Don’t feel bad, we’ve all asked that at some point. If you’ve spent an hour in Toronto this past month, you’ve inevitably wondered about these letters – NXNE – that are splattered all over subway stations, cafe bulletins and street posts. Maybe you’ve even mouthed them aloud to yourself quietly in confusion. And if you’ve spent an extra hour in Toronto this past month, you’ve most definitely heard someone rave about North By Northeast, the elongated form of the heavily marketed four letters – and the music festival that’s engulfed the whole city.
Whether or not you have a $50 week-long wristband or plan to wander into one of the free shows, there’s a large likelihood you’ll inadvertently be a part of the last weekend of this citywide music gathering at some point – mainly because it has lasted 7 days and is comprised of 780 bands and 40 films. It’s everywhere.
Beginning in 1994 as a parallel to Texas’ popular South by Southeast festival, NXNE plays out in over 50 Toronto venues that host a handful of bands each night from Canada, US and around the world. Yonge and Dundas Square, or “Canada’s Times Square” situated outside the Eaton Centre, becomes so much more than the flashy and crammed tourist piazza; it becomes the swaying, lighter-lit festival grounds offering free live music during a select few nights this week – right in the heart of downtown.
One thing I’ve noticed from speaking with a number of people is how overwhelmed, and lacking commitment (despite desire), most are when it comes to seeking out any one NXNE event. Unlike Ottawa’s Bluesfest (which I’ve attended religiously for a number of years) where you wander the grounds to find your favourite artists all within strolling distance – NXNE is dispersed across the popular venues of our lively Toronto metropolis. Now, after nearly four months in Toronto, I’ve come to the realization like so many Torontonians have before me – that nothing in this beautiful, mammoth city is really that far or hard to get to. You just have to have to commit. And despite not wanting to do that in many other areas of our young lives, I feel as if music line-ups like these are worth the commitment. So, get off your behind and check out some of the amazing (and affordable) live music brought to you by NXNE. Here’s (only a fraction of) the artists who are worth the wander this weekend:
FRIDAY, JUNE 15th
PLANTS AND ANIMALS (free concert) Yonge-Dundas Square – 8:30-9:20pm: I love this band; they always surprise me with their up-tempo blend of progressive rock that’s both hard-edged and romantic. Trust that they know how to rock a big stage – they’ve been invited to open for Gnarls Barkley, Broken Bells and The National in the past.
MATTHEW GOOD – (free concert) Yonge-Dundas Square – 9:30-11:00pm: Everyone’s favourite a**hole. Even if you don’t like him or wish he were nicer, you obviously get a little emotional at “Apparitions”. Grown men will weep in the Dundas Square lights – I can feel it.
ZULU WINTER – Lee’s Palace – 2:00am: Grab your late night snack and a seat at Lee’s for this up-and-coming UK band’s dreamy alt-rock show. You’ll most definitely save a few calories by ditching the late night diner snacks for BBC’s favourite new tunes at last call; they’re danceable, experimental and surprisingly caked in emotion.
SATURDAY, JUNE 16th
THE FLAMING LIPS – (free concert) Yonge-Dundas Square – 9:00pm-11:00pm: Please go see one of the weirdest shows that contemporary psychedelic rock has to offer. You may get knocked with a gigantic inflatable ball or be blinded by confetti, but you’ll get to see “Do You Realize??” live – which makes most things of that nature worth it.
THE LUMINEERS – The Legendary Horseshoe Tavern – 11:00pm: I’ve been raving about this band to anyone who will listen, so I’m happy to have another forum to do it. They are incredible. This Colorado crew of revivalist Americana folksters have that lovelorn voyageur’s songwriting knack that’s launched genre companions like Mumford and Sons and the Head and the Heart – and I can only hope that their debut album adventure will soon bring them back to Ontario with more stories and even more sets in tow.
MATT MAYS – Lee’s Palace – 11:30pm: All the way back to his days as lead singer of the east coast country ruffians The , right up until he was radio rocker Matt Mays and El Torpedo – this raspy Canadian staple has never failed to put on a good show. Check out the bad boy’s live set to hear that mainstay growl and some sweltering Canadian alt-rock classics.
YOUNG EMPIRES – The Legendary Horseshoe Tavern – 12:00am: This indie dance-rock band caught my attention about six months ago, and I’ve been following their likeable harmonies and bright keyboards since, feeling like they were on the cusp of mainstream national acclaim. Hearing their Friendly Fires and Cut Copy-reminiscent beats, watching the blogosphere fork them in and learning they’ve nabbed a midnight spot at The Horseshow during Saturday of NXNE? I’d say they’re on their way.
Now go listen! For more information and the full line-up, visit http://nxne.com.