Tag Archives: TURF

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: Whitehorse at Fort York – July 7, 2013

Whitehorse’s Melissa McClelland improvises a microphone out of a phone receiver at Fort York for Toronto Urban Roots Fest July 7. Photo: Tom Beedham

Whitehorse’s Melissa McClelland improvises a microphone out of a phone receiver at Fort York for Toronto Urban Roots Fest July 7. Photo: Tom Beedham

Whitehorse is husband and wife Luke Doucet and Melissa McClelland’s band. Hamilton-bred, they moved to Toronto a week before TURF and share their band’s name with a city in Yukon. The layers of the group’s genesis are many, but there’s a minimal chance they outweigh those of its sonic output.

Putting on their best mad scientist impressions, Whitehorse spent the first half of their TURF set singing through telephones, banging on anything they could get their hands and drumsticks on, picking through rock star guitar solos, and looping all of it to serve up a heavily layered Dagwood of sound.

Then they flipped the switch to unfiltered an country serenade built on dual acoustic guitars.

While it’s hard to isolate the band under the heading of a general genre, their set at TURF certainly made it acceptable to slap “experimental” in front of any category you might suggest.

Originally published by The Ontarion.

TURF reviews: The Wooden Sky – July 7, 2013

The Wooden Sky opened the fourth and final day of Toronto Urban Roots Fest on July 7. Photo: Tom Beedham

The Wooden Sky opened the fourth and final day of Toronto Urban Roots Fest on July 7. Photo: Tom Beedham

Kicking off the fourth and final day of Toronto Urban Roots Fest, The Wooden Sky played an 11 a.m. set to a dedicated group of concertgoers.

The band opened with “Child of the Valley,” then playing through tracks like “(Bit Parent),” “City of Lights/Dancing At My Window…,” “Take Me Out,” and the call and response-friendly “Oh My God (It Still Means A Lot To Me)” before closing with “Something Hiding for Us in the Night,” perhaps intended as a nod to the acts that would follow.

It was an early set, but one worth waking up for. For those with festival wristbands that aimed for the authentic Flogging Molly experience the night before, The Wooden Sky’s soothing folk probably served as the stuff of good hangover remedy, too.

Originally published by The Ontarion.

TURF reviews: Flogging Molly at Fort York – July 6, 2013

Flogging Molly performed at TURF July 6, 2013. Photo: Tom Beedham

Flogging Molly performed at TURF July 6, 2013. Photo: Tom Beedham

Walking onto a stage with cans of Guinness perched atop every amp, Flogging Molly worked hard at entertaining what was easily TURF’s largest crowd of staggering drunks, which regularly, wouldn’t have offered much surprise, except when it’s taken into consideration that alcoholic beverages at the festival were priced at nine bucks a pop.

The punk affected band finding its place on the urban roots festival’s docket with its connection to traditional Celtic folk music, it was only fitting that Irish-American pub punk should come packaged with a sense of humour. Lead singer/guitarist Dave King followed suit by perforating a setlist packed with songs like “Whistles The Wind,” “The Present State of Grace,” and “Float” by cracking wise about the number of photographers filling the media pit during the first three songs and how somebody better get his good side (which he suggested was probably his behind). The frontman also supplied groan-rendering segues that linked things like a Hold Steady-dedicated “Saints & Sinners” to bassist Nathen Maxwell, the “wonderful sinner who can’t hold anything steady” and opens the bass-carried track, as well as the “lucky bastards” living in Toronto and – “speaking of bastards” – “Requiem For a Dying Song,” written for George W. Bush.

King also did well at reminding fans of the band’s family-oriented disposition, dedicating “Drunken Lullabies” to his father Richard and went on to introduce banjo player Bob Schmidt, but not without mentioning the recent birth of his daughter before diving into the banjo picked lead of “Drunken Lullibies.”

With VIP ticket holders allowed to fill the space left by photographers after the band’s first three songs, before “The Kilburn High Road,” King pointed out relatives standing before the stage, and then introduced his wife and bandmate, Bridget Regan, who supplies the prominent tin whistle featured on the track.

A set that evoked the only circle pits had at the Fort York-held portions of TURF, it’s safe to say that it was all a working formula, too.

Originally published by The Ontarion.

TURF reviews: The Hold Steady at Fort York – July 6, 2013

The Hold Steady played their first Toronto performance in three years at July 6 at TURF. Photo: Tom Beedham

The Hold Steady played their first Toronto performance in three years July 6 at TURF. Photo: Tom Beedham

When The Hold Steady took the west stage at TURF, frontman Craig Finn commented on how, at lots of concerts, bands don’t need introductions, modestly proposing, “We do.”

Indeed, the band had its share of lead-ins. TURF co-presenter Donny Kutzbach from Funtime Presents, Canadian sports broadcaster Dave Hodge, and even English folk singer Frank Turner – who aired his excitement over The Hold Steady’s set earlier during his own on the west stage – all appeared onstage just before the indie rock group’s set to offer forwards.

But even for some that have already been enjoying the band for years, the concert was an introduction (or an update) of sorts, as any that might have missed their Toronto performance at the Phoenix in 2010 had yet to be exposed to the band live without keyboardist Franz Nicolay or with the addition of new guitarist Steve Selvidge.

Still, if there was anyone more excited for the band to be onstage at TURF than Turner, who lowered himself into the VIP viewing area in front of the stage before The Hold Steady began, Finn would have been a good contender.

Providing one of the most animated sets Fort York saw over the course of the weekend, the audience was made fully aware of The Hold Steady’s need for Selvidge’s second guitar as Finn neglected his to theatrically raise his arms in the air, point at fans, and pull at what’s left of his hair while singing with a smile on his face and a head that looked like it might explode from all of the energy.

Between songs, he engaged the crowd with a bait about visiting the Sky Dome earlier in the day to see his favourite team play a ball game (the Minnesota Twins).

The band played “Chips Ahoy,” “Hurricane J,” “Magazines,” “Rock Problems,” “Sequestered in Memphis” and “The Swish,” as well as some material they announced they would be recording in studio shortly thereafter.

They closed out the action on the west stage with “Stay Positive,” featuring Frank Turner.

Originally published by The Ontarion.

TURF reviews: The Lowest of the Low at Fort York – July 6, 2013

’90s alterna-rockers The Lowest of the Low performed July 6 at Toronto Urban Roots Fest. Photo: Tom Beedham

’90s alterna-rockers The Lowest of the Low performed July 6 at Toronto Urban Roots Fest. Photo: Tom Beedham

Seeing The Lowest of the Low listed on TURF’s lineup hinted at some programmed disregard of the roots music promised by the nomenclature of Toronto Urban Roots Fest, but not disregard that was unwelcome. Giving the audience a chance to hear one of the greatest Canadian singles of the ’90s, “Salesmen, Cheats, and Liars,” straight from its source was not just a set highlight from the thrice-revived alt-rockers (indeed, the wisdom sported on the backs of fans’ t-shirts spotted at TURF – “There’s no life like low lifes” – rings true), but a festival highlight on its own. The band also performed new songs, noting a return to the studio would soon follow – so get excited for that, Low Lifers.


Originally published by The Ontarion.

TURF reviews: Frank Turner & the Silent Souls at Fort York – June 6, 2013

Frank Turner & The Silent Souls performed at Toronto Urban Roots Fest July 6. Photo: Tom Beedham

Frank Turner & The Silent Souls performed at Toronto Urban Roots Fest July 6. Photo: Tom Beedham

“Because punk is for the kids who never fit in with the rest,” Frank Turner sings in “Four Simple Words.” But his stuff’s not really for those same kids.

Some have credited Frank Turner with a folk-punk sound (maybe for the Black Flag tattoo on his wrist or the “FTHC” utilized in his logo), but his music is likely more of a result of the latter compounded genre or a kind of meta-punk than an actual courier of its MO.

Turner’s songs have the virtues of blunt, transparent lyrics, but their fraternal pub-fit themes and subject matter are generally anthemic before they are subversive, and his instrumentation is the stuff of good pop.

You can give him points for his ethics, though. Prior to his set, even though swarmed by fans just seconds afterwards, Turner ventured out into the crowd to get a feel of the environment the rest of the festival was enjoying. The singer’s been vocal about everyone at his shows being equal and not getting high on anything like his personal celebrity, so kudos to him for making good on that.

You can call Frank Turner (and the Sleeping Souls) alternative, but the music is a little too watered down (albeit with a pint or two) for punk classification. (And if you’re not satisfied with the above justification for that, the comment section’s down there; do your thing and educate me. I want to believe.)

While Turner’s punk sensibilities are up for debate, his folk status is undeniable, beholden nearly entirely to his singing/songwriting. Either sung over the electric guitar, drums, bass, and keys of the Silent Souls or simply the acoustic guitar of his solo work, Turner’s songs are by and large relatable stories told through a steady stream of consciousness.

The one exception that definitely gains him some punk credit, though, is his “Glory Hallelujah,” which, containing the lyrics “There never was a God / There is no God” prominently is comparatively confrontational. At TURF, it registered as an entertaining social experiment, visibly placing the broad festival audience that had sung along to set opener “Four Simple Words” and its “I want to dance” chorus in an uncomfortable position.

Otherwise, Turner put forth a great cover of The Weakerthans’ “A Plea From A Cat Named Virtue,” supplied as part of Turner’s tradition of performing regional covers based on where he’s playing. (The Weakerthans are from Winnipeg, but hey, close enough.)

“Four Simple Words”
“If I Ever Stray”
“Try This At Home”
“Losing Days”
“Glory Hallelujah”
“Long Live The Queen”
“The Way I Tend To Be”
“Wessex Boy”
“A Plea From A Cat Named Virtue” (Weakerthans)
“Reasons Not To Be An Idiot”
“Plain Sailing Weather”
“I Am Disappeared”
“The Road”
“I Still Believe”

Originally published by The Ontarion.