Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Toronto Urban Roots Festival @ Fort York Garrison Common (July 4 & 5, 2013)

   Tracyanne Campbell of Camera Obscura: photo by Michael Ligon

The inaugural Toronto Urban Roots Festival, TURF for short, had a successful first run about a week and a half back down at Fort York Garrison Common, if I do say so. The festival also included extra night shows that took place at the Horseshoe Tavern and Lee's Palace, giving some of the acts an extra time slot to perform. The festival spanned four nights and two full days and had an admirable selection of local and international talent. And if I wasn't totally enamored with the whole lineup [that's just a matter of personal taste], the calibre of acts was decent.

With a new album Desire Lines recently released to promote, Scottish indie pop group Camera Obscura hit the summer festival circuit, much to the dismay of their British physical disposition. While lead vocalist Tracyanne Campbell mentioned to the crowd at TURF that it was nice to be in Toronto again and as the sun started to just set, she remarked something along the lines that the cooler temperatures wouldn't be so bad. Having seen them numerous times in the past, I found the set pleasant if unremarkable if only because the band are sticking to what they do best. I'm not sure if I'd wanted them to evolve their sound but overall I still have a soft spot for their brand of sparkling Scottish pop music and it was good to see them live again. They played a few new songs but it was old favourites like "Teenager", "Tears For Affairs", "French Navy" and their now predictable "Razzle Dazzle Rose" which the crowd savoured.

   Joel Plaskett: photo by Michael Ligon

TSN sports announcer Dave Hodge was a special guest this evening, making reference as to how he was suppose to have introduced this next band in Calgary during the Sled Island Music Festival several weeks prior but which got cancelled due to the massive flooding [and in retrospect how coincidentally TURF got rained on hard on the Sunday Night and then experienced the torrential storms the day after]. Introducing Joel Plasket Emergency, Joel and the band played a great set that had them riffing in classic rock style with Plaskett's clever lyrics and playful stage persona. Plaskett even admitted to being a little nervous but soon he settled into a zone. He'd just played NYC's Central Park just prior, and also Canada Day had just past and so in salute to both countries, the band delved into "True Patriot Love". Plaskett was a great frontman, playing up to the audience, his gangly physique slinking around the mic at times. That I'm not that familiar with his catalogue [although I did recognize a number of the tunes he played that night] is a bit of a shame as he played one of the better sets of the whole festival.

   She & Him: photo by Michael Ligon

I went into duo She & Him's set knowing generally what to expect even though I haven't really heard them all that much - nostalgia-tinged originals and covers, with a heavy nod to the popular music of the fifties and the sixties. There was a crack band of musicians backing them, with notable contributions from their lead guitarist as well as their two female back-up vocalists, The Chapin Sisters, Abigail and Lily. There were covers of Blondie's "Sunday Girl", "Unchained Melody" (originally made famous by The Righteous Brothers), and Buddy Holly's "Rave On". It was a bit of a disappointment that the the band had requested that the audience not take photos, going so far as to have organizers post notices all around the grounds instructing fans to please not use their cell phones to take photos and video and to enjoy the performance that the band was providing in 3D. Ok, I snuck a few photos with my point-and-shoot including the one above. This wasn't the set to necessarily convert me to the band - it felt more pleasant than than remarkable - but it was a nice, soothing way to end off Day One of TURF. The duo's on the road promoting their fourth studio full-length Volume 3 which was released this past May.

Photos: Toronto Urban Roots Festival @ Fort York Garrison Common (July 4, 2013)


   Justin Townes Earle: photo by Michael Ligon

For Day Two of TURF, I arrived during the set of American singer-songwriter Justin Townes Earle playing a set for the early crowd at the East Stage. I know of him having passed through town [I believe playing the Horseshoe most times, and maybe the Phoenix Concert Theatre] on numerous occasions but had not ever taken the opportunity to see him live. Seeing him live, Earle in my opinion takes that Elvis Costello approach towards pop music infusing various influences such as country and blues, making his songs wholly satisfying to a pop music fan like me who isn't a country / blues purist. Before ending the set with his last song, Earle commented on the heat ["Sweating like a whore in church"] and then dove into a terrific rendition of The Replacements' "Can't Hardly Wait".

   Fitz and The Tantrums: photo by Michael Ligon

Perhaps the odd-man-out act of the whole TURF lineup was Los Angeles soul / pop act Fitz and The Tantrums. While I wasn't so keen on the band musically [just a matter of personal, taste], I'd give credit to co-lead vocalists Michael Fitzpatrick and Noelle Scaggs keeping up the energy of the set and getting the audience to participate. The band played a cover of Eurythmics' "Sweet Dreams" , which like some other songs during the sets included some pronounced sax work, that sounded straight up like what UK producer Mark Ronson might have produced. As the sun was just about setting, I was ready to end off day two at the East Stage with Arkells.

   Arkells: photo by Michael Ligon

I lived through Hamilton rock group Arkells infancy when they'd formed in 2006 and then had afterwards had probably played Toronto and the GTA more times than I'd been able to keep track. Even when they'd started to get radio play on 102.1 FM The Edge and I'd liked what I'd heard, I for some reason just never got around to seeing them live. I heard bits of Springsteen and The Constantines in the band's sound, and I'd liken lead vocalist Max Kerman a little bit to Afghan Whigs Greg Dulli, adding a soulful grit to the vocals amidst the overall rock histronics. Fans aplenty stuck around for the set, many of them singing along to faves like "Oh, The Boss Is Coming" and "Whistleblower" and then the band ended off the night with Kernan dappering himself up with a white sportcoat and leading the band into a fantastic all-Motown covers set with members of Toronto cover band Dwayne Gretzky on back-up vocals.

Photos: Toronto Urban Roots Festival @ Fort York Garrison Common (July 5, 2013)

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