Tuesday, December 31, 2013

What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?

Diamond Rings: photo by Michael Ligon
  Diamond Rings: photo by Michael Ligon

Just before I head out for New Year's Eve, I want to apologize for letting the blog fade as it has. It's not dead but it's definitely on life support. And I'm alright with that. I have no plans whatsoever for the blog for the foreseeable future other than throwing up a post when it fancies me. If we've met, feel free to Facebook me. Or if you fancy, subscribe to my Flickr. I haven't made the jump to Twitter or Instagram, but in 2014 I'm particularly leaning towards the latter. Oh and perhaps starting a Tumblr.

I haven't stopped seeing live music either, and have been particularly busy in November and the first half of December having seen sets by My Bloody Valentine, Jessie Ware, Cut Copy, Diamond Rings and King Krule as well as taking in just a bit of CMJ (most notably finally checking out Yamantaka Sonic Titan who were fantastic) in New York City while I was there back in October. You can check out the photo-sets below:

Photos: CMJ, New York City (October 15-16, 2013)
Photos: My Bloody Valentine @ Kool Haus, Toronto (November 5, 2013)
Photos: Jessie Ware @ Phoenix Concert Theatre, Toronto (November 6, 2013)
Photos: Cut Copy @ Danforth Music Hall, Toronto (November 15, 2013)
Photos: Diamond Rings, part of Cavalcade of Lights, Toronto (November 30, 2013)
Photos: King Krule, TOPS @ Lee's Palace, Toronto (December 10, 2013)

So Happy New Year and all that jazz, and I am looking forward to 2014!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Supercrawl @ James Street North, Hamilton Ontario (September 14, 2013)

Another edition of Hamilton, Ontario's fine and free(!) music and arts festival Supercrawl happened last month happening over September 13 and 14, and I checked out it's final day taking in the visual and performing arts as well as an array of great musical acts that were being offered. Check out some photos below:

  photo by Michael Ligon

  photo by Michael Ligon

  photo by Michael Ligon

  Speedy Ortiz: photo by Michael Ligon

  Diamond Rings: photo by Michael Ligon

  photo by Michael Ligon

  Joel Plaskett Emergency: photo by Michael Ligon

  : photo by Michael Ligon

  Yo La Tengo: photo by Michael Ligon

  : photo by Michael Ligon

  Fucked Up: photo by Michael Ligon

  : photo by Michael Ligon

  Passion Pit: photo by Michael Ligon

The whole photoset can be viewed here.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Deerhunter, Marnie Stern @ Phoenix Concert Theatre, Toronto (September 12, 2013)

I don't recall if Atlanta's Deerhunter have been through town since opening for Spoon at Sound Academy back in April 2010 but I did get another chance to see the group again in 2011 when I travelled to Chicago for the Pitchfork Music Festival that year. Most recently the band's been promoting their sixth studio album entitled Monomania. I missed the first openers, a sole male behind an array of electronic doodads and a keyboard, but did catch the second opener, Marnie Stern who herself and her two-member band are promoting a new album released earlier in the year cheekily entitled The Chronicles of Marnia. I've been lazy to review shows, although in brief will mention that Deerhunter played a fine set that encompassed elements of pop, punk, feedback and drone. I've thought this before but on paper they sound derivative but live they are entirely delectable, lead vocalist Bradford Cox unpredictable / wacky stage presence notwithstanding. Check out the photos from the show.

Exclaim and The National Post have reviews of the show.

  Marnie Stern & Bradford Cox: photo by Michael Ligon

  Deerhunter: photo by Michael Ligon

  Bradford Cox of Deerhunter: photo by Michael Ligon

Photos: Deerhunter, Marnie Stern @ Phoenix Concert Theatre, Toronto (September 12, 2013)

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Big Sound @ Celebration Square, Mississauga (September 7, 2013)

  The Big Sound: photo by Michael Ligon

It was with great pleasure to have Toronto Motown/soul Collective The Big Sound come to my 'hood to play Celebration Square in Mississauga as part of an end of summer bash. Having honed their skills now for the past two years having had a semi-periodic residency at The Great Hall in Toronto as well playing sets during The Toronto Jazz Festival the past few years and down at Harbourfront Centre this past Canada Day, Mississauga got a taste first hand of a group of musicians whose love for Motown and soul really shone through. The musicians, which were numerous, including multiple horn players and string instruments, were competent but like the original Motown and soul acts of yesteryear, it's the vocalists who really shined, particularly on songs such as James Brown's "It's A Man's Man's Man's World", Aretha Franklin's "Think" and Al Green's "Let's Stay Together". I felt more than a little disappointed that a large number of crowd wasn't dancing [I blame that partially on the organizers who put out chairs], and even at the light-hearted prompting of one of the female vocalists who jokingly announced something along the lines that the Beaver Tails food truck off to the side was now closed, that still didn't seem to convince people. In any case there a was small but loyal contingent of participants near the front more than willingly to dance and or clap along and take up the slack. Overall, it was a pleasure to see the band in my neck of the woods, and will hope it won't be the last.

Check out a review of the show over at The Medium. More photos over at Mississauga.com.

  The Big Sound: photo by Michael Ligon

  The Big Sound: photo by Michael Ligon

  The Big Sound: photo by Michael Ligon

  The Big Sound: photo by Michael Ligon

Photos: The Big Sound @ Celebration Square, Mississauga (September 7, 2013)

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Depeche Mode, Bat For Lashes @ Molson Ampitheatre, Toronto (September 1, 2013)

  Depeche Mode: photo by Michael Ligon

It's only been a little over three weeks since I saw UK greats Depeche Mode at Molson Ampitheatre but somehow feels like an eternity. Back in the mid to late 80's when I was in high school my favourite bands were The Smiths, The Cure, New Order and Jesus and Mary Chain. Another band I had an affinity for were Depeche Mode who soundtracked many a Saturday night back then when I use to listen to CFNY 102.1 FM's "Club 102" DJ'd by Chris Sheppard [back when he was actually spinning GOOD music]. It is somewhat surprising that I'd never seen them live. I'd consider going to their 2009 show at Molson Ampitheatre and had let that opportunity slip by and it took a good four years for them to return so I wasn't about to let the opportunity to slip by again.

Opening act Bat For Lashes made a valiant effort to entertain the crowd, vocalist Natasha Khan supple, ethereal vocals wrapping around such delectable tracks as "What's A Girl To Do", "Sleep Alone" and "Daniel and while I enjoyed it, I felt a bit disconnected watching it from the lawns without the benefit of even some video projections. Some appreciate, if polite, applause from the crowd but there was no question why everyone was there that night.

Bringing their "Delta Machine" tour to town, the band's 13th album of the same name released earlier this year, the three original members of Dave Gahan, Martin Gore and Andy Fletcher plus a few supporting musicians showed that they still bristle with energy. Given their decades-spanning catalogue, there were innumberable variations of a setlist the band could have come up with but I would say that the setlist they had for this show was a good balance between their classic period [anything from 1993's Songs of Faith and Devotion and prior] and their latter-day material [starting with 1997's Ultra, the band which for me didn't seem the same after the departure of member Alan Wilder; I'd basically stopped listening to them at this point]. The classic period material was of course my favourite with the highlights for me being Martin Gore's vocal take on a sublime acoustic version of "But Not Tonight", the trifecta of songs closing the main set which included "A Question Of Time", "Enjoy The Silence" and "Personal Jesus" and the 4-song sequnce of "Halo", "Just Can't Get Enough", "I Feel You", and "Never Let Me Down Again" (complete with the obligatory mass audience arm swaying) that ended off the encore. That the show took place the day before Labor Day, while the flickering lights of the Canadian National Exhibition midway shone in the distance, there was an overwhelming sense of nostalgia that came over me at times, that had I seen them while I was still in high school or university (back in the mid to late 80's and into the early nineties) and the show had taken place just before Labor Day, this is what it would have felt like. So it took me more than twenty years to see them live. Better late than never.

  Depeche Mode: photo by Michael Ligon

  Depeche Mode: photo by Michael Ligon

  Depeche Mode: photo by Michael Ligon

Photos: Depeche Mode, Bat For Lashes @ Molson Ampitheatre, Toronto (September 1, 2013)

Monday, September 09, 2013

Riot Fest @ Fort York Garrison Common, Toronto (August 25, 2013)

Ushering in the dog days of summer a few weeks back was the two-day long weekend travelling music festival Riot Fest which took over the grounds of Fort York Garrison Common. Day One was strictly for the younger generation (eg. A Day to Remember, Pierce the Veil, Every Time I Die, Mayday Parade, Grade, The Ghost Inside & Structures) which I passed on and so I chose to take in Day Two only which while including newer acts like Best Coast mostly featured bands of an older ilk including Dinosaur Jr., Rocket From The Crypt, The Weakerthans, Iggy and The Stooges and of course the much anticipated reunion of The Replacements, Toronto which had the honour of hosting the first live reunion of Paul Westerberg and Tommy Stinson (plus backing band of Josh Freese and David Minehan) after 22 years. Other than Best Coast, I'd not seen any of the other acts live. I'd caught a J Mascis solo set at the James Street Supercrawl in Hamilton a few Septembers ago, a Lou Barlow in-store a few years back and a John Samson solo set at Lee's Palace back in 2009 but save for that, Riot Fest was my first time seeing their respective bands as well as my first time seeing Rocket From The Crypt, Iggy and The Stooges and The Replacements.

  Bethany Cosentino of Best Coast: photo by Michael Ligon

I kind of remember Best Coast as a one trick pony, playing the same garagey, surf-pop number over and over, but that wasn't true at all during their set. They're more varied sonically than that and although their are particularly innovative, they managed to charm me by the end of their set. Bethany mentioned how it was an honour to play the festival and that she was the only girl amongst the bands in the lineup, which drew applause from the crowd.

  J Mascis of Dinosaur Jr.: photo by Michael Ligon

Dinosaur Jr.' set, while great, felt low-key surprisingly even during J's most shredded guitar solos but it was great to hear "The Wagon" and "Just Live Heaven". Lou Barlow seemed much more animated on bass than I would have imagined.

  The Venue: photo by Michael Ligon

Ah yes, Fort York Garrison Common. You became almost a second home to me this summer, having been there already twice before for other festivals [TURF, The Grove Music Festival].

  Rocket From The Crypt: photo by Michael Ligon

San Diego's horn-embellished punks Rocket From The Crypt were a name that floated around during my indie rock 90's days who I never really explored in depth back then. They were very much an enigma then and still are today with their punk-driven brand of rock n' roll with more than a dash of horns, like a collision of rockabilly and punk but without the awful aftertaste. I remember the sun coming out during the set (after it had been mostly grey prior to this) and the dust storm being kicked up near the front of the stage by what I presume were concert-goers really getting into the music. With the band wearing matching black and white, rockabilly shirts they were perhaps the best-dressed band of the day.

  John Samson of The Weakerthans: photo by Michael Ligon

In his off-time, it appears that Weakerthans vocalist John Samson has mountain-men'd himself up with his beard and outgrown locks. Mellowest set of the day for sure, and perhaps the odd-band-out, their lyrical pop-rock in contrast with the punkier roots of all the other acts on the bill. Fox Jaws' Carleigh Aikins was a special guest on one song to sing duet with Samson.

  Iggy and The Stooges: photo by Michael Ligon

Still sounding dangerous after all these years, Iggy and The Stooges (which included The Minutemen's Mike Watt on bass, plus original members guitarist James Williamson and drummer Scott Asheton) played pretty much what amounted to a greatest hits set playing classics like "Raw Power", "Fun House", "Search and Destroy", and my personal favourite "I Wanna be Your Dog" as well as plugging the most recent Iggy and The Stooges album Ready To Die (released earlier this year}, and then throwing in a great performance of a solo Iggy tune ("The Passenger") for good measure. Though well-meaning I think it was an error in judgement bringing up audience members on to the stage for a dancy party during the more askewed punk-jazz of "Fun House" but other than that this was a terrific set.

  The Replacements: photo by Michael Ligon

Having been in highschool back in the mid to late 80's I was too busy listening to the British acts like The Smiths, The Cure, and New Order perhaps too immature to have cared much about or appreciate an American band like The Replacements. It probably wasn't until the early 90's when Muchmusic and their alternative music video show The Wedge seemed to feature The Replacements' music videos for "Left Of The Dial" and "Bastards of Young" (both videos similarly filmed with a fixed shot of a speaker) as staples of the program. Sign of the times back then I guess that music videos got me to take notice of an artist. I'd still count myself as a sporadic listener of them even after that but, colour me impressed [how pun-ny of me], after witnessing their reunion set at Fort York Garrison Common a few weeks ago. Covering all aspects of their career from their early punk days to their later major label releases, it was a fantastic setlist all around. That the band had limited their reunion (at least for now) to only three cities (Toronto, Denver, Chicago) on the travelling Riot Fest roadshow is a shame for everyone else but wow, what an honour and an experience it was to see them.

Photos: Riot Fest @ Fort York Garrison Common, Toronto (August 25, 2013)

Monday, September 02, 2013

The Grove Music Festival @ Fort York Garrison Common, Toronto (August 3, 2013)

As you can see by the lateness of this post, I got lazy with posting over the last month and now here we are with summer at it's end. I took in the inaugural Grove Music Festival down at Fort York Garrison Common at the beginning of August. It's no Osheaga [which was happening the same weekend] but The Grove Music Festival was a compact and perfectly enjoyable festival in itself with a diverse lineup that hit in all the rights spots with me catching acts ranging from the slacker punk rock of Wavves, to the no-frills rap flow of Earl Sweatshirt, the working-class, Jersey rock of Gaslight Anthem, the mash-up styles of Girl Talk, the scintillating electro-pop of Hot Chip, and the exhilarating pop of Phoenix. No sense in reviewing it at this point. Just enjoy the photos:

  Wavves: photo by Michael Ligon

  Earl Sweatshirt: photo by Michael Ligon

  Gaslight Anthem: photo by Michael Ligon

  Girl Talk: photo by Michael Ligon

  Hot Chip: photo by Michael Ligon

  Phoenix: photo by Michael Ligon

Photos: The Grove Music Festival @ Fort York Garrison Common, Toronto (August 3, 2013)

Friday, August 02, 2013

Bjork @ Echo Beach, Toronto (July 16, 2013)

  Bjork @ Echo Beach, Toronto: photo by Michael Ligon

Bjork. Echo Beach. Warm summer night.

The all-female Icelandic choir Graduale Nobili.

Tesla Coil.

Video projections. Starfish. Landscapes. This beautiful Earth.

Army of Me. [set list]

Dance Party. Sing-a-longs.

"Raise your flag higher, higher, Raise your flag higher, higher" [from encore song "Declare Independence", dedicated to Trayvon Martin]

Delirious. Euphoric. Moving.

Concert of the summer, if not, of the year.

Thursday, August 01, 2013

Eleanor Friedberger, Teen @ Horseshoe Tavern, Toronto (June 5, 2013)

   Teen: photo by Michael Ligon

Let's time warp back to the beginning of June when a NYC double-bill took over the Horseshoe Tavern, with the Brooklyn-based band TEEN opening for Eleanor Friedberger. TEEN [yes, in all caps] is the project of Kristina Lieberson, keyboardist for Here We Go Magic and whose membership also includes her sisters Katherine and Lizzie as well as member Jane Herships [taking time out of her own folk project Spider]. A bit of a schizophrenic approach musically from a base of guitar, drums, keyboards, bass and vocals, their songs varied from new-wavey, synth-pop to artier, more idiosyncratic excursions. For the sake of a song or two, vocalist Lieberson provided some interesting vocal inflections. Adventurous listening but perhaps a bit frustrating if all you want to do is hum along. The band's most debut full-length In Limbo (produced by Spaceman3′s Sonic Boom) was released through Washington,DC label Carpark Records in August 2012.

   Eleanor Friedberger: photo by Michael Ligon

The last time I'd seen Eleanor Friedberger live was during the CMJ Music Marathon in New York City this past October during which she performed solo but it was just over a year ago that I'd last seen her perform with a band when she played a show at the Garrison. Comparing her recent show with her set at the Garrison last year, it was quite apparent how much more engaging she was, and how much more fun she seemed to have this time around. It wasn't like a night-and-day difference between the two shows - the improved vibe of this show was far more subtle than that - but to me it made a world of difference. In support of her second full-length entitled Personal Record, she continues to hone the pop-craftmanship [alternating between upbeat and melancholy] that she mastered on her first LP Last Summer. My lack of notes for this show makes it difficult to really review it set-wise but a perusal of the her set lists on setlist.com around that time[eg. her set list in Chicago @ Empty Bottle on June 7] seem to indicate she was playing the same/similar set list across different stops on the tour ie. an even mix of songs between the first and second albums. I bought the vinyl of the new record and even got Eleanor to sign it for me after the show. Still a small but loyal fan base in Toronto it seems, it was a decent turnout for the Wednesday night of this show, a larger turnout I'd estimate than the maybe half-full turnout for her show at the Garrison last year. Criminally under-appreciated in my opinion, but for now I'll bask in the glow of being in that club of her early supporters.

Photos: Eleanor Friedberger, Teen @ Horseshoe Tavern, Toronto (June 5, 2013)
Bandcamp: Teen
SoundCloud: Eleanor Friedberger
Video: Teen - "Better" (music video)
Video: Eleanor Friedberger - "Stare At The Sun" (music video)

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Toronto Urban Roots Festival @ Fort York Garrison Common (July 6 & 7, 2013)

   Frank Turner: photo by Michael Ligon

I'd already started the first two days of TURF missing the first openers each day and the weekend was no different. I didn't have the motivation to start the last two days of TURF early for a number of reasons including the combination of heat and uncertain weather conditions as well as the idea of being at the festival for up to 11 hours a day for two days straight. So I took a later start for the Saturday, checking in with UK folk/punk outfit Frank Turner and The Sleeping Souls who are currently amassing success and radio play with their sunny, raucous single "Recovery". The comparisons to Billy Bragg I guess are somewhat relevant though Turner sings with a far more subtle British accent and Turner and company only sound latter-day Bragg when he was perhaps more radio-friendly. Highly enjoyable set in terms of the energy of Turner and his efforts to get the audience involved such as when he had the entire audience crouch down to the ground and then jump up when the band leaped back into song. There was a nod to Canada with his solo cover of The Weakerthans "Plea From a Cat Named Virtute" and then during the encore a solo Turner came back to play a cover of Bruce Springsteen's "Thunder Road" as a GO Train on the nearby tracks came by during the song, in my opinion giving the song some added ambience.

   The Lowest Of The Low: photo by Michael Ligon

Next up for me were Toronto band Lowest of The Low. As vocalist Ron Hawkins was almost alluding to in his introductory banter, he felt humbled, almost feeling undeserving to be playing a late set in the day[that'd normally go to a higher profile act], but brushed that off with a bit of humour, thanking the organizers for giving them the later set as they wouldn't have done well in the heat/sun of the early afternoon as pasty white dudes or something along those lines. There was a bit of nostalgia hearing some of those old tunes ["Bleed A Little While Tonight", "Eternal Fatalist"] which were always faves of mine every time I heard them on CFNY 102.1 FM back in the day, but the band also played more recent material which sounded as vital as ever.

   The Hold Steady: photo by Michael Ligon

It was almost three years since I'd last seen The Hold Steady perform live in Toronto and so this was one of the sets of the festival I was most looking forward to. As the band is prepping the release of a new album which'll hopefully see the light of day this year, the band took to playing some new tracks as well as of course some audience faves. Frankly, I can remember gravitating to any of the new tracks that were played and found more pleasure in tried and true favourites like "Stuck Between Stations", "Chips Ahoy", "Southtown Girls" and the the Frank Turner-augmented encore song "Stay Positive". I think as the sun started to set, the band were hitting their stride. Seemed the audience near the front of the stage may have been having the most fun. I was more than midway back and it was far more mellow back there, but in the end it was a pleasurable set although not the most raucous one I'd hope for.

OK, the headliners for this night, the Irish-American outfit Flogging Molly, were a mere afterthought for me. I figured they deserved a chance so I made a point to stick around and at least watch part of their set from afar. Specializing in Celtic folk punk rock that's equal parts The Pogues and The Clash, their thickly Irish-accented frontman Dave King was an enthusiastic, energetic vocalist. He was also more than a bit of a comedian in a style like he was telling jokes at the local pub, but also in a good-natured way shone the spotlight at different points in the night on each of the individual members of the band including his wife Bridget Regan who demonstrated her talent on violin and tin whistle. About, a half an hour or so into their set I'd had enough, and so took off for home to rest up for the last day of the festival.

Photos: Toronto Urban Roots Festival @ Fort York Garrison Common (July 6, 2013)


   Whitehorse: photo by Michael Ligon

The last day of the festival for me was all about establised favourites, Neko Case and Belle and Sebastian but there were a bunch more acts to sift through before getting to them. I'd hope at the very least to have made if for the 3 pm scheduled set of indie rock veterans Yo La Tengo but was about an hour off schedule and made it during the set of Canadian folk-country duo Whitehorse consisting of the married couple of Luke Doucet and Melissa McClelland. The duo seem to have been garnering success, at least critically, even making the short list recently for this year's Polaris Music Prize and I'd been interested in checking out how well they gelled together musically given my casual familiarity with their individual music. Although I didn't catch their whole set, what I could ascertain was they fit just as comfortably musically, as they did as a married couple. No, it wasn't a matter of them ever being lovey-dovey on stage [although that would kind of have been sweet] but that both artists were equally confident and talented, alternating vocals and providing somewhat minimalist yet muscular instrumentation through their guitars as well as percussion and a looper. Impressive.

Not knowing either of the following acts, both Aussies, group The Cat Empire and singer-songwriter Xavier Rudd, I stood back in thr crowd for both sets rather than expend my energy to get to the photo pit [for which I'd been approved for, by the way]. Of the two, The Cat Empire were quite the entertainers with their mix of jazz, ska and latin influences, and even as the downpour of rain came, that did little to dampen the spirits of many that were dancing. At one point, their vocalist was successful in getting some to perform the Greek circle dance which a select group of people rose to the challenge.

On the other end of the spectrum was singer songwriter Xavier Rudd's spiritual vibe and laid back reggae grooves over at the East Stage. Performing with a drummer/percussionist Rudd mostly sat down singing and playing guitar and this was a set for the next hour or so. I mean it's all pleasant and chill, but I don't get his success.

   Neko Case: photo by Michael Ligon

It's been about a year and a half since I last seen Miss Neko Case live when she opened for The National at their show at Air Canada Centre in December 2009. I've had this policy for a few years now I will make every effort to see Neko live every time she comes to Toronto, and so TURF was a no-brainer. It was one of the few sets I really wanted to take advantage of my access to the photo pit. To see Neko and hear her soaring, twang-inflected vocals up close was euphoric as usual and as the photo pit's three-song policy reached fruition, the second major downfall of the day began, first slowly then with vigor. At that point I had no choice except to take off for the VIP tent in order to put away my camera. But as the rain continue, Neko and band under covered stage, continued on and the set list was pretty sweet containing a lot of faves like "The Tigers Have Spoken", "Hold On, Hold On", "This Tornado Loves You" and "Favorite" as well as some new ones. Her number one, Kelly Hogan, as usual provided her sublime background vocals as well as her comedic skills playing off Neko's quips superbly. The rain lightened up and stopped near the end of the set, enough that I can enjoy the a bunch of songs outside of the tent and actually SEE Neko. And even with the rain, this was probably one of my favourite sets of hers ever.

   Belle & Sebastian: photo by Michael Ligon

It's been a few years since Scots Belle and Sebastian came to town for a show at Massey Hall in October 2010 and like I'd mentioned above for Neko Case, I've always made it policy to see Belle and Sebastian every time they come to town. I'll always hold the band's shows at Massey Hall near and dear to my heart and while an outdoor show doesn't quite maintain that same intimacy, it was a still a very good set. The rain held off and for the next 80 minutes or so, the band performed a set of mostly audience favourites. Favourites included the serene "Lord Anthony" for which Stuart donned his chapeau and "Dirty Dream #2" during which a volunteer from the audience was brought on for the spoken word verse but rather than speak it, she sung it, although none for the worse as far as the audience was concerned who gave the girl a rousing cheer. Several members of the band took turns playing rounds of Scrabble with a girl from the audience which was so unusual and funny. "Your Cover's Blown" was perhaps the disco-iest I've ever seen the band. The band pulled out many people from the front of the stage which broke out into a full on dance party as the band performed "The Boy With The Arab Strap". And as the end of the set neared, I took off for a brief bathroom break as the band broke in to their classic "Judy and The Dream of Horses" and then later ended the night during their encore with another classic, "Get Me Away From Here I'm Dying". It was definitely a fan's set, and it's always a pleasure to see them. Best banter of the night goes to band member Stevie Jackson who had collaborated on a musical theatrical production Paper Laced With Gold with Toronto's Maggie Macdonald and Stephanie Markowitz last year when he came to town and even apparently had one line in the production, which he even graciously reenacted for the audience. Comedic timing at its best.

I think next year I'd prefer a good solid two day lineup, even if it means overlapping sets, rather than the two nights, and two full days format they had this inaugural year. Props to Collective Concerts for organizing such a great event at Fort York Garrison Common, a venue in the heart of the city. Hope to see TURF next year!

Photos: Toronto Urban Roots Festival @ Fort York Garrison Common (July 7, 2013)

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)