The Flaming Lips get magical at Yonge-Dundas Square, Yukon Blonde rock the Horseshoe, and Bleached create a modern myth at the Silver Dollar.
The Flaming Lips (Yonge-Dundas Square, 9:30 p.m.): There’s something entirely magical about seeing the members of The Flaming Lips emerging from a massive, pulsating psychedelic vagina right in the heart of the billboard capital of Canada, Yonge-Dundas Square. It’s not just that the Lips’ own semi-circular videoscreen far outclassed all of the square’s blockbuster film and H&M-pimping video billboards, it’s that the intense imagery—the aforementioned band-birth, dancing naked ladies, crystal meth slogans—served as a reminder that no matter how popular The Flaming Lips have become, they’re still up for a good old fashioned freakout. And beyond the visual delights of frontman Wayne Coyne’s trademark bubble walk across the crowd (which somehow never gets old) and the expected explosion of streamers, confetti, and oversized slow-motion balloons, the band is still as musically surprising as ever, delivering the sonic equivalent of a three-day LSD trip. Between the distortion drenched opening of Black Sabbath’s “Sweat Leaf” and sludgy Embryonic track “Worm Mountain,” and the curiously-titled “Is David Bowie Dying?” from their recent collabostravaganza Heady Fwends, the packed-in crowd is treated to a healthy dose of the band’s noise-rock tendencies. But more than anything, the Lips know how to play to an audience: They make the best out of a tragic situation by paying tribute to the Downsview Park stage collapse with a brilliant cover of Radiohead’s “Knives Out” followed by their own existential classic “Waitin’ For A Superman.” The emotional impact of those tunes is trumped only by the epic sing-along for set-closer “Do You Realize?” which, with a combination of poignant lyrics confronting the inevitability of death and an unrelenting torrent of multi-coloured confetti being blasted over the crowd, is truly cinematic in every sense of the word. Birth, death, joy, sorrow, love, fear, all in one concert—really, it’s a shame that Toronto’s central public square isn’t used for this sort of show more often. —Chris Bilton
Yukon Blonde (Horseshoe Tavern, 10 p.m.): As a tweet so eloquently put it, there were two places to be on Saturday night: stuck in the crowd at Yonge-Dundas Square or waiting in line at the Horseshoe. Tucked away inside the latter venue, when Yukon Blonde front man Jeff Innes held up a big orange balloon in between songs (a gift from The Flaming Lips, apparently), those two scenes didn’t seem so far apart. A special addition to an already stellar lineup at the Horseshoe, the Vancouver indie-rockers delivered an energetic nine-song set featuring tracks from their self-titled album and the recently Polaris long-listed Tiger Talk. And as if the night needed any more special guests, the five-piece was joined midway through their set by Gavin Gardiner (The Wooden Sky) and Lowell Sostomi (Great Bloomers). Minutes after Yukon Blonde concluded their night with a performance of their single “Stairway,” Dine Alone label-mates The Lumineers took the stage, eventually capping off their set with an encore. With hundreds of shows featuring more than 700 bands—and yet another day of performances to come—it might be a bit of a stretch to say this was the best show of NXNE 2012, but it was also likely pretty close. —Luc Rinaldi
The Mark Inside (Gladstone Hotel, 11 p.m.): This Whitby band’s Saturday show felt more like a rowdy house party than a festival gig, especially given lead singer/guitarist Chris Levoir’s habit of playing his solos on the floor instead of the stage. Alternating fluently between sing-talking and sing-shouting, Levoir held full command of the room, dragging his mic stand down to the middle of the room for the last song, “Shots From A Broken Bottle,” off their latest album, Nothing to Admit. The Mark Inside are masters of controlled chaos, working their songs into a frenzy of distorted jams. The quartet has the manic energy of a group of toddlers set loose, using every song as an opportunity to play around—like Levoir using a beer bottle for a slide, or drummer Reade Ollivier battering his kit while standing on the drum stool like a feral animal. Despite the band’s wild antics, their set was polished and coherent. Keep your eyes out for these guys. —Lara Zarum
Bleached (Silver Dollar, 1 a.m.): The indie-rock buzz-o-meter works in mysterious ways, but after decades in the business, the Silver Dollar’s wily veteran promoter Dan Burke has officially mastered the ancient art of festival myth-making. His annual tradition of anointing one act with prime set times on the Thursday, Friday and Saturday of NXNE has produced a myriad of fond memories (recent history recalls standout three-nighters by Oholics, Strange Boys, and Crocodiles). The ploy worked flawlessly yet again this year for Los Angeles garage-pop sister act Bleached, with word-of-tweet creating such anticipation that even the chosen Priority Pass holders were left stranded on the street, staring solemnly up at the Hotel Waverly façade. Inside, Jennifer and Jessica Clavin were unleashing their best set of the fest, leaving all lazy Best Coast comparisons in their wake (because, really, Bethany Cosentino wishes she could rock this fast and furious). Their skillful combination of rollicking ‘60s pop and snarling ‘70s three-chord punk won’t score any points for originality, but their dangerously addictive “Electric Chair” and freewheeling cover of The Ramones’ “Today Your Love, Tomorrow The World” are simply too much fun for anyone to care. The healthy mosh pit that broke out towards the end of their criminally short 27-minute set was the perfect end to a memorable weekend, wringing the last ounces of energy out of the crowd, and creating another legend of NXNE past. —Rob Duffy