Another NXNE bites the dust. A thousand bands rolled through town over the past five days like a conquering army, but our reviewers Aaron Brophy, Melody Lau and Marwa Hamad not only survived the onslaught, we wrote about it, too.

Here's a round up of the best shows we saw at 2013's NXNE music festival. And now it's time for us to bite the dust, too.


Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Brendan Croskerry (Monarch Tavern)
Normally the opening of slot of the Monarch Tavern' Wednesday night showcase wouldn't rate much scrutiny, but Halifax-bred campfire singer Brendan Croskerry was a uniquely curious prospect considering his day job as a newly-hired member of embattled Toronto mayor Rob Ford's staff. Any hopeful car crash rubbernecking was done away with pretty quickly as Croskerry's Jack Johnson rock was entirely competent if a little bit on the don't-leave-him-alone-in-a-room-with-your-girlfriend vibe. About the worst thing one could muster about Croskerry is there's a solid 15 percent Dan from "Veep" thing going on with him. —AB

The Box Tiger (The Supermarket)
The Toronto-based quartet brought a fun, youthful air with them to the Supermarket, with 23-year-old vocalist Sonia Sturino rocking out on her baby blue electric guitar, complete with its charming bright pink cable. The deliberate staccato bursts of Sturino’s voice were interspersed by the occasional punchy wail, reminiscent of the eccentric likes of singer-songwriter Amanda Palmer. Despite the band’s claims that their 12AM time slot was way past their bedtimes, they had an infectiously bouncy on-stage presence, and that -- along with their grotty guitar sounds and guttural rhythm section -- was enough to keep most the crowd moving on their feet. —MH


Thursday, June 13

Coeur de Pirate (The Great Hall)
Québécoise singer-songwriter Beatrice Martin -- popularly known as Coeur de Pirate -- took the stage solo Thursday night at the packed Great Hall. Despite having bronchitis, Martin’s soothing, throaty voice and dreamy piano progressions sated the crowd; the singer even performed a lullaby passed on by her father that she now croons to her own toddler. Chatty audience members and competing music from the venue below were an unfortunate disturbance amidst the otherwise intimate performance. Lacking a few hits, the show was ultimately cut short due to Martin’s illness, but it was a predictably sweet and charming journey while it lasted.—MH

Braids @ Comfort Zone
Debuting a number of new songs from their new EP and upcoming album, Braids took this chance to test out a new sound and set up. Heavily reliant on electronics as opposed to guitars now, the three-piece still maintained their hypnotically captivating sense of hazy dream-pop melodies. Its intricacies are technically and sonically a step-up from their previous works and just left us wanting much, much more. —ML

Quiet Company (The Rivoli)
Beastly beards, black bow ties, and pressed vests are exactly what you’d expect from an indie quintet like the Quiet Company. The Texas-based band delivered a quaint performance of powerpop with a hint of a distinguishing edge, drawing on the familiar sounds of 60s rock’n’roll without sounding like an overwrought tribute band. In between lilting guitar hooks and summer-ready lyrics about near-endless devotion, the boys charmed the crowd with gems like declaring Toronto similar to New York, “but doesn’t smell like shit” (they clearly haven’t spent enough time in the city, but it’s the thought that counts). —MH

DIANA @ Horseshoe
The Toronto four-piece continues to gain momentum for the August release of their debut album, Perpetual Surrender. Fronted by singer Carmen Elle, her dream-like vocals soar atop icy cool layers of synths, pulsating beats and the occasional saxophone solo. A dynamic and always tight performance, DIANA has become a permanent best bet for any festival. —ML

Blue Hawaii @ Comfort Zone
Raph and Agor of Blue Hawaii play the part of DJs more than musicians when they perform live. A steady balance of improvisation and carefully calculated samples and transitions, Blue Hawaii songs are barely recognizable. That’s what keeps their sets constantly interesting, though, and will continue to draw dance and indie-rock enthusiasts back. —ML


Friday, June 14, 2013

Majical Cloudz @ Sneaky Dee’s
Battling a cold, Majical Cloudz’ Devon Welsh forewarned the audience that this would become a game of watching the singer’s voice deteriorate throughout the set as much as it was a performance. But, with Majical Cloudz, every set they play is a combination of spectacles, both musical and non-musical. Regardless of vocal problems, Welsh and bandmate Matthew Otto tore through a set of minimalistic charm and spellbinding emotions. —ML

Blowfly (Horseshoe Tavern)
There are few things more weird than a 74 black man hobbling around on stage in a sequined superhero costume, pointing his uncomfortably long-nailed fingers at women in the audience, then telling them what he was going to do to them sexually. But that was exactly what musical comedian Blowfly did for 40 minutes of gleefully politically incorrect soul funk. There were dick jokes by the hundreds and blasphemous reworkings of classics like Sam & Dave's "Soul Man" into the lewd "Ho Man" and Sam Cooke's "Chain Gang" into a singalong about gay prison sex. By the end of Blowfly's set there was no orifice — male or female — that hadn't been violated in bizarrely detailed song form. And it was amazing. —AB

By Divine Right (St. James Park)
Downtown's St. James Park has been ground zero for the Occupy Toronto movement so it was rather appropriate that "Hugger Of Trees" hippie rockers By Divine Right would claim the park's central gazebo for a free afternoon show. The latest BDR incarnation — currently a three-piece — leaned in a dangerously unhinged Pavement direction, but the feel-good-lost vibe of buzzy rock 'n' roll amidst the greenery made up for most sonic shortcomings. —AB

Unbuttoned (Gladstone)
A promising four-piece electro pop R’n’B act, Toronto’s own Unbuttoned was the perfect fusion of enthralling synth fills, velvety guitar solos, a tight rhythm section and the bold tones of their two lead vocalists. Kamilah Apong and Casey MQ each brought something fresh to the table: Apong with her syrupy range and ability to hold a note long enough to send chills, and MQ with his smoky timbre and tendency to belt out falsetto when you least expect it. The band’s set was built mostly around their May 2012 EP, but they debuted a song off their upcoming record with a single question for the crowd: should we keep recording our second album? The response was a resounding yes.—MH


Saturday, June 15, 2013

Villagers (Sidedoor @ Soho House)
All the way from Ireland, Villagers’ frontman Conor O’Brien had two distinct performances at NXNE this year: one as a solo act, and the other with his full band for the first time in Toronto. Though each had their high points, his stand-out slot had to be the stripped-down show he did sans band at the packed-to-capacity Sidedoor. His clear, haunting timbre, perfectly-timed tortured bellows and the resonant sounds of his handcrafted Yairi guitar filled the room with emotion. Though O’Brien looked more in his element during Villagers’ full-band, high-energy performance later that night, his poignant storytelling seemed to hit hardest in the acoustics of a small venue, with no drums or electric guitar to overshadow it. —MH

Catl (Horseshoe Tavern)
Blues exploders Jamie Fleming and Sarah Kirkpatrick used this Horseshoe show as a coming out party for the new two piece incarnation of Catl. It was all Cramps stomp and fiery rave ups from the pair, with Fleming prowling the stage guitar a-swingin' and Kirkpatrick thumpin' away on her standup drum kit. The stage banter "y'all" the pair has picked up from a recent tour of the deep south was pretty cute too and it was just the right touch to make their brimstone rock 'n' roll feel that much more authentic. —AB

Ryan Hemsworth @ BLK BOX
A basement heat wave is the perfect way to experience a Ryan Hemsworth set. DJing to a mass of half-naked festival goers, Hemsworth chopped and remixed tracks, such as Britney Spears and Kendrick Lamar, at lightning speed that kept the audience on their feet the whole night. People left sans shirts, drenched in each other’s sweat in one of the week’s most intensifying and euphoric shows. —ML

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Mickey Avalon (Yonge-Dundas Square)
One of the boldest choices NXNE programmers made this year was to have trash rapper Mickey Avalon kick off the free Sunday hip-hop showcase at Yonge-Dundas Square. After all, tales of small-time hustling, scoring heroin and the gymnastic abilities of one's penis ("My Dick") aren't exactly family-friendly fare. Still, Avalon was received with perfectly defining Toronto politeness — some trashy young ladies up front shimmied, some homeless dudes ran through the crowd rocking out, and a smattering of slightly confused grannies seemed hypnotized by the whole spectacle. —AB

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  • Wednesday, June 12- Calexico @ Mod Club

    Americana indie rock outfit Calexico is one of the highlights of NXNE's opening night. Having been around for over a decade now, the Arizona rockers have developed a solid live show that will surely showcase their full discography, especially their latest release, 2012's "Algiers."

  • Wednesday, June 12- Mozart's Sister @ Rivoli

    Mozart's Sister frontwoman Caila Thompson-Hannant takes off from where Grimes left off. Also hailing from Montreal, and familiar from past work with Think About Life and Shapes and Sizes, Thompson-Hannant takes subjects like anxiety and turns them into confident electro-pop anthems ready for the dark dance floors.

  • Wednesday, June 12- GROUNDERS @ Horseshoe Tavern

    This Toronto band is still relatively new, but their debut EP "Wreck of a Smile," which came out in March, is already showing glimmers of prospect. The five-piece's jangly indie pop borrow the most infectious parts of Grizzly Bear and Beach House and make it their own melodic confection. The band has landed an opening slot touring with The Besnard Lakes, but will return to their hometown for a show at the Horseshoe Tavern.

  • Thursday, June 13- Braids, Blue Hawaii, Sean Nicholas Savage, Paula @ Comfort Zone

    Arbutus Records has become one of Montreal's biggest exports of talent in the past couple of years (Grimes being the label's most notable star), so their showcase at NXNE will be the place to go and scout out what the label has in store for us. With a new record on its way this summer, Braids will most likely preview new material here, and lead singer Raphaelle Standon-Preston will be pulling double duty that night with her other more electronic/DJ-based project, Blue Hawaii.

  • Thursday, June 13- Beliefs @ Handlebar

    Toronto shoegaze rockers Beliefs have been gradually making a name for themselves locally and internationally for a few years now. Having nabbed opening slots for the likes of A Place to Bury Strangers, Porcelain Raft, The Men and Beach Fossils, Beliefs have been winning over audiences with their hooky dream-pop glazed with distorted, reverb-laden guitars.

  • Thursday, June 13- Mikal Cronin @ Silver Dollar

    Best known for his work with the prolific Ty Segall (both collaborating with and playing for), Mikal Cronin has gained quite the recognition with his two solo albums as well. His latest release, "MCII," has been called "his most fully realized, beautifully arranged, and well-crafter work to date," by Pitchfork, garnering a Best New Music badge and he is easily catching up with Segall with a steadily growing catalog of ace material. Cronin will be headlining not one, but three nights at the Silver Dollar (Thursday, Friday and Saturday) last year so plenty of opportunities for showgoers to work him into your busy schedule.

  • Thursday, June 13- Dan Deacon, DIANA, Merchandise, Moon King, Nu Sensae @ Horseshoe Tavern

    There is a little something for everyone at the Horseshoe Tavern's Thursday night line up – experimental dance parties by Dan Deacon, synth art-pop by DIANA, an amalgamation of both by Moon King and straight-up punk by Merchandise and Nu Sensae. A show that will undoubtedly be an attack on senses and leave showgoers tired and satisfied.

  • Thursday, June 13- Kashka @ Wrongbar

    Forest City Lovers frontwoman Kat Burns has been hard at work ever since the band split up last year. Now incorporating electronics into her songwriting, her folk spirit is still very much intact, but she now morphs the two together into a brand Burns has named "folkpoptronica," which is even catchier and more successful than the word suggests.

  • Friday, June 14- The National @ Yonge-Dundas Square

    Marked as one of the marquee events of the festival, The National is set to perform at Yonge-Dundas Square for free this year, promoting their latest release, "Trouble Will Find Me." Lead singer Matt Berninger is known for his live antics, which often involve the singer hopping into the audience, so it will definitely be interesting to see how he will pull that off in this type of venue. If Wayne Coyne could crowd surf in a bubble last year, we have faith that Berninger will figure something out.

  • Friday, June 14- Absolutely Free @ Drake

    Fans of Toronto punk rockers DD/MM/YYYY didn't have much time to mourn the band when they broke up in 2011. Instead, four of the five members quickly rebounded with a new band called Absolutely Free, who packs just as much of a punch on record and onstage as their previous project.

  • Friday, June 14- AroarA @ Silver Dollar

    Andrew Whiteman is arguably one of Broken Social Scene's brightest, and possibly underrated, stars. Since the band's hiatus, Whiteman has yet to revive his band Apostle of Hustle, but he has teamed up with his wife Ariel Engle to create AroarA, a literary folk project that proves to be just as intriguing as any of Whiteman's previous works.

  • Friday, June 14- The Luyas, Sean Nicholas Savage, Brazos @ Sneaky Dee's

    Montreal's eclectic music makers are best represented by long-running art rockers, The Luyas. Still riding the success of their perfectly artful 2012 release, "Animator," the band will be joined by Arbutus Records' Sean Nicholas Savage and Dead Oceans labelmates, Brazos at Sneaky Dee's on Friday.

  • Saturday, June 15- Dusted @ The Garrison, St. James Gazebo

    When he's not busy working on various projects, including an upcoming new album with Holy Fuck, Brian Borcherdt has been riding the success of his other project, Dusted, and his 2012 release, "Total Dust." Decidedly different from the electronic structures of his work with Holy Fuck, Dusted is a quieter affair, with Borcherdt often performing with one or two other members, but that doesn't make his shows any less compelling. Borcherdt's simplistic setup leaves room for the spotlight to show off his impeccable songwriting skills and infectious riffs, something that should be seen and heard on record and live.

  • Saturday, June 15- Fucked Up, Iceage, White Lung, CATL, Soupcans, Single Mothers, The Archives @ Horseshoe Tavern

    If you've got some pent up aggression in you, then Saturday night's lineup at the Horseshoe Tavern is the place to be. A great taste of punk music, both locally and internationally, headliners Fucked Up (Toronto), Iceage (Denmark) and White Lung (Vancouver) are spectacular showmen (and women) who know how to get a room riled up and sweaty with heavy music that's celebratory, cathartic, angry and just pure entertainment.

  • Saturday, June 15- Majical Cloudz, Ryan Hemsworth, Eight and a Half, Chad Valley, _8IO Feat. Byron Wong/Dave Hamelin @ BLK BOX

    If guitars aren't your thing, BLK BOX's big names, Montreal 's Majical Cloudz and local DJ Ryan Hemsworth, will surely fill your electronic needs. Hot off the release of his Merge Records debut release, "Impersonator," Majical Cloudz delivers a compelling live show that's more dynamic than his recorded material and is something that can win over both fans and newcomers to Devon Welsh's music.

  • Saturday, June 15- Villagers @ Great Hall, Sidedoor at The Soho House

    Irish singer-songwriter, Conor O'Brien a.k.a. Villagers, released a new album earlier this year entitled {Awayland} and has since fully embraced the idea of a full band as opposed to being a solo artist. For those who have only seen this O'Brien solo, or just for those who have never seen Villagers live, the full-band treatment will be something worth seeing.

  • Sunday, June 16- Ludacris, Smif N' Wessun, Mikey Avalon, Joey Bada$$, Fat Tony, Deniro Farrar @ Yonge-Dundas Square

    For several years now, NXNE has ended their festival with a final free concert at Yonge-Dundas Square featuring some of hip hop's biggest names. In the past, we've seen Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, Killer Mike and Action Bronson take the stage and this year promises to be equally as star-studded as Ludacris is joined by up-and-comers Joey Bada$$ and Mikey Avalon.

  • Sunday, June 16- MuchMusic Video Awards

    Though not a NXNE-affiliated event, the MuchMusic Video Awards always coincide with the music festival and draws equally as many music fans, if only more concentrated in one specific place. Located at the MuchMusic headquarters at Queen Street West and John Street , the annual event is guaranteed to shut down streets as fans swarm the outdoor stages for a number of performances. So far, this year's show will include performance by Ed Sheeran, Avril Lavigne, Classified, Serena Ryder and Demi Lovato as well as Korean entertainer Psy, who is also co-hosting.