NXNE: Friday June 15, 2012 – Bleached, the Smoking Popes

North by Northeast is South by Southwest’s little sibling. 2012 marks Toronto’s sixteenth year running the festival spanning over 50 venues showcasing a variety of artists from across the globe. For the past five years or so I’ve made good effort to attend and be a part of the festival. North by Northeast separates itself from other festivals because it’s so accessible to the public. For just $50 you can attend all five days of live gigs and if you’re lucky enough to have the time and funds you can grab a badge that’ll get you into concerts, movie screenings and conference happenings.

This was the first year in a while I made no effort to make it out, as it turns out the festival found its way to me more or less. However you have to be completely blind to have missed Bleach at NXNE 2012 as they had a three night stand at the Silver Dollar. I comfortably strolled out to the Silver Dollar at quarter to 12 midnight just before the LA (mostly) girl group Bleached took the stage. A pal had described them as the rougher version of Best Coast. I ran out just before the beginning of their set to buy some tokens so we could jet to our next venue even faster. I trekked back to the venue to find that a hundred more people filled the Silver Dollar especially to see the California babes. I waited in a short line to get in with no trouble but fighting my way through the crowds to find a pal. The Silver Dollar is the perfect venue for the rough, unpolished coos of Bleached. I was amazed to see how young the gals looked. I however later found out that they used to be in the band Mika Miko, a group that I had vaguely heard about before. Continuing in both bands are Jessica and Jennifer Clavin, sisters who hail from the San Fernando Valley, or more casually known as the Valley, where the slang term Valley girls was born from. While they do have sunshine blonde hair, the Clavin sisters do not embody or resemble Valley girls in the slightest. What really made Bleached’s sound stand out to me was their ability as a four or five piece to make a fuller sound than the three piece Best Coast ever could. I thought their rough sound and vocals were eloquently supported by solid backup vocals of the two other girl players in the band. Their sound is definitely inspired by a rougher sound heard in the late ‘70s to early ‘80s, straight off of a Pebbles compilation.

Feeling a little inadequate right now? Me too. It’s time to dust off Michael Azerrad’s book ‘Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes from the American Indie Underground, 1981-1991;’ a book on the history of alternative rock and a line from both the book and an old Minutemen song that Bleached uses as their tagline on their Twitter account (http://twitter.com/hellobleached/).

To close the night, I had the pleasure of seeing the ‘90s Vagrant pop punk band the Smoking Popes over a decade after the peak of their fame. The band is mainly based around three members of which are all brothers – Matt, Josh and Eli Caterer from the American Mid-West. The band claimed that it was only their third time throughout their career playing in Toronto and they told the audience that it makes every Toronto performance very special. I appreciated the optimistic mindset as the band only dragged in about thirty people to their 1am performance at the Great Hall – their only one of the weekend.

The Popes apparently had always struggled to escape their image which paled in the numerous comparisons to the Alkaline Trio. I hope that a  reunion of the band will evoke a much needed resuscitation of their fun-pop tunes.

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