The Globe and Mail’s Brad Wheeler and Dave Morris report back on some of their favourite shows at the NXNE festival in Toronto.
Cameron House, Wednesday, 6 p.m.
“It’s such a beautiful day, I feel like I should pass out vitamin D tablets for your trouble.” That’s what Doug Paisley said before his supper-hour set at the Cameron House on Wednesday. The country crooner with the peaceful bourbon baritone wasn’t taking part in this year’s North by Northeast festival, but he raised an excellent point, about wrist-banded music fans abandoning the spring sun to tackle a flurry of showcases at some of the city’s stickier, darker venues. Whiling away a couple of the mellow hours with the pint-glass people at the Cameron was the calm before the storm, the reclining before the scurry. B.W.
CONVERSE RUBBER TRACKS
Parkdale, 1:30 p.m, Thursday
Black “Chucks” are still the coolest kicks around – the iconic Chuck Taylor sneakers by Converse were worn by the Ramones and they’re still the footwear of choice for rubber-soled indie rockers. With that in mind, for the duration of NXNE, Converse has taken over Mushroom Studios in Parkdale, where Geoff Cottrill and his team opened up the facility for four Canadian bands to record free of charge, with a professional engineer on call. “We feel fortunate and grateful that the musicians have brought us into the culture,” Cottrill told me when I popped by the pop-up studio, temporarily dubbed Converse Rubber Tracks, in Toronto. The sportswear giant has a new permanent facility in Brooklyn, where more than 200 bands recorded and mixed last year. Unlike Red Bull and Mountain Dew, Converse doesn’t sign any acts. “If we owned the music, we wouldn’t know where to put it,” explained Cottrill. “That’s not what we do.” Converse, then, attempting to win the brand loyalty of the young and creative, two feet at a time. B.W.
IRVINE WELSH'S ECSTASY
Screening and Q&A with Irvine Welsh and director Rob Heydon; The Royal, 7 p.m.
“Having a novel adapted into a film is a no-lose proposition," Irvine Welsh muses. "If the film's no good, you tell people ‘they fouled up my story. Buy the book, it's better.’ And if the film is good, people will buy the book anyway.” The Scottish literary icon professes to like Canadian director Rob Heydon's adaptation of a novella from his 1996 collection Ecstasy; after the screening, Welsh and Heydon recount how the tale of clubbers in love took 12 years to make – including delays for reshoots, at Welsh's behest, in “less touristy” Edinburgh locations. That direction aside, Welsh doesn’t plan on steering any cinematic versions of his work. “You need a fresh pair of eyes.” D.M.
BOXER THE HORSE
El Mocambo, 8 p.m., Thursday
I can’t say enough good things about Boxer the Horse, the four lads from Prince Edward Island, who kicked up some hooks, jangle and fuzz upstairs at the El Mocambo, while it was still light outside on Thursday. The tuneful upbeat rock upstarts were sometimes sunny, and other times more muscular, but in a carefree way. Comparable to the Kinks here, and Pavement there, Boxer the Horse made my day. B.W.
Great Hall Lower Theatre, 10 p.m., Thursday
One of the surprise omissions on this year’s Polaris Music Prize long list of nominated albums (announced Thursday) was Weather Station’s All of It Was Mine. Tamara Lindeman (aka Weather Station) was at the lower theatre in the Great Hall, as part of the showcase for the talent of the dynamite You’ve Changed label from New Brunswick. Lindeman is a pale blond waif who sang dusky, softly and melancholic, with her slow-moving finger-picked songs quietly floating around the dark two-storey basement and balcony. She told us that there was rumour that basketball had been invented there. And then I imagined peach baskets and Chuck Taylor high-tops as Lindeman plucked, forlornly, faintly and alone. Later she was joined by label-mates – young men who handled high harmony. Gentle high-fives and soft slam-dunks all around. B.W.
Silver Dollar Room, 11 p.m., Thursday
If three guys in a four-man band have roughly the same pompadour hairdo, what does it say about the fourth? Apparently in Toronto garage-twang newcomers Pow Wows, you can only get away with floppy hair if you're a white-hot lead-guitar wizard. That's not to take anything away from the other three. Pow Wows' arresting new LP Nightmare Soda (on venerable garage imprint Get Hip) disguises the group's hammer-tight playing in a reverb tank that must be roughly the size of the Grand Canyon, but live, they can't hide their precision, their mimimal yet effective arrangements, or those searing guitar leads. Or the hair. The hair helps too. D.M.
Garrison, midnight, Thursday
While listening to the shockingly rudimentary trio rock and glum drone of Grass Widow (musically untrained women from San Francisco), I tweated about my disappointment in their craft. I quickly received a Twitter reply from an NXNE fan, who said the festival was “all about enduring some weaker, less polished acts in order to see the high-end performers and hidden gems.” Fair enough. Then one of those supposed high-enders closed the night at the Garrison. It was the bewitching hour and the three highly touted women of Nashville’s Black Belles looked the part – all black pointy hats and goth-ware. Their rock was a heavy trudge, with no sense of dynamics. No one was charmed. But hey, tomorrow night’s another day, at NXNE. B.W.
Bovine Sex Club, 1 a.m., Thursday
NXNE doubtlessly hired guitar luminary Ivan Julian due to his association with NYC punk poet Richard Hell. If they were hoping for an hour of inoffensive nostalgia, they must have spat out their dentures when Julian and his band began to tear violently through Hell classics ( Blank Generation) and hard-rock- and funk-inflected cuts from Julian’s unjustly overlooked solo album from last year, The Naked Flame. Based on the almost tangible electricity in the air during jagged romps like Hardwired, Julian and his co-guitarist may actually have been throwing sparks from the sheer energy. The Bovine is lit such that it's hard to tell, but I wouldn’t rule it out. D.M.
NXNE continues in Toronto to July 17 (nxne.com).