NXNE - Toronto - Friday June 18th, 2010

By Myles LaCavera
Photos by Mike Bax

You can’t go wrong with Chippy’s.  Any place that’ll let Man Man eat for free is alright in my books, so I popped in for some Haddock and chips before crossing over to Lee’s Palace.  The venue was already lined up but it was a bit deceiving, once inside Lee’s pit was empty and early arrivers were clinging to the walls like nervous high schoolers at a grade nine dance.

Carrying up from Brooklyn, Grooms was up on my list of bands to catch Friday night after clicking through their myspace site.  It was the band’s first trip up north of the border and they sheepishly took the stage on time.  Erratic, aggressive and tangential, Groom’s set dug its heels into pop just enough to hook you before the band took a left turn into punk and Fx driven leads with varying success.  Their female bassist, Emily Ambruso looked uninterested, if not scared for most of their set while their drummer kept chasing a kick drum that wouldn’t sit still.  Despite it he played excellently and soon enough a small microwave was placed in front of it to stop it from slipping away.  The band jokingly called for popcorn and hot pockets but thankfully none made the stage.  The kick drum served as a symbol of Grooms’ set and song structure; just as things seemed to be heading in the right direction the band pushed it off course.  A selection of new tracks to be placed on a forthcoming follow up to Rejoicer sounded promising but these noise rock students will require more time on stage to learn what works and what doesn’t i.e. lead singer flopped onto his back and performed bicycle kicks while playing lead at the end of the set and it looked a bit like it was mapped out in advance.

The Happy Hollows were on the block next and the bi-polar performance (this isn’t a proper medical assessment, I’m not a doctor) of lead singer/guitarist Sarah Negahdari drove their set.  Sweet as a kitten with the claws to match, Negahdari pulled off an unexpected set of filthy barre chord driven rock spiked by Karen O styled yelps and hollers that one could not possibly expect from such a sprightly figure.  Bassist Charlie Mahoney nimbly kept pace with dexterous fingers and even pulled up to the mic to lead on his own track late in the set.  He and Negahdari ran the stage with Mahoney hitting grooves and Negahdari snapping her neck, shaking her hair.  The band didn’t need much chatter to make a decent set but recounted a story of tears to a border guard that got them through earlier in the afternoon.  I’ve no doubt it actually happened.  They played rock from the dustiest streets of California and they had come to give Toronto their best.  I think we got it.  Buyers beware though: you will either love or hate Negahdari’s vocals but you’ll have to decide that for yourself.  Still Happy Hollows are a band worth searching out.

As the evening approached the imminent arrival of Wavves, Lee’s was buzzing as it finally approached capacity.  Media darlings before the proper release of their self-titled debut these guys have a three ringed circus press entourage tenting up at their gigs across the globe.  Wavves’ all non-sense lo-fi garage rock (with the door wide open and the vocals run through Dad’s old ghetto blaster) is sometimes punk and often America on the precipice of the British invasion but always a mix of sweet and gritty.  I was genuinely excited what Wavves was going to pull off live.  With a new album on the horizon (reportedly leaked that day) and rumored to be dropped by their label the band encouraged the crowd to find it and download it, it might be the only way to get it for a while. 
So, how did all the hype play out?  At five foot nothin’, Nathan Williams is brimming with natural talent, if misplaced, but the set was chopped up by bratty outbursts from all three ADD suffering members, and while they appeared to be having a good time cranking out squirrel and dick jokes it really pulled down a set that was musically what everyone had hoped: 1-1/2 minute bursts of boredom and grey eyed girls.  The band played with a sense of self entitlement flanked by a pair of back lit, smoking Paper Mache aliens (only one of which actually worked), and despite the fact that Lee’s lower level frothed with a violent pit of faithful Wavves’ fans the set was soured by needless long delays in between tracks.  Play it like the Ramones, leave it in the songs.

I thought things would thin out for the Japandroids but holy shit was I wrong!  Looked like they let a few more in and everyone already inside was too afraid they were going to lose their spots to a line up that was steadily growing eastward down Bloor.  Those that stayed would not be disappointed as Brian King and David Prowse pushed to the edge of the stage fronting a wall of amps with Dave tucked behind his kit.  Like a man plugged in direct Brian presided over the stage as garage rock king resplendent in a red and black Tele climbing the drum kit, peeling back off the microphone and feverishly pummeling his guitar drenched in a choir of amps – and a bass amp for good measure.  Japandroids’ added mass to the pit at their feet and we saw a few attempts at crowd surfing.
Good Canadian boys, they couldn’t have been kinder to the crowd that bellowed along with them.  Photographers stopped shooting to thrash about and join in.  It was the first moment of NXNE where the crowd was truly in tune with the band.  Hot and sweaty, and one of the moments you long to see at a show: it pure reckless abandon on and off the stage.
It’ll be a while before these guys are back in town but be sure to mark your calendar when they come through again and leave your sweater in the car.

That was it for me.  Day two in the bag and Saturday looked like it was going to be a long one.

Grooms www.myspace.com/groomsmusic
The Happy Hollows www.myspace.com/thehappyhollows
Wavves www.myspace.com/wavves
Japandroids www.myspace.com/japandroids