by Jack Derricourt
What a start to June: yes to Kathleen Wynne; yes to Enbridge; yes to Tornadoes ripping through Southern Ontario; yes to badass Canadian rock and roll dominating the start of NXNE.
I wrote a preview for the festival last Sunday, and apparently all I really wrote out was my Wednesday night schedule — some guys are just born lucky I guess. The eve started with the Dirty Frigs at Smiling Buddha. Sweltering heat filtered the band’s brand of Scuzz rock perfectly. The music has something given away by their online material, but they’re really much weirder in real life. Sprawling, disonant guitar lines and pummeling rhythms are the mainstay of the group — the kind of thing that could attract “that” kind of guitar band fan. The man of the hour for me was drummer Edan Stokell; the things he did with his kit in the gumbo of droning stoner rock were breathtaking.
The rest of the night I invested in Handlebar. It seemed like a bit of a cop out: I hang out there on any given off night — it didn’t seem to be very much in the spirit of wild and crazy North By fiesta time. But I was shockingly surprised by the calibre of every band that played, and none more pleasantly captivating than Old and Weird from Halifax. The band changed instruments like pros, played post-punk like the Shaggs brought back as zombies in the 80s, and looked like they were having constant fun. Well worth the game of sardines in the little bar to see those three women play.
Monomyth and Each Other followed shortly thereafter. Both bands are Halifax stock, though the latter now reside in Montreal, there was a constant flavour of inventive structure and vocal delivery that played through all their tunes. Monomyth protested, “We’re not James Brown,” but you could have fooled me, with their syncopated breakdowns and funky guitar work. Each Other provided the crowd with infinite listening diversions. Their songs were like beautifully constructed mazes, made to tempt folks into clapping before the tune had played its last.
The closing act, playing to a much tinier crowd than the pre-midnight groups, did a fine job for a Montreal two-piece. Maica Mia, the band I had waited patiently to see all night, played incredibly elaborate, maximalist songs, in which every phrase and piece of melody was milked for all it was worth. I felt like swooning as both guitarist and drummer lead the crowd down the rabbit hole of bluesy pain. I love it when guitar players prove that sometimes all you need is chords to write incredibly compelling music — no Van Halen solos necessary, thank you very much. They didn’t play my favourite track, and I tried not to hold that against them; after all, they played things I’d never dreamed of hearing with my own two ears. I don’t have favourites, but so far, Maica Mia are as close as it gets to my 2014 band of choice.
Stay tuned, dear reader, for more tales from the underground Thursday night. It’s only just begun.