Night two of NXNE: The Men get menacing, A Place to Bury Strangers unleash the noise, and Purity Ring light up the night.
Planet Creature (Silver Dollar Room, 8 p.m.): Planet Creature’s show was scheduled too early on a sunny day to attract enough people, but the Toronto band, which recently released its first full-length album, made up for the lack of audience with an extra helping of noise. The five girls of Planet Creature all sang either lead or backing vocals, while two electric guitars put up a wall of sound around fierce, tight drums and playful keyboard melodies; kind of like Wild Flag with more snarl. The vocal harmonies sounded good when you could hear them, particularly on a rocking cover of The Bangles’ “Walk Like an Egyptian” that replaced the original’s sly mischievousness with blunt punk attitude. Their live performance still hasn’t quite fulfilled the promise of their recordings, but then, that’s the fun of watching a local band grow up right in front of you. —Lara Zarum
Husky (The Great Hall, 10 p.m.): As Husky Gawenda shaded his eyes to look out over the crowd on Thursday night, he would’ve seen no more than a few dozen NXNEers scattered across a vast venue floor. It was clear: two roads had diverged in The Great Hall, and sorry they could not travel both, the bulk of the crowd headed to the lower level show. Those who chose the road less travelled and wound up in the upper venue, however, were treated to the tunes of Gawena’s appropriately-titled band, Husky: a Melbourne, Australia four-piece with enough facial hair to back up their name. The group’s set—littered with spot-on harmonies and clever key changes—felt reminiscent of Fleet Foxes with a hint of The Shins (after all, the group is the first Australian act to be signed to Sub Pop). Though they won over what little crowd there was, the group was probably more accustomed to the scene just a couple floors below: a packed auditorium where, among others, Daniel Romano of Attack in Black delivered a collection of country melodies. It might make you wonder why some of those festivalgoers hadn’t climbed the few flights of stairs to catch Husky’s performance earlier in the evening. Perhaps they were just wistful Attack in Black fans hoping for a throwback performance of “Young Leaves.” Can you blame them? —Luc Rinaldi
The Men (The Garrison, 1 a.m.): There is no irony or cheek to that name. The Men are indeed a band of four long-haired/tattooed (or some combination of the two) men who appear to have hailed from some ungentrified, Scorsesean part of New York City. And they approach indie-rock as if it were a knife fight: stay on the offensive, don’t stop till you draw blood, and, most importantly, stay quick on your feet to keep your opponent guessing. The band just released their widely acclaimed third album, Open Your Heart, three months ago, but you’d barely know it from this last-call gig at The Garrison: A good three quarters of the set featured brand-new material, suggesting these dudes already have another record in the can. And where Open Your Heart‘s more tuneful focus marked a great leap from the aggro psych-punk of 2011′s breakthrough Leave Home, the new songs go even further down a classic-rockin’ path, introducing proper choruses, backing harmonies, and Crazy Horse-style guitar jams. (The vocal contributions of new bassist Ben Greenberg have also been more seamlessly integrated into The Men’s new milieu than those of his cantankerous, phlegm-spewing predecessor Chris Hansell.) But The Men have bolstered their sense of melody without sacrificing an ounce of menace; the more refined hooks provide a more effective means with which to chisel their noise into the perfect power chord. And when guitarist Mark Perro strapped on a harmonica late into the set, it wasn’t to tease out the country/blues influences introduced on Open Your Heart; he was simply adding more skronk to the squall. Just call ’em Bruise Traveler. —Stuart Berman
The Men play Wrongbar (1279 Queen Street West, #PRK) Friday, June 15 at midnight.
A Place to Bury Strangers (photo: Chris Bilton/The Grid)
A Place to Bury Strangers (El Mocambo, 1 a.m.): Two songs into A Place to Bury Strangers’ late-night/early-morning set at the El Mo, bandleader Oliver Ackermann flails his guitar overhead, then, through the fog of dry ice and distortion buzz, slams his white Jaguar down onto the stage. It will remain there through the duration of their performance—Ackermann switches to a black Jazzmaster for the rest of the set—a reminder that theirs is a style of music that requires the occasional sonic sacrifice. Indeed, the Brooklyn noise aficionados, backed by massive Marshall stacks and an army of self-made effects pedals (Ackerman runs the effects pedal company Death By Audio), aren’t here to charm the audience, but to deliver us to a state of enlightenment through punishing volume. Tracks from their excellent second album Exploding Head, like “In Your Heart” and “Deadbeat,” are jacked to levels far too dangerous for home-stereo consumption, while the occasional lengthy noise jam crashes against the packed-in crowd like an epic tidal wave. Right around the time Ackermann trounces his Jaguar, the video images being projected onto the face of his amplifier cabinet are of ballet dancers mid-routine. The pirouettes seem somewhat incongruous within the noise and violence of APTBS’ performance, but they stand a reminder that even beautiful and delicate art forms often require intense physical suffering. In other words, A Place to Bury Strangers make an exquisite racket. —Chris Bilton
Purity Ring (photo: Rob Duffy/The Grid)
Purity Ring (Wrongbar, 1 a.m.): If there’s a knock on the current generation of indie-electro artists, it’s that their live performances often seem to lack the obvious feeling of passion and skill that’s so evident with traditional instruments—it’s not easy to rock out while you’re engrossed in an epic marathon of furious knob-twiddling. Purity Ring instrumentalist Corin Roddick has vanquished this challenge, however, by designing his own light-up, glow-in-the-dark drum machine that allows him to turn the now-ubiquitous Ableton Live sequencer into a dazzling sensory experience. As Roddick used a pair of mallets to bring the band’s twitchy lullabies to glorious neon life, the dense, sweat-soaked Wrongbar crowd throbbed slowly in unison, transfixed by the light, Instagramming like their lives depended on it. The band’s live show turns Purity Ring’s dynamic on its head, with Roddick’s wizardry leaving singer Megan James (whose delicately catchy vocals sit front and centre in the recorded mix) as a mere sideshow. Scattered cries went up as the band broke into recent blog-hits like “Obedear” and “Lofticries,” but the crowd mostly stood stunned and silent, basking in the simple magic of flashing neon lights. —Rob Duffy