For decades NXNE has been a staple in Toronto’s live music scene, bringing musicians of all genres from around the world to the city every June. They put on several club shows throughout the week, and usually cap things off with some outdoor performances on the final weekend of the festival. Just last year though, rather than the usual free concerts in Dundas Square, they debuted a brand new outdoor venue with the Port Lands. Dubbed a “festival within a festival,” the Port Lands Festival was its own ticketed event on the new festival grounds located near the lake, and we had an awesome time reviewing their hip-hop showcase featuring Ghostface Killah and Schoolboy Q.
This year, NXNE expanded upon their Port Lands Festival, making it three days instead of two, and shuffling the lineup so that each day had an eclectic mix of artists rather than a focus on any particular genre. They also added carnival attractions as well as a comedy tent, so there was plenty of fun to have even if you weren’t into all the artists on the lineup. Being a hip-hop head, there were only a handful of artists I was familiar with going into this, and they were spread out throughout the weekend, so I decided to attend all three days of the festival.
Day One: Friday June 23, 2017
The artists I was most excited to see at the Port Lands were performing later in the weekend, and so I used the Friday night as a way to dip my toe in the water. The headliner for the evening was Post Malone, who I suppose could be considered hip-hop, but I can’t say I’m a fan of his. I could write a long paragraph about stereotypical wack rappers with subpar lyricism and a lack of substance, but I wanted to approach this with an open mind. His hit singles like “White Iverson” and “Congratulations” (which Toronto Blue Jays’ MVP Josh Donaldson has played when stepping up to bat) each have hundreds of millions of views on Youtube, but I don’t know much about him otherwise. I was genuinely more interested in seeing the rock band Sleigh Bells perform, who I knew from the one song they had featured in Marvel’s Netflix series Jessica Jones.
After a long day working my day job, I made my way to the festival well after the gates had opened, and found that traffic heading into the city was even more terrible than it normally is on a Friday afternoon. My usual one-hour commute took two hours, and I ended up getting to the festival grounds midway through Sleigh Bells’ set. I could hear some of their hit singles like “Infinity Guitars” and “Comeback Kid” as I waited to go through security, and was sad to see the set come to an end just before I got into the festival grounds.
After Sleigh Bells, there was just one final artist to perform on the smaller Canal Stage before the headliner hit the main stage. I took some time to explore the grounds, and found that there was a huge improvement from last year. There were more seating options around the food truck area, carnival rides and games that were straight from the annual CNE (Canadian National Exhibition), and interactive structures made by the main sponsors Budweiser and Porsche. There wasn’t much time to check anything out in detail, so I just grabbed a beer and headed to the Canal Stage where Detroit rapper/singer Amir Obe was performing. Sidenote: the drink selection was very limited, with Budweiser and Bud Light being the only beers, and one cider option and a few coolers.
As an avid hip-hop head, I found that Amir Obe wasn’t anything special. He often rapped and sang over recordings of his own vocals, and his overall style felt very cookie-cutter. When he actually did perform his own vocals, there were so many filters in his microphone that you could tell there was no way you were hearing his actual voice. He had some cool beats and some relatable lyrics to captivate the crowd, but his overall style and delivery was wack from a strictly hip-hop standpoint (maybe it flies well for pop fans). The ladies in the crowd did seem to enjoy dancing to his songs though.
As the crowd made its way back to the main stage, there was a bit of a wait as the sun set. After the sky was completely black, Post Malone eventually came out to WWE’s Stone Cold Steve Austin’s old theme music, and he immediately apologized to the crowd for being late. The two Post Malone songs I’ve heard before this did nothing to captivate me, and so naturally I didn’t know any of the other songs he performed. I seemed to be alone though, as the crowd turned up for most of his songs and sang along with the lyrics.
As Post Malone performed songs off his album Stoney, the 21-year-old made sure to shoutout every artist that collaborated with him to make it happen. He gave shoutouts to DJ Mustard and Pharrell Williams before performing the songs they produced for him, and even shouted out Toronto’s own Justin Bieber for the vocals he provided on a track. While the majority of the crowd seemed to be either high school or college kids, Post Malone was able to bring an older head like me back to those days when he performed a remix of 50 Cent’s “Window Shopper,” with his vocals being a great match for that song. I still can’t say I’m a fan of the music, but I gained a respect for his craft and his ability to move the crowd.
He eventually performed what he called his “only good song” with “White Iverson” before finishing the show with “Congratulations.” These last two songs got the crowd jumping, with ladies bouncing from atop their boyfriends’ shoulders and beach balls being thrown around. Post Malone then humbly jumped down from the stage to clap hands with the fans in the front row.
Overall, the small taste I got of day one of the 2017 NXNE Port Lands festival was a solid warm up, and with the work-week over, there was a lot more excitement to experience over the next couple days. Continue onto page two for a review of the Saturday night!
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