By Keith Carman, Concert Photography by Heather Carman Ostrander
NXNE, you’ve done it again.
Just when it seemed as though a festival as bloated, boring and banal as North By North East (NXNE) couldn’t possibly become any less enthusing, it seems to pull another incredible surprise out of its posterior.
Naturally it’s to the delight of everyone from sincere music fans to curious onlookers much like last year’s insanely packed Iggy And The Stooges gig. That particular gem found every soul in the Greater Toronto Area with a fleeting recognition of the name squishing up against the outdoor stage like sheep begging to be slaughtered.
While this bout of First Gen punk rockers strutting their new stuff (OFF!) or taking a skank down memory lane (Descendents) was clearly not about to grab Southern Ontario by the short and curlies, with enough bodies filling the concrete lawn to instigate agoraphobia, it was clear that Southern Californian punk rock has clearly grown in appreciated stature over its three decades.
Not so much warming up the crowd as whipping them into a frenzy—well, the most heated bounce 30-plus punks can muster after a long day of work—newbie outfit OFF! proved exactly why they have been garnering ample attention as of late. With former Circle Jerks/Black Flag front Keith Morris screaming like an enraged banshee while Burning Brides guitarist Dimitri Coats, Redd Kross bassist Steven Shane McDonald and Rocket From The Crypt/Hot Snakes drummer Mario Rubalcala belted out some impressive riffs, OFF! may be green but their pedigree is caustic enough to wear that away incredibly quickly. Tearing through their sixteen song set (which is everything they apparently have at this point) in less time than it takes to understand what the hell was going on, the quartet ravaged with hyperactive aggression, expediency and awe-inspiring power. While clearly not the perfect venue for hot, sweaty punk rock, to see Toronto’s downtown core torn a new one so rabidly was entirely enthralling, especially by men of such advanced vintage.
Well, at least when Morris wasn’t babbling incessantly between songs, that is.
Taking an equally-enthralling but slightly more refined approach, pop/punk progenitors Descendents were easily the heart-melting, swoon-inducing act of the evening. Strolling through their back pages with a barrage of wily, tongue-in-cheek tunes with melodies Brian Wilson would envy, the greying foursome were equally as tight, engaging and mighty as their brethren. Still, it was the nostalgic wistfulness of hearing double-time ballads hammered out at maximum velocity in a sea of corporate ridiculousness (advertising, financial towers and the like) which gave hilarity to the overall experience. Pulling children out for a cutesy moment of impromptu vocal delivery added the final realization: we’ve all grown up beyond the angst and bitterness which started punk and now is time to revel in its golden years.
Thank you, NXNE. You’ve surprised, redeemed and inspired once again.