Tuesday, June 23, 2009

NXNE 2009 - Arts and Crafts Showcase - Night 2

As alluded to in a previous entry, I vowed to do my best to maintain a relative sense of sobriety for the second night of the Arts and Crafts Showcase at NxNE, 2009. This was in part due to my journalistic integrity and my desire to bring the dotcomrades nothing but the finest in completely uninformed and entirely biased observations, and in part due to a ridiculously debilitating hangover and the knowledge that I would need to be in relatively decent shape for the remainder of the weekend.

As it turned out, there's something to be said for mixing in a few bottles of water amongst the countless Stellas and White Lightnings, because not only am I currently able to recollect most of Thursday night's show, but I was actually able to get out of bed the following morning in order to make my 9 o'clock meeting.

Look at me, ma! All grows'd up!

Just as they did the night before, the good people at Arts and Crafts were kind enough to grant me access on the loosely veiled quasi-truth that this particular forum actually merits some kind of media credential... (or, more accurately, my buddy Browner vouches for me).

In any event, I arrived promptly at 8 o'clock to catch the entirety of the Zeus set. I have to tell you, I was totally digging the Zeus vibe. Their tunes are full of Beatles-esque melodies, and they have some of the most fantastic moustaches you will ever come across. What's more, they did a stellar cover of the Genesis "classic" That's All. Beginning in July, they'll be doing a 5-night residency (every Wednesday night) at the world famous Dakota Tavern. I, for one, will be checking them out on Canada Day, as they will be sharing their set with The Bahamas (the one band it killed me to miss this weekend, particularly in light of the fact that they ended their set with a cover of Springsteen's Atlantic City).

Timber Timbre took the stage at 9 o'clock, with lead singer Taylor Kirk sitting on the floor. He was joined on stage by a dude on barritone sax, and someone else sitting off to the side playing a variety of sound-making devices which I couldn't name if my life depended on it. I'll admit that I've had the Timber Timbre album in my possession for about 2 months, and it took me a solid 4 or 5 listens before I really started to get into it. Timber Timbre's sound is almost impossible to describe; imagine a darker sounding and more lyrically-sparse Nebraska crossed with a Canadianized (ie, nature sounds) Waitsian junkyard orchestra... Needless to say, I was intrigued by how this might all play out on stage.

I was utterly blown away.

When the set began, I was standing near the back, drinking beer and talking with a bunch of people. But song by song, I found myself moving closer and closer to the stage. They were literally drawing me in with each haunting, hypnotic melody. This is the kind of music that gets into you and never leaves. It's the kind of music that will in all likelihood appear on a Quentin Tarrantino soundtrack one day, leaving audiences wondering exactly what the fuck they're listening to, only to be unable to get what they've heard out of their heads days down the road.

In the brilliant Lay Down In The Tall Grass, Kirk speaks of a "late basement seance that brought us to tears..." That is essentially what this performance was.

It was also the highlight of my NXNE.

You couldn't ask for a more divergent act to follow Timber Timbre than Still Life Still. As the lyrics from one of their opening tracks suggested ("I don't mind your blood on my dick / If you don't mind my cum on your tits"), they were bringing a different vibe to the table, detonating with a blast of exuberent, youthful energy.

Which is precisely what you might expect from a band on the precipice of exploding in a way they probably can't even fathom.

I'm serious: there is nothing that this band could do that would surprise me at this point. They could wind up being bigger than Broken Social Scene, or they could get in a fistfight onstage at their next gig and vow never to play together again. And the drummer (Aaron Romaniuk) is perhaps the biggest wildcard of all. My buddy Browner relates a great story about meeting the band for the first time. Like myself, Browner had partied with the guys far before he ever saw them onstage. But when he finally did catch them live, his first reaction was... "Wait... Aaron's the drummer? I could have sworn he was the lead singer. That guy has ROCK STAR written all over him."

I wouldn't put anything past him at this point. He'll probably end up dating a supermodel. He could wind up starring in Hollywood action films like a poor man's Duane Johnson. And there's about a 20% chance that he'll be found dead in some swimming pool after a particularly raucous party one Thursday night. The sky's the limit.

Their set was off the charts. Think: Handsome Furs meet a more up-tempo Phoenix (which I didn't even know was on the A&C label until about 3 minutes ago), with about 100 times the energy. They've got a couple of babyfaced singers that will undoubtedly make all the little girl's souls grow weak, and perhaps best of all, they are all genuinely good guys... And they certainly know how to party like the Rock Stars they seemed destined to become.

I won't lie to you: I was upstairs in the MIP area (Moderately Important People - as discussed previously, any place that grants me access cannot realistically be described as being reserved for "Very" important anything) for The Most Serene Republic set, and didn't catch much of it at all. The one highlight I can tell you about from this particular hour was that there was a fledgling journalist hanging around and asking me a bunch of intriguing questions ("How did you end up here?" "Where do you get your inspiration from?". Considering that I knew about 4 people upstairs, I spent a fair amount of time speaking to this girl... And then she casually asked: "...Sooooo... What band did you say you were in again?" I nearly spit my drink on her, I was laughing so hard. I should have probably lied and made up some hugely offensive band name (Buster Hyman and The Penetrators?), but I had to ruin her interview and tell her that I was there merely as a spectator.

Not surprisingly, she abandoned me to speak with someone more important shortly thereafter.

We decided to stay upstairs for The Stills set, but made a point of finding a fantastic sight line for their show. It should be noted that I'd abandoned the waters by this point, and that the bartender from the night before was more than willing to fulfill our orders for White Lightnings without batting a lash.

The Stills are consumate professionals, and their show reflected this. Flawless musicianship, great stage presence, and a deep catalogue of great tracks of which you'd probably be surprised by how many you found yourself singing along to. Lola is a great track. Still in Love is solid. And Being Here is probably in the conversation for the best pop song to come out over the course of the past 365 days, the live version of which, on this night, literally gave me goosebumps all over my body. It was sensational. They also played Everything I Build, which apparently is a big deal because until this night, they'd never attempted it live before.

In all, it was a ridiculously phenomenal night of new music, capping off a ridiculously extraordinary two-night showcase. The people at Arts & Crafts should be absolutely beside themselves with swagger for the display of talent they unveiled on these two nights, and they should be commended for their vision and foresight, and for believing in the kinds of bands that might not otherwise get the chance to strut their stuff.

And despite the fact that our collective livers took an absolute shellacking over the course of the 4-day weekend, I, for one, cannot wait to do it all again next year.


zack vitiello said...

hey man - lovely review and all, but if you're going to use people's photos (mine) at least give a photo credit. zack vitiello - http://thetopdown.blogspot.com

Sean McCallum said...

My apologies Zack. I guess the democratizing result of the internet is such that, in a few rare instances, credit for photos is not always given where it should be (ie, every photo that has ever appeared on this blog).

Feel free to check out Zack's work at: http://thetopdown.blogspot.com Pretty solid.

Hope to see more of your work in the future...