NXNE 2014 just came to a close after a full week of a bands, music, boats, beers and hipsters. I’ve started to dream of a world without hangovers but what I couldn’t live with is a world without NXNE. I wasn’t as familiar with the line up this year so I wasn’t as excited as years passed but as I started to attend the shows I remembered why I love this festival. NXNE has the most unique approach. Seeing live music can be made better or worst depending on the venue, NXNE kicks that up a notch by offering great live music in so many ways that you can see a band on a boat, in a park, on a rooftop, or at someone’s backyard BBQ. Your wristband is your key to the city, allowing you access to iconic venues like Massey Hall or festival days on Toronto island.
My festival spanned over a lot of shows and a lot of days but there were some key highlights, so here they are, in no particular order.
The Bruise Cruise
I discovered this beauty of a Saturday afternoon last year. The boat leaves at noon from the Toronto Harbourfront and features live shows all afternoon while you tour around the island in the open waters. The weather was beautiful and the drinks were good. The rush in the morning is always a pain in the ass, but it is 100% worth it the minute your sitting on the back of a boat, with a Caesar in hand, a breeze blowing and live music playing downstairs. Another plus is that the cruise is put on by M for Montreal, who always seem to have a stellar line up. This year we saw Hip Hop group, the Posters, Mac DeMarco‘s band and – a personal favourite – P.S. I love you.(Check out some P.S. I love you here)
Another amazing thing about NXNE is that your wristband gives you access to iconic venues like one of the best in the city, Massey Hall. We ventured over there to see Rhye. I have never experienced Massey Hall like this, with full access and open seating. We got there early and got some great seats, we also caught the amazing opener Kelela, who’s voice and control was reminiscent of Aaliyah. When Rhye hit the stage we knew we were in for a treat. Lead singer Michael Milosh has (as a good friend aptly put it) the voice of a goddamn angel. His unique and haunting voice held us captive from the moment he began to sing. The band behind him was solid and the sound of his voice interweaving with the cello, violin, keys, drums and guitar was truly something that could only be fully appreciated in a venue like Massey. We were supremely happy we made the show, even despite our disappointment over not getting into Future Islands later that evening.
Ain’t No Love at Yonge and Dundas Square
Another key thing about this festival that sets it a part are the live shows at Yonge & Dundas square. I don’t always love attending them as they are usually bombarded with people. That being said, the fact that NXNE brings amazing bands to play live, for free, in the centre of the city, is something special. I think that music is better live, and shared. And having great musicians like Spoon and Mac DeMarco play for free is pretty cool. While I caught Mac and Spoon at other venues, I did venture down to the Y&D stage for one particular band that I have heard a lot about, and mark my words – you soon will too. Hip Hop and R&B group Ain’t No Love took the stage on Sunday, they are made up of (as their website says) two MCs (1990 & Beanz) a producer (Love Thy Brother) and a singer, (Saldah Conrad). I immediately had a girl crush on Saldah, she is the kind of performer that you notice. Additionally, she did this squat move that made me very jealous and vow to start working out again. The trio – Beanz, Saldah and 1990 compliment each other in their styles and on stage play off each other in such a fun way – you kinda wish you were friends with them. The music was rock solid, upbeat and a ton of fun, all the while showcasing their musical talent. It was a great Sunday afternoon.
This M for Montreal event is an annual occurrence at NXNE and is one of the most unique parties I’ve been to. The BBQ takes place at a house on Manning street at Dundas and there are stages set up inside and out. The best part? The party is BYOB. So, like the classy lady I am, with a bottle of wine in hand and a couple of friends in tow we went to watch the music in someone’s random back yard, with the CN Tower glowing in the backdrop. The event was busy and fun and a real treat was hearing Kevin Drew’s (of Broken Social Scene) band KC Accidental play in such an intimate setting. I stuck around to chat with Kevin, and while he was a bit rude, it was still an amazing start to a night. From there we moved on to the Horseshoe Tavern and were lucky enough to catch the surprise show by Spoon.
The night was the epitome of the greatness of NXNE. No other festival brings the quality of bands to you in such different ways. Now that it is over – I will start counting down the days to next year’s festival.