NXNE: The Calm Finale

Luke Lalonde in Trinity Bellwoods Park. Photo: Elena Gritzan

by Elena Gritzan

After an intense and packed few days of NXNE shows, Sunday was a chance to relax and slow down while still enjoying some music.  The Great Heart Festival, run by the Young Lions Music Club and Humble Empire, has been running all week, featuring acoustic performances from a variety of artists in the middle of Trinity Bellwoods Park.  I gathered with a number of other music fans on a hill in the northwest corner of the park to take it all in.

Acoustic singer-songwriter story time commenced; I was able to witness both Donovan Woods and Gregory Pepper & His Problems command attention with just an acoustic guitar and a heartfelt voice (Pepper also had a “new invention”, a tambourine attached to his shoe that would rattle with the stomp of his foot).

I was most excited to see how Toronto’s Army Girls, a guitar/percussion duo that are usually rather loud, would manage to play acoustically in a park.  Well, they did not do entirely that (singer/guitarist Carmen Elle brought an amp and used her electric guitar), but their songs have a completely different, yet still captivating, flavour when played quietly.  Elle was perfectly charming, paying tribute to Father’s Day and commenting that having the audience looking down on her from a hill was “very Greek”.

The weather forecast for the afternoon called for rain, so a performance from Octoberman almost didn’t happen (a cello probably would not have done very well in a downpour).  Yet the rain held off, so the four piece folk-pop band were able to get through songs full of harmonica, Casio, and the aforementioned cello.

The final performance of the afternoon was from Luke Lalonde (of Born Ruffians).  He pushes his voice to dramatic levels (he was purposely choosing songs on which he could project).  All in all, it was an afternoon well spent.  Peaceful, yet still musically inspiring.  Thanks, Live in Bellwoods!

After staying up until 4 for Kontravoid the night before, my original thought was to cut my losses and skip the shows happening Sunday night.  Then I saw that Picastro was playing at the Garrison: unmissable!  But first I went to Sneaky Dee’s for 9 to see Montreal’s UN.  I had been meaning to catch their 2am set on Friday, but was distracted by the spectacle that was Tupper Ware Remix Party.  I am often quite taken with sample and synth based dance music full of looped and layered vocals, and UN added a new dimension by having a live drummer.  I might have been more into it had it not been 9pm on a Sunday night, but UN is definitely creating some interesting dance music.

Nick Storring of Picastro. Photo: Elena Gritzan

A quick diversion along College Street through the Taste of Little Italy street festival (unexpected music lined my walk, along with the delicious smelling food and crowds to annoyingly move through) took me to the Garrison.  Picastro’s music may be challenging, but wading through the layers of guitar, cello and drums proves to be extremely rewarding.  Nick Storring pushes his cello past the usual limits of the instrument, getting extremely high notes and manipulating the sound coming out with his Mac beside him. Vocalist Liz Hysen is a calm presence on stage, strumming her guitar and musing in between songs that more people should cover Lionel Richie.

Over the past five days, I have seen 31 different bands (two of which I loved enough to see twice) in a variety of venues across the city, both new and familiar.  It was exhausting, it was exciting, it was inspiring.  I now have a long list of bands’ discographies to dive further into, and a group of artists who I would go see again in a heartbeat.  Toronto was an explosion of music and creativity for the week, and I am so grateful to have been able to experience a small slice of it.

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