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NXNE: a primer to the best of the Canadian music festival

Categories: Music

ludacrisLudacris closes out NXNE on Sunday night. (Canadian Press)

NXNE has the most daunting gig guide you've ever seen. It's fat. And phat! With umpteen upon umpteen bands in Toronto right now. Save yourself the torment and allow me to advise you.


A little late to recommend for last night, but I can tell you whose CD to buy. Peterborough he/she duo, Express & Company. Holy moly, they're amazing, and tore the roof off a very sweaty C'est What brew pub. Part Mumford & Sons, part Civil Wars, part something completely original. Trust me on this.


DIANA, 10pm at the Horseshoe Tavern. A band with a name in all caps is a pretty confident place to start. Singer, Carmen Elle, plus members of Bonjay, Destroyer, and Hidden Cameras come together as Toronto's DIANA. It's airy, easy, pop rock, with a twist.

Coeur de Pirate, 11pm at The Great Hall. Montreal's Béatrice Martin, a.k.a. Coeur de Pirate, is only 23, but brings an abundance of musical wisdom to the table. She has the loveliest voice, and an expert ease around the ivories. Even if you don't speak French, not a single note is lost in translation.

Callan Furlong and the Old Fashioned Trash, 12am at the Piston. Callan Furlong slings classic country that harks back to Johnny Cash. A quote on his website goes, "An ex girlfriend said it best when she called him a pretentious, counterfeit cowboy," which makes me like him more.

The Human Orchestra, 2am at Monarch Tavern. They've only been around for a year, but my assessment is fun, fun, fun. Ten people, with even more instruments, layer all sorts of sounds, all the while still keeping to some kind of structure. Hamilton represent.


Dana Sipos, 8pm at C'est What. Sipos would have been right at home strumming away in Greenwich Village in the '60s. But she hails from the folk scene in Yellowknife, and the north's influence makes her songs extra special, "Lucky lady, sways and prays through the waves. Lucky lady, sinks or swims with her ship."

July Talk, 10pm at the Mod Club Theatre. The closest thing to Tom Waits is Peter Dreimanis. The closest thing to Emily Haines is Leah Fay. Together, they're July Talk. Fay's sweet, pop vocals tuck nicely up in beside Dreimanis' gruff, assertive ones and This. Is. Art.

Harlan Pepper, 1am at Dakota Tavern. Banjo-driven, alt-country, by a quad of young Hamiltonian lads, musically mature beyond their years. Songs have an authentic, easy-listening, country flair. The real deal. You will smile.

Lakes of Canada, 1am at Monarch Tavern. Full, rich arrangements, drunk in glittery harmonies, are cemented by Jake Smith's sincere, howling vocals. All the members of this Montreal-based, orchestral crew were band camp kids, and you'll wish you were one, too. Try to deny their cover of Call Me Maybe.

Wannabe (Spice Girls Tribute Band), 3am at Blk Box. We'll tell you what you want, what you really, really want - a throwback dance party for an apologetically good time. Wannabe are 5 friends, all music school grads, who do stellar justice to reviving the 90s magic of the Spice Girls. A cause worth supporting.


Dinosaur Bones, 10pm at Danforth Music Hall. This talented quintet has been tirelessly devoted to the festival circuit the past few years, but hang their hats in Toronto when not on the road. The veteran indie-rockers have a new album due this summer, so be one of the first to hear what they've been working on.

Fast Romantics, 11pm at Sneaky Dee's. You'll become a fast fan of Fast Romantics once you feast your ears on their gnarly riffs and fuzzy guitar. A bunch of their songs have already been featured on TV shows, so might as well get in on the know.

Levi Stephens, 11pm at Czehoski. Raised in Washington, D.C., Levi Stephens bleeds the line between soul, R&B, folk, and gospel, making genres no object. He delivers adult contemporary steeped in class and experience.


Ludacris, 9pm at Yonge Dundas Square. Not to be missed, Luda will close out NXNE 2013 in the Square. It's a big deal to have this Grammy award-winning rapper, actor, philanthropist play a free, open-air show at one of the busiest intersections in Toronto. Make a point to pop by even earlier, and catch other rap brass like Fat Tony, Smif N' Wessun and Joey Bada$$, too.

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