Despite being a week late, I though it was time to review North By North East for this year. This is one guy’s NXNE experience:
THE PIZZA UNDERGROUND
Macauley Culkin has become massive again with his comedy band The Pizza Underground, and with a few shows lined up during NXNE, people had many different places and situations to see them in. I personally had not heard any of their music before catching them at Lee’s Palace Thursday night, so I was going in without any bias. They really pleasantly surprised me; they wittingly rewrite Velvet Underground songs to be about pizza (if you didn’t understand the band’s name) and do mash-ups, so the audience doesn’t get too bored with their performance. They also have a screen playing pizza-themed, avant-garde videos and playing pizza boxes as percussion. Best line ever: “She said ‘Hey girl, take a bite of the wild slice.’ And the coloured girls go ‘Chew, Chew-chew, chew, chew, chew, chew-chew….'”
SHANNON & THE CLAMS
After a brief intermission after The Pizza Underground, doo-wop punk trio Shannon & The Clams rocked out to the people who stuck around. They have a very 50s and 60s feel to the guitar rhythms and drum beats, as well as Shannon Shaw’s belting vocals. All three members (Shannon on bass, Cody Blanchard on guitar and Ian Amberson on drums) had immense amount of glitter on their faces and kept the audience enthralled for their whole set, performing songs from their three records. A mosh pit formed near the front about half way through and most people seemed to have completely forgotten about The Pizza Underground by the end of the Clam’s set.
On Friday, I ended up heading over to Yonge-Dundas Square to catch two artists I have been enjoying over the past few years; Swans and St. Vincent. I have to admit, I had only listened to Swan’s most recent LP The Seer, and had really enjoyed it, with it’s running time of almost 2 hours (For readers in Toronto, there is a re-creation of the boar[?] head from the cover hanging in Sonic boom record store). When I arrived, the crowd was mostly in a trance-like state due to the ambient post-punk and droning guitar and drums that was being unleashed by front man Michael Gira. It was hard to know if Gira was singing in English or a different language, because the speed and gruffness he was singing at made it sound like we were at a cult ritual.
Annie Clark, aka St. Vincent, was definitely the main reason I wanted to go to NXNE this year, and I have been looking forward to seeing her live for a while. She definitely surpassed all expectations. Her lavender coloured mane was braided tight against her head and she wore a huge gold frill on her right shoulder, and she kept up her marionette/robot act throughout the show. Her guitar shredding got huge cheers from the audience and she performed hits from her newest album S/T as well as from Strange Mercy, Actor, and Marry Me. Her almost 1 1/2 hour long set was one of the best shows I have seen at Yonge-Dundas Square and will for sure be remembered for years to come.
I headed over to the Opera House for Mac DeMarco, and was very pleased to end the night on this note. He was the usual showman he is, putting on many different accents and saying very cryptic things to the audience. Mac performed songs from his new album Salad Days, as well as others from his other album 2. His music is similar to Shannon and the Clams, having the surfer rock feel, but is more rock than punk. Known for his on stage antics, Mac kept it more subdued, with audience members and on stage friends throwing ice cubes at him, a friend crowd surfing (and some fans too) and moving around the stage a lot.
Stay tuned for a NXNE interview with Australian singer-songwriter Courtney Barnett.