The Toronto Urban Roots Festival, or TURF for short, is a 4-day music festival in downtown Toronto. For its first year, they had a really good line up of artists including She & Him, Camera Obscura, Arkells, Fitz and the Tantrums, Hannah Georgas, The Felice Brothers, Skydiggers, The Wooden Sky, The Sadies, Yo La Tengo, Whitehorse, Cat Empire, Neko Case, and Belle & Sebastian to name a few. There was also a club portion with live performances at The Horseshoe and Lee’s Palace each night.
I only attended Day 3 and saw Dawes, Matt Mays, Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls, The Lowest of the Low, The Hold Steady, and Flogging Molly. I found it to be an amazing experience. The festival was well organized, easy to get around and had a good variety of food and drink options including great food trucks, plentiful beer gardens and free water. There was a kid’s area, too. The VIP option was well worth the upgrade. I think I would attend more festivals if they were all this well run and had such well organized VIP options. I do wonder how close to capacity they were, and whether the manageable crowd levels were by design or not. Hopefully, TURF was profitable and will become an annual tradition on the Toronto concert calendar.
LA band Dawes had a comfy afternoon set. I wasn’t familiar with their music before I decided to attend and I came away a fan of their straight-up rock with a classic 70s vibe. Perfect music for a hot and sunny day.
They have three albums out: their debut, 2009’s North Hills, their 2011 release Nothing Is Wrong and their latest, Stories Don’t End. Song highlights include “From a Window Seat”, “Most People” and “Time Spent in Los Angeles”.
I had seen Matt Mays‘ name around quite a bit, but never listened to his music until I was checking out the TURF line-up. He plays great, soulful rock music that was a perfect complement to the third day of TURF. Mays is from down east; Nova Scotia to be exact. He and his band put on an energetic set that surely saw me added to his list of fans.
Check out “Indio” and “Take It On Faith” from his latest release, Coyote.
FRANK TURNER & THE SLEEPING SOULS
I guess I’m kind of a latecomer to Frank Turner. I discovered him after the release of 2011’s England Keep My Bones. I subsequently missed his show in Toronto. This made TURF my opportunity to see Frank live. He also played Sunday night at Lee’s Palace.
Since I first heard his music, I’ve loved his impassioned, energetic delivery of oft-times confessional, story-telling songs. I always figured that he’d be amazing to see live, and let me tell you, I was not disappointed.
He opened the show with “Four Simple Words” from his latest Tape Deck Heart. He kept the energy level near frantic for most of the show, indulging his inner “corporate whore” by shilling his new music, while reaching back in his catalog.
Song highlights included “The Way I Tend To Be”, “Losing Days”, “Plain Sailing Weather”, and “Recovery” from his latest, Tape Deck Heart. “Glory Hallelujah” (yes, this song was just as powerful live as you would imagine – glory be to the rational), “Wessex Boy”, and “I Still Believe” from England Keep My Bones. Love Ire & Song provided the amazing crowd participation main set closer “Photosynthesis”.
He made lots of friends by covering local legends The Weakerthans’ “Plea From A Cat Named Virtute”.
Upon popular request, Frank came back for one more song, a great cover of “Thunder Road” by Bruce Springsteen.
I don’t think anyone in the crowd was in any way disappointed by the show. He’s got a way with a song and keeps the audience involved, even to the point of danger.
Truly glad I was able to see Frank live.
We saw Frank again when he came out to pump his fists and sing along with one of his favourite bands, The Hold Steady, before joining them on stage for their finale. Pretty damn cool.
THE LOWEST OF THE LOW
I’ve written about The Lowest of the Low and their singer Ron Hawkins many times before on one in ten words. I’ve been open about my feeling that Ron is one of Canada’s all time great songwriters. I’ve been a fan of The Low since before their indie debut Shakespeare, My Butt was released in 1991.
I always enjoy seeing The Low live and this show was no exception. It’s also great to see them on a bill such as this, where they can be appreciated by old fans like myself, and hopefully be introduced to new fans, too.
They played a solid set from across their career, hitting up “Rosy and Grey” (famously covered by Weddings, Parties, Anything), “Eternal Fatalist”, “Bleed a Little While Tonight”, and “The Hand of Magdalena”, all from the legendary Shakespeare, My Butt, “Gamble” from their 1994 follow up Hallucigenia, and “The Last Recidivist” from 2004’s reunion album Sordid Fiction.
THE HOLD STEADY
I’ve been looking forward to seeing The Hold Steady for a long, long time. I first heard of them through a long-deceased and much missed TV program on MuchMusic called The New Music. I immediately picked up 2005’s Separation Sunday. I liked what I heard. Lots of loud guitars in a straight-up rock style with unique storytelling delivered in a ranting style over top. What’s not to like?
I eventually reached back in their catalog to Almost Killed Me and all the way forward to today, as I eagerly anticipate each new release. I also discovered Craig Finn’s previous band Lifter Puller.
So here I was, on a beautiful day in Toronto, and The Hold Steady hit the stage. And they hit hard. Their setlist was a great cross-section from their discography, featuring favourites and deeper cuts. They were everything I could have hoped for.
Set highlights included tunes from across their discography including “The Swish” from Almost Killed Me, “Banging Camp” and “Your Little Hood Rat Friend” from Separation Sunday, “Stuck Between Stations”, “Chips Ahoy”, and “Southtown Girls” from Boys And Girls In America, “Sequestered in Memphis” and “Constructive Summer”, “Stay Positive” (their closing tune, with Frank Turner) from Stay Positive, and “Rock Problems” from Heaven is Whenever.
Being right up front can be a mixed bag sound-wise. You get a lot of sound directly from the stage and the vocals can be a bit buried. As a guitar player I have to say that the sound from the stage during The Hold Steady was incredible. I thought that the Vox driven sounds that Tad Kubler was pushing were amazing. Then I went to the other side of the stage and had my hair blown back by Steve Selvidge’s Marshall/Orange rig. All told, some of the best guitar tones in rock today.
I don’t want to get anyone in trouble, or report hearsay, but I swear that Craig Finn said that they were playing a new song from their new album that would be coming out in a few weeks. I haven’t been able to find any corroborating evidence, so I’m content to think that I hallucinated it. They definitely treated us to a couple of new tunes. I’m sure I’m not alone in looking forward to the new release.
At one point between songs, as audience members shouted favourite song titles at the band, Finn remarked that if he let people shout song titles for long enough, they would eventually be right, in his experience. Love his sense of humour. Second only to how photogenic he is.
See you next year at TURF!
Take a look at TURF day four here.
Jordan Neo // one in ten words