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NXNE Music and Film Festival

by Lindsay Kyte

North by Northeast Music and Film Festival 2005, held in venues across Toronto June 7­12, began with self-important “volun-sneers” begrudgingly handing out media kits in bags that smelled like a new plastic pencil case from Bi-Way. Luckily, their “I’m in a purple shirt and who are you?” attitudes were no indication of what was to be a joyous, laidback celebration of Canadian independent music.

The Black Bull featured PEI’s The Little Pilgrims on June 10. Lead singer Dennis Ellsworth summed up the atmosphere of the night quite exquisitely in the phrase, “Fuck the jacket!” In the sweltering humidity of Toronto where you often feel like you live in a Ziploc container, bands and fans alike were dressed in as little as possible, drinking as much as possible and caring about anything but enjoying the music even less. The Pilgrims were private school chic in ties and short-sleeve button shirts, albeit sans jacket (see comment above). Their countrified-folky-rock sound had heads bobbing all over the Bull like it was Night at the Roxbury.

The next stop was the Horseshoe Tavern, where PEI’s Two Hours Traffic was playing. It was a little less jam-packed, but the crowd was every bit as appreciative of the smooth, catchy sounds of what one fan stated was “PEI’s answer to the Gin Blossoms.”

A trek up the street brought me to the Rivoli, where The Ladies and Gentlemen played resplendent in head to toe white garb reminiscent of the Glad Garbage Bag Man. This crowd was dancing its feet off, unmindful of the 30 degree humidity, a testament to this band’s funky, playful and engaging stage presence.

Because I may be a bit of a pyro, fire brought me racing back to the Black Bull where the action was not on stage, but outside. For the second year in a row, White Cowbell Oklahoma, who were not featured in NXNE 2005, performed on their very own flatbed truck and parked in front of patios all over Toronto. In order to get attention away from the stage and onto the truck, Cowbell started their act by featuring female fire twirlers in little tank tops and cowboy hats. The outfits were to attract the male quotient of the audience; the females were drawn by the thwarted majorette dream every girl still harbors in her heart of hearts.

As the truck pulled away, I strolled down to the Fox and the Fiddle where Toronto’s Chris Seldon was playing to a very sparse crowd. Here, my media kit earplugs came in handy. The room was the size of Baba’s with a sound system cranked up for a room the size of a school gymnasium. The few people braving hearing loss seemed to be close friends not concerned with eardrum blood leakage. Unfortunately, all I can say for this band is… “WHAT???”

My last stop was the Cameron House, a great intimate venue with two rooms of performance space. Playing in back was Five Blank Pages, a Mississauga band which included a female drummer and female bass player along with its male lead singer and other male various. This girl could groove on those drums and that girl could groove on that bass and both had voices that were sweet perfection in harmony. However, the lead singer was like vanilla pudding—it’s okay if he’s there and we wouldn’t miss him if he’s wasn’t. Unobtrusive, generic and forgettable. It is the girls in the groove who will make this band go far.

All in all, NXNE was a fun, easy time to hear new bands without their sleazy, schmoozy agents skulking about. There was no girl without her hair tied up by the end of the night, and no guy without a beer pressed against his forehead to chase away the heat. Celebrities lurking about ranged from This is Wonderland’s Cara Pifko to Zack Werner from Canadian Idol. I doubt we’ll be seeing any of these talented musicians crooning Elton John for Sass Jordan anytime soon. NXNE featured conferences, films and lots of exposure for hot new independent Canadian bands. Hot new talent that rocked Toronto on June nights hot enough to make a cactus sweat.

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