NXNE: Czehoski is hot, but so were the bands playing

 

Domestic Crisis Group//Photo: Michael Thomas

by Michael Thomas

I’ll start off with the worst part of my day: I was one of the 40,000 people expected to attend yesterday’s Radiohead concert. To find out that it was cancelled, and then to find out that someone died because of it was awful. It certainly weighed down on my mind the rest of the night, and probably on many of the bands playing Saturday during NXNE. Apparently the Flaming Lips covered Radiohead’s “Knives Out” as a tribute to the man who was killed in the awful stage collapse.

With a little more free time, I decided to head to Czehoski. As Elena described in her Friday review, it is a bit of a strange venue for shows, with lots of tables up near the front of the stage, and therefore little room for standing (in fact, I don’t think anyone stood for the duration of the entire show. It was also pretty hot, but it didn’t deter me from having a good time.

With all of the other shenanigans happening Saturday night, I was a little late to the set by Montreal “melancountry” duo Domestic Crisis Group (curse you, Bathurst streetcar!). I did manage to catch a decent number of their songs, though, and I was surprised by the simple setup. Dane Ratliff did backup vocals and guitar playing, while Gen Blouin sang. They played through a nice set of (largely depressing) alt-country tunes. Blouin talked frequently between songs, and it worked well given the atmosphere. The only hiccup in their set was Blouin forgetting the lyrics of their song “The Distance” twice, but Ratliff quickly played another song to make the experience more funny than tragic.

Following the group was my biggest surprise of the night, a one-man band by the name of Kellen & Me. This Chicago singer-songwriter created a really full sound with just an electric guitar and a whole bunch of effect pedals. Sometimes he would loop, sometimes he would play beats, and all the time he would play inventive songs that ranged in styles from rocking to quirky indie-pop.

The small Czehoski stage definitely showed its size when MAK took the stage. The set consisted of mostly (if not entirely) songs from their debut album. Live they were a whole different animal. The band is obviously very tight-knit, and played as a unit spectacularly. During their softer songs, the band would be a little more still and contemplative, but when it came to the badass “Stab Me” they went all out. I could hear quite a few people commenting on how good the guys were, and the lead singer was even nice enough to thank me for listening when I left Czehoski later that night.

The midnight time slot was when the bar/restaurant became the most packed. While some people earlier on had been in the back room to eat, people backed the back at midnight to see Carnival Moon, and with great reason. As it turns out, Carnival Moon was the only one of my five picks that I actually went to see.

My last time seeing Carnival Moon was almost two years ago, when it was just Elaine Kelly-Canning and David Scanlon. Since then the duo has expanded, featuring Will Whitwham of the Wilderness of Manitoba among others. The sound has also expanded, as I noted in my review of the wonderful Our Little Hourglass EP. The set, overall, was enchanting.

Those unfamiliar got a great taste of what to come, as Carnival Moon opened with “I Am Czernbroski.” The song starts with little more than the harp, and partway through the rest of the band kicks in to show what the song is capable of. The band played through the rest of the EP plus some newer songs, my favourite being “The Laporte Family” which would have had me dancing had I not been trapped in a booth.

Kelly-Canning and the rest of the band were pretty hilarious in-between songs, at one point talking about the buzzing sound on stage that was driving them all crazy. “Let’s all trip out together,” Whitwham said at one point. It was a perfect way to end the night for me.

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