NXNE: Guelph is more badass than I thought

The stage at the Piston (crappy picture by Michael Thomas)

by Michael Thomas

I had thought that the show at the Piston I attended last night would be a laid-back and low-key evening. This I owed largely to the synopses of the artists I read on the NXNE website. I could not have been more wrong.

The show was put on by Fortnight Music, a musical collective that helps to promote Guelph artists to the rest of Canada. It was the first time I had seen so many Guelph artists in one place and I really couldn’t have been more impressed.

The first act of the night was Medicine Hat (or, as vocalist/guitarist Tyler Bersche mentioned, The Medicine Hat to make sure that they didn’t get sued by either the city of the same name or the Chicago-based band of the same name that plays Ramones covers, but then, they’re probably not in too much danger of being sued by the latter). The band is classified as “alternative” and I’m sure you could call them that. Lead vocalist Nabi Loney switched between accordion and guitar, with both instruments sounding equally rock and roll (yes, rock and roll accordion exists now).

I was immediately impressed by the power this band had. Their opening song was apparently one that will be on an upcoming record, and it featured some powerful yells during the chorus. One song I recall had a really great keyboard solo, and most just gave off a whole lot of energy. The band themselves were a lot of fun to watch in-between songs, especially at the end when the band thought they were finished but actually had time for one more song.

Following them were a band that fit their genre label to a tee- Your Neck of the Woods. The band were classified as bluegrass and holy hell were they. Their opening song (I believe it was called “The Liar”) started out with a rock and roll introduction, but once the band kicked in it transformed. The second song was a whole lot of fun, both starting and ending with a train whistle.

The band did get slowed down a little when singer/guitarist Ben Doerkson broke a string on his guitar, but the band soldiered through one song before he got another to play with. Another song that stuck in my memory was a song with the shortened title of “Small Talk,” apparently inspired by a time that mandolin player/vocalist Nicole Bilyea made out with a stranger on a train (or not, I can’t tell if she was serious about that).

Next up was folk songstress Alanna Gurr, backed up by a full band. Her I was already familiar with thanks to her very pleasant record Oh Horsefeathers which I reviewed last year. By this point the Piston was getting very filled up, making the crowd all that more receptive to her gentle and powerful songs.

The majority of her set consisted of songs from her album, such as the title track and “Take the Streets,” one of my favourite songs from that album made all the better seeing it live. I realize re-reading my album review that the album’s instrumentation was a lot more minimal, and hearing it full-bodied was like hearing the songs in a whole new light. Also nice was that Gurr took the time to introduce her backup band, all of whom received raucous audience applause along with Gurr at the end of her set.

The fourth act of the night was Odd Years, and in my ignorance I didn’t realize how significant this band is. AJ Johnson, drummer from Cuff the Duke, takes on guitar and lead vocal duties. JJ Ipsen plays bass and Ipsen’s bandmate Thomas Hammerton does keys. Together these guys made a really exciting combination.

Odd Years, like Medicine Hat, possess a lot of really raw power. Their songs could also be classified as alternative with a rock edge, and it was clear that the crowd was loving every minute of it.

On at midnight was Lowlands, perhaps one of my favourite new discoveries of the night. What struck me about this band was how suitable their name was. The press release for the show described them as having the “serene, eerie quality of an open field at night” and that actually couldn’t be more accurate. A lot of the songs were very atmospheric and swampy. The lead singer switched between banjo and guitar, and I have rarely heard a banjo sound so badass.

The band was hit with some technical trouble early on, particularly with the lead vocal mike, but after a bit of a pause, the group was in full swing. They roared through their set, and the lead singer was also fun in between songs. I now understand the term “delta blues” a lot better than I used to.

I unfortunately couldn’t stay for Toronto-based group The Folk, but I’m sure I’ll be catching them around sometime soon.

Overall, it was a very surprising show for me, full of new discoveries and some bands that I will definitely go back and listen to once I’m not sleep-deprived and pressed for time (ie the end of NXNE).


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