by Michael Thomas
Day four. Over the halfway mark. Who needs sleep, right? When three straight nights of music have you tired, what do you do? Cram in some day shows too.
Chickening out of the Bruise Cruise, I opted to give myself a reprieve of a few hours before heading down to St. James Park, which had a surprisingly excellent lineup running about six hours.
I dropped in starting with Michael Rault. He and his specialize in the kind of no-frills, no-bullshit classic-rock-indebted rock that surprisingly few bands can do well. Rault’s extremely unpretentious rock is easy to get into and easy to rock out to, there is much technical competence and great harmonies, and really, what more is there to ask? He played a great mix of songs from his upcoming record Living Daylight while also pulling out a few choice cuts from Whirlpool like “I Wanna Love You.” The band ended with a bang with “Suckcess.”
Hollywood, FL’s Beach Day were on next. They were a pleasant discovery of mine last year, and have since grown to a four-piece. They’re still one of the most aptly-named bands out there, with their brand of sunny pop that can likely be enjoyed in full while out on the beach. Sound issues cut a little into some of their louder, almost punk-territory songs, but their on-the-nose beach-pop songs were all wonderful, like the actual song “Beach Day” and their set closer “Do You Wanna Dance.” Difficulties be damned, they still made their songs appear effortless.
Following them was Kalle Mattson, who I saw just two nights ago. Not too much to add, as Mattson and his band were as tight as ever, though the song Mattson chose to play solo was a new song called “Baby Blue,” a sweet and sentimental song that had his name written all over it.
After a brief break, I decided to head to the Horseshoe Tavern for a bill that was too good to pass up. This year, the venue is apparently also the “Budweiser Music House” and the branding was a little ridiculous, from the banners covering half the wall to the projected company logo to the right of the stage.
Anyway, the first act I checked out was Mo Kenney, the east-coast whiz kid who is apparently releasing a new album in September. Playing with a backup band, her already witty songwriting got a bit more of a bite to it. She opened her set with some of her debut LP’s best songs, with “Sucker” and then “Deja Vu” (Kenney sadly did not bring Joel Plaskett out for the latter). Following the momentum build, she eased into some of her new material, which still maintained her gift for memorable phrases. She ended her set on a truly rocking note, with a guitar solo-filled rendition of “Five Years” and then another classic rock-sounding track.
Speaking of records coming out in September, the Wilderness of Manitoba have one on the way as well, and their set heavily featured new tracks. On record, the band’s brand of folk-pop is centred around the band’s stellar vocals, but for the first two songs the voices were near-impossible to hear over the, well, loud instruments. That was the most surprising thing about the set–the band can definitely turn up the volume. After the first two songs they got their vocal issues sorted out and their pristine voices finally took centre stage. Around the middle of the set they threw in a few Island of Echoes songs, but ended on another rocking song with a distortion-filled finale. Whether this louder band will be heard on the new record remains to be seen.
Bidiniband came up next, the band by former Rheostatics front man Dave Bidini. They are all about Canada (Bidini is more or less synonymous with our home and native land) and are purveyors of what Paul Lawton might call Radio3core. It’s competent technically if somewhat forgettable (it’s really it’s just not my cup of tea), though there was some great work with guitar and later fiddle. Blake Howard, who also sometimes plays with Sandro Perri, seemed to be having the time of his life.
And then, and then, and then—Joel Plaskett took the stage. The man needs no introduction, other than to say he’s one of the bedrocks of the Canadian music scene. The man is an unstoppable and irresistible force, and seeing him live should be on every music fan’s bucket list.
It’s hard to pin down what exactly makes him so charming—to some degree, it’s writing songs that anyone, regardless of genre preference, can latch onto. It’s also his stage presence—he’s one of Canada’s most beloved musicians but he still seems pleased as punch when the audience sings entire songs with him or applauds raucously.
As for the set itself, it fairly covered all the bases in terms of albums and went for a little over 80 minutes. It started with “A Million Dollars” and ended with a two-song encore, the latter of which was “Wishful Thinking.” The audience sang every word of “Through & Through & Through” with him, (I may or may not have done the same), and so devoted are his fans that when he played a song that hasn’t even been recored yet, “The Park Avenue Sobriety Test,” a few people could be seen mouthing the words. It was a truly spectacular set from start to finish.
The last big day of NXNE is now complete, but there’s still a few acts worth seeing on Sunday. Stay tuned.