So, this time last week I was in Toronto, visiting College Grad, crashing in her apartment and taking advantage of all the music happening around the city during the NXNE festival.
I wasn’t able to get press access, but there were so many free shows that I didn’t even bother to buy one of the daily wristbands, figuring I would just go with the flow. And, as usual, not overplanning worked out fine, with unexpected, happy surprises happening along the way.
Take Friday night. I headed out with all good intentions to see a female, Toronto-based band named The Beaches, which I had discovered by accident when my husband asked me to find out about them – when he really meant Beach House. They have a catchy single on YouTube (“Loner”) and I had reached out to their press people to find out more, which then gave me a sense of some commitment to catch the show.
But I got a late start and, walking along Queen Street to get to the club where they were playing, I was stopped in my tracks by a big crowd, lots of lights and loud music. Not only was NXNE happening this weekend, but Sunday night was going to be broadcast night of the Much Music (Canada’s MTV, which apparently still plays actual music) Video Awards. I had stumbled upon the rehearsal.
One guy whose name I never learned was getting ready to play on the first stage I passed…
…but the sound that was blaring through the speakers was the ubiquitous soundtrack of last year’s summer Olympics, “Home.” At first, I thought it was just a recording, but a bit further down Queen Street was another stage, and there was Phillip Phillips himself, rehearsing the tune.
I heard the tune twice and saw it performed once by the pleasantly MOR guy who sounds like the lost Mumford Son.
So, between my late start and this enjoyable distraction, when I got to the Rivoli club and asked about Beaches, I was told that they’d just ended their set. Poo. I consulted my NXNE iPhone app and decided that my next best bet was the (Legendary) Horseshoe Tavern, which was just another block away.
Here’s where the No-Plan got interesting. The band that was ending its set just as I worked my way to the front of the stage was Still Corners, the same act that College Grad and I had attempted to see earlier in the day at a free in-store at Urban Outfitters. (We missed it because the chain has two Toronto locations and we went to the wrong one.) I can’t say much about the band since they were doing a final pull-out-the-stops jam and then it was over. But I got the set list from the nice guitar guy, TK soon on WhatchaGonnaPlay.com. (I also saw a set of two duplicate set lists right near the edge of the stage and grabbed them as well…more on those later.)
Checking my NXNE app again, I realized that the band I thought was coming up next, Moon King, was actually at another venue and the Horseshoe’s next act was Buke and Gase, a duo known and named for its unusual instruments – Arone Dyer on the “buke” (a modified baritone ukulele) and Aron Sanchez on the “gase” (a guitar-bass hybrid). Both of them also play foot percussion, she with tambourine-enhanced shoes, he with a big drum.
Considering I hadn’t a clue what to expect, I was delighted by their set. She’s got a charming smile and a high, energized vocal style that’s set against propulsive rhythms and a touch of artsy noise pop. I sought the pair out afterwards and bought an album – on vinyl.
Then I went outside for a smoke (don’t judge), intending to return for the next act but, once I hit the street and saw the crush of people waiting to come in to see an act called WHY? (“alt-rock hip hop” from Cincinnati), I felt like quitting while I was ahead and calling it a night.
Speaking of which, the 11pm news is wrapping up and so shall I, for now.
The rest of my musical Toronto weekend adventures – featuring Laurie Anderson, Blinker the Star (remember them?) and a catchy little ditty called “I Found a Body” – soon come.