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Concert Reviews, Music, NXNE 2014

Festival Review: NXNE 2014 – (Spoon, Swans, Spiritualized, METZ, + More)

By: Jennifer Perkin – 

Spoon. (Photo: Curtis Sindrey/Aesthetic Magazine Toronto)

Spoon. (Photo: Curtis Sindrey/Aesthetic Magazine Toronto)

Spoon is a band that you are supposed to like – the Austin five-piece are critically acclaimed, they’ve paid their dues, they’ve released a slew of strong records and have constantly evolved as a band.

Unfortunately, their headlining slot at Yonge-Dundas Square during NXNE felt a little too safe to live up to their reputation. Technically, the performance was fine with every musical element crucial to the mix present and accounted for, but there was very little by way of excitement or atmosphere. Granted, their brand of intelligent rock isn’t pulse-quickening type of music – especially compared to the apocalyptic performance by Swans that took place on the same stage the evening before – but the show was missing a certain je ne sais quoi. Perhaps the 2 AM secret slot at the Budweiser Music House at the Horseshoe the night before left them dry.

The band mostly overlooked their spikier early material for their later-era chart-friendly work, boosted in recent years by having several songs featured on prominent TV shows. Die-hard fans bobbed throughout the crowd, happily singing and dancing along but much like Spiritualised’s NXNE show at Massey Hall, it was only memorable for the devoted, while the majority were “just there”.

After 20 minutes of build-up and feedback, Michael Gira’s mouth began to emit the first of wild-man shrieks and the arms-raised proclamation “BRING THOSE BUILDINGS DOWN!” Swans played a free show on a Friday night in Toronto’s Yonge-Dundas Square, and it was every bit as incongruous and thrilling as you would expect.

Gira is the only constant Swans member, now a veteran of over 30 years, and though much of the audience may not have been familiar with the band prior to the performance, it’s likely that much of the music they listen to are influenced by Swans. Something of a band’s band and with discography stretching 13 records, it was largely a bold and surprising choice for the NXNE organisers.

Swans. (Photo: Curtis Sindrey/Aesthetic Magazine Toronto)

Swans. (Photo: Curtis Sindrey/Aesthetic Magazine Toronto)

A challenging and uncompromising set featured long, slow instrumental layering that erupted with primal force. Gira shaked, shimmied and gyrated – even twerked at one point – as his four bandmates created a backdrop of organised chaos. Unforgettable.

A Spiritualised show is bound to be a fans-only affair at the best of times, but watching them after an epic set such as Swans is bordering on unfair. Spiritualised is Jason Pierce, formerly of Spaceman 3, with a rotating membership.

The genre ‘space rock’ has long been tagged to Pierce’s music, but really tonight it’s just plain old rock, albeit in an unmistakably British tradition. The mostly mid-tempo songs were nicely complemented by the soulful voices of the two backup singers, particularly on “Lord Let it Rain on Me” from 2003’s gospel-influenced Amazing Grace.

Pierce sat off to the right of stage throughout the performance, clad in his trademark white and sunglasses. The band did not interact with the audience at all during the subdued set, though the drummer Johnny Aitken showed the most enthusiasm. There was no doubt that the unique show appeased fans, but was unlikely to win any new ones.

Apparently no one told Golden Teacher that The Hacienda nightclub closed in the late nineties, but the Scottish group’s spirited and relentless  commitment to the Madchester scene conveyed the sense that they could probably start a party at a funeral.

Performed who were ready to let loose and have fun packed Lee’s Palace, and it was hard not to with front-person duo Cassie (in a leopard-print onesie) and Charlie dancing like children performing in their living room. There was also a male band member dressed in a long white dress and blonde wig, and a whole lot of fist pumping.

The music blended old-school disco,  electro, and  afro beat, all performed on real instruments with a hell of a lot of elbow grease. The band showed that they aren’t concerned with creating discernibly structured tunes, but rather intent on delivering deeply  percussive grooves and maniacal yelping.

How to explain the masked Swedish psychedelic lady-duo group Goat? Their debut record, the aptly named World Music, arrived out of the blue in 2012 and it met with near-universal acclaim.

Live at Lee’s Palace, they were a majestic and intriguing force, with energetic dancing, flashy voodoo-garb costumes and hypnotic free-jam sessions. The conditions weren’t ideal – the band would have been better served by a larger venue with more stage space to roam.

Although some of the mystique may have been missing, the band gave it their all – especially the two singers who did not stop moving the entire set to deliver a performance for the audience to lose themselves. The set reached its pinnacle with an extended version of “Run to Your Mama”, but the set was abruptly cut short to the evident surprise of the band after only 40 minutes. Happily, and due to an overwhelming demand from the audience, the band came back for one last song. The people have spoken. Long live Goat.

There’s a mass exodus from Lee’s Palace after a triumphant set from Goat, but a straggling core remained and clustered near the stage. A lanky platinum blond guy wandered on stage, with a specific look for being pissed off, and tested the drum kit. He points at the monitors one-by-one and addressed the sound tech; “Turn this one up. Turn this one down. This one’s fucked – put it in the garbage”. Suddenly, he’s stripped his clothes off down to boots and boxers, and prepared to front the angriest band in North America.

Spiritualized. (Photo: Curtis Sindrey/Aesthetic Magazine Toronto)

Spiritualized. (Photo: Curtis Sindrey/Aesthetic Magazine Toronto)

On stage, Matt Korvette is a man possessed. It’s seldom that anything can be said to be truly jaw dropping or hair-raising, but this was one of those cases. Seeing Pissed Jeans perform for the first time was like seeing a Big Black performance for the first time – unsettling, thrilling, and completely unpredictable.

The simple force of their music juxtaposed with the intelligence of their lyrics, as they articulated the horror of the everyday in way that few, if any, are doing right now.

At their core they are a punk band, but the riffs frequently reached heaviness reserved for Slayer. Guitarist Bradley Fry stalked the stage as a powerhouse,  and spat water on Korvette to wind him up and Korvette responded as a master showman himself, camp, vulnerable, deranged and amusing all at the same time. At one point, the band stopped to takeselfies with audience members, and in another instance he asked a girl to put her phone number in his phone and pretended to call her.

There may not have been many of us there, but those who stuck around were left shaken and came to the same conclusions: 1. Punk is not dead. 2. Pissed Jeans were a standout of NXNE.

Talk about homecoming heroes. There are a couple of clues leading up to the Lee’s Palace performance that Toronto’s METZ had climbed a few rungs up the ladder. Firstly, the line-up that amassed outside the venue was one of the largest witnessed of the festival. Secondly, many of those in attendance hinted that while they had never heard them, someone had told them that to be their category. Anticipation was palpable.

When the power trio hit the stage, the room exploded on cue. The rock-solid barrage of sound band takes their art seriously, and with weirdly menacing affect of plain white stage lighting; we were immediately reminded of why they have gained traction quickly.

With absolute precision, METZ distilled the simple elements of punk, rock and metal into a forceful and slick unit. Singer/guitarist Alex Edkins bared his split-personas, during songs he screamed his longs out, but in between, remained unfailingly polite and thankful – a true testament to their professionalism. METZ clearly hit home with those present, as steady streams of concertgoers stage-dived constantly throughout the set. If there was ever a band to bridge the gap between the punks and the hipsters, METZ is it.

 

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