by Michael Thomas
Sunday is always the day of NXNE where everything winds down. There’s always a solid hip-hop show at Yonge & Dundas, but little else. This year there still wasn’t a lot of choice, but a few venues had surprisingly good bills. I hung out at the Garrison.
Opening up the night was Sing Leaf, who many speak of as playing some of Toronto’s most beautiful electronic music, and after seeing their set, it’s easy to see why. The band’s electronics seem to emulate what nature might sound like in musical form, which might range from soft music you’d hear walking along a road at 2 a.m. to the literal sound of running water that backed one track. The pile of wires and knobs wasn’t all the band was about, though; the drummer deserves major credit for contributing to the spiritual frenzy of it all. Their set ended in quite a memorable way–they thought they had no time left but the stage manager said they had seven minutes, so they prepared to play one more song. But one of the band members had closed his laptop, which was essential to the song. They were about to stop when the laptop finally got where it needed to be, and the final song ended their set on a high note.
At some point, Invasions became devotees to a genre that seems very much their own creation: “surf western.” It seemd easy enough to imagine a surf-rock band, but what is the “western” all about? The question was fully answered right off the bat with a song that featured some classic surf-rock guitar alongside some horns that made it sound like a shootout was about to go down in the old west. Their music immediately struck a chord with the slightly larger audience and had a whole bunch of people dancing (even tango-ing). It’s becoming harder and harder to carve a niche that a band hasn’t already filled, but it’s probably safe to say that Invasions are the only surf western band you’ll ever need.
Slacker-rock band Cousin came on next as a trio due to their bass player being on his honeymoon. As a trio they still made their songs work, like “Jawbreaker” and their closer “Lawn Chair,” along with a cover or two thrown in for good measure. The band also wouldn’t be who they are without a healthy dose of sarcasm, and they wasted no time making fun of the long list of NXNE sponsors (they may have mentioned Mio and Fleshlight more than the NXNE Twitter account). The small audience had thinned, but they still had a great time on stage (minus the lead singer cutting himself and breaking a guitar string).
At midnight, the loudness went up about 50 levels and it was time for Mexican Slang. Annabelle Lee, Tony Rowlinson and Denholm absolutely ripped it up on stage and filled the room, which slowly began to fill up, with waves of punk distortion. Lee’s shouts into the microphone just added to the chaos of the set as Rowlinson and Denholm thrashed away on their instruments. In true punk fashion, the entire set ran under 20 minutes and ended with Rowlinson looking like he was about to destroy his bass guitar. Lee kicked over a cymbal. It was a good way to end with a bang.
And thus, my NXNE experience of 2014 came to an end. And just like last year, it ended on a loud, loud note.