North By Northeast Toronto, ON - June 8 to 10, 2005

By Cam Lindsay, Chris Whibbs, Kevin Jones, Rob Nay, Sam Sutherland, Stuart Green and Thomas Quinlan Ampop Already making waves in their native Iceland, Ampop took to the El Mocambo stage with their characteristically amiable Icelandic charm, on a mission to create some chatter on North American soil. With a sound that unites the sad-boy UK rock influences of singer/guitarist Biggi with the moody atmospherics and, at times, vaudevillian flair of keyboardist Kjartan (a combination that recalls the more sombre moments of Radiohead's Kid A), the trio drenched the room in a rich, melodious stew. The thrashier bits closing their enthralling set added some necessary punch for a band looking to push its own identity out from behind some very obvious musical reference points. KJ Bedouin Soundclash With a set that lasted nearly two full hours, Kingston's Bedouin Soundclash left no corner of their own (nor Joe Strummer's) catalogue untouched. After playing through most of 2004's Sounding A Mosaic and offering a few fan favourites from their first full-length, Root Fire, the band began dipping heavily into their massive arsenal of covers, touching on the work of the Clash, Billy Bragg, and Toots and the Maytals, to name a few. Occasionally droning on with extended breakdowns and reverb-drenched vocals that, if you listened carefully, might have been singing "Police and Thieves," the band still managed to stay fresh and exciting for nearly their entire set. SS Bella Bella brought their twofold boy-girl combo all the way from Vancouver for a mini-dance party led by rake-thin keyboardist/singer Cameron Fraser, whose unabashed moves included the robot. Showcasing material from their recent debut album, Pretty Mess, the quartet proved their flexibility by swapping instruments and vocal duties for their new wave postured indie pop. At times, the guitar of Matt Hutchings proved a little too powerful, but what they lost in sound they gained back in vitality and amusement. CL The Brown Hornets Even though you could fry an egg on the venue's chipped Formica counter, Newcastle, ON's Brown Hornets couldn't have cared less. Drawing upon seemingly limitless amounts of energy, if you weren't moving during this show, you should have been pronounced either legally dead or supremely uncool. Featuring guitars and microphones askew on the floor and random handouts of pineapples and bananas, the music - a great old helping of dirty soul-inflected rock'n'roll - was just as fun as the proceedings. It's close to a guarantee that the temperature in the place actually went up a couple of degrees due to this performance. Scorching. CW Catlow The moniker given to Dirtmitts front-woman Natasha Thirsk's endearing solo material, Catlow is a mix of the power-pop Thirsk is known for and significantly darker, more depressing themes. At her best when strumming out gentle slow-burners, Thirsk's voice was particularly haunting while singing about loss and loneliness, two topics that appear to be very close to her heart. Her more "rock" material seemed slightly ill-suited to the solo set-up, though any lack of bombast sonically was more than made up for by her soaring vocals. SS City and Colour Apparently tired of going by his boringly self-evident name, Alexisonfire crooner Dallas Green has dubbed his solo material City and Colour. With a set that was, for the most part, a slightly duller version of his recent Lee's Palace appearance, Green seemed to be phoning in much of his highly emotional song craft. That is, until he called his friend Jully Black to the stage to perform a Madonna duet with him. The two belted out the best damn interpretation of "Love Don't Live Here Anymore" anyone in attendance ever heard, making getting over the fact that someone from Alexisonfire was on stage with a bona fide Canadian pop star in the relatively tiny confines of Lee's that much harder. SS Dandi Wind Performance art can often be a bitter pill to swallow and unfortunately for Dandi Wind, their NXNE appearance went down like a pint of shattered glass. Though the duo showed a lot of promise on their fiercely eccentric Bait the Traps EP from earlier this year, vocalist Dandilion Schlase's in-your-face posturing and interpretive dancing was more embarrassing than interesting. Szam Findlay's accompaniment on a simple keyboard station brought back memories of electroclash that no longer feel relevant. Maybe with a full backing band it could have taken away the cheapness of the backing tracks and worked, but there wasn't enough there this time to make it palatable. CL The Deadly Snakes Returning to the stage after months away, the band unveiled material from its forthcoming double LP, Porchella, due out in September. The Snakes' new songs suggest the record could be their most far-reaching release, with songs ranging from raging soul rockers to subtle ballads. While audience members slow-danced, the band played an acoustic guitar-led song about Toronto's Don Jail. Some of the more restrained tunes suffered from an uneven sound mix that had the band glowering at the soundman but despite the troubles, the Snakes rallied with stirring songs from Love Undone, during which Max Danger leapt up on his keyboard to stomp out notes. RN The Dears An event billed as one of the festival's centrepieces felt like just another night, as Montreal's the Dears played to a half-capacity crowd at the Phoenix. The past months spent touring Europe and the U.S. were evident in the bands tight performance, with Lightburn and company squeezing every ounce of emotional grandeur out of tracks from the group's two full-length releases. Though abundantly satisfying, the evening was devoid of any unexpected musical nuances (no 20-minute improvisations tonight), and having rear stage spotlights shining out into an already brightly lit room meant seeing only an annoying silhouette of the band for the better part of the night. KJ Droids Attack Even border troubles that nearly saw them lose their merch couldn't mute the pummelling Palm Desert-inspired chug and groove riff rock offered up by this Wisconsin-based trio. With more than cursory nods to Kyuss and Black Sabbath, their ear-shattering sonic thud proved almost too much for the club they showcased in to handle. Passers-by must have thought a bomb was going off when the windows began to shake and throb. Although they probably could have done without the "Ace of Spades" cover, they score bonus points for having a life-size robot working the room while they played. SG Eternia A seasoned touring vet with international experience, Eternia put on a tight show prior to her stint on the upcoming Vans Warped Tour. She got into the crowd and asked for vocal support on a couple of songs, but the crowd seemed unwilling to participate. Maybe they were hoping for the originally scheduled Emanon. It was too bad because Eternia's blend of smooth love ballads and neck-snapping battle tracks should have been an instant crowd-pleaser. TQ Andre Ethier Performing solo with only his acoustic guitar to accompany his voice, Ethier gave a brief, rousing set. Playing new solo songs, along with tunes from his debut album, Ethier showed the strength of his rich voice, dipping down to Johnny Cash rumbles and climbing to Bob Dylan yowls. He also treated the crowed to a preview of a couple of new Deadly Snakes songs and added in a rollicking version of a song by his Montreal-based friend BBQ. RN Christine Fellows Backed by an adept four-piece band that included Greg Smith and Jason Tait from the Weakerthans, who also performed with the Fembots, Winnipeg's Christine Fellows debuted material from her latest disc, Paper Anniversary. Her new songs showed an impressive intricacy that merged well with the older tunes, conveying Fellows' prominent songwriting talents. Throughout the set, Fellows and her band wove together complex melodies, skilful instrumentation and resonating narratives to create a consummate performance. RN The Fembots The Fembots showed off some varied new material and some older songs, with violin and Rhodes piano figuring prominently throughout the set. In addition to founding members Dave MacKinnon and Brian Poirier, the Fembots featured violinist Julie Penner and the Weakerthans' rhythm section of Greg Smith and Jason Tait, who added skilful playing. The band's songs segued expertly from swaying country sentiments to upbeat pop songs that raised expectations for the group's next release, slated for late summer. RN The Floor While they fly beneath the radar of far too many music fans, the Edmonton group showed why they deserve much more attention than they've received since forming a few years ago. The Floor played urgently melancholic songs from their latest full-length, Personnel, along with older strong tunes. Throughout their set, the group took the dark edges of Joy Division and Echo & the Bunnymen and added their own deep melodies and hypnotic rhythms. RN Paul Freeman Ah, the first timeslot, where the artist is never truly on time, as each musician pines for that sudden rush of people. Singer-songwriter Freeman made the best of the circumstances and with a swagger and keen fashion sense proceeded to belt out some muscular but somewhat familiar songs. Having a voice that sounds uncannily like David Gray's, it also possesses the strength to tunefully hold the notes while conveying the proper emotions. While it might be nothing too incredible or mind-blowing, Freeman is a very capable musician with a barrelful of talent that just might be taking over the radio, given the right inspiration. CW The Fullblast The most exciting thing about these southern Ontario pop-punkers' set was the new material they had on display, demonstrating a vast leap forward in their incredibly tight but occasionally stagnant songwriting. Some of their recent work has seen the band spinning their wheels, but the new songs blistered with all the energy of their old classics while avoiding the parts of their sound that have become local clichés. Always unbelievably tight, the band were in perfect form and the trinkets from their past showed how promising their future is going to be. SS Heavy Trash For their debut performance, Heavy Trash's front-men, Jon Spencer and Matt Verta-Ray, enlisted the talents of the Sadies to back them up. Still sweaty from their own excellent opening performance, the members of the Sadies proved to be the perfect supporting musicians for Heavy Trash's brand of rockabilly and old school rock'n'roll. While Jon Spencer's distinctive Blues Explosion yelp still figures prominently in the band's sound, Heavy Trash allows Spencer to show off more of his singing talents. Performing both heartbroken ballads and boisterous rockers, Verta-Ray and Spencer had the Toronto crowd howling for more throughout the entire night. RN Holy Fuck Toronto's ever-changing, expletive-adopting improvisers tore off the roof with their versatile musical onslaught. Brian Borcherdt piloted the collective's explosive groove with his pedals and unique vintage film synchroniser, while his collaborators brought the added noise with more pedals, gadgets and dangerous rhythms, with persistent bass and drum action. The constant flashing of the project's moniker on a vibrant backdrop helped remind the audience just how evocative the two little words are, while giving even more visual stimulation on top of the wonderment of watching music made right before our eyes. CL Hopewell Anything from an ex-Mercury Rev member will always draw interest and, gleaming in his all-white ensemble, Jason Russo expertly commanded the stage with his power pop-tinged songs and snappy flower arrangements. Never really stopping for much chit-chat, the band charged from one upbeat number to the next but was somehow lacking some much needed warmth. While this festival is indeed a place to get business done, shouldn't it all be left at the bar before getting on stage? That said, Hopewell still put forward a riveting presence with catchy tunes, it's just a shame about the demeanour. CW If Man Is Five Don't let the fact their name comes from a Pixies song ("Monkey Gone to Heaven") or the fact that three-quarters of this Binghamton, NY band are chicks fool you. This band's fusion of Metallica meets Type O Negative goth-y tech metal and dual vocals was anything but mellow or girly. Lead singer Angela Timon's soaring operatic voice (which is for sure the product of some kind of art school training) and drummer Evan McNamara's screams were a perfect clash of styles that somehow managed to work in the grander context. SG Junior Pantherz Once one of the hardest working and most enduring indie bands in the country, Saskatoon's Junior Pantherz played what would turn out to be their last Toronto show ever as part of NXNE. After returning from the road, they promptly packed it in after four albums and an EP. They treated us to a healthy dose of post-punk alterna rock of a more laidback variety on this night. Apparently hard work and good music doesn't mean shit in this country anymore. They'll be missed. SG K'naan Toronto's "dusty foot assassin," the immigrant Somalian poet/MC K'naan set the tiny Drake stage ablaze with a solid dose of perspective, mixing revelations about his own storied past with a poignant critique of the current state of hip-hop. Backed by a conga player and guitarist, and with jembe in hand, the animated lyricist ran through a stripped down selection of tracks that challenged both the supposed lyrical realness that North American hip-hop fights endlessly to maintain and the musical restrictions evident within the culture. It was music with a message that had everyone in the packed room moving to the beat of K'naan's drum. KJ The Ladies & Gentlemen Winning the 5th Annual Galaxie Rising Stars Award just seconds before he and his band were to perform, L&G main-man Thomas D'Arcy was given an easy boost of energy to get the crowd interested. Decked in dapper bright white outfits, he and his four cohorts proved why they were worthy of the $3,000 prize with a set comprised of songs from their new album, Small Sins. The melodies were all in the right spots, as the electrofied indie rockers found the passionate spectators glued to the sweet tunes coming from the affable mix of guitars and synths. CL The Last Show This NYC power trio sits somewhere between the alterna rock groove of Muse and the sludgy grunge of the Melvins (the singer even has a Buzz-wannabe hairdo). More entertaining than the band's music, which was fine but not too memorable, was watching them manipulate the tiny stage they were crammed onto. There was only enough room for a drum kit an amp or two and the singer's guitar pedals. SG Julie Mack Even though you sometimes wonder why you keep that Rusty concert T-shirt, with its holes and mystery stains, it's very simple: the familiar brings comfort. And Ms. Mack, hailing from sunny San Diego, certainly brings forth the familiar, with her striking looks, acoustic guitar and strong, able voice. With song subjects ranging from her time in Toronto to odes to her child, it was all very standard fare ably delivered. While no epiphanies were to be had, the oasis of calm was much needed. CW Maplewood Lane While the country-tinged somnambulant styling of this Vancouver, BC band may not be advised late at night in a mugging hot venue, the vocals of lead singer Rebecca Rowan were sublime enough to make one easily forget about the circumstances. Somewhat mashed together on stage - the guitarist kept hitting Rowan with his guitar - they always seemed either uncomfortable or reluctant to truly take control of the show. Luckily, with Rowan's voice and slow building dynamics effortlessly hypnotising the audience, Maplewood Lane found their stride in the last couple of songs. Given more room to breathe, they delight easily. CW Mindbender For Mindbender, this was yet another headlining gig for his In Divine Style night. He ran through a mix of tracks from his Beautiful Mutant double disc, songs from his mix-tape and a few a cappellas before turning the stage over for an open mic freestyle session. Unfortunately, Mindbender came off as exhausted; he was still cerebral, but he was unable to perform up to his usual standards. The highlight was when he introduced himself to the crowd through his version of "My Name Is..." TQ Minx The band formerly known as Scratching Post re-brands and strikes back with a renewed sense of purpose. The songwriting tandem of Mark Holman and Nicole Hughes is the metal-edged pop-punk version of Stevie Nicks and Lindsay Buckingham. His searing guitar riffery juxtaposed nicely against her pixie-esque growl as they showcased material from their soon-to-be-released debut CD. SG The Most Serene Republic While lead-man Adrien Jewett's vocal ability would most likely get him on the blooper reel of Canadian Idol, the sheer delight and energy of this band somehow made up for it. Currently gathering more press than any young band should have to deal with, these recent Arts & Crafts signees bounced around the stage, flailed and made some catchy noise, albeit in a slightly shambolic fashion. Technical problems aside, this trombone-loving rough gem of a band will definitely be polished into a shining jewel, but the big question is when? CW The New York Dolls Easily the must-see show of the fest, the former cross-dressing punk originators finally rolled into town on their reunion tour. Though only front-man David Johansen and guitarist Sylvain Sylvain remained from the original line-up, the band put on a stylish, rollicking set of classics with even one new song. Johansen's Jagger-like moves were entrancing to watch, moving about like a stick figure with a sturdy mop, while he fed the crowd favourites like "Trash" and "Looking For A Kiss." Though it's been nearly 30 years since they broke up, this gig was a perfect example of just how awe-inspiring reunions can be if done properly. CL OK Cobra The originator of In Divine Style and front-man for OK Cobra, Fritz the Cat fully repped the first half of his infamous motto, "green bottles and teen models," when he stepped on stage wasted out of his mind with a Heineken in hand and flip flops on his feet. Fritz spit rhymes and beer like this was going to be his last party, and proceeded to spill even more suds as he crawled around on stage, rolled against the walls and emotionally lip-synced one of the dramatically sung choruses. A wicked party! TQ The Old Soul Luca Maoloni brought his gawky crew of musicians with him to represent in an opening night headlining slot. Though the later time attracted a smaller audience, it was nothing the co-op couldn't handle with their dynamic rainbow of harmonious music. The cast of characters played an array of instruments (sax, trumpet and most impressively, slide whistle), while Maoloni steered the ship with his resounding vocals and set of keys to the sounds of their self-titled album, including the spirited rendition of Brian Wilson's "Vega-Tables." CL Poor Folk Arriving a little late, the barrage of sound that emanated from the small concert room seemed much more aggressive than the delicate indie rock found on their new self-titled CD, but, luckily, it turns out a little energy is just what the songs needed. Sweating and moving as much as the standard rock setup allows, Poor Folk, heaven forbid, actually looked like they were having some fun. Bringing some friends on stage for a grand energetic finale, it was a great start to an evening and, happily, it wasn't just the band that was fulfilled at the concert's end. CW Raising the Fawn Returning from a recent recording sojourn, Raising the Fawn were armed with more than a couple of new tunes, but, wonderfully, they also made time for their more epic and heartfelt earlier material. Seemingly ignoring the tight time limit, their combination of tight, layered guitars, golden falsetto and pounding drums easily made for a superior festival moment with the absolutely stunning closer "E.T.A.," which fully bloomed in the pin-drop silence. Truly a band that seems to get better and better with each show, Raising the Fawn still reign as one of the must-see bands in Canada. CW Shout Out Out Out Anyone who attended the festival and missed this Edmonton collective's late night set should kick themselves long and hard. The robotic-voiced, dual drum, multi-bass and keyboard-infused disco punk band absolutely killed with their sense of style and killer dance moves. Imagine the post-punk electroclash thud of Trans Am and the '80s dance pop of Trans X rolled into one massive orgiastic ball of energy and you start to get the idea. They are Shout Out Out Out and they play dance music. SG Showroom Every girl's crazy 'bout a sharp dressed band and this Toronto quartet was nothing if not fashionable. Vocalist Ben Hutchinson looks like a Club Monaco version of Simon LeBon, with a mop-topped Strokes cast-off as his guitar slinging sidekick. But the two of them dominated the stage and their brand of retro no-wave pop was bouncy, fun and surprisingly fresh. SG Silversun Pickups Putting a together a perfect combination of looks and music, this L.A.-based band dabbled in music that was just as dishevelled and messy as the lead singer. Moving from some delicate strumming to heavy psych rock and back again at the drop of a hat, the one thing that wasn't missing from this band was originality. While the disparate musical ideas never intermingled in a truly exciting way, one couldn't help but stand transfixed at the guttural yelps and emotional screams, all while gloriously nodding to the sludgy rock that surrounded it. CW State Of Shock Of all the formulaic rock acts that dotted the fest, this BC quartet may have been the most shameless. Musically tight but unimaginative, the band is fronted by a dude who spent one too many late nights studying Rock Posing 101 to Our Lady Peace videos. With a goth-y female bassist, they look like Evanescence and sound like Nickelback - does it get any worse? Canadian major label hotshots should be tripping over one another to sign these guys. SG Sylvie Led by ex-Despistado bassist Joel Passmore, Sylvie displayed all the energy and vigour of Passmore's previous work. Similarities between both projects certainly do exist and will likely be the core focus of any attention the band receives, at least until they are able to prove themselves to a wider audience. This Thursday night set was a step in the right direction, showcasing the band's angular rhythms and knack for compelling boy-girl vocal trade-offs. While the band played early in the night to a regrettably half-full room, there is a good possibility that Sylvie could help mourning Canadian indie rockers get over the loss of one of this country's most promising up-and-coming bands. SS Uncut In front of a sold-out room, Uncut played a solid set and appeared unfazed by the oppressive heat. With vocals coated with heavy reverb and guitars loaded with digital delay, the group bulldozed through songs from their debut, Those Who Were Hung Hang Here. Anchored by pulsating bass and drums, Uncut delivered a hectic version of "Understanding the New Violence" that conveyed why the group has become such a fan favourite in its brief career. RN