Night three of NXNE: Friends get frisky at Lee’s, Matthew Good keeps the dream of the ‘90s alive at Yonge-Dundas Square, and more.
Daniel Woodrow (Lower Ossington Theatre, 8:50 p.m.): As hard as it is for a band to get on stage in front of a quietly expecting audience, a visit to a NXNE comedy showcase—this one was put on by Comedy Records—is a reminder that a stand-up comic can’t hide behind loud noises. It’s not an easy task for a comic to perform third out of a line-up of 15 acts, but Toronto native Daniel Woodrow was up for the challenge. A tall, gangly guy with black hair sticking up from all sides and a flat, almost monotone delivery, Woodrow established early on that he’s a “white man trapped in a black man’s body.” It’s a joke he returns to often (his website is danieliswhite.com), but he’s careful not to resort to the easy clichés comics often resort to when dealing with race. “Obviously I don’t carry a gun,” he quipped. “I look like a guy who carries a granola bar in case he’s hungry.”—Lara Zarum
B L A C K I E (Velvet Underground, 9 p.m.): Sad about the sudden cancellation of Sacramento noise-rap crew Death Grips from the NXNE line-up? Well, there was back-up plan for those of you whose festival experience would not be complete without seeing a sweaty, shirtless, heavily tattooed dude barking into the mic over gnarly, in-the-red beats. Setting up his massive wall of amps at the foot of the Velvet Underground stage, this ticking time-bomb from Houston, Texas spent his entire set raging with the machine on the venue’s floor, the 20-or-so onlookers forming a perimeter that expanded and contracted depending on how close the maniacal MC came up to them. It’s hard to make out anything in the way of hooks or beats within B L A C K I E’s brains-scrambling squall, but you have to be impressed by dude’s sense of commitment and self-belief—his set ends with an extended feedback drone during which B L A C K I E stops shouting and simply raises his hands in the air, as if he were attending a Sunday mass with a congregation of one. And lest you think there’s no method to this madness, the MC was quick to remind us at set’s end: ”My name is B L A C K I E—all caps, with spaces.” Clearly, someone’s been reading up on Google search-engine optimization.—Stuart Berman
Photo: Luc Rinaldi/The Grid
Matthew Good (Yonge-Dundas Square, 9:30 p.m.): “Can someone put Blade Runner up on those?” quipped Matthew Good between songs, pointing out to the massive screens that line the outside of the Eaton Centre. “I would stop playing and just watch.” Despite his request, the ads continued to stream. Finally, he conceded, “Apparently, I don’t have that power.” What he did have power over, though, was the crowd of a few thousand gathered at Yonge-Dundas Square on Friday night. Though it’s been a decade since he dissolved his successful eponymous band, Matthew Good has remained a relevant Canadian figure, both for his music and political activism. With a captivatingly raw and earnest hour-and-a-half-long set—largely composed of back-catalogue hits like “Weapon” and “Hello Time Bomb”—Good proved that his ’90s-era alternative rock still has its place in today’s evolving musical landscape–despite the fact that the vast majority of the bands at NXNE probably didn’t even exist when Good’s band was at its prime.—Luc Rinadli
DIIV (Lee’s Palace, 10 p.m.): For certain bands, a whole bunch of lyrics simply aren’t necessary. And they matter even less when you’re a rising shoegaze outfit eager to make a name for yourself. Newly renamed New York City four-piece DIIV (it used to be spelled the way it’s pronounced: “dive”) let their guitars do the talking before a packed and curious Lee’s Palace crowd, and the strings spoke volumes that words could never say. Clad in an instantly iconic green oversized sweater with the word “Malibu” emblazoned in boldface letters, bleached-blonde frontman Zachary Cole Smith cut the figure of a strummy beach bum, but he made sparing use of the lone mic, occasionally dropping hushed, reverb-washed melodies that served as mere background fodder for his 40-minute axe duel with bandmate Andrew Bailey. Over a series of crisp, rigid drumbeats, the duo spent the set reeling off one shimmering guitar line after another, and the stream of echoing riffs were bright and catchy enough to serve as a reminder that The Cure have returned (yet again) as a pervasive indie-rock influence. All of which made DIIV’s set feel more like a soundtrack than a show: minds were left free to wander on the cresting waves of guitars, checking back in to re-focus only when absolutely necessary. DIIV’s debut LP, appropriately titled Oshin, arrives on June 26. Here’s hoping it’s a mind-trip as blissful as this one.—Rob Duffy
Friends (Lee’s Palace, 11 p.m.): The new film Rock of Ages may be taking audiences on a hair-metal nostalgia trip back to 1987, but the spirit of a different part of the late-’80s is alive and well in Brooklyn group Friends. The buzzy band draws heavily on the dance-pop sounds of Paula Abdul, Neneh Cherry and, sometimes, even a little bit of early-period Madaonna, a combo that makes for breezy summer listening and a super-fun, carefree show. Those aforementioned influences are most evident in energetic frontwoman Samantha Urbani, whose chameleon-like voice shifts from Madge’s baby-doll squeak to grrl-power shouts in an instant—though often ecstatically punctuated by heavy-breathing beatboxing and high-pitched squeals. Her vibe suits the band—who come across as having way too much fun swapping instruments and piling on the auxiliary percussion (triangle anyone?)—and it’s one that almost immediately wins over the Lee’s crowd. Admittedly, Friends cherry-pick the best songs from their just-released debut, Manifest!, and even then, a few of them fall kind of flat. But by closing with the double high-five of “I’m His Girl” and “Va Fan Gor Du,” they secured a place in many hearts—at least for the rest of the summer.—Chris Bilton