NXNE 2016: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

Well NXNE changed.
Yep; this year, organizers opted for a formula minimizing bar-hoping (which we used to… nay..WE STILL love so much) replacing it with a two-stage activity center where most of the shows occurred. Right off the bat, we made the $20 cab ride to “Port Lands” on Friday and we were thinking of sticking around, but the $9 beer, the weird set-up, and the lack of any real ambiance quickly made us second-guess our decision. SO, we took our disappointment, skipping the fake grass and puke puddles (how can 19-year-old kids afford such expensive beer anyway?) and forgot about all of it on the $20 cab ride back to smaller shows in cooler joints. WIN!

This edition was definitely not the most exciting one, unfortunately. Several cool venues known for hosting NXNE shows were no longer part of the deal and it severely amputated it from what this festival should’ve been. Realistically, the identity and the successes of the first few editions were anchored in the fact that it wasn’t a one-location fest. According to an ”inside source”, the many cooks in the organization’s kitchen could not seem to agree on what the event was and where the efforts should’ve been distributed. If this keeps going, believe us, NXNE will be no more in a few years.

STILL, a few acts really made us swoon regardless.

Matt Holubowski
You can say all you want about the popularity of The Voice (La Voix in Quebec), but once in a while it allows a talented artist who somehow fell through the cracks of the industry’s radar to get the visibility they deserve. Singer/songwriter Matt Holubowski is the perfect example, and we now all get to benefit from it. The indie folk artist is leaning more towards a rockish sound these days, backed by a solid band which includes beloved guitarist Simon Angell (Patrick Watson). He’s making serious waves in Quebec and after seeing him in action, we know why. Just wished more Toronto NXNE’er would have been there to admire. Shout out to his cover of Ray Lamontagne’s Burn. Acoustic perfection.

And then that damn layout of NXNE hit us… Again.  Everything was a cab ride away, and choosing your battles was becoming overly challenging.  To stay in the comfort of familiar pastures or stray away into the unknown ? Discoveries are the ultimately the goal, right? That, and a $15 martini in your hand apparently. So there we went for a leap of faith.

Ahhh and when discoveries happen, they take shape in the form of  Beyries (Amélie Beyries), who walked in, bare feet, white t-shirt, carefree, and accompanied by only one other person. I can’t lie; skepticism spread across my face. No drums, no band? I glanced at my NXNE schedule, but fear dissipated at the very first verse: a powerful voice; true, profound, real. One that gives you shivers.  She sang unequivocally, resting on her own beautiful melodies and the warm harmonies of the talented Audrey-Michèle Simard (Karim Ouellet). All of it was shared with a simplicity that shut everyone, especially the usual yappers in the room, right up. At The Drake, no less; a feat practically impossible to achieve. Sometimes you find a rare gem from your OWN hometown, all the way in Toronto. And not of us to fall into cliché comparisons that could offend, but her voice somewhat hints to tones from the likes of Sarah McLachlan, added with Melissa Etheridge’s power. MINUS the cheese. Mmmk, it’s hard to explain. Have a listen; probably for the best.

Michael Rault
We then hoped on over to the Horseshoe Tavern for Michael Rault, a now resident of the artsy Toronto scene who has built a solid and loyal fan base in his adoptive city. His first albums offered a more lo-fi head-bopping vibe which resulted in a dancy atmosphere during shows. Now, with his quite different – and awesome – more psychedelic Living Daylight, we were more than curious to witness the live delivery. The set was great, don’t get us wrong, and the guitar skills were on point. The hiccup? We really kind of wish we would’ve been dancing all over. We didn’t. Sad faces.

Kandle and The Krooks
NUMTL readers know we’ve been following this lady for quite some time now.  If we liked her back then, we LOVE her nowKandle has consistently been upping her game both in terms of delivery and performance, and she put on a show that made our visit to Toronto well worth the trip. The famously haunting tunes that make up her artistry’s DNA as WELL AS the surprisingly upbeat new songs coming out soon (Can. Not. Wait.) kept everyone hooked until the very end. Especially us,  sleepy / hungover / probably still drunk from the previous nights / hot messes that we were. Staying out for a show playing past midnight was a challenge, yet Kandle and her Krooks (who cannot seem to have an off night… ever) kept us on our feet. Thanks for that.