This weekend was the annual North by Northeast festival in Toronto, a city-wide feast of bands playing in tiny, sweaty clubs. It’s been a few years since I took in the whole festival, so this year I dove in.
This night didn’t start out too well, as I couldn’t get into the main club where most of the bands I wanted to see were playing. So 10:00 Thursday, and I’m already annoyed. I saw a fairly generic band at the Rivoli, but then made the discovery of the weekend: The Oholics, a Swedish psyche-rock band. They were pretty fantastic, and you really don’t know rock music until you’ve seen a Swedish hippie rocking out on a sitar.
The other band I saw on Thursday was also kind of forgettable – they were good, but seemed really bored. If you’re going to be super-serious artists, you’d better be super-good, too.
Friday night started at the Silver Dollar at 9pm, with OK City OK, from Tokyo. They were… OK? I mean, really, they were pretty good, but they lacked that certain something that elevates a band from skilled and talented to really attention-grabbing.
As I left the club for my next destination, the thunderstorm started. In theory, this shouldn’t have been a problem, as the next club was just around the corner. Unfortunately, I thought it was 10 minutes down the street. By the time I got to where I thought I was going, realized I didn’t want to be there, figured out where I wanted to be, and then got there, I was pretty wet. And there wasn’t much dryness to be found: I am convinced that Rancho Relaxo is the sweatiest place to see a concert in Toronto. After being introduced by a Victorian-style stripper, London’s The Gin Riots seemed to agree – everyone was dripping with sweat after about two songs. Apparently their lead singer is fairly attractive to the fair sex, as every time he mentioned how hot it was, a chorus of female fans suggested he’d be more comfortable if he took his shirt off. At any rate, they were pretty good – reminiscent of the Strokes, and a fun, energetic show.
Back into the rain, and then the thankfully less-sweaty Sneaky Dee’s (home to several scenes in Scott Pilgrim, for you comic fans who wish I’d stop writing about music) for BC’s Young & Sexy. I saw them the first time I did NXNE, five or six years ago, in an epically sweaty show at Rancho Relaxo. Anyway, they’re still very good. I have no specific comments, other than “they’re very good”, and definitely did some nice rocking out.
Back out into slightly less rain to see the Oholics again. They were awesome again, playing for a packed club this time. They even did an encore, which you don’t usually see at NXNE. No photos this time, as I was near the back of the club.
No travel was necessary for the next band, Toronto’s own The Diableros. One of my favourite local bands – heck, one of my favourite bands, full stop – and they didn’t disappoint, with a full-on rocking-out show. Standing up at the front made for some good photos, but my eardrums probably regret it.
Slept until 1:30. Woke up, ate breakfast, went back to bed for a series of lengthening naps. Finally woke up around 8pm, which was too late – I ended up missing most of Rebekah Higgs’ set at the Horseshoe. But what I heard was excellent, with two-and-a-half songs being enough to persuade me to buy her CD. (No Photos. I was late, and way at the back.)
Spiral Beach certainly wins the prize for most energetic performance of the festival, and probably the youngest, too. It makes me very sad that they are this good, this young.
Saturday’s show at the Horseshoe was a showcase for CBC Radio 3, which I should apparently start listening to more because they put together some excellent acts. The next band was Hey Rosetta from Newfoundland, and they were pretty darn good, too, though I have to question the wisdom of starting with a quieter song after following Spiral Beach’s manic show. It’s also possible the beach balls Spiral Beach threw out into the crowd had become more of an annoyance by the time Hey Rosetta took the stage.
The next stop of the night was the Rivoli… except it wasn’t, as they’d reached capacity. But it was midnight, I’d already seen two and a half great performances, and that was enough. Considerable awesomeness and some new bands to listen to, even if it came with the attendant sweat, sore feet, ruptured eardrums, and general exhaustion.
Full photo gallery at Flickr.