience was a stint on a production of Hair and a few promising demos. Since he had built no audience of his own his management decided to blast their way on to the charts in one rush with the most expensive and overblown ad blitz ever seen for an unknown act. Of course it went down like a lead balloon with rock jocks and critics who had much more power in those days and who deeply resented this preening poseur who had paid no dues. Naturally once it was clear that there was no likely hit single they attacked like hyenas on a wounded gazelle. As might have been expected the record company was not exactly pleased with the amount of money spent on the fiasco either and after it met an even more obscure death they dumped him. In explaining his short whirlwind career the film explains the fiasco by pointing out the delusional publicity and the homophobia of middle America but gives the impression that he could have otherwise made it or that he was just ahead of his time. When he finally went out on his one and only tour he finally figured out how to perform and win over an audience. If only Elektra had given the second album more support. If only radio and the media had given him a second chance. He could'a been a contender. I disagree; I say the whole project was wrongheaded from the start. The film is as blissfully unaware of the changing currents in rock and roll in the mid seventies as Jobriath himself was. At the same time he was sitting in New York working out plans for a massive rock opera and attending chi-chi parties with Warhol there indeed was a scene happening in New York that would change rock forever. But it was happening over at the Bowery and it is impossible to picture him at grungy CBGB's. The bloated pomp rock of Jobriath was a painfully out of touch with punk as Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Yes, Uriah Heep or the Moody Blues. Without his having the fallback of having had previous hits and a legion of fans to rely on. Even Bowie and Queen spotted that trend and retooled their look and sound. What was Jobriath going to do? It's true that in just a few years there would be an actual underground with a network of clubs, indie labels, zines and campus radio that would have been more open. But he doubtless would have little desire to be part of such a low rent scene. For Jobriath it was the big time or nothing. He got nothing. And he was unable to figure out a way back. The movie is a thorough and interesting story of a puzzling figure from an different era. I did not leave it becoming a fan but I did feel sympathy for his hopeless crusade to take rock in exactly the wrong direction at the wrong time. Lord knows we've had worse, even in the 1970's. He could have at least lived long enough to appear in "Velvet Goldmine".


Slaughter Nick for president (NFB);
Remember a cheesy TV crime show from the 1980's called "Sweating Bullets"? Featuring a private eye named Nick Slaughter and set somewhere in the tropics and basically combined the drama of "Miami Vice" with the suspense of "Bay Watch". I vaguely recall seeing it one or twice, probably in reruns. At any rate it turns out that it's combo of endless summer and bloodless violence made it a huge escapist hit in Serbia at the very time that people were taking it to the streets to bring down the Slobodan Milosevic regime. So much so that Nick Slaughter became a symbol of freedom for millions of Serbs. All this somehow happened with the real Nick Slaughter, Canadian actor Rob Stewart being completely unaware until a Serbian punk band who wrote a song about invited him to Serbia. This film is about that trip. It's a tribute of sorts to the power of pop culture, no matter how trivial.

Marianas Trench (Much Music stage);
On my way to get some food I passed by the Much Music stage where Marianas Trench were rehearsing for their MMVA awards appearance. They weren't wearing their full on stage clothes and makeup so they looked slightly less emo. They also had some black female backup singers which is something all pasty white bands like to do to show they're aware of their "roots". You know, like Motown and stuff. This is assuming Motown had pasty white emo kids with silly hairdos doing souless kiddie stadium rock. Mind you given that those twits from LMFAO are actually Barry Gordy's offspring I wouldn't put it past them.

Shellshag (The El Mocambo);
A loud guitar/drums two piece from New York. Two piecers are an inherently limited genre and Shellshag do not transcend those limits, but they don't embarrass them either.

Limblifter (El Mocambo);
Limblifter were a moderately popular Vancouver band from the mid-nineties era of post grunge indie guitar bands. Apparently the mid nineties are now officially retro enough to justify a reunion. I have only a vague memory of them from back then but they were pretty good here straight forward and unpretentious. Although as is usual with this type of band I can't actually remember any of the songs. The fairly large crowd, who seemed to know all the songs were pleased though.

Meanwood (Rancho Relaxo);
I haven't heard of these guys before even though they're local. They are a pretty cool cow punk with a female singer who can shout with the best of them and the occasional banjo when they want to open up a big can of white trash. They must gave been pretty good to convince me to stay in the always sweltering Rancho. Worth further investigating.

Les Breastfeeders (El Mocambo);
I was pretty worn out by this point and ready to call it a week but not before seeing Montreal's best Ye-Ye garage band. They've been mining this vein for a while now but they always make it seem like it's the newest thing. And they are Ye-Ye enough to always bring their A game no matter how late or small the crowd. There was no too-cool-to-sweat posing for them. Les Breastfeeders were so lively (not to mention well dressed) that I almost forgot it was 2am. Then I went home to sleep.


No I did not go to see The Flaming Lips on Saturday. I thought about it, but after coming out of the two movies I saw it was about 9pm and I absolutely had to get something to eat, and a bathroom, definitely a bathroom, or else. By the time I finished a much needed if meager meal it was around 10pm. I still could have made my way down to Dundas Square but after the thoroughly annoying experience of Bad Religion the first day (ie crowing and sightlines blocked by corporate ad booths) I basically said screw it since I knew the crowd would be even bigger for the Lips on a Saturday.

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