When we hit Toronto's 17th annual NXNE Festival last week (yeah, it's sort of the north's answer to SXSW), we discovered that there's plenty to love about the city, to be sure. Super food, tons of walkable neighborhoods (provided it's summer, natch), patio bars, and all sorts of wonderful things make Toronto a pretty solid option for summer chillin'. (But beware: Downtown traffic on the weekend—both in cabs and on transit—is an unfortunate mess to contend with, and it often kept us from getting across town to see shows we were psyched about.)
As it regards the festival, there's seriously way too much to write about, so we've done our best to distill our coverage down to an easy-to-digest Five Things to Love About NXNE.
Much like SXSW, there's the draw of unsigned indie bands looking to catch the eye of next-big-thing tastemakers, but there are just as many big name indie acts in the lineup, many of which, like Stars and Fucked Up, played the free stage at Yonge Dundas Square, smack dab in the middle of downtown. But for our money, Deerhoof (pictured above), who performed Thursday night at the Phoenix Concert Theatre, was the band to see. Deerhoof's been at it for a while, of course, so it's never surprising to see them deliver their powerful experimental pop. But when it happens with a super-thick crowd on a humid night, it's an altogether different story, and it felt nothing short of epic.
Curious as to where all your favorite acts of the '80s and '90s went? Look no further than the main stage at NXNE, where folks like Men Without Hats, Devo, and Descendents all reappeared for a moment to get youngsters and oldsters alike singing along. Suffice it to say, we were most excited about the brief Swervedriver reunion show (pictured above), which, alas, was plagued with sound difficulties and a less-than-tight band. Half way through the highly anticipated set, close to a third of the room had cleared out, leaving the band's struggle that much more an uphill battle that proved too much to surmount.
Let's face it: When it's ridiculously hot outside, and every patio in town is filling up with beer-swillin' revelers, there's little that goes down better with it than indie rock. This year's NXNE seemed to feature a lot more daytime shows, and it's a great addition to the already impressive list of events. Our favorite discoveries on Saturday afternoon happened over at Reposado, where Modern Superstitions (pictured above) poured out trashy, high-energy pop-rawk before The Two Koreas delivered some convincingly Wire-esque post-punk.
Knowing our proclivity towards music made and played in warehouses and basements, the smaller shows that happened at venues like 918 Bathurst (the downstairs rec room of a Buddhist temple) turned out to be the most welcoming to us. And knowing our love for Montrealer singer/producer Grimes, it's probably not surprising that we dug her set more than anyone's on this visit to Toronto. Grimes (a.k.a. Claire Boucher) may not have drawn the festival's largest crowd, but she no doubt shook the room down with her heavenly vocals and pulsating mini-beats. Brooklyn's Prince Rama (pictured above) took the stage next, with some cool visuals, hipster-gnome howls, and off-kilter instrumentation, but Grimes was without a doubt a tough act to follow. Check out our interview with her later this week.
Garage rock shows
This festival would consist of precious few bands were it not for the resurgence of garage rock. SF stalwart Ty Segall and local rockabilly-infused act CATL (pictured above, top) seemed to be on the lips of many festival goers, but thanks to a tip-off from occasional XLR8R contrib Ben Rayner, San Diego's Crocodiles (pictured above, bottom) turned out to be our best bet. Hardly just a garage band, this young foursome melted the stage at The Silver Dollar on Thursday night (and subsequent nights, we're told), with their rough-and-tumble Velvets-meet-Mary Chain wall of sound.