The Drake Underground and The Gladstone Hotel in Toronto, ON
June 15, 2012
Review and photos by: Chad Hutchings
NXNE Friday brought some big sounds to some small stages.
Following a full day of great festival events, some time away from the loud crowds was by and far the best way to spend the evening. As luck would have it, if the past can serve as a guide, Robert Francis always brings a show that's at its best in a warm atmosphere. So for their recent time in the city, there was really no better space to see the songwriter and his band than the dark and cozy Drake Underground, where the soft and sober tones of his work were somehow able to hit at the heart a little more strongly.
But, as softly as the set unfolded, there was nothing weak about the performance itself, from the heights of the heartfelt and roaring “One By One” to the closing, sincere performance of “All Of My Trains”. Sure, the act was a bit slow in motion on stage, but it was only in reflection of the space and the sound, and the strength of the singer's vocals and the band's instrumentals found little parallel throughout the rest of the festival. Anyone in that audience would have been hard-pressed to find a fault in the set, with the earthy and moody work coming to life for an objectively amazing performance that was proof positive of how little post production work must be needed when Francis aims to put an album on the shelves.
As an opening act for the ever popular Justin Rutledge to follow, Francis and his band got too little attention paid to his set by the crowds and by the press; this was a performance that should never have been missed.
Wrapping up a Canadian tour in support of Brasstronaut, nordic act Útidúr came to NXNE to take the stage one last time for a quickly swelling crowd at The Gladstone. Having never heard their work, I acted on an impulse and found myself taking the small stroll down the street from The Drake, pressing to the front of the audience for an unadulterated take on just what the Icelandic eight-piece could do.
In true foreign fashion, cute accents and pretty faces were in abundance, but their charms took nothing away from a seriously stellar performance with a dizzying array of instruments (often most accented by an assertive trumpet). All eight members of the touring group showed themselves as proper artists, showcasing a blend of orchestral, gypsy, and indie rock stylings in tunes that were endlessly vibrant and very alive. Rolling melodies and strong beats came together with smooth vocals from multiple fronts, making a highlight in “Fisherman's Friend” that built with growing fervor and peaked in a wild party that was easily the definitive performance from a band that will build their reputation on the heights they can reach on stage.