June 14—Thursday night
The night began with a hiccup. I was to meet people at the Comfort Zone, and my memory of that dilapidated shithole inclined me to think there’d be no lineup. It started raining and as I turned the corner, I saw in fact there was. I saw my friends get in as a surge of people were permitted entry, but I hesitated to skip the line and didn’t make it. Stupid!
I went to Silver Dollar solo instead and saw a punchy rock band. Guitars, bass, drums and a trumpet. Someone in the audience described it as spaghetti Western surf rock, which is basically a hilarious way of saying the guitar’s vibrato setting was above five. The band had good conviction and talent. They were tight, well-rehearsed, and had good stage presence. I got the hint of what would become for me an overarching theme of the festival, that the humble, unassuming venues feature bands that are disproportionately good. Better than would normally play there.
Shortly after I met my buddies who saw Braids at the Comfort Zone, a one woman synth act they described as mediocre, we cabbed to Cherry Cola’s. The first band there was loud and pretty good, but I don’t have a strong recollection of their tone and I’m not suffering for the lapse. But the next band!
I didn’t realise that I loved heavy metal. They felt at first to me like the group in Ace Ventura when the pet detective goes to see Woodstock to get a tip about missing dolphins. I misunderstood heavy metal. A few things stood out about this group and the scene in general.
The crowd was spectacularly mixed in terms of age, race, and really in every conceivable way. It was a cross section of concert goers, not any one specific type, and certainly not people you’d expect at a metal show.
Everything came from the fury of the group’s lead singer. Holy hell! He switched from a deep demon grunt-sing to high and low pitches, all of the same unrelenting drive, all the while moving frantically up and down the neck in distortion chords. But none of this technique was impressive only because it seemed to be a natural by-product of the guy’s intensity. I realised metal cannot be faked or done half-assed.
His attitude was full steam ahead, and this force of will didn’t just animate him but emanated from him, and the others were all made of the same stuff. But I was under the mistaken impression that metal singers, what with all the volume and the screaming, were angry. Not so! With good stage presence he introduced a song as “Back off…I’m a scientist,” which I found amusing until the next tune was entitled, “Bitch, I’m Spider man…I have things to do, OK?” What came out of his mouth during the actual song was almost totally unintelligible, but I managed to pick out “make my eyeballs bleed” or something like that. Anyway, I was already sold and laughing and really having a ball. Very gently, I rocked back and forth, which is my way of dancing.
A beautiful girl in front was dancing as if hearing a jam band (those motley freaks), the drummer was topless, albeit male, and the bass player was a thickly built man, which for whatever reason bodes well for bass players. The crowd enjoyed themselves tremendously, but it was such mosh pit music, with such drive and the bass and the noise, it required all my powers of restraint to refrain from punching my buddy in the face. I had the thought that if a mosh pit were really to break out, with everybody clamouring and banging and smashing, perhaps this music might inspire madness enough to kill somebody. Yes, but I really felt like banging into people, and a single death, provided it wasn’t mine, would be a small price to pay. I thanked the gentleman after the show and told him I ordinarily listen to Neil Young acoustic, “but I understand metal now.” He was very pleased. Realistically I’ll probably never go to another metal concert again.
Next was the Painted Lady where an electro group played. It was mellow as hell, tremendous background music. It was a real come down, the sonic equivalent to drunken poutine. After this show, I ate poutine. For good measure it had steak in it. We had a spontaneous competition to see who could fill their glass with the most water without spilling. At three AM, my buddy and fellow Provocative Penguin colleague ordered a pie with ice cream with a side of back bacon and an espresso. What a foodie.
With hundreds of concerts, NXNE is a buffet. The mind state here is different than other shows. When you order a single meal you compare the dollar value to the dish itself, but because you don’t know what bar you’ll end up at or even who you’re seeing, the expectations at NXNE don’t exist. It’s liberating. And actually not only do you have the freedom to walk into any venue and not only does this force you to see genres you wouldn’t otherwise, but the calibre is impressive. The festival doesn’t permit barroom hacks. You just walk in places and vibe.
In the spirit of the festival I have undertaken a resolution to print not one word about NXNE sober. It’s shortly after 5am and I am a man of my word. If I didn’t get to punch my buddy in a mosh pit, the least I can do is write drunk. That’s fuckin’ rock and roll. Ya, totally.