NXNE: Beauty in Bellwoods and Arts & Crafts in the Rivoli

by Michael Thomas

Being out and about for 10 solid hours can do a lot to tire a guy out, let me tell you, but it’s always worth it.

NXNE has always been about discovering new bands. And you can double the fun of that by finding out about events going on during the day. One of those events is the Live in Bellwoods series, this year referred to as the Great Heart Festival.

The Belle Game, left, supported by Sidney York, right//Photo: Michael Thomas

Yesterday, five bands played stripped-down sets as a healthy crowd of people sat on the grass and watched. First up was The Belle Game from Vancouver, who had by far the fullest sound thanks to their mini-amps and huge setup. As you can see from the picture above, Sidney York even helped them out with an orchestral section. The songs were all wonderfully complex and melodic. Definitely a band I will make the time to listen to again.

Enjoy Your Pumas//Photo: Michael Thomas

Winnipeg band Enjoy Your Pumas went on next. As lead singer Rosie Blais said later on in their set, “We don’t usually sound like this!” The band had two guitar players, Blais on vocals, plus a drummer (who drummed with this fingertips!) so it was a little different to hear the usually full-bodied songs, but still enjoyable. I particularly enjoyed their last song “Swayze” which shows the band getting a lot more badass.

Jenny Berkel//Photo: Michael Thomas

Also from Winnipeg, Jenny Berkel went on next. She’s recently been reviewed here on the blog, but it was my first time hearing her. I instantly fell in love with her voice. It was extremely expressive and suited to the soft and emotional folk songs that she played alongside her sister, who played a few backup instruments. Being sisters, their synchronicity added well to the overall experience.

Husky//Photo: Michael Thomas

All the way from Australia was the next band Husky. These four gents charmed the crowd quickly with their three-part vocal harmonies and pleasantly upbeat tunes (in case you didn’t know, any band that does vocal harmonies well is a-ok in my book). The guys did well in inviting audience participation when they did a cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Lover Lover Lover.” I’d love to see what they do a s a full band, considering at one point they were using a mallet and a guitar case as a drum (which is actually pretty awesome).

Julie Doiron//Photo: Michael Thomas

The last artist for the day was Julie Doiron, who really needs no introduction at all. She was actually pretty hilarious in between songs, starting off by saying she doesn’t have an acoustic guitar and hoped the electric guitar would still work. Of course it did, and her songs were all wonderful to listen to. At the end she asked the audience to name a song or two for her to play and she mentioned that one of the songs she was about to play (“Swan Pond”) shared a name with an exhibition in Sackville. Doiron is definitely someone you need to experience at least once.

After a few hours of downtime, I headed over to the Rivoli to see the Arts & Crafts showcase. Expecting it to be packed, I got there early only to find that I was literally the first person there. No matter.

The first act up for the night was Rival Boys. Last year the band received a favourable review on the blog, but it wasn’t me reviewing it so they were fairly new to me. One thing I immediately noticed was how much heart and passion this band has. The three-piece managed to rock through their set, and I was particularly wowed by their performance of their song “Dream of Stones” which was really intense in comparison with the others. A good way to start off the night.

Bishop Morocco was up next. The guys have a sound that could best be described as alternative, which is a really bad description but all I can come up with. They had the basic rock-band setup along with a keyboard, and the lead vocals switched between two singers. My favourite number of theirs was “Old Boys,” a song I remember hearing a while back. At the end of the set, the two singers played faux-naive with what their last songs would be: “We’ve got two songs left.” “How many?” “Two.” “Will they be new ones?” “Yes.” And with that they played two new songs which I can remember as being pretty thrilling.

Next up, after a bit of technical trouble getting going, was Vancouver band Gold & Youth. Here I knew absolutely nothing about this band, but quickly found a lot to love. This band takes intensity to a whole new level, with two keyboardists who double as guitarists and bass players, respectively. The music was all quite complex, adding lots of texture to an already rich sound. I found myself grooving along to many of their tracks and watching as the two lead singers switched mics and instruments with ease. You can see a recording I made of one of their tracks at the bottom of the article.

The final act I saw for the night was Zulu Winter (I’m sorry I couldn’t stay, Still Life Still). The UK band has been getting some favourable publicity from many different sources, and I can certainly see why now. The setup for the guys was a little lengthy, but they made up for it with their show. All of the numbers had the audience dancing to some degree, and the lead singer was fun to watch when he was just singing and not strumming his guitar. They were also quite happy to be playing their first ever show in Canada, even saying that when they had crossed the border to Canada after visiting New York City, “everyone just became nicer.”

Arts & Crafts definitely has a lot of interesting things going on with their current roster, and the showcase was a nice taste of what can be expected. The full day of NXNE goodness was great but extremely tiring (which means I must have done something right).

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