Friday, June 18, 2010

NXNE - Day Two - Dragging ourselves home while people go to work

If there is one thing that Calgary lacks, it's a bar with the kind of attitude that literally hangs off the wall at the Bovine Sex Club. This long, narrow, dark hideout on Queen St W has seen its fair share of legendary shows throughout the years, and it is easy to see why: it is the kind of bar where rock and roll triumphantly claws back to the gutter, stealing back the thrill of speed and fearless bravado in the face of death from those who shed their black jeans for ill-fitted cut-offs. The black piping that separates the stage from the venue looks violently ominous, as if more than one zealous fan has been impaled in ecstasy.

Of course, the downside to the Bovine is that early shows tend to be less-than-spectacularly attended. By the time garage rock darlings miesha & the spanks took the stage at 9pm to open the night's proceedings, only a few outsiders had wandered in from the sunny sidewalk. Those in attendance — including a bike rebellious bike courier intent on taking down the G20 and band members from the rest of the bill — certainly enjoyed the duo's strong set. This was only the fourth set with new drummer Stu Bota, and though they are still looking to dial in that tight chemistry that forms over time, it is clear that Bota adds a new dimension to the spanks' tunes, easily shuffling underneath frontwoman Miesha Louie's dirty guitar and powerful voice.

Miesha Louie, comfortable even at a sex club for farm animals.

As luck would have it, the Torontonian version of miesha & the spanks, the similarly styled little foot long foot, was playing at a venue not too far from Bovine. A short jaunt up Spadina later, and the newly-augmented three-piece was barreling through their set. Frontwoman Joan Smith seemed at ease with the gathering crowd, wielding her large, hollow-body Yamaha and confidently blasting through the part rock and roll, part roots, part country — with a little bit of punk mischief — set. Though she and drummer Isaac Klein have been a two-piece since the beginning, this was the first show with their new organist, Caitlin Dacey from Bella Clava, who had played a showcase at the Hideout right before rushing over to El Mocambo. Dacey's distorted organ tone was a fantastic complement to an already strong duo, giving the songs more body and weight, especially on the bass end. Along with a new member, Smith unveiled some new songs, including the tentatively-titled "Neko Case Hate Fucks Kurt Cobain."

Thankfully, Joan Smith did not hate fuck Cobain.

Back at the Bovine, Northern Australians Terracotta Pigeons

were in the midst of their genre-bending set. At times metal shred,

at times funky, and, incredibly, at times almost rapped, the Pi

geons certainly demonstrated that they have years of experience behind them. While their songs sometimes faltered, borrowing from genres too far removed from hard rock to be effective, it was an overall good set. Drummer and vocalist Steven Smith takes direct cues from Mike Patton in both his drumming style and vocal delivery and it works well for him — he has the strength and stamina to keep up with the demanding performance and still be a vocal presence from behind the kit.

The highlight of the night, though, by far, was the first 222s show since 1981. The 222s are amongst Montreal's first punks — they released their debut in 1978 — and still today, three decades later, have the angst energy and charisma to slay the packed audience at the Bovine. This is really the beauty of large festivals like this: it gives bands like the 222s the opportunity and venue to reform, more often than not as a one-shot deal, and showcase themselves to an entirely new audience. The 222s are classic late-'70s punk and seem to be an amalgamation of their punk peers: vocalist Chris Barry is a cross between Johnny Rotten and Joey Ramone, alternatively sneering and lurching over the barrier, singing with an energy that surpasses punks half his age. Guitarist Pierre Major was slightly subdued, dressed in a CBGB shirt and checkered bondage pants, but played with flawless precision, soloing effortlessly and confidently. The full house loved the performance and it is fortunate that it is not their only set of the festival. The 222s were simply amazing.

Chris Barry, like the '80s never happened.

As soon as the 222s strummed their last chord, it was time to run to the Dakota Tavern, where the Japandroids were playing a secret show. Like any good secret, though, everyone seemed to know exactly what was going on, and the basement tavern was packed to capacity, sweaty, and not even remotely sober. On the small stage, the Vancouver garage rock duo that has rocketed to fame on the strength of their debut, Post-Nothing, played a short, 40-minute set, but it was, like all Japandroids shows, nothing short of controlled mayhem. Within the first notes of "The Boys Are Leaving Town," the dance floor was foaming with spilt beer and sweaty bodies. Guitarist and vocalist Brian King was in fine form, wrenching fuzzed out chords while drummer David Prowse loped along on easily and fluidly. While they haven't released any new full-lengths, they have been busy with a stream of EPs and singles, and, early on a Friday morning at the Dakota, they revelled in being able to share their latest with an adoring crowd. By the time they played their last song, "Heart Sweats," no one wanted to see them off the stage.

Brian King, this time, without his floor fan tousling his hair.

Back to the hotel...

Up today: Brant Bjork, Bad Tits, Flatliners, C'Mon, Mini Mansions, Sex With Strangers, the 222s (again!) and more!

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