NXNE 2017: Day 3—Rain then Shine

By Zack Goldstein, Featured Photo via Complex

Following a Sunday morning and afternoon filled with wild and unpredictable weather changes, featuring bouts of hail, rain, and the sunshine, I made my way down to the NXNE festival grounds in hopes of clear skies for the evening. Last year, I was disappointed by the set up at the Port Lands, as it was essentially a parking lot with a couple food trucks and porta-potties scattered between the two stages. However, this year I had higher expectations, as a number of additions were promised to both entertain patrons and occupy the pavement. These included free midway rides, more food trucks and vendors, carnival games, a comedy tent, and even a water refill station – an essential for summer festival goers. Nonetheless, upon entrance, I was once again disappointed, as an aura of post-apocalyptic emptiness filled the space.

I made my way around the area and noticed that no one was in line for the rides or carnival games, the VIP section consisted of a tent with streamers, a bathroom trailer, and about ten picnic benches spread out over a relatively small, gated off space, and a poorly placed Comedy Tent that featured a maximum occupancy of 15 to 20 people at any given moment. I was initially intrigued by the Comedy Tent, as it provided guests with a chance to sit down, cool off and enjoy some local entertainment between sets. However, it was poorly planned and executed in a spatial sense, as comedians were forced to battle with the excessive noise pollution of the two wacky inflatable arm flailing tube men guarding the entrance, two mist machines from the adjacent Sephora tent, as well as clashing sounds from bands on each stage. The lacklustre setup and fluctuant weather appeared to have contributed to a significantly diminished number of attendees at this year’s festival and so it was up to the musical performers to salvage the final day of NXNE and leave fans with something to remember.

I made my way over to the Canal Stage and joined the awaiting fans of British Columbia’s own Yukon Blonde. Not knowing much about the five-piece indie rock band, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was fascinated to see that each member had a vocal microphone set up by their respective places on stage. As the band drew in one of the biggest crowds of the day, I grew excited to hear what Yukon Blonde had to offer. Kicking off their set with “Confused” from their latest album, On Blonde, my attention was immediately grabbed by the upbeat, vibrant, and catchy melodies paired with the energetic stage presence of lead man Jeff Innes. The instrumentation escalated and the texture thickened through the pre-chorus until each member joined in the chorus to create a beautifully set, five-part vocal harmony. A smile appeared on the face of every member of the audience and a subtle warmth washed over the crowd with each chord change. Throughout the entirety of the set, Yukon Blonde maintained and built upon this energy, featuring duelling guitar lines between Innes and Brandon Scott (backup guitar), intricate bass lines, synth parts reminiscent of a Tame Impala-esque sound, and crowd sing-alongs. Closing with “My Girl” off their record Tiger Talk, Innes belted out the final chorus over and over again, each time growing louder as the crowd cheered him on until he let out one final, impassioned scream. While I may not have been familiar with Yukon Blonde before Sunday, I, and I’m sure many others, left this set as a fan of the Canadian indie rockers and excited to hear more.

Immediately following Yukon Blonde was a performance at the Skyline Stage from The Soul Rebels, featuring world-renowned and critically acclaimed rapper Talib Kweli. The eight-piece New Orleans-based brass band has been known for their collaborations with the hip-hop community, having worked with artists like Nas, Joey Bada$$, Black Thought (of the Roots), and GZA. The group has even been considered “the missing link between Public Enemy and Louis Armstrong,” by Village Voice. When the band launched into their first number, the crowd was immediately captured by the infectious groove, anchored by sousaphonist Manuel Perkins Jr., percussionists Derrick Moss and Lumar Leblanc, and led by saxophonist, Erion Williams. Seamlessly, Williams handed off a nasty solo to lead trumpet, Marcus Hubbard, who captured the motif of his bandmate’s sax and distorted it into his own creation.

Subsequently, each member of the ensemble was introduced through a series of awe-inspiring solos and afterwards, offered up a verse of either rap or song, resulting in an audible “Daaaaamn” from a large group in the crowd. From the moment the set started, this group was locked in, as they emitted and displayed a truly organic level of chemistry. To pay tribute to Phife Dawg, the late member of A Tribe Called Quest, The Soul Rebels performed “Can I Kick It?”. After this, the group began their introduction of Talib Kweli, playing the track “My Time” off their latest album, Unlock Your Mind. Kweli emerged and immediately commanded the stage. He wasted no time as he started spitting rhymes with unmatchable rhythmic and technical skill, seamlessly latching on to the sound and style of the Rebels. Watching on, all I could think was that this set was hands down one of the most astonishing collaborative performances that I had ever witnessed. In between songs, Talib shouted, “Hip-Hop is about moving your entire fuckin’ existence! Now put ya hands up!” and as I looked around, not a single person was standing still, utterly mesmerized by the commanding stage presence and energy of this hypnotic, groove inducing tag team.

Next up, Passion Pit took to the stage to close the three-day Port Lands festival. The group is an indietronica band based out of Cambridge, Massachusetts consisting solely of writer and lead singer, Michael Angelakos, who performs live with Chris Hartz (drums), Aaron Harrison Folb (bass/synthesizers), Giuliano Pizzulo (guitar/synthesizers), and Ray Suen (guitar/synthesizers). Going into this set, I was unfamiliar with Passion Pit, but as the entirety of the day’s attendees gathered in anticipation, I couldn’t help but get excited. From the first song, Angelakos’ sporadic and spastic dancing gave off almost a teenage energy, engaging the crowd as they attempted to follow his rhythm. The best way to describe the performance was that it was simply fun. Not knowing the music very well didn’t seem to hinder my experience at all. Songs like “Take a Walk,” “Sleepyhead,” and “Lifted Up (1985)” were accessible, engaging, and easy to dance to regardless of my prior familiarity with the band’s sound. However, during many parts of the set, the balance was uneven, as drummer Chris Hartz constantly overpowered Angelakos, beating his kit with enough force to put a hole through the toms. Throughout the show, this resulted in points of vocal vulnerability being completely silenced due to Hartz’ inability to listen and adjust his volume accordingly. It’s easy to play loud, but being able to maintain that same energy and play softly ultimately results in a more rewarding musical payoff for both the performers and the audience. While this may have been disruptive at times, Passion Pit was a great band to close the festival. Their vibrant, colourful, and bubbly energy left fans smiling, feeling good, and hopefully itching to come back to NXNE next year.

 

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