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NXNE: The Review - Part I

I'm sitting here listening to The Dears playing on my mp3 player and still kicking myself for missing the chance to see them live this past week at the North By North East festival. I literally missed them by the minute due to an absent mind. Nevertheless, I made up for it with an awesome time at NXNE, seeing over a dozen of the 400+ participating bands this past weekend.

I'm already looking forward to next year. But between now and then, I'll keep myself well occupied with some new found faves and my trusty NXNE booklet (now coffee stained, crumbled, and missing some pages) listing all the bands I still haven't heard.

If you didn't get a chance to come out and join in the fun, perhaps this three-part review of the bands I saw will start you off on some new music.

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BEN SURES
One of the first bands to kick off NXNE in the earliest time slot (8PM) on Thursday night, the crowd was a modest one. A blessing in disguise, as the intimate environment at Holy Joe's and the small crowd was fitting for Ben Sure's music. I would describe it as having a heavy folk influence, but not limited to such. His smooth, melodic voice sang lyrics that paints images of dewy mornings spent on rusty old porches with a cup of coffee in hand and lone drives down empty cross-country highways. I passed him on the streets heading off to another show and was told he'll be moving down to Toronto come fall. Looking forward to another laidback show.

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SYLVIE
I guess the problem with a lot of these bands is not a lack of good songwriting, but a lack of stage presence and live sound. Sylvie was such a band. Hailing from Regina, Saskatchewan and nominated for a 2003 Western Canadian Music Award, they've built a loyal following. However, they failed to differentiate themselves from the rest of the "post-punk" crowd they claim to be a part of. If I spaced out for a second, I could almost hear them as one jumble of noise, with a little yelling here and there. Riva's voice was at times flat and didn't quite mix with Joel's screaming bars. I'd give their studio tracks a listen; I imagine they'd be fun playlist additions. But live? They'll need a little more work to win over fans.

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BRAD STELLA
Brad Stella is a good looking band. Hey, I couldn't help but notice! They've definitely got the rockstar good looks and Brad himself has an amazing voice. Smooth as butter, his voice at times reminds me of Jeff Martin of the Tea Party, Johnny Rzeznik of the Goo Goo Dolls, and Gordie Johnson of Big Sugar. They have good stage presence. As he grabs the mike down, his face drenched in sweat, I can almost see him on the big stage. Unfortunately, one thing killed the show. Where was the music? Where was the energy? Their set sounded like it was set on a 3 for volume and a zero for bass. For a rock band, you need rock hard music and you didn't get this with Brad Stella. Such potential made this set a disappointment.

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THE TUNA HELPERS
I've fallen in love with these three darlings from Austin, Texas. Nevever have I had so much fun watching a band live. They're crazy. Absolutely crazy! I felt like I had stepped into a dream world. The trio was dressed in red: tutus, glitter jumpsuits, ripped stockings, and witch boots. To the side was a puppet stage, where creepy siamese twin baby dolls, a possessed bunny rabbit, and a hankerchief ghost all made appearances. How does one describe their music? "Cruella Deville meets Mary Poppins meets Kate Bush" writes their postcard bio. Filled with everything from drums to orchestra samples to electric guitar, this is like a Disney movie backed by the Trans Siberian Orchestra. I suggest you check out their website and have a listen yourself. PS: Aren't those dolls creepy?

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THE MOST SERENE REPUBLIC
Hello CROWDED. Their album is set to release at the end of this month, their label's website tells the story of their blooming love but not much else, and the band members themselves are like me and you. They are friends of friends of friends. They look like the geek people made fun of in the school cafeteria. They look like the kid in your class who was nice, but not enough that you'd notice them beyond the fact that they were in your class and you had to do a school project with them last semester. You get the idea. Despite technical problems (with guitarist Emma Ditchburn's amp, by the looks of it. Although what do I know...) the show went on and frontman Adrian Jewett's commentary on the delay and a impromptu Coldplay rendition kept the audience entertained. Their sound is definitely in tune with the Arts & Crafts family with similar flavour as Broken Social Scene. But these kids are new and fresh and still have a lot of high school energy in them. I suggest you check out this not yet perfectly polished next big thing, despite any urges to be anti-hype. In June, this Milton, Ontario band will be touring with local radio hero Stars in the US.

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THE HIGH DIALS
A couple of years ago, I was handed some free CDs, one of which was the Datsons. The trio's unique blend of hippie-indie-pop-rock (you may not think it possible!) blasted in my room for days. I tucked into the back of my mind the wish to see them live. The Datsons are now The High Dials, a 5-piece band complete with bassist Rhisi Dhir's amazing sitar performance. Their act is polished; vocals and instruments are seamlessly fused together. There is so much energy on stage and no sound overshadows the other and this, I think, makes or breaks it. I want to hear, not see the vocalist singing and unlike a few other bands other the weekend, Trevor Anderson (vocals/guitar) and his mates delivered. I suggest you buy a ticket soon as they come back. Definitely not to be missed. HEAR ME??

First day was tiring, but went by fast. I went to bed knowing that by tomorrow night, I'll be knee deep in another night of show-hopping.

Apologies for the delay and Part Deux tomorrow!


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