Tag Archives: Toronto Urban Roots Festival

TURF reviews: Belle & Sebastian at Fort York – July 7, 2013

Belle & Sebastian band leader Stuart Murdoch charmed the crowd at Fort York as Belle & Sebastian closed out Toronto Urban Roots Fest July 7. Photo: Tom Beedham

Belle & Sebastian band leader Stuart Murdoch charmed the crowd at Fort York as Belle & Sebastian closed out Toronto Urban Roots Fest July 7. Photo: Tom Beedham

Kicking things off with an instrumental that amasses more sounds and contributors as it progresses, the sprawling B-side that is “Judy Is a Dick Slap” and its late ’80s/early ’90s game show theme comparisons provided a fitting opening number that also allowed Belle & Sebastian’s roster modest introductions to the crowd. For the most part, it operated simply as a vehicle allowing the band’s members to enter the stage as their contributions were cued into the mix, saving formal introductions for later and allowing their musical capabilities to speak for themselves.

The one slight exception was Belle & Sebastian founder and band leader Stuart Murdoch’s entrance, which involved the ceremonial closing of an umbrella. That action simultaneously signaled the end of the downpour that affected previous sets on TURF’s last day and the beginning of Belle & Sebastian’s. For anyone out of the loop, it also confirmed Murdoch’s place as the band’s central entertainer.

From there on, Murdoch was behind the wheel of one of the most charismatic, charming, and crowd involving concert performances Toronto has experienced this year so far.

That a Belle & Sebastian concert earns that title is probably directly due to the fact that so many of Murdoch’s pretty songs double as character profiles and critiques that mash up omniscient storytelling, dark humour, and twee instrumentals. It’s a delivery formula that sort of just necessitates audience familiarity, investment and captivity.

The real-life size of Murdoch’s subjects allows Murdoch to inject a heavy dose of literalism into his performances, and it certainly doesn’t hurt that he follows up on the opportunity.

The portion of Belle & Sebastian’s set perhaps most illustrative of such dramatics was its vaudeville performance of Murdoch’s bully-lamenting anthem about a boy that wore mascara, “Lord Anthony.”

Setting things up for the song, Murdoch had crowd members with access to the VIP pit pass off a tube of the aforementioned makeup to a girl in the front row. Later on, the singer left the stage, passed through the VIP crowd, and approached the girl only to have her theatrically apply it to his eyes, then climbing atop the barrier to pantomime the closing portion of the number and the words, “leave two fingers in the air” by doing just that with his middle digits.

Prior to an earlier performance of “The Model,” Murdoch called upon a girl in the VIP pit to join him onstage. Mentioning he was supposed to go on a date with the girl after the show, the two sat at a table and engaged in what the singer called “indie Scrabble,” playing a speedy, un-scored round of the game. Not letting the show go on without music for too long, Murdoch soon left his seat to start the song as other band members joined his “date” at the table to push the game along. At one point left to her own devices, the girl too left her seat to dance along onstage, even pretending to flash the crowd when Murdoch half-whispered the song’s line about “The girl next door who’s famous for showing her chest.”

Other tactics Murdoch enlisted in his TURF M.O. involved inviting a couple handfuls of fans onstage to dance during “The Boy with the Arab Strap,” dedicating “The Stars of Track and Field” to Wimbledon champion and fellow Scotsman Andy Murray, relating an alleged recent facial surgery that left him unable to whistle and thusly requesting the audience’s participation on “The Loneliness of a Middle Distance Runner,” calling on an audience member to get onstage and provide former band member Isobell Campbell’s spoken part on “Dirty Dream Number Two” (she sang the part when the band got there, but such is a risk that comes with the territory of selecting crowd participants at random), and taking asides in the middle of songs to censor his more colourful lyrics because of the festival’s “all ages” demographic or alternatively to greet remarkably well-behaved babies in the VIP pit (learning parents take note: Belle & Sebastian’s bedroom pop is newborn friendly).

Of course, Murdoch doesn’t have to engage in kissing baby campaign tactics to win over his audiences; it all just cements his place as the favoured Belle & Sebastian frontispiece.

Fans tend to puff up at songs from Belle & Sebastian’s more democratic period featuring lead vocals from any member that is not Stuart Murdoch, and as if in a display of sympathy, the only related offense the band committed at TURF was facilitated through “To Be Myself Completely,” led by guitarist Stevie Jackson. Murdoch didn’t seem to mind the break from the spotlight, but you could catch him receive an authoritative elbow from violinist Sarah Martin after delivering one of his backing parts on the song, so maybe he has a thing against letting Jackson do what his existential number is about.

The band rounded off the regular portion of its set with If You’re Feeling Sinister closer “Judy and the Dream of Horses,” only to return with an encore they insisted they were merely providing at the insistence of a man that stopped them from making their way to their van (festival founder Jeff Cohen, perhaps?). They played “Get Me Away From Here, I’m Dying” as if to reify Murdoch’s intent to finish with material from what he’s referred to on-and-off as his best collection of songs, and that was it. Toronto Urban Roots Fest was over.

Touring just ahead of Aug. 26-due collection The Third Eye Centre, it might have come as a surprise (and maybe a disappointment) to eager fans that Belle & Sebastian didn’t delve into some deeper cuts – the closest they got to promoting their “new” product was with “I’m a Cuckoo” and “Your Cover’s Blown,” only appearing on the compilation as Avalanches and Miaoux Miaoux remixes (respectively) – but it would have been difficult to argue with the band’s self-aware and sweeping representation of its back catalogue.

“Judy Is a Dick Slap”
“I’m a Cuckoo”
“Another Sunny Day”
“The Stars of Track and Field”
“Dirty Dream Number Two”
“To Be Myself Completely”
“Lord Anthony”
“The Model”
“Piazza, New York Catcher”
“The Loneliness of a Middle Distance Runner”
“Your Cover’s Blown”
“I Didn’t See It Coming”
“The Boy with the Arab Strap”
“Legal Man”
“Judy and the Dream of Horses”

“Get Me Away From Here, I’m Dying”

Originally published by The Ontarion.


TURF reviews: Camera Obscura at Fort York – July 4, 2013

Camera Obscura’s Tracyanne Morgan and Kenny McKeeve at Fort York for TURF on July 4, 2013. Photo: Tom Beedham

Camera Obscura’s Tracyanne Morgan and Kenny McKeeve at Fort York for TURF on July 4, 2013. Photo: Tom Beedham

“We don’t usually wear sunglasses onstage,” Camera Obscura guitarist Kenny McKeeve told the crowd at TURF amid a break in their July 4 set. “We’re not pretentious, but we’re not used to this; we’re British.”

Scottish identity crises aside, it is indeed so that the Glasgow twee-poppers have been away from Ontario for some time, as their last set here was at Toronto’s Phoenix Concert Theatre on Nov. 27, 2009.

That – with perhaps some help from their critically acclaimed June 2013 release Desire Lines – all just meant for a warm welcome from the TURF crowd in the ranks at Fort York on July 4.

Although the group played in front of a backdrop sporting a blown up image of the new album’s artwork, 2006’s Let’s Get Out of This Country saw just as much representation on the group’s setlist. They also played “French Navy” and “Swans” from 2009’s My Maudlin Career, and reached 10 years back to 2003’s sophomore effort Underachievers Please Try Harder for “Teenager.” Full setlist below.

“Do It Again”
“Break It To You Gently”
“Tears For Affairs”
“Fifth in Line To The Throne”
“Lloyd, I’m Ready To Be Heartbroken”
“If Looks Could Kill”
“New Year’s Resolution”
“French Navy”
“Desire Lines”
“Come Back Margaret”
“Razzle Dazzle Rose”

Originally published by The Ontarion.

TURF war

Four-day music festival supports city as facility for live music

Toronto Urban Roots Festival (TURF) is attempting to act as harbinger for a new time in Toronto's history of live music. (Photo courtesy of TURF)

Toronto Urban Roots Festival (TURF) is attempting to act as harbinger for a new time in Toronto’s history of live music. (Photo courtesy of TURF)

That Toronto Urban Roots Fest is being marketed under the abbreviated “TURF” title is probably no coincidence.

The premiere of the multi-day outdoor music festival comes to the city July 4 through 7, and features headlining acts like Belle and Sebastian, She & Him, Neko Case, Joel Plaskett, and The Arkells. But beyond a concert event, in words that forgo exaggeration, TURF is a political battle cry championing the city’s place in North America’s music scene.

According to Jeff Cohen, the festival’s founder, TURF and multi-day festivals like it coming to the city mark a victory for the city’s music scene.

And Cohen should know. He was appointed Chair of the City of Toronto Music Advisory Council after consultee work he did with music lobbying organization Music Canada on a report comparing the music scene in Austin, Tex. to that of Toronto.

“Toronto City Council has some policies in place and some rules in the city books that are not conducive to people wanting to do outdoor summer events in downtown Toronto,” Cohen says he told Nikki Rowling, the author of the report, in 2012. “They have allowed the residents’ associations to rule the roost, and it’s time for politicians to rethink this and start having the business associations get in there with the residents’ associations and explain to the residents that one of the wonderful things about living in downtown Toronto is summer events.”

“Toronto is the third-largest music market in North America, yet it has very few outdoor concerts, and it does not have a multi-day festival. There’s something wrong there,” Cohen said. Before TURF, he saw a need for someone to step up and create a business environment that would allow private enterprise entrepreneurs to feel that they could back festivals without the anxiety that they would be entering money pits and logistical nightmares. TURF is his way of putting money where his mouth is.

But even with someone to act as harbinger for the festival scene in downtown Toronto, what if the residents’ associations still oppose the prospect of having more live music?

“Why don’t they move to Barrie or Dundas?” Cohen said over the phone on July 2, just as setup for festivities were getting underway to set up two stages at Fort York, the centre of TURF’s action. It’s tough love, but Cohen insists the tax base generated from the newly created jobs and ticket sales revenues, as well as the more simple appeal of easy access to live entertainment, are benefits reciprocated to area residents that outweigh things like noise complaints and other negative concert fallout.

In the same spirit, Cohen said that after some initial hesitation, Fort York saw hosting concerts as an opportunity to improve their revenues otherwise left dependent on the City of Toronto, as well as a promotional strategy that would bring approximately 15,000 people on site that had potentially never visited before, encouraging new repeat visitors in between concert dates. It also hosted Field Trip – the celebration of Toronto label Arts & Crafts’ 10-year anniversary – in June this year, and in August it will open its gates to a two-day presentation of touring punk festival Riot Fest.

The two stages at Fort York will allow for staggered performances and a seamless concert experience. Also on site will be local independent food vendors and a children’s area (access to the festival is free for children 10 and under).

After things wrap up at the fort, other TURF events will take place at Cohen’s bars, popular Toronto concert venues The Legendary Horseshoe Tavern and Lee’s Palace.

As TURF approaches and more outdoor venues and music events are finding their place in the city (Cohen is quick to namedrop Live Nation’s new Echo Beach venue and festivals such as Field Trip), Cohen’s attitude – although already passionate – is markedly more electrified speaking on the present state of music in the city, saying that the atmosphere of communication between the music industry and City Council has undergone “a total change,” something he credits to new councillors Gary Crawford, Josh Colle, who – informed by the report Cohen was involved with – travelled to Austin during South by Southwest this past March to propose a musical alliance with Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell, as well as Mike Layton.

“Instead of finding reasons not to have outdoor shows at Fort York, they’re finding reasons financially and spiritually and emotionally why we need those shows.”

Meanwhile, Austin evinced its support of Toronto on June 27 when its city council passed a resolution to begin a “Music City Alliance” to encourage tourism and general, cross-cultural exchange between itself and the City of Toronto once the latter passes similar legislation.

Originally published by The Ontarion on July 4, 2013.