by Michael Thomas
On Thursday at NXNE, it was nearly impossible to find a showcase that WASN’T stacked with talent. For the night, I decided to cast my lot on Halifax, specifically the Halifax Pop Explosion showcase at Handlebar.
I arrived to first see Glory Glory, a four-piece who have been kicking around for years and putting out catchy pop-rock music. While I’ve seen them live previously, on Thursday it seems like they had just graduated from the school of catchy hooks. Every song had a killer bass groove or fun bit of keys, and it worked well with lead vocalist Adam Warren’s happy demeanour. After many grooves, a later song also showed they have strong group vocals, and it would have been great to hear more of those. They breezed through a tight set (minus measing up their penultimate song, which they laughed off) and finished with a very synth-y Carmine Appiece cover.
After the tight hooks of Glory Glory, things got a bit more free-flowing with the psychedelic jams of Walrus. The band is constantly tinkering with their sound and here they were fully brazen—the type of bass that gets you nodding your head, furious drumming, virtuosic guitars, you name it. The band never settled on one rhythm or tempo for too long, sometimes abruptly changing pace within a song. The songs constantly kept the audience guessing and was an injection of some real energy into the room. It turns out the audience wasn’t the only group having fun—vocalist Justin Murphy said “This is our best North By ever.”
Mardeen are a beloved Maritimes act, and the fierce love for them on the east coast was quite apparent in Toronto as well. They specialize in especially emotional lyrics backed by powerful pop-rock, and the magnificently bearded Matthew Ellis was a compelling front man. After several songs (mixing old and new material) their set hit a fever pitch with “Telephone,” the song Mo Kenney covered on her recent album that sounds even better coming from the band who wrote it. Harris announced the last song, “Silver Fang,” as one that will “haunt you,” and while the upbeat song is more likely to make you dance, it will haunt your brain.
Finally, the night ended with some intricate electronic music courtesy of Vogue Dots. The duo was in full control of their set right down to the lighting, with Tynan Dunfield on most of the programming and Babette Howard on vocals. The beautiful beats were quick to get people dancing, and while Howard’s vocals were a little hard to discern early on, she quickly made sure those vocals soared by the second song. The dance party was in full swing by the fourth song, a new one called “Florals” (which will be part of an upcoming release) but the next song sealed the deal and had the whole (very sweaty) room moving. They endeared themselves to the crowd even more with their crystalline cover of Cousins’ “Thunder” before playing one more song—the crowd wanted even more.