Concerts Concerts Going Out In Style: A Wild Finale for NXNE 2011

Going Out In Style: A Wild Finale for NXNE 2011

Cults at Yonge and Dundas
NXNE 2011: Saturday and Sunday
Cults, Smoke Fairies, Horse Feathers, Die Mannequin, The Pop Winds, Wild Nothing
Toronto, ON
June 18th and 19th, 2011

Review by: Chad Hutchings
Photos by: Julie Lavelle

With North By North East 2011 having kept the city buzzing for five straight summer days, the event offered up endless sights and sounds for our Sticky Magazine teams to share.

You've heard what kept this team busy in Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, and now you can see what NXNE had in store for us on the final days of the festival.

Cults

As a regular habit, I spend a great deal of my time in Toronto avoiding Yonge-Dundas, with its mobs of shoppers and tourists, flashing billboards, and overall headache-inducing craziness. However, once we got wind that Cults would be taking the stage at the square on Saturday, a quick glance at the scales was enough to see that the show would outweigh the setting. With that in mind, alongside the prospect of some great daylight photos, we made our way over, where we found a huge crowd gathered to see New York's new indie-pop act. 

Formed just last year, Cults is garnering success at rocket speed. And, snapping their own cell phone photos of the crowd as they stepped into the spotlight on NXNE Saturday, they still seemed stunned by the whole thing, acting just as excited as the audience that showed up in a mass reaching as far back as the street.

Diving right into the deep end with their most moving single, "Abducted", the group played a set as well-suited for the bright daylight; the music was poppy and light, with a certain depth that sadly was hard to hold onto in the swarms of passers-by who were constantly shuffling around the crowd to see what the fuss was about.

Shaggy, cute, and unassuming, Cults is the kind of band that brings a xylophone to the stage when you'd expect to see a synth. Their show was simple and clean, and, if you were smart enough to avoid the edges of the square (where the sound was tinny and shrieking), you got to see a great performance from some young artists that are earning the fame they've found.

Info: Cults
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Smoke Fairies

After a short break to regroup, our team worked our way back to the West end, where Smoke Fairies was on the bill at the Dakota Tavern. In the right room, their folky (sometimes pseudo-celtic) sound would have been a stunning siren song, ethereal and mesmerizing. But, in the bustle of that basement with its food service and rude audience, their work wasn't enough to compete with the dozens of conversations and bursts of laughter echoing around the narrow walls. The environment was especially trying when you consider Smoke Fairies' presence on stage — sweet and enchanting, but timid and gentle, telling near-whispered stories of Nyquil and beer breweries that were lost in the hustle of the room. It was an unfortunate set for an act that had a lot to offer.

Smoke Fairies at The Dakota Tavern   Smoke Fairies at The Dakota Tavern   Smoke Fairies at The Dakota Tavern   Smoke Fairies at The Dakota Tavern   Smoke Fairies at The Dakota Tavern   Smoke Fairies at The Dakota Tavern   Smoke Fairies at The Dakota Tavern   Smoke Fairies at The Dakota Tavern   Smoke Fairies at The Dakota Tavern  

Horse Feathers

Luckily, the next act faired better than the first. It does help that Horse Feathers is a larger band, therefore producing more quantifiable sound to overcome the din of room. Of course, it may also be that the group themselves was more of an interest, because the boisterous crowd calmed down when the Portland group took the stage (but, admittedly, there was still some shame caused by the roomful of fans representing our city).  Either way, Horse Feathers was unfazed, and performed their beautiful work with the focus of zen masters, if three zen masters were ever to perform indie folk rock in a dusty basement on Ossington.

As people, the musicians seem genuine and modest, and it shines through in everything they say and do on stage. As artists, they are skilled and centered, weaving moving, rolling pieces with instruments ranging from cellos to hand saws.  Tunes like "Cascades" were performed with a heartbreaking, slow power that left our jaws slack and our minds boggled over how anyone could be shouting and laughing on the other side of the room, when something this lovely was happening in front of them.

Horse Feathers at The Dakota Tavern   Horse Feathers at The Dakota Tavern   Horse Feathers at The Dakota Tavern   Horse Feathers at The Dakota Tavern   Horse Feathers at The Dakota Tavern   Horse Feathers at The Dakota Tavern   Horse Feathers at The Dakota Tavern   Horse Feathers at The Dakota Tavern   Horse Feathers at The Dakota Tavern   Horse Feathers at The Dakota Tavern   Horse Feathers at The Dakota Tavern   Horse Feathers at The Dakota Tavern   Horse Feathers at The Dakota Tavern  

This is where the bottom fell out of our night. Leaving the Dakota, we found ourselves wandering from venue to venue, where crowded houses with hopeless lines left our press passes useless, missing acts like Chains of Love, Chad VanGaalen, and Handsome Furs.  As time ticked away and rumours ran strong about countless secret shows that we didn't search out (ending up as nothing but rumours), we came to terms with the night ending, and headed toward home.

Die Mannequin

However, just across the street from home, the lights were burning brightly from The Gladstone Hotel, where Die Mannequin was slotted to play for a floor onto which we somehow managed to squeeze. The environment was a far cry from the quiet indie vibe we'd been coasting on all evening, and the act itself was inexcusably late kicking off their set (seemingly due to lead Care Failure and her refusal to sing without excessive sound checks that sent them spiraling way off schedule). After hearing a fistful of wailing, anarchistic songs, we found our way through the rowdy crowd and made our way to sleep, hoping that the final day of NXNE 2011 would go more smoothly than this Saturday evening.

Die Mannequin at The Gladstone Hotel   Die Mannequin at The Gladstone Hotel   Die Mannequin at The Gladstone Hotel   Die Mannequin at The Gladstone Hotel   Die Mannequin at The Gladstone Hotel   Die Mannequin at The Gladstone Hotel   Die Mannequin at The Gladstone Hotel   Die Mannequin at The Gladstone Hotel   Die Mannequin at The Gladstone Hotel  

Of course, with only two acts to see at a single venue on Sunday, it didn't prove much trouble for things to go as planned.

The Pop Winds

Arriving at The Garrison just before The Pop Winds stepped up to perform, it wasn't hard to see that the weekend had drained the city. The crowd we found was stretched thin (making up numbers that couldn't really be considered a crowd at all). Those who were there seemed lifeless and despondent, and we couldn't help but feel bad for any group that had to deal with that weight when they took the stage. 

But, when they did make their way on-stage, The Pop Winds didn't come up short. The Montreal three-piece offered the audience (now slowly growing) a sound that comparably falls somewhere between Animal Collective and Yeasayer. They produced an ambient, experimental pop that sat well with fans that were ragged and drained, but still craving a moving musical experience. Employing voices, synths, a sax, and a plain old guitar, their songs were long and sprawling, but beautiful, polished, and never pushing the envelope for the sake of it. The Pop Winds was one of  NXNE's surprise stunners, and any wristband was wasted if it didn't make an appearance for the set.

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Wild Nothing

Following The Pop Winds, Wild Nothing stepped to the front of a crowd that had now bulked up, building numbers and energy for what would be one of the final sets of the festival.

This group has thrown us a few curveballs in the past.  While I personally sang the praises of last year's Gemini as one of the top releases of 2010, I also shouted about my disappointment in their last Toronto appearance.

On Sunday, Wild Nothing set the books straight. Once again, Jack Tatum stretched his one-man work into a full band act for the sake of the stage. This time, though, they performed for the city in high spirits. While they were fairly straight-faced and focused in their performance, the artists were in great humour for the audience. A little awkward dancing showed its face, jokes were made (including a facetious dedication of "Witching Hour" to Lady Gaga, who they'd seen earlier in the day), and the show had an indefinable positivity to it that they hadn't brought to town in February.

As far as the songs went, their performances were very true to the recorded versions — that's quite an accomplishment, as Tatum breaks his back labouring over his recordings. Highlighted by stunning renditions of "Your Rabbit Feet" and "Bored Games," Wild Nothing performed a set that was an act of gentle restraint; even at its wildest, the performance was beautiful and calming, and offered the perfect denouement to the tale of NXNE 2011.

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