NXNE: Purity Ring at Wrongbar

Megan James of Purity Ring. Photo: Elena Gritzan

by Elena Gritzan

Purity Ring are a band that have built their whole emergence on the Canadian music scene through anticipation.  The slow release of four songs from their upcoming album, Shrines, have filled the online community and a slew of music fans with huge doses of enthusiasm and widespread support over the past months.  Understandably, their show Thursday night at Wrongbar was a highly anticipated affair; the venue quickly reached capacity a couple of hours before they were set to play.  Those lucky enough to get in were treated to a visual and aural masterpiece.

The four hours of music preceding was a varied and delightful selection of weird pop offerings.  First was Maddy Wilde and Daniel Woodhead as Moon King.  This was actually my third time seeing the band, and it is interesting to see their development as they get closer to releasing a 12 inch record next month.  The combination of their voices is a little off-putting in a captivating way, and their sound really expands when Woodhead pulls drumsticks out of the oven mitt attached to the side of his drum.

Next came a moody set from EXITMUSIC, filled with reverb and a hint of goth.  Vocalist Aleksa Palladino’s deep and expressive voice was the highlight of the band for me, though the layers of percussion, guitar and electronics built around her vocals were also atmospheric and well executed.

The best part of attending NXNE is never really knowing when you are going to unearth an amazing new band.  The third act of the night, Young Magic, were that beautiful moment of discovery for me.  It did not take long to instinctively realize that what this experimental duo is creating is right up my alley musically.  In the same way that I love Toronto’s Tenderness, Young Magic use off-beat electronic percussion, blurred male/female vocal interactions and a large number of samples to create a dreamy and incredibly quirky sonic landscape.  They’re playing again at 3pm on Saturday at the Yonge Street Urban Outfitters, and I might just have to carve out some time for it.

The midnight time slot was filled by the large sound of The Hundred in the Hands.  An impressive feat for only three people, they washed over the increasingly large and excited crowd with dancing guitar lines, drum crashes and Eleanore Everdell’s haunting and smooth voice.

Corin Roddick of Purity Ring. Photo: Elena Gritzan

And then, there was Purity Ring.  They have a very visual and dramatic approach to their live performance (much like Corin Roddick’s previous stint as a member of Gobble Gobble, now Born Gold).  They hung coloured sheets behind them and set up a series of paper lanterns (which would light up and act as a drum machine when hit by Roddick – seriously one of the most inventive stage set-ups I have seen).  Throughout the set, singer Megan James swung a lantern by its cord and thunderously smashed a large drum, all while delivering her stream-of-consciousness lyrics with a perfect mix of strength and sweetness.

Musically, they were everything I could have hoped for.  As I was stood right next to Roddick’s electronics set-up, the bass sometimes overshadowed James’ vocals for me, but that was made up for by how well they are able to translate their R&B-tinged future pop into a captivating experience.  Their set was a glimpse at what their upcoming debut record will be, and that is an innovative project without a dull song or moment.  Even familiar-by-now songs like “Ungirthed” and “Belispeak” were fiddled with to refresh them in a live setting: expanded bridges and different patterns of percussion here and there.

I would not have been surprised if Purity Ring had not risen to the amazingly high expectations placed before them by their cult following of fans (and highly enthusiastic music press).  So it was especially exciting to see that they really are one of the most accomplished and inspiring new acts out there.  It’s time to count down the days until the release of their album.

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