NXNE Review: Blowfly, WHY?, Still Corners, June 14, Horseshoe Tavern

Posted on by Paul in North By Northeast | Leave a comment


After a futile attempt to take in The National’s set at Yonge-Dundas Square, I hightailed it out of there and made my way to The Horseshoe for an eclectic evening of music that seemed to be the result of the programmers throwing together a few bankable names that didn’t really fit with each other but made for a decent evening nonetheless.

The evening started with London’s Still Corners, who offered up a set of unremarkable, moody electro/dreampop. I say unremarkable because it wasn’t really good or bad, it was mostly just there. Which in a way is worse than being bad I suppose. I must say I was hoping for more from them based on some good reviews from reputable sources, but at that point in the night, it was doing very little for me. Had I been more familiar with their music I might have enjoyed it more, but I wasn’t so i didn’t. After catching a short bit of their set, I moved on from there to plot out my next move and grab a quick pint at Michael’s Restaurant, an establishment for which i have some fondness.

Even though I was sure they’d put on a good show, I skipped out on Buke and Gass, curiosity driving me further along Queen West to Czehoski, where I caught a set by psych folkie Ed Askew, whose gentle tunes ended up being just what i needed at that point in the night.


After that, I returned to The Horseshoe, where things took a bit of a turn for the weird. I consider myself fairly knowledgeable about music, which is why it always comes as a surprise when a band I knew next to nothing about ends up having a large and dedicated following. On this night, WHY? were that band. I suppose it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that the midnight slot at one of the consistently packed venues of NXNE would feature a band that would end up drawing a large crowd, but it was still a bit weird to me to see many in the crowd singing along. WHY? were a very interesting band. Sounding like a cross between hip hop and indie/folk rock, they had enough going on sonically to hold my interest, though I’m not quite sure if they’re my cup of tea.

Finally, the night ended with the reason why I decided to anchor myself at The Horseshoe – Blowfly. The 74 year old funk/rap legend, otherwise known as Clarence Reid, has been going since the ’70s, performing his sexually explicit songs, which often take the form of parodies of more popular tunes. This show was definitely a curiosity, one where I had to see exactly how it would all go down (and to see how many references to “going down” Blowfly might make). Despite WHY? frontman Yoni Wolf telling the crowd that they “could do worse” than sticking around to catch Blowfly’s set, the crowd had thinned out a fair bit by the time he came on, but those in attendance were treated to such Blowfly classics as “Rapp Dirty,” “Incredible Fulk” and his own versions of songs from the likes of Sam Cooke, The Clash, and R Kelly (“I Believe My Dick Can Fly”). While his tunes are certainly politically incorrect (“working blue” as they called it back in the day), it was fun to let loose and listen to this dirty old man sing his songs. And really, how many 74 year olds do you know who can rock a cape and mask like Blowfly does?

NXNE Day 2: Black Marble, Michael Rault, Coeur De Pirate

Posted on by Ricky in North By Northeast | Leave a comment

coeur de pirate

One of my regrets during NXNE is that I do not bike. I mean, I have a bixi account, which I use often, but their limited range does not help out in times like this. As such, I have to pick my spots wisely during a festival. On Thursday night, I decided to head to the queen west area to check out some music there. Let’s take a look at some of the acts I saw.

Black Marble, Blk Box, 9 PM
Starting the night at the Pretty Pretty showcase, I entered the dark space that was the BLK Box to check out Black Marble, a two piece synth-rock band out of Brooklyn. I reckon they had some issues with their sound as they took a bit longer setting up then usual. It seems to be a theme that if you employ synthesizers or a bunch of electronic gizmos in your setup, you will take longer then expected. Anyway, the setup may or may not have worked because Black Marble sounded as if someone was playing Depeche Mode or New Order in the apartment beside you. It was pretty muddled and the vocals did not come across very clearly. I would place their music as dark, moody type of synth rock that you can dance to, but only alone in your room. I did enjoy the moment when one of the two members in the band shouted “We got t-shirts in the back!” off the microphone before their brief set ended. Their album A Different Arrangement comes out in October and will probably sound cleaner then their showcase.

Michael Rault, Great Hall, 10 pm
Next up on the bill was Michael Rault. The Edmonton native was playing upstairs from BLK Box, in a venue called the Great Hall. The two venues are connected, yet I can’t bring my beer up the stairs. What kind of crappy liquor laws we have in North America.

Employing a simple guitar set up, you could argue that Rault’s singer songwriter template has been seen and done before. However, when all you have is a guitar (with the occasional backing guitar/vocals provided), you better have some good songwriting skills. It would seem that Michael Rault has exactly that. Treading on early 60’s/rockabilly sounds, Rault somehow makes a standard template sound fresh, crafting simple but effective tracks that evoke the past but doesn’t quite live in it. I can’t believe this dude’s from Edmonton. Anyways, good stuff.

Coeur Du Pirate, Great Hall, 11 pm
One of the “headliners” of NXNE, Coeur De Pirate aka Beatrice Martin was up next. I missed the boat on her a few years ago when her self titled album made waves all around the country and inspired music fans to examine the province of Quebec for it’s homegrown music rather then for poutine recipes but this time, I would not be denied.

As expected, the Great Hall filled up quickly in anticipation of the singer. Taking the stage solo with just the piano as her tool, Beatrice Martin charmed the crowd with a short but stirring set. It was a gentle reminder of how all you need is a beautiful voice, talented song writing, enormous charm and a instrument of choice to get into the hearts of many. Even when Beatrice Martin is annoyed, she is charming as she had to ask the crowd (in a cute, french-accent way) several times to quiet down so her music could shine through. I am not familiar with her material, but her tracks were both in French and English, and included a Dylan cover (“You Belong To Me”). The massive single “Comme des Enfants” ended the set and produced a venue wide sing a long. You know you have done something right when you can get an entire crowd to sing your song even though its not their first language.

NXNE Day 2: Paper Thick Walls @ The Boat

Posted on by Brent in North By Northeast | Leave a comment

paper thick walls

This being my first of possibly four nights of NXNE shows made me sigh inside a bit. It was a case of the “you-never-know-what-you’re-gonna-get” syndrome and this happens for every large days-long music festivals for bands looking to get noticed. Unless you’ve done painstaking research and you’re by-passing those bands that have already graduated to the next level and established themselves (ie. Mikal Cronin, Iceage, etc.), then a lot of what you have to base your band selection on is the following:

1. Band Descriptions: these are usually two-three sentences that praise the band and give unfair comparisons to more successful bands. For example, from one particular band description: “…electropop four-piece combining vocoder, synths, computers, and guitar effects for frequent comparisons to bands like Phoenix, Two Door Cinema Club,and OK Go.” I understand why this is done and sometimes it actually might be quite accurate but other times it’s just wrong. Just plain wrong.

2. Geography: they let you know what city they’re currently based out of which can also lead to bias and be misleading. For example, “Hot damn! Those guys are from Brooklyn? I might catch the next big thing!” versus: “Hot damn! Those guys are from Burlington? I might miss out on that band from Brooklyn who might be the next big thing!”

3. 30-Second Clips of a Chosen Track: to be brutally honest, usually you only need about five seconds.

4. Venue Location: even though Toronto is quite a large city, it is entirely walkable and most of its venues are located in various pockets of the city that are all within walking/biking/public transportation. That being said, if you only have 15-20 minutes from the end of one band’s set at The Silver Dollar (College and Spadina) and the next band you want to see is at the BLK BOX (Queen and Dovercourt), it’s just not in the cards. This leaves you being forced to make decisions based on your location.

5. Recommendations: these might come from friends, social media, or the media in general (NOW, NXNE.com, etc.). This is probably the best way to find out who to check out when the choices seem endless.

Based on most of those criteria I saw Paper Thick Walls at The Boat in Kensington. I was greeted outside by a smoking hipster in a basketball jersey with a painted face. Conflicted hipster or Insane Clown Posse juggalo? I wasn’t sure. I got inside right as the band went on stage to a fairly sparse room. Unfortunately, they were having issues with sound right off the bat but being the seasoned musicians they were, they soldiered through.

Paper Thick Walls are a Chicago-based four-piece composed of guitar, keys, drums, a large stand-up bass, some hand-claps and for one song, a trumpet. Their music is upbeat and folk-based with lots of hope and positivity. If I were to break my own rules I would say they sound most like The Lumineers. They were a nice start to the festival for me, especially with a couple of their songs building up and ending in loud crescendos. They were polite, gracious and talented and despite me not having a penchant for this type of music, it was quite good.

While making my notes at the back of the room I noticed the painted-face hipster was now in full uniform and looked like more of a mime than a juggalo. Upon further research it would seem to be this gentleman from Iceland, Epic Rain, who was performing after Paper Thick Walls. It was an interesting start.

NXNE Review: Two Wings, Mike O’Neill, June 12, The Piston

Posted on by Ricky in North By Northeast | Leave a comment


My NXNE journey started Wednesday night at the Piston, which was home to the Tin Angel Record showcase. I was unfamiliar with any of the bands, but chose the Piston because I live right across the street from it. Laziness reigns supreme most of the time.

Two Wings

A band from Scotland, Two Wings was the first act I witnessed. A five piece band with two female leads, Two Wings sounded like a 70’s-80’s era prom music primed for make outs. You could also call it soulful folk rock as well. The band had a crazy drummer who made the most outrageous drummer faces, but also, seemed to be having a better time then anyone in the venue. Check this out:


Despite a slow start, Two Wings slowly won me over as the set progressed. There was a rare flute solo, and a set ending jam session that had me nodding my head. One thing I did find funny was that the NXNE guy gave the band six more minutes, then the band proceeded to play at least 12 more minutes. I would too, if I had traveled all the way from Scotland. No one in the crowd minded though.

Former Inbreds member Mike O’Neill was on next. In what could have been a disastrous situation, Devon Sproule, his collaborator, could not make the set on Wednesday. Given that the bill was Devon Sproule + Mike O’Neill, you could see what a pickle that could of been. Ever so calm, O’Neill recruited Robin Dann (of Bernice) in the support vocal role.

The whole show had the makings of a disaster – Robin was reading lyrics off a note pad, the band seemed to have just met each other, and there were a few false starts to songs. Much to the credit of the musicians on stage – it was not. It just goes to show, talent can always pull through. Mike O’Neill’s songs are simple singer-songwriter tracks at heart, but effective and catchy. Robin’s vocals were great and had me thinking how much I was missing with Devon Sproule not being there if this girl sounded so good. I’ve always liked guy-girl vocals on songs so whenever Robin and Mike had a duet in the set, it worked out well. Their collaboration is out this September and is called Colours

Big thanks to Joe from Mechanical Forest Sounds for being patient and telling me who everyone was.

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