Review: Friday Night at NXNE

A heavy cloud of darkness drifted over downtown Friday afternoon when Swans played Yonge and Dundas. I approached the square after they had already started, and it really did sound like the world was about to end. It seems their latest record, To Be Kind, is at the top of every list out there (mine included), so I was excited to see this show. I saw an obvious fan who shared in my anticipation with his two young daughters. “Do you like it?” he asked the younger of the two. She shrugged. “Don’t worry”, said the older girl. “Give it a minute and you will.” Great advice.

Michael Gira croon-shouts like a brawny dragon breathing fire in a public square and the band fills every available space with creepy wails of sound. They have two drummers, one of whom played a bass drum solo that I felt vibrating in my throat. A clarinet, which has never sounded so badass, and what I think was a vibraphone even made an appearance. Their set was dense and full of doom – I loved every minute of it.

St. Vincent followed Swans with her supremely cool avant-rock. She really has it all: funky beats, wicked style, mind-boggling guitar solos and a distinct voice. Her high notes were particularly beautiful, ringing out in the (somewhat) fresh air.

There was a guitar standoff between St. Vincent and Toko Yasuda in “Birth in Reverse” that was seriously prodigious. Their coordinated choreography is like none-other. She takes rhythmic ballet-style ‘tiny steps’ across the stage in one song, rolls backwards down a set of stairs in another and brings every word to life with her facial expressions. St. Vincent performs from the top of her cornrows to the bottom of her feet. “Bring Me Your Loves” ended the set and it was so good I could barely stand it. She nailed the guitar riff with such a grizzly and edgy tone that the crowd was worked into a frenzy! She is polished, gutsy and always puts on a glorious show.

I ended Friday night at The Mod Club with rapper Danny Brown. His beats are outside of the regular hip-hop formula and his voice is bizarre and stings a little bit – in a good way. His lyrics tell tales about being a Detroit crack dealer, urban decay, smokin’ and drinkin’ and, of course, drinkin’ and smokin’. That sound didn’t sound at all like the major bummer the lyrics actually depict. The whole crowd bobbed in unison and called back the words.

Danny Brown was unbelievable, but opener, Le1f, stole the show! He is high-energy and his words don’t hold back . He is undoubtedly colourful with his poppin’ dance moves, remarkably fast rhymes and neon hair. He is catchy enough for the mainstream while maintaining enough quirk to keep standing out. I can’t get enough!

My NXNE ended early but on the highest of high notes! Thank-you to NXNE for a fantastic week of amazing music!

Hilary Johnston
Hilary Johnston is a writer, event manager and musician from Toronto.
Hilary Johnston