I have been a long time Ca Va Cool follower and am proud to call a few of the writers friends whom I admire for their taste in music. Being an avid photographer for almost 9 years, my dream has always been to get into concert photography, so when Daniel asked me to step in for him at the NxNE, I couldn’t have been more ecstatic.
For Canadians, summer bodes a ton of opportunities to see many incredible musicians from coast to coast. Festivals in particular have always lured even the most docile fans with the promise of the “most bang for their buck.” Many a great musician, delicious cuisine and beverages ready for mass consumption, all for very economical prices. Not only are they recession friendly but best of all, concert-goers can experience this amongst crowds of thousands that nowadays include everything from your peace-loving hippies, sophisticated Rayban and Fedora-wearing indie kids, to your Keenan-preaching or Rollins-educated counterparts, and in rarer cases those who seamlessly amalgamate all of the above (and more) into one. North by Northeast was no different. The festival took place June 17 to 21 in venues that stretched downtown Toronto. For those unfamiliar, you might be surprised to find out that this is the fifteenth year that NxNE has been rocking Toronto.
My first show was Dragonette on June 18 at the Kool Haus. Martina Sorbara isn’t anything like I expected, she’s even more flirtatious and cheekier live than she came off when I dabbled in the Canadian/British band’s material prior to the show. The setlist of 10 tracks consisted of mainly songs from their debut album Galore. ‘Take It Like a Man’, ‘I Get Around’ and ‘Competition’ were three tracks that stood out live.
Martina Sorbara of Dragonette – Photo by Marwa Yasmine Abdou
We Are the Take
Next door, We Are the Take took the stage. I attended based on the suggestion of a friend. Without expectations in tow, a pleasantly appealing foursome took the stage to the delight of a modest but dedicated audience gated by a crazed, dizzied and starry-eyed picket seal of double x chromosomes. What I enjoyed most about this band’s music was the sense of melodic simplicity and ease their delivery had live. The songs that hit home with me from the show were ‘Tenter Hooks’, ‘Wait It Out’ and ‘Dreams’. This is a band I would definitely keep an eye out for, considering they are working with producer David Bottrill of Tool, Peter Gabriel and Muse fame to produce their latest effort.
Eric Alcock of We Are the Take – Photo by Marwa Abdou
Kevin Sommerville of We Are the Take – Photo by Marwa Abdou
On Saturday, I attended shows with Young Rival, The British Columbians and Jason Collett and it was certainly the night I enjoyed the most. Young Rival and The British Columbians both played at El Mocambo and gave solid performances. I’ve seen Young Rival twice at the Grad Club in Kingston, Ontario and they never seem to run out of fuel. There is always so much energy in the room when they take the stage. My personal favourites are ‘Poisonous Moves’, ‘Your Island’ and ‘The Haunt’. They are currently in the midst of finishing their latest album and are on tour in July and August in locations all over Canada.
Aron D’Alesio of Young Rival – Photo by Melissa Lam
Young Rival – Photo by Melissa Lam
The British Columbians
The British Columbians impressed me the most with their musicianship. I really got the sense that these cats have been at it for a while from the way they effortlessly amalgamated blues, folk, country and rock into one fiery sound. There was that driving feeling to their songs, the kind that teach you the most when you are alone on an open road on a blistering summer day, reminiscent of legends I have always loved like Muddy Waters and Robert Johnson. Now that I think about it, I think it all rested on the talent of lead singer Girard Knox. They reminded me a lot of The Black Keys and I was very happy to add them to the roster of bands I respect and will attempt to keep up with after the festival. If you are interested in checking out their music, their self-titled album is out now.
Girard Knox of the British Columbians – Photo by Marwa Abdou
I left Collett until the end because he was the one I had listened to most prior to his performance and thus, was the show I was most excited to catch. Overall, he exceeded my expectations not only in terms of musical tenacity and ability but also how memorable a show he gave. Even with a band of five lads, there was never a moment where Collett was overshadowed. The Horseshoe Tavern was packed to say the least. In his classic plaids and rustic blue jeans, Collett started off without introduction into ‘Winnipeg Winds’, which I found nowhere on the internet and will assume is off his upcoming album. New songs included ‘Lake Superior’, ‘Love Is a Chain’, ‘What Goes Is Gone’, ‘High Summer’ which he dubbed as a sequel to ‘Almost Summer’ from his 2005 album Idols of Exile. Though unfamiliar with his new songs, fans still belted back classics like ‘Brownie Hockeye’, ‘Out of Time’ and ‘Charlyn, Angel of Kensington’.
His performance came off fluid and organic. Collett didn’t skip a beat, used the entire stage as his instrument, even blatantly reaching out of plan for a tambourine near the end of the show, while singing ‘What Goes Is Gone’, stomping and banging across the stage. Ear to ear smiles, eyes closed, the band and fans surrendered to the music in a moment of pure high. Few musicians I have seen in my lifetime can help hone that kind of space. I have heard from many friends that the show was classic Collett and though it was my first, I will still say it was etched in it’s own place and time. That said, you are in luck as CBC who hosted the show made reliving a portion of the experience possible online right here.
Jason Collett – Photo by Marwa Abdou
Overall, the festival to me was a celebration of Canadian musicians. Although it offered a plethora of international acts, I found myself gravitating towards supporting those that stood ground and made me feel like I was touring the East through West coasts of this country, all in the metropolis of beautiful Toronto. So long and thanks for all the shoes.