Concerts Concerts NXNE 2010: Leif Vollebekk, AA Bondy, Best Coast, The Soft Pack, The Golden Dogs, The Schomberg Fair

NXNE 2010: Leif Vollebekk, AA Bondy, Best Coast, The Soft Pack, The Golden Dogs, The Schomberg Fair

The Soft Pack
Leif Vollebekk, AA Bondy, Best Coast, The Soft Pack, The Golden Dogs, The Schomberg Fair
Toronto, Ontario
June 18, 2010

Review by: Jen Polk
Photo by: Shay Peretz

After a disappointing Thursday, I hope Friday'd be a better outing. And it was! I caught 6 bands at 5 different venues on this third day at NXNE. Read on for details.

Leif Vollebekk @ Sneaky Dee's, 9pm

My Friday got going rather later than anticipated. And now I can't even remember why, except that I had a nap and awoke at 8pm. The earliest I could get anywhere was 9pm, and since Leif Vollebekk was at Sneaky Dee's — not too far from my house, by bike — that's where I headed. When I arrived, the upstairs venue was unexpectedly crowded, and from the sounds of things, it was clear Vollebekk wasn't the draw. I have no explanation as to why all those people were there, but there they were, and they would not stop talking. Sigh.

For this set, Montrealer Vollebekk performed with a drummer, Phil Melancon. The two, the always-joking Vollebekk told us, "practiced in the car in our heads." Perhaps they did, but the stellar percussion parts in some of the songs definitely required greater advanced planning. The set included a mix of songs from Inland, his 2008 debut album, as well as some newer tunes. Vollebekk's a great talent, but his musical stories don't generally have big highs and lows; they are slow burners, mostly, and it's unfortunate most members of the audience weren't keen on paying attention.

AA Bondy @ The Great Hall, 10pm

The Great Hall was surprisingly sparsely populated before AA Bondy's set began, and was perhaps no more than 1/3 full during it. But at least those who were there were fans: no annoying talkers spoiled this quiet, contemplative set. The Louisiana songwriter and his backing band performed a pleasing set. Few of the songs grabbed me, but Bondy's an artist that requires more sustained attention. At one point he told the audience that he was going deaf; "everybody's mumbling more these days," he said. He told us later, "This is my life, right here." Banter's not usually so poignant, and the audience seemed unsure what to make of his remarks. Are you really going deaf, AA? The louder, livelier set ender, "A Slow Parade," ensured that I'll be checking him out some more.

AA Bondy will be back in Toronto on October 9th, opening for The Walkmen.

Best Coast @ The Garrison, 11pm

From the Great Hall I rode my bike uphill toward the Garrison, arriving a few minutes shy of LA band Best Coast's performance. The place was pretty full when I got there, and only filled up more before the band came on. It was hot and sweaty, especially near the stage. Clearly, Best Coast buzz was in full swing. I found the group's short, simple (lyrics-wise) songs enjoyable. They reminded me of the Woodist sound, but with less distortion (live, at least) and more pop. Singer Bethany Cosentino has a nice, clear voice, highlighting sing-along lyrics. And she was pretty funny, complaining about the heat and generally coming across as a likeable sort. I liked Best Coast's set, but I am clearly not the band's target audience: I found myself getting bored about half-way through.

The band has a new record coming out in July. Catch them next in Toronto when they open for Male Bonding at Lee's Palace on September 25th.

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The Soft Pack @ The Garrison, Midnight

After a pleasant — if overly long, to my mind — set by Best Coast, another buzzy LA band took to the stage at The Garrison. I stuck around figuring that since I was there, I might as well see what all the fuss was about. The guys in the band were dressed in buttoned (not flannel) shirts and polos, something I never see. And, though I thought I'd dislike them, I was pleasantly surprised. From the start of the first song, my spirits were lifted. A good band! Fun songs! Pop rock with hints of garage and good vocals. (I am big on people being able to sing.) The Garrison wasn't as full as it had been before, but to my mind this was a shame. I was having a great time, dancing like a lot of other audience members. The Soft Pack didn't win me over with a fantastic performance, but the songs were catchy enough that it didn't matter. Toward the end of the band's set, the guitarist broke most of his strings, but kept playing. What fun! This band was my favourite discovery of the festival.

I liked them so much, in fact, that I went to see them the next afternoon in Yonge-Dundas Square. There the band played a fine set, but I found it hard to concentrate in the sweltering heat.

The Golden Dogs @ El Mocambo (First Floor), 1am

When I arrived at El Mocambo just after 1am, Toronto's The Golden Dogs were already into their set. Oh my! I'd never seen the band before, but clearly others were pre-aware of their awesomeness. Now, I gather things at El Mo had been going well so far that night; White Cowbell Oklahoma played earlier, and Zeus was coming up next, a last-minute 2am addition. But an already-buzzing audience with their drink on isn't the only thing this show had going for it. (One minus: the heat. Damn.) The Golden Dogs: so great!

I have no idea what songs they played — it was late, folks, and I didn't take good notes — but suffice to say we had ourselves a good time. I danced and clapped and spotted Jian Ghomeshi. Catchy songs and an animated live show, can't ask for much more than that.

I'll be seeing this band again. They've got a album due out July 27th, and then a release party at The Garrison on July 31st.

The Schomberg Fair @ Rancho Relaxo, 2am

I was in good spirits after The Golden Dogs, and, what the heck, Rancho is just right there, I didn't even have to ride my bike to get to the next place. So a 2am set by The Schomberg Fair was in order for me. I was too knackered to participate in the dancing, but not too exhausted to pass up on an easy opportunity to see a good band.

The sound quality at Rancho really varies, and though I hear the bar has just upped it's equipment, the sound tech was having big problems during Schomberg's set. Not for lack of trying, it seemed, so I'll chalk it up to just one of those things. And move on. For this band, which performs every gig like it's the last one it's members will ever do, sound hardly matters.

Though it was late, quite a few people filled the dance floor in front of the stage, dancing like they didn't have to go to work in the morning. I suppose they didn't. Soon enough band members Matt Bahen, Nathan Sidon, and Pete Garthside were all dripping with sweat. The band performed at least one new tune, a fantastic number heavy on vocals called "The Valley Below." I noticed some different arrangements on some familiar songs, and liked them. ("Cool," my notes say.) A cover of Blind Willie Johnson's "Trouble Will Soon Be Over" and the band's version of "Satan, Your Kingdom Must Come Down" were superlative, too. Both tunes appear on Gospel, released last year.

Big love, guys. Thus ended my Friday night.