North by North East: Saturday

Saturday was the day I was looking forward to most for NXNE. It was the day packed with seemingly everything I wanted to do, and while I had to sacrifice some things (missing Limblifter was a bit of a blow) it still ended up the best night of the festival.

It started off with the second annual CBC Radio 3 Listener Picnic, with R3 listeners descending upon Trinity Bellwood park to hang out and meet up -- many meeting for the first time outside the internet. Portage & Main, Zach Gray & Adrian Glynn (who prefer to be called "Emperor of the North, aka Murder on the Canadian, aka The Caboose Boys" for branding purposes and who climbed a tree to play above everyone), Jeremy Fisher, Ian Foster, and The Matinee all played short, acoustic sets to the gathering of R3 listeners and hosts Grant Lawrence and Craig Norris.

Later on it was more free shows at Yonge-Dundas Square. One of the bands I was most interested to see was of Montreal, since I had never had the chance to see them live but heard many good things. They took the stage in costumes and a bit of makeup, starting off with "Suffer For Fashion", living up to their reputation of an eclectic live band with an incredible stage show that features not only the band in costumes, but random others as well, and even short "dramatic scenes" being played out on stage. And not only were the theatrics fun to watch, but the music was solid as well. Kevin Barnes' distinct vocals filled the square, and their energetic and psychedelic pop got the rapidly expanding crowd moving. The too-short-set wrapped up with the manic "She's A Rejecter" and a couple costumed people leaping into the crowd and surfing almost the entire way to the back.

Next up was a band I had heard a lot about, but not much from, Portugal. The Man. I don't know if they lived up to some of the buzz I had heard, but they were a solid and enjoyable live band. A little more subdued rock than the bombastic sounds of the bands that preceded and followed them, with a hint of southern rock in their sound. The set started out good, but by the end it got a little repetitive; they were all excellent musicians, but the set seemed to drag a little, the songs a little samey, and there wasn't much banter or talk between songs, just some mumbled thanks and muttering their name. Aside from their own songs, they had not one, but two Beatles covers in their set, with a pretty good cover of "Helter Skelter" and some of "Hey Jude" in their last song, to get the people in the square singing along. Maybe it's because they were sandwiched between two extremely memorable live bands, but nothing in the set really stood out for me.

Yonge-Dundas Square got more and more packed as it came time for The Flaming Lips. They went on almost half an hour late, which had me getting a little anxious, but as the band emerged from the screen and Wayne Coyne got in his giant zorb to crowd surf, the feeling was a little relieved, and as they released the huge balloons and shot loads of confetti into the air, it was like nothing else mattered.
Starting off, after the crowd surfing, with "Worm Mountain" and a massive sing along to "She Don't Use Jelly" and "The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song", the show consisted of the usual amazing sights of a Flaming Lips show. Dancers on either side the the stage, Wayne Coyne shouting/singing through a megaphone, giant hands that shoot lasers and much more.
There was also a very emotional moment mid way through the set, when Wayne paused to speak sombrely about that days stage collapse, which caused the death of a Radiohead crew member and the ultimate cancellation of that show. In sign of respect and solidarity, they covered "Knives Out" and then dedicated a very, very emotional and beautiful "Waiting For A Superman" to the friends and family of the man who lost his life, with Wayne visibly tearing up during the song -- and I'm sure some others in the crowd as well.
There was, however, a bit of a disconnect as the show went on; the square was packed shoulder to shoulder, and the heat was clearly taking its toll on people as there was a span of about twenty minutes where five of six people were being pulled out of the crowd for fainting -- and that was just near me. As amazing as The Flaming Lips are live, you just can't get as into the show when you start to worry about your safety, and the safety of those around you. So while it was still an extremely difficult decision to make, I ended up leaving a couple songs early to make sure I got in to see the next show on my must-see list.

And that act next on my must see list was Matt Mays at Lee's Palace. Having not seen the shaggy Dartmouth rocker in over two years, this was one of the sets I was most excited about for the entire festival; and judging by the size of the crowd, I wasn't the only one. Mays and his band started off with a handful of new songs, which sounded amazing and made me incredibly excited about the new album -- which he didn't go in to detail about. They sounded like you'd expect from Mays, but fresh, not a rehashing of old material, with a couple really standing out. Unfortunately, I didn't get names of any of the new songs, but they got me very excited for the inevitable new album.
After jokingly apologizing about playing only new songs to start, he played a couple songs solo, including "Travellin'", which had a chill-inducing moment -- despite the heat of the venue -- when the rest of the band kicked back in and nearly the entire packed venue sang/yelled along to the chorus.
From there he played a good number of songs from all four of his albums, rocking out to songs like "Tall Trees" and "Rock Ranger Records" and lots more singing along, especially to the ode to his hometown, "City of Lakes", and "Cocaine Cowgirl", which ended the set. But of course, the crowd wasn't having any of it and they were out for the usual encore, first covering The Boss' "Glory Days" and then ending the night with not only one of my favourite Matt Mays songs, but one of my favourite songs period, "Terminal Romance". The raw emotion and heartbreak of the song poured out of Mays, and the emotion in the crowd was palpable. It was pretty much the perfect ending for the night, and as much as I love Matt Mays, I never would have thought on a day where I was seeing both of Montreal and The Flaming Lips as well that his show would be the best of the night.