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The Next Wave @ NXNE

Thursday, June 20th, 2013

Ian Blurton, who rocked the Revolution Recording BBQ

Canadian Musician correspondent Kevin Young was out and about in his hometown of Toronto during the 2013 edition of NXNE. Here are some of his experiences.

The best laid plans…
I had a list of the shows I wanted to see. I swear I did. First on that list was Whiskey Epiphany at Rancho Relaxo. I’d never heard of the band, but with a name like that, well, any fan of the brown water would be tempted to check them out.

Now, having listened to the band online, I wish I’d seen them.

But that night the weather wasn’t cooperating. Because it was pissing rain, because I was getting around NXNE by bike and because I was literally seconds from The Horseshoe when the rain really started coming down, I chose to throw out my previous plans and wing it.

Ching Music founder & Tragically Hip guitarist Paul Langlois

As it turned out – no offense to Whiskey Epiphany – I ended up seeing two bands completely by accident that were, bar none, the highlights of the festival for me.

First up at The Horseshoe, it’s Moon King.

One of the most difficult things for bands to do at a multi-act showcase is make an immediate impact – partly because generally the benefits they have when it’s their show and their stage simply don’t exist.

Time is not on your side when it comes to changeover and often the most a band can hope for is to get on stage on time and find that everything is still working as expected.

While Moon King were a few minutes late taking the stage, beyond that they did everything right. They line checked in the dark. They took the stage in the dark. And when the lights came up and they launched into their first song, they did so with total commitment, competence, and comfort. Thirty seconds into their set, I was sucked in for the duration.

Categorize them? Sure, call them fuzz folk, with shades of ’80s alt pop and killer harmonies. Call it whatever you like. Fronted by longtime collaborators Daniel Benjamin and Maddy Wilde, Moon King left it all on the stage and then some.

Moon King rocked the Horseshoe

Looking for a change of scene and with no more interest in getting drenched than earlier, I headed to the nearby Rivoli. Onstage, Austin, TX’s Quiet Company were busy proving they’re anything but quiet. While the Riv wasn’t quite as packed as the Shoe, the crowd was no less enthusiastic.

Moon King were good. Quiet Company were ridiculously good.

First off, they looked great – yes, if you’re part of a band, then looking like you’re all part of the same band is important if you want people to take you seriously. Secondly, they had a wicked trombone player – Cory Ackers – sporting a red trombone and occasionally wailing away on a partial drum kit and keyboards to boot.

I don’t know why the colour of the trombone mattered to me, but it did. It’s a detail, a small thing, but it stood out, and in a city that 1,100 bands have descended on for a weekend, standing out should be your goal.

Quiet Company, who rocked the Rivoli during NXNE 2013

Big riffs, killer stage presence, five multi-instrumentalists who use their multiple talents to enhance their show and even – gasp – segues between songs. Yes, thinking about how your songs fit together in a set, like figuring out how the individual parts of a song fit together in the first place, makes you come off as more professional.

That’s the best thing about NXNE – surprises. For me: the surprise of seeing two great bands in a row, by accident, in one night. For Quiet Company bassist Matt Parmenter, who was allegedly celebrating his birthday, the surprise came in the form of a skinny bearded fella wearing nothing but his underwear and a skipper’s cap who explained that since Parmenter’s band-mates couldn’t afford a stripper, he was the best they could do.

How many times do you walk in and see a band at any festival that you’ve never heard of but didn’t want to miss a second of? Rarely.

And lest you think I’m alone in my assessment, I refer you to the house engineer, a man I actually toured with for many years, and who would, could, and has found something to complain about spending a sunny day off on a beach in Thailand. Seconds after Quiet Company finished up he approached me and, completely unsolicited, blurted out, “They were great.”

I heard real enthusiasm. I could see joy on his face. I felt hell freezing over and could almost picture the demons inhabiting its stygian depths strapping on skates for a game of shinny.

Incidentally, both Moon King and Quiet Company played multiple gigs during NXNE.

Bottom line – If you can play and you can deliver on stage, you’re going to make an impact. How much of an impact? Who knows? At the very least, you might make a good impression on the house engineer, which, all things considered, can’t hurt. But if you can’t deliver, you’re background noise, pure and simple.

Toronto’s Jadea Kelly, who performed at The Cameron House

Other highlights of the fest:
Ching Music Showcases at The Side Door and The Dakota – Greg Ball’s Thursday night gig at The Side Door and Ching Music founder Paul Langlois’ Friday night set at the Dakota with fellow Hip guitarist Rob Baker ripping it up beside him.

Revolution Recordings BBQ – Since the demise of the EMI Publishing BBQ a few years back, not many outdoor NXNE events – in my opinion – have topped it. Held at Revolution Recording and João Carvalho Mastering on Laing St in the East end of the city, this is definitely a contender. It’s the second year it’s run, but my first time there; BBQ’d burritos, standout sets by the likes of The Shanks and Ian Blurton, beer in abundance, and the opportunity to wander through Revolution and get a look at one of the city’s most well-appointed recording studios.

The Cameron House – First, they’ve removed the fixed seating in the Cameron’s back room, which – again my opinion – makes the room far more inviting for curious, potential audience members. Secondly, from Friday to Sunday, Cameron House Records/NXNE hosted a two-day, three-night showcase of art and music inside and outside the venue on Cameron Street, featuring a 260-capacity outdoor space and performances by the likes of Jadea Kelly, Devon Cuddy, and Sam Cash.

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