NXNE 2014 Day 3, part 2: We are stuffed and stoked

NXNE is Toronto's music, film, comedy, art and interactive festival.
We've had meals at NXNE as memorable as the music over the years. Pho at Pho Hung in 2012; breakfast at Aunties and Uncles and Cora. But there's no doubt this year tops the list: gourmet sausage and duck fat fries at Wvurst, superlative stone-baked goat cheese, spinach and bacon pizza at Pizzaville (surely one of Toronto's best deals, $4 for a huge slice we split), the dinner we had at the house we rented (steak salad with grilled potatoes and garlic scapes).

The evening of Day 3, Fri. Jun. 20, we wandered down College Street in Little Italy searching for a place to have dinner. Of course Italian restaurants were abundant, but none tempted our palates... until we found Hey Meatball. How could we resist a place with the tagline "You'll love the taste of our balls"? We're still dreaming of the silken polenta topped with pork meatballs, marinara sauce and a delicious dollop of pesto, all for the reasonable price of $13.

Afterwards, we stopped at a lovely garden around the corner from the Mod Club Theatre outside the First Portuguese Canadian Cultural Centre to finish a latte. A large orange tabby cat sauntered across the street and cozied himself on the bench between us. The end of a perfect evening? No, just the beginning.

Our musical menu began with Toronto's Alvvays. The best thing about Molly Rankin getting an official band and an official self-titled album is that you can now officially find her on the Internet and probably at a show near you. They're touring heavily this summer. The album is also getting a lot of love from listeners and reviewers. Between Rankin, her strong, flanging voice and the incredibly talented Alec O'Hanley alone, there's a lot of songwriting synergy in that band. Two definite gems on the album-- "Adult Diversion" and "Archie, Marry Me"-- prove the potential is there, but didn't quite make it onto the stage at NXNE.

We satisfied yet another long-awaited live performance from a band we've loved since our early days listening to CBC Radio 3: Culture Reject. Although Kensington Market's Handlebar had a decent-sized audience, we managed to grab a seat right by the stage and spent the show in rapt adoration. It's blissfully difficult to slap a label on Michael O'Connell's poetic yet completely accessible music; the influences are varied and global. We're not of the ilk that demands that a band play the hits, but it made our night to hear "Inside The Cinema" live. Who fucking loves Culture Reject? We do.

We barely got into the packed Dakota Tavern for Shred Kelly, Fernie, B.C.'s ambassadors of stoke folk. It's a self-affixed label they completely own. We've seen them several times-- in Windsor just a few weeks before NXNE, where we first heard new songs that promise to be every bit as good as familiar favourites--  and even when they're dead-tired from weeks on a train, they never fail to deliver. But the Dakota show was their best yet. The perfect combination of venue vibe and an audience completely swept up by the band's energy, it felt like more like a family reunion than a show with strangers. If you haven't been stoked yet by Shred Kelly, your life isn't complete.

Photos: Russ Gordon/N2D Images