NXNE Venue Review: Yonge-Dundas Square

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Yonge & Dundas

It’s June, It’s NXNE time. Let’s get right to it. One of the greatest things about NXNE is the free shows they have at Yonge-Dundas shows. Previous years, the festival has been able to bring in an impressive list of bands including

The National
Flaming Lips
Iggy Pop
De La Soul
The guy from Fast & Furious movies
Billy Talent
Blinker the Star

and so on.

This year it’s no different, the center of Toronto is host to an eclectic group of artists that include St. Vincent, Danny Brown, Spoon and Sleigh Bells. How is it, as a concert venue though?

History & Overview

Conceived in 1997, Yonge Dundas square is often seen as a primary piece of evidence for the argument that Toronto just wants to be New York. It’s right in the heart of the city and is surrounded by so much excessive screens and lighting that you can still see the glare from the square a kilometer away. It’s been home to many random things. For me, it’s just an area to avoid on the weekends.



No really, the stage isn’t that high, so sight lines do not extend more then 100 feet from stage. There is a beer garden that should you be lucky enough to get in, provides decent sight lines as it is less packed then the public crowd space. For those wishing a far away experience, you can always camp out at Jack Astors for a view from way above. However, if you choose to take this route, you might as well sit at home and watch Coachella streams.


There is a beer garden, for those who wish to enjoy a brew during the show. The beer is expensive so you might be better off going the student way and filling an empty gatorade bottle with something. You can also go the adult way and bring a flask.


While 99% of music fans would prefer to see bands like The National or St. Vincent at nicer venues, there is no doubt that having bands play at Yonge-Dundas square serves a vital role for NXNE in terms of expanding it’s presence and also potentially introduce people to new types of music. People who go to YDS during NXNE know exactly what they are in for, and should not really complain. After all, NXNE is about discovering music, and so all the music nerds should be searching little dingy bars looking for the next National or St. Vincent anyway.

Venue Review: Phoenix Concert Theatre

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map of the phoenix

410 Sherbourne St
Toronto ON M4X 1K2

There are a few mid-tier (1000ish people) concert venues in Toronto and the Phoenix Theatre is one of them. Located just north of the notorious Regent Park, the Phoenix has been a consistent home for concerts from bands just on the cusp of stardom (or just on the cusp of irrelevancy as the mainstream media would have it).


Essentially, the Phoenix is a large divey looking night club turned into a concert hall. The main area is a giant rectangular room that has a balcony at the far end and multple spots for bars. Concerts that happen on Friday or Saturday at the Phoenix usually start at 8pm and end at 10 so that the club crowd can still get their dance on. The bathrooms are not the cleanest, but they aren’t Sneaky Dee hazard zones either. A few years ago, I would say the Phoenix had a really muddled sound system. I have since see that improve recently so I can say the sound is now acceptable. The Phoenix seemed to have upgraded their light system a few years ago as well, the only thing left to upgrade is the location. That’s probably impossible. One of the most amusing things I find about the Phoenix is that they switch the main bathrooms according their perceived demographic of the show. There’s a large bathroom and a small bathroom, both have stalls and both have urinals. So depending on the band, they make one male and make the other female. It’s always a curiosity to see which one is which at any concert.


As with any venue that is considered mid size or larger, your quality of sight is directly correlated with how far you are from the stage. In terms of the Phoenix, the view quickly deteriorates once you starting going back further then halfway. This is mostly due to the relatively low stage. There is a balcony from which you can comfortably sit and watch but you might as well stay at home and turn up the record really loud on shuffle if you are seeing a show from up there. If you refer to my map, you will see there is a pretty good spot on the far left of the stage near the speakers and rails. It is hard to get to, but that is probably also the reason why it’s not very crowded in that area.


Since its in a shady neighborhood , the security does do a pat down upon entry but it’s not of the hand rape variety, instead it’s just a gentle pat down, like how you would touch a senior citizen or something. The security is rather strict with the pot smokers so do be careful if you wish to blaze. Despite all that, they are generally nice.


Maybe it’s just the location. Maybe it’s the demographic that the club gets on the weekend but the beer selection at the Phoenix is absolute crap. Worse, they only have bottles and pour it into those plastic cups. I’m not at a keg party yo, put those cups away. Having said all that, there are at least five bars to serve your need and after a few beers you don’t really care what you are drinking anyway.


While I am not in love with the Phoenix, I have accepted the fact that it is a venue I must visit often as they have a tendency to book really solid acts. In fact, it’s probably housed a few of my favorite concerts ever (notably, Manic Street Preachers and James) When it’s not packed, the Phoenix is actually a pretty comfortable concert venue. When it’s packed, it highly diminishes the quality of the venue since there are not that many good sight lines to be had. It will be interesting to see how the Phoenix steps up their game now that the Danforth Music Hall has announced itself to be a player in the concert game.

Memorable shows
Manic Street Preachers
Flaming Lips
Hot Chip
Beautiful South

Venue/Bar Review: Melody Bar, Sep 19, Gladstone Hotel

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Toronto – The last time I was the Gladstone hotel, I was watching a friend on stage at Karaoke night. As a long-time member of a boy’s and then a men’s choir, he really could sing. This was evident a few bars in, when the Karaoke host cast him an approving nod. He then proceeded to sing into my eyes and point at me emphatically, maybe even a little seductively. I was quietly sitting in the middle of the room when all of a sudden I was thrust into the spotlight. The entire bar was gazing at me inquisitively during this rousing rendition of You Make Me Feel Like A Natural Woman.

Fast forward a few years and I’m back at the Gladstone Hotel, this time to celebrate the grand opening of the Melody Bar. The most apparent thing about the renovation is how upscale the place looks. It’s an eclectic mix of old-world class and new-world Toronto Life chic. The place is certainly more urban lounge than pub now. With local artistic influence everywhere, I can’t help but draw similarities between it and the Drake. Still, with the exception of the slightly crowded bar design, it’s a pretty sweet place to get your Queen West groove on.

Thankfully, Karaoke is still on the menu.

Venue Review: Wrongbar

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1279 Queen Street West
Toronto, ON M6K 1L4
(416) 516-8677

Toronto – Deep in the heart of Parkdale, amidst all the dollar stores and roti restaurants, lies the Wrongbar. A little bar that opened up a few years ago, the Wrongbar has slowly but surely been building up its reputation as a viable concert option and has found a niche as the go to venue for a lot of up and coming electronic/dance acts. I almost instantly liked the Wrongbar, primarily because it is easy for me to get to and also because on my walk home, I can stop by Poutini for a walk and eat poutine session. I am that simple. Let’s take a closer look.


Formerly known as Dragonfly, the Wrongbar is the product of Nav Sangha and Chris Harper, two well-connected DJ’s in the Toronto scene. Nav Sangha also owns Play De Record on Yonge Street. The Wrongbar made its official debut in February 2008 and has seen its popularity grow since. The capacity of the Wrongbar is 208 and the bar recently applied to expand its capacity to 300, in honor of Gerard Butler’s movie. However, this application was met with much resistence and I don’t know how that turned out.


I consider the Wrongbar to be a smaller venue, along the likes of the Horseshoe Tavern. It’s a venue best suited for new and upcoming bands that have developed an overzealous fan base. There are two bars, one at the front near the door, and one at the back near the the stage. They serve a variety of beers including Parkdale staples PBR and Red Stripe. There are a few beers on tap as well and it’s fairly standard drink prices. I like the fact that the two bars are located at opposite ends of the venue, making for easy access. There is a slightly elevated area on the left hand side of the venue which has some random stools and couches that you can sit on if you wish. The main standing concert area is long and narrow which can feel a bit tight at sold out shows. There are also some lights on top of the stage for a very minor light show. The area near the entrance has some tables and seating for those people who like to view concerts from afar.


The stage at the Wrongbar is elevated perhaps a foot off the floor, so sight lines at the Wrongbar can get tricky if you are standing in the main area and there is a bunch of tall people and the singer is short. However, the elevated area on the left side provides for an excellent viewing experience if you are lucky/early enough to stand near the rails. Because the Wrongbar is kind of small, you generally get a good view of the stage if you arrive early at a show or you are a jackass and have no qualms about pushing your way to the front. If you arrive late at a sold out show, then you may be in tough luck.


I like the Wrongbar. It’s found a nice niche for itself by having a lot of hyped up indie electro bands play their venue and it has a good sound system from what I can remember. Despite the fact that it is in Parkdale, the frequency of the Dufferin bus makes it easy for people coming from the North to get to and there are plenty of decent pre and post food/drinking options. The sight lines are generally what you expect from a small venue but the elevated area on the left hand side makes it a notch above. Check out a show there sometime.

Memorable Shows

Yacht, March 2010
Matt & Kim, NXNE 2009
Little Boots, Sept 2009