by Michael Thomas
While the first night of many multi-day festivals can be light on worthwhile choices, NXNE had a surprising array of options Wednesday night. One involved plenty of Toronto power with a dash of Montreal and took over the Drake.
Ginla, the aforementioned dash of Montreal flavour, began the night. While they had just gotten off a 12-hour bus ride from New York, they certainly didn’t sleepwalk through their set. Ginla songs are multi-headed beasts. They start out with plenty of guitar and electronic weirdness, but instantly become more melodic and poppy as the drums kick in. Vocals soar amid bright arrangements before the song kicks into extended instrumentals. The songs are journeys unto themselves, so it’s no wonder they’re each so long. The final song ended on a few minutes of extended guitar solo over frantic drumming to bring the set to a strong finish.
After the somewhat intense pace of Ginla, naturally things took a turn for the soft with Bernice. This band must have somehow formed in the clouds, because their airy, smooth music seems so effortless. Robin Dann guides the group with her impressive vocals and lyrics about black bears, watching a plane in the sky and a man who is the moon, and the music comes from samples, electronic hiss, drums and just a smattering of guitar. Most of the set flew by like it was part of a dream (give or take a bit of stage banter about Paula Deen videos on YouTube), but the final song took on a more tropical theme with the aptly named “St. Lucia.” It almost seems unfair to Toronto that Bernice doesn’t play more shows; they may singlehandedly unite Toronto in song.
Prince Innocence changed gears again, offering a bit more dramatic flair both visually and with their music. Playing in low light, they brought their own visuals—a guy with a camera broadcast the stage…onto the stage, only the picture distorted for a very surreal backdrop. Musically, it’s a lot more simple—Josh McIntyre on electronics and Talvi Faustmann on vocals. Her icy delivery makes the slow jams easy to bob your head along to, and the duo’s sound is perhaps best exemplified by the smoothness of “I Don’t Care,” a title that got a hearty cheer from the audience. The short set wasn’t all gloom, though. After two songs, they played a Suicide cover to drastically change the mood, albeit temporarily.
DIANA has been relatively quiet as of late (working hard on LP2, according to their Facebook page) but the time away from shows hasn’t at all subtracted from their presence live. They began their set with four songs from Perpetual Surrender before pulling out a gorgeous cover of The Blue Nile’s “A Walk Across the Rooftops” before playing three new songs.
Part of the band’s appeal is the tight rhythm section—dynamic drumming, multiple lines of guitars—but there’s also a magnetism to Carmen Elle, who picks up and puts down a guitar more times than anyone can count. Occasionally, she’ll absolutely shred on said guitar, and in between songs she’s always hilarious (only she could ask a crowd already pressed up to the front to come closer, only to say “It’s the Drake Underground. Let’s be real”).
The band’s new material is comfortably in line with what’s come before, so it’s safe to say this preview of new material will lead to an equally strong album.