Tuesday, July 08, 2014

TURF 2014 started strong out of the blocks on Friday


The Toronto Urban Roots Fest showed a lot of promise in its inaugural year and followed it up with a bigger and better event in 2014.

A third and smaller stage was added to Toronto's Fort York location this year, and that's where I found myself sitting on a hill at 4:50 p.m. on July 4 to see Lucius, a Brooklyn, N.Y. band fronted by two sweetly harmonizing blonde women in matching yellow mini-dresses. The indie pop quintet had an interesting look and songs that sounded familiar yet different enough from each other to keep your attention from wandering. Guitars, drums and keyboards were augmented by additional percussion on some songs in a 40-minute set that included "How Loud Your Heart Gets," "Wildewoman" and my favourite, "Turn It Around," which closed things off and incorporated some of Whitney Houston's  "I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)." If you like Rilo Kiley, you'll probably enjoy Lucius.

Willie Nile

Willie Nile has been making music for 40 years but has never received the acclaim he deserves for his rock and roll, and that wasn't likely to change judging by the exodus before he began his 55-minute set. Guitar, bass and drums played by black-clad musicians younger than Nile brought added life to his singing and playing in a performance that opened with "This Is Our Time" and also included "Heaven Help The Lonely," "Holy War," "Give Me Tomorrow," and covers of The Velvet Underground's "Sweet Jane" and The Jim Carroll Band's "People Who Died" before finishing strong with another original, "One Guitar."

The Waco Brothers

The Waco Brothers have been one of my favourite live bands since I first saw them more than a decade ago, and they've now become friends, so that's added incentive to see them as much as possible. That wouldn't be difficult since the Chicago-based group was booked for three shows of their own and a fourth playing songs by Jon Langford along with a Welsh choir, and the goal was to avoid duplication.

The quintet began its south stage set at 7:20 p.m. and zipped through a performance that provided its usual share of roots, punk, rock and roll and humour -- with lead vocals shared by guitarists Langford and Dean Schlabowske as well as mandolin player Tracey Dear. "Fox River," "Walking On Hell's Roof Looking At The Flowers," "Do What I Say," "Red Brick Wall," "Plenty Tough, Union Made," "Do You Think About Me?," "Blink of and Eye" and covers of "I Fought The Law," "Small Faces' "All or Nothing," George Jones' "White Lightning" (with Jo Walston joining the band on harmonies), Johnny Cash's "Big River" and Bo Diddley's "Hey Bo Diddley" were all part of the fun.

Deer Tick

The south stage audience grew considerably for Deer Tick, a solid roots rock band I'd liked but never seen in person. Now I'm glad I have. They're talented players that form a tight unit and lead singer John McCauley's raw delivery suits the material well. The Rhode Island quintet had people in its hands from the beginning and didn't let up as it played "Main Street," "Houston, TX" and "Mr. Sticks" among others. The group also played "Shitty Music Festival," which certainly didn't apply to TURF, but was still good to hear.


Beirut is another group that I've enjoyed only on record until I finally eased myself over from the south to the much larger east stage for its 9:30 p.m. slot. Zach Condon's project was unlike anything else I saw on day one,  full of horns and accordion and fusing Balkan folk with baroque indie pop to create a distinct sound that more than made up for a lack of magnetic stage presence. "Elephant Gun" and "Scenic World" were highlights.

I caught a couple of songs from Black Joe Lewis and The Honeybears from afar, and his crew sounded as soulful and tight as ever. This is definitely a band to catch if you haven't before.

Club shows at Lee's Palace and the Horseshoe Tavern awere also part of TURF, and a cab got us up to Bloor Street to that first venue to see the last couple of songs by Andrew Jackson Jihad -- which I'd previously seen open for Frank Turner. But with festivals like this, it can sometimes be pretty difficult to see all of everything you want to and I'm sure there will be other opportunities.


But we certainly got our money's worth with Hollerado, the only Canadian band I saw on Friday, and which was expanded from the usual four-piece lineup on occasion by three female backing singers. We've come to expect confetti canyons at Hollerado shows, which add to the party atmosphere that their music and good-natured approach to their fans engender, and several were fired off during the course of the gig. "Fresno Chunk (Digging With You)," "Juliette," "Fake Drugs," "Americanarama" and covers of The Count Five's "Psychotic Reaction," Violent Femmes' "Blister In The Sun," Blink 182's "Dammit" and Neil Young's night-closing "Rockin' in the Free World" drew deservedly fervent responses from those in the packed club.

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