Like many bands from the east coast, Cape Breton’s Mardeen display an affinity for crunchy guitars and strong melodies. It’s not a sound that’s necessarily unique to the region, but they do seem to do it so well out east. Fittingly, the band was taking part in the Halifax Pop Explosion showcase on Thursday night, on a bill which also featured The Wayo, Glory Glory, Walrus, and Vogue Dots.
The band took to the smallish stage at Handlebar and played to a fairly packed room, impressing with their melodic, poppy songcraft. Singer/bassist Matt Ellis introduced the song “DC Fan” with a speech about the existence of heroes in our world, whether it be the larger than life legends or those whose contributions take the form of simpler, more direct acts of kindness. They ended out their set with “Silver Fang,” the driving title track off their latest EP, which Ellis prefaced with a warning of sorts: “This one’ll haunt you in your dreams.” As songs go, it’s a little too upbeat to really be terribly haunting, though I will admit that the tune was stuck in my head for the rest of the night.
Ideally, a festival like NXNE is a good opportunity for making new discoveries – you can randomly pick a band you’ve never seen/heard of before or one of the more hyped up and comers and check them out in the hopes that they’ll be good. Conversely, you can go with an old favourite, a band you’ve seen several times before that you know will put on a good show. As Steve Buscemi’s character in Fargo put it, “Depends on the artist. Y’know, Jose Feliciano, you’ve got no complaints.” On the first night of NXNE, White Cowbell Oklahoma were my Jose Feliciano.
The Toronto based band always puts on an entertaining show, though over the years they’ve toned things down somewhat – gone are the stuffed animals being torn apart by chainsaws and the Colonel Sanders impersonator (I guess Darrell Hammond’s got that area covered these days) as well as the number of band members, though they have added a sax player since the last time I’ve seen them. However, while the band may have toned down the antics over the years, they haven’t really lost much in terms of the intensity of the performance. So while it was a relatively subdued set by WCO’s old standards, it still involved a bit of raunchy banter (“This song is about vaginas.” “Aren’t they all about vaginas?”) and an audience invasion from singer Clem C. Clemson, who avoided a ceiling fan before climbing onto the back bar to sing a song from there. And while they may be focusing more directly on the music, they still had one dancer onstage and the tiniest bit of pyro – it wouldn’t quite be a White Cowbell show without those elements.
Following them on the Silver Dollar stage were Suichu Blanco from Japan, who would probably be grateful that White Cowbell has phased out the stuffed animal chainsaw massacres of old, since that would tend to leave a mess for whoever might be following them. That said, Suichu Blanco also impressed with an intense, hard rocking performance, following in the noisy garage rock tradition of fellow countrymen like The Zoobombs.
I first heard about Jungle after my friends returned from the epic musical adventure that is Coachella. In general, Coachella alumni return tan, happy… and devoid of details. Comments are usually along the lines of:
“Oh my god, such a good time…. I mean the bands kinda blur together but it was AMAZING.”
“I LOVE California. West coast best coast right?? And yeah I mean I guess what I remember of the music was…. good.”
But this year, one detail was clear to all my returning friends: Jungle rocked. The best live act ever. The most hypnotic show they’d seen in years. Addictive beats. Great vibe. Amazing presence.
Listening to the band’s work online, I was pumped. The group definitely generates dance-ready beats and funk-infused rhythms that get your toe-tapping instantaneously. And their music videos are so beautifully but casually choreographed – I couldn’t wait to see them bust a move in person. Adding to my anticipation was the general buzz the band has generated, as reported by the 9:30 Club: “earning the BBC Sound of 2014 nomination, the 4 millions plus plays of the ‘Platoon’ video, and the US tour that sold out on the back of their SXSW appearance before Jungle even had an official record out in America – it’s a DIY story.” The all-knowing Wikipedia also promised great things, describing Jungle’s musical style as incorporating “tropical percussion, wildlife noises, falsetto yelps, psychedelic washes and badoinking bass… with a fearsome live reputation.”
All proved true. The 9:30 Club was packed with expectant fans (many sporting Coachella Tees… others in belly shirts, some in overalls, lots of neck tattoos – a great crowd!) who erupted when Jungle appeared on scene. The group didn’t have a lot of room to move, but the lack of space didn’t impede the power of their performance. Flashing lights, pulsing strobes, and non-stop-max-beats kept the audience dancing, singing, and smiling ear to ear the entire time. I’d read somewhere that the band’s leaders, known simply as “J” and “T” make an effort to disappear behind their music to make the experience and connection between listener and sound more intimate. While I wasn’t sure what that meant when I was reading it, I became, perhaps paradoxically, very aware of how invisible the group made themselves as they performed. They had very limited banter, and really only spoke when the stage lights were blacked out – their faces were never fully illuminated – it was like they faded away. However, they did it in a way that didn’t create any type of absent or disconnected feeling. Instead, in-line with what I read, it just made it feel like there was nothing between me and their catchy hypnotic psychedelic funk. Julia, my favorite song, was specifically powerful-feeling when they performed it live, making the crowd come alive in a way that felt magically independently energized without any urging from the band members.
‘Twas great. These guys are definitely worth seeing live – I have a feeling they’re only going to get bigger faster, so catch them while you can!
Let’s face it, there’s a lot of NXNE bands out there trying to vie for your precious time. So we ask the obvious, what separates you from the rest?
We asked some bands.
Kids (Coalition, Friday, 1 am): We are a colourful expose and an example of how vastly different personalities can come together to form a complex well-oiled machine. I think most groups these days, even solo artists, try and fit into an image that revolves around generating revenue. At the risk of sounding trite and cliché, I will say that we tend to just be ourselves and let the public perception and image mould around us. We are learning as individuals and as a group how to walk this tightrope industry and I recognize that many weaknesses perceived correctly can be utilized and turned to strengths; how and when that happens is determined by the sincerity of the perceiver. Ultimately, to answer the question, who we are individually shows through in our on-stage characters, our chemistry is the exemplification of this understanding.
Very adult sounding answer for a band called Kids! Actually, Kids stand for Kinetic Intelligence Developing Soul, so that name might be misleading. I can’t find their website though
Pick a Piper (Thursday, Midnight, Painted Lady): We work very had to have a recognizable palette of sounds that are unique to us.
A side project from the Caribou’s drummer Brad Weber, they give us with a rather vague answer.
Finally, an honest answer. I appreciate L.A. Foster’s answer. Now appreciate their music:
High Kicks (Thursday, Rivoli, Midnight): We like to focus on our enormous sames rather than on our tiny differents. It’s just Rock & Roll. I guess we have less members than most bands. And we bring all the FUZZ all the time. Many different levels of FUZZ. So many we needed to have them colour coded like terrorist threats.
A band that aspires to be similar to other bands, sounds like a recipe for success! Unless they sound the same as shitty bands.
Bride & Groom (Thursday, 10pm, Painted Lady): We would love to say that it’s our undeniable ‘wow’ factor that you just can’t teach, haha, but more likely it’s our complete self-sufficiency. The creative aspects of Jesse’s job with the administrative know-how of Kaitlyn’s allow the two of us we cover all of the bases necessary for an emerging group to succeed while keeping our overheads shockingly low. This (combined with nice tunes) have allowed us to make leaps and bounds of progress in our first year playing together.
I enjoy any band that factors economy into their answer.