In my continuing coverage of NXNE, I reflect on the venue-hopping portion of the night (and I have the aching feet to prove it). From soaring vocals to drunkrock, Day 4 brought it all.
Settling into the Monarch Tavern to grab a solid vantage point for Mira Black (scroll down for review), I managed to arrive on time to catch Ottawa’s Estan. Crammed onto a stage far too small for an ensemble of their size, Estan soldiered on and made the best of things.
Estan are, compared to many of the artists I’ve seen this year, much more straight-forward in sound. Their straight pop-rock melodies peppered with prog-rock-esque guitar solos and keys reminiscent of Wintersleep are accented by vocal harmonies conjuring up lovely memories of Barenaked Ladies circa Gordon. There’s a definite throwback feel to their work: I found myself wavering between old Weezer and The Pursuit of Happiness, or perhaps The Killjoys in seeking an apt metaphor for my shorthand notes. Thoroughly enjoyable for a 90s teen.
Another of my must-see artists this year, Mira Black is a phenomenon. Electronic jazz landscapes with a dark undercurrent perfectly support her raw and frank reflections on love and heartache akin to Tori Amos’ Little Earthquakes. Melodies are delicate and sharply juxtapose with the powerful pipes of Mira, creating a delicious contradiction for the senses. Fuse the matter-of-fact sensibility of Ani Difranco with the dreamy rich emotionality of Kate Bush and then ask her to write a musical set in a lounge from decades gone by, and perhaps then it may be possible to imagine the unique passion of Mira Black’s work.
Even without her usual projections and stage show, Mira commands the attention of a crowd. Drawing comparisons to Barbra Streisand, Liza Minelli and Jennifer Rush, as well as the aforementioned Kate Bush, Mira’s voice is lush ivy that creeps across your heart, gently snaring it and refusing to relent. Mesmerizing and highly recommended!
High Heels Lo Fi
I’ve been a fan of High Heels Lo Fi for many years now, witness to the evolving line-up and sound of the self-proclaimed “drunkrock” band. Having that history with their work, I can testify to the fact that their current line-up is their strongest, their sound polished (well, as polished as one would want a drunkrock band to sound!) and their stage presence perfected.
Billed as “A drinking problem with a band”, High Heels Lo Fi is above pretension and Juno-catering depth. They’re here for a good time, not a long time, as the song goes, and before they’re through, they aim to get you dancing, singing and shouting along until the bartenders throw both band and audience into the streets. Rollicking good times are to be had, guaranteed. With songs that seem ripped from the best of Texts From Last Night, Cynthia, Mandy and Doug banter their way through confessions of pick-ups, sex and double entendres involving hockey.
As the band puts so eloquently (and accurately, “High Heels Lo Fi sounds like if Joan Jett was kicked out of the Ramones’ Rock n’ Roll High School for being drunk and acting like the class clown.” Fun, fresh and fearless, High Heels Lo Fi is to classic-sounding rock what LMFAO’s “Sexy And I Know It” is to mainstream electronic pop.
Oh yes, they are sexy, and you’ll know it. After all, it’s not a rock show until someone’s losing their clothes – on and off stage.
Bran Van 3000
Capping the night for me was the band that I must thank for my Priority Pass score. Who knew my love of 90s music would pay off so well? I set out and crammed my way into the Horseshoe Tavern, where hundreds of others, like me, wanted to be drinking in T.O.
I shouldn’t have to describe their sound to you: if you were alive in the 90s, you know their huge hit “Drinking In L.A.”. Random aside: I actually was drinking in California at 26, right before turning 27 – best birthday ever. Instead, let’s ask ourselves how the show actually was.
A riotous party best describes the forty-five minute set, with band members crammed onto the stage rapping, singing, playing and high-five-ing their way through song after song. Blending one track into another in a live DJ set, Bran Van 3000 delivered the feel-good drunken party in their return to the stage that launched them years ago. Confetti showered the crowd from the ceiling, our lovely female songstress was adorned in enormous glittery wings, and enormous balloon creations bounced on the hands of a cheering crowd. And yet, there was a serious moment or two: debuting a new song about the recent Montreal unrest, BV3000 sent out a cry for compassion and humanity.
All in all, the Horseshoe was a house party gone wild under the spell of Bran Van 3000 and every second perched on those uncomfortable side benches was worth the foot cramp.
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