NXNE Day 3: The Balconies, The Beaches, The Superfriendz

Calling up a friend you haven’t seen in 8 months always seems like a good idea at 3:30 AM after 8 hours of NXNE shows, especially when the words ‘bottle of’ and ‘wine in my backpack’ enter the equation. Thus I found myself biking home as the sun was coming up only to wake up 5 hours later. The things we do for the love of music but really, would anyone have done it differently?

Friday brought with it new challenges like waking up with ringing ears and what some people call massive dehydration. It also brought a sweet parking lot party and one of the rawest shows seen at NXNE.

The Balconies

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You may have never heard of Audio Blood but you certainly have heard their bands. Ben Caplan, The Quiet Company (who you’ll hear more about soon), Noble Thiefs, and the always indomitable Balconies. Audio Blood’s NXNE parties are becoming legendary so when the promise of a secret headliner was announced, the soon to be legendary Balconies became the safe bet.

No surprise that upon showing up they had just started their set. If you’ve never seen this band live before, you need to. They harbour a viciousness about them much like a rattlesnake, they’ll warn about their impending attack and then flood your ears with poison. Just exchange the word poison for explosive sonic rage. They’ve quickly become Canada’s go-to example for hard rock music and they’ve managed to infuse their aggressive sound with haunting 60’s style riffs and explosive melodies.

While they’ve been slow to release new material, their live show and few songs they have put out since their first LP are absolutely bonkers. You can tell they’re doing what they were born to accomplish, their shows are rife with aggressive passion that delivers a great show every single time. Front-woman Jackie is a tenacious leopard on stage with a presence that transcends consciousness, it’s obvious she’s on another plane when standing with a guitar strapped around her skinny frame.

Guitarist Liam moves smoothly through each song and holds down on stage, throwing in kicks and jumps as necessary. Their drummer, a new addition to the band, could retire Phil Collins in his prime, this is one mean drum machine and, if you’re watching, throws down more personality with his facial expressions than most bands could dream. Bassist Stephen Neville seemed subdued at this particular show which comes off as an oddity, NXNE draws energy out of everyone, especially bands on a schedule like The Balconies. Even so, while his playing was bang-on, it felt like there were more important places for him to be than playing the show.

Regardless of the minimal shortfalls, their show was stellar and this band is only getting better as the months go by. With a growing international fan-base and excellent promotion combined with fantastic music, it’s only a matter of time before The Balconies start headlining festivals and concert halls.

The Beaches

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Some girls just want to have fun, these girls just want to rock. It seems that the hype surrounding this quad of young women is catching on to a wider audience, there were a ton of media present for their Rivoli show. The hype is well worth it, most bands in their late teens are still writing terrible songs with bad, high-school love lyrics and hooks that are no more than inspired than AC/DC’s song.

These girls are peeling away that lemon of youth to reveal ripe, raw and zesty songs that are surprisingly well written and played with zeal. When they’re on stage they look like rockstars too, they’ve figured out that looks do a lot and this is a big piece of advice for bands out there – show up looking good, whatever that is for you, and people notice.

Also, play good songs.

Overall their set was fantastic with only a few hiccups along the way. I remember being in a band at their age, we sucked but we’d always give everything we had at each live show because that’s when people were watching. These girls have also figured out that very important aspect of live music – if you don’t seem to care when the crowd is waiting on you, they’re not going to care either.

Their music is a raw mixture of Nirvana style guitar/bass mixed with drums that wail and the occasional keyboard flourish. You’re not going to get insane technical mastery from this group, yet, but that’s not the point. Too many music fans and media have become obsessed with bland, technically pleasing, dreamwave. It’s a fad, good rock music is not. On stage these girls slay with great attitudes, great straight-forward rock songs and impeccable talent.

The SuperFriendz

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Sometimes it’s best to leave a dead man buried even with the allure of potentially reviving the desiccated corpse. The Superfriendz, compatriots to Sloan as they both rose to prominence, are a group that reached some critical acclaim in the early to mid 1990’s across Canada’s college campuses and even on commercial radio.

What followed was a story heard all too often when the original members decided to drift into other careers and bands.   Around 2009 the band decided to reform and started playing select shows, NXNE 2013 being one of them.

Headlining a bill featuring Sloan and other Canadiana acts, The Superfriendz fell flat. Now I’ll be the first to admit I never saw them in their prime but this glory lap is anything but. While it was obvious they were excited to be on stage, an excitement that ported over to the audience, at least for the first few songs, they also sounded under-practiced.

Their songs also don’t feel as though they’ve aged well – what worked in the 90’s doesn’t always work today and this fact quickly became apparent. Why spend money seeing The Superfriendz when Sloan had just played? While The Superfriendz may have started out in the same place as Sloan, the latter built on a far improved formula.

If you’re going to attempt a victory lap, something few bands pull off properly, make sure you’ve practiced enough. It would have been amazing to see The Superfriendz pull off a stellar set and win new fans but this definitely wasn’t their day. They’ve got some good tunes and hopefully the next time they play a show it won’t be forsaken by an under-performing band.

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One thought on “NXNE Day 3: The Balconies, The Beaches, The Superfriendz

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