Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Violent Femmes highlight excellent second day of Toronto Urban Roots Fest

Shovels & Rope

The momentum created on the first day of the Toronto Urban Roots Fest on July 4 had no problems continuing the next day with another slate of top talent and sunny and warm weather.

I began my day at 2:30 p.m. with Shovels & Rope, the Charleston, S.C. husband and wife duo of Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst. The chemistry between the pair was obvious as they traded off instruments and vocals on almost every song but still made sweet music that never failed to flow. Laid-back folk, blues, mid-tempo toe-tappers and roots rock all formed part of the repertoire, which included a handful of songs from the forthcoming Swimmin' Time LP, their best known number, "Birmingham," and the set-closing "Hail Hail." Shovels & Rope are the perfect band for a festival like this.

Drive-By Truckers

I've always enjoyed the Drive-By Truckers' approach to southern rock and, while I still enjoyed this performance, it didn't seem to be as vibrant as past gigs. Perhaps it was partly attributable to seeing the band on a large stage in the great outdoors instead of a smaller club like in the past. But the group's latest album, English Oceans, has also left a very minimal impression on me. Still, there were moments of magic when the three guitarists cranked things up. "The Righetous Path," "A Ghost To Most" and "3 Dimes Down" left the biggest impressions before I moved on from the east to the south stage at 4:10 p.m.

The Stanfields

The Stanfields are one of the most dynamic and energetic bands to come out of eastern Canada in a long time and I've never seen a duff performance. The Celtic-influenced rock band didn't disappoint again, although, according to my hijacked notes, "I got to sit beside the wonderful Tanya, so that was my favourite part of the day." While that was certainly alright, hearing songs like "Blacktop Blues," "Don't Make Me Walk Away," "Mrs. McGrath," "Run on the Banks," "The Boston States" and "Money Changers" didn't hurt either.

I saw Violent Femmes at the 1990 Mariposa Folk Festival and again at Toronto's Massey Hall in 2006, but this was still the band I was most looking forward to seeing at TURF because its catalogue of songs means the most to me. It seemed I wasn't the only one with that opinion, as the large crowd was singing along, clapping and dancing throughout a great 80-minute set that began with the Milwaukee, Wisc. group's 1983 10-song debut album played from beginning to end. Almost every song on the record can be considered a classic of early '80s alternative music, with "Blister In The Sun," "Add It Up" and "Gone Daddy Gone" perhaps being the most familiar to those who don't own the self-titled effort.

Violent Femmes

Former Dresden Doll Brian Viglione has replaced Victor DeLorenzo on drums, but singer/guitarist Gordon Gano and bassist Brian Ritchie are still front and centre in the Femmes, who were augmented on certain songs by the Horns of Dilemma to add more depth to the often sparse material. The good times continued after the completion of Violent Femmes with an array of favourites from more recent albums, including "Jesus Walking On The Water,"  "Country Death Song," "Old Mother Reagan," "Freak Magnet," "Never Tell," "Black Girls," "I Held Her In My Arms" and the finisher, "American Music," which included some predictable pandering by inserting "I like Canadian music" into one part.

The Gaslight Anthem

While the Femmes were definitely the high point of my day, there wasn't a huge let up when The Gaslight Anthem came on the east stage at 6:30 p.m. and began with what remains my favourite song from the Brunswick, N.J. group: "The '59 Sound." The band's blend of classic New Jersey rock and roll and melodic punk (let's call it Bruce Springsteen meets The Replacements) shone brighter than the last time I saw it as songs from the forthcoming Get Hurt album easily held their own with older stalwarts including "Miles Davis and the Cool," "Old White Lincoln," "Biloxi Parish," "We Came To Dance," "Old Haunts," "Film Noir," "High Lonesome," "Too Much Blood," "The Queen of Lower Chelsea," "American Slang," "The Backseat" and a cover of "House of the Rising Sun." Charismatic frontman Brian Fallon promised that The Gaslight Anthem would be back in Toronto soon to further promote Get Hurt, and the audience voiced its approval. This is a band that looked like it might have reached a plateau but now seems like it's back on an upward trajectory.

I moved to the south stage to see the last of The Strumbellas, who had attracted the biggest crowd yet to the hillside vantage point. The sextet won the Juno Award for best roots and traditional album by a group earlier this year and has built a deservingly large following in a relatively short period and apparently packed the Horseshoe Tavern the night before as part of TURF's club component. I know I'll be seeing The Strumbellas again.

Waco Brothers

The Waco Brothers
returned to the south stage, where it had played the night before, and the lads were more boisterous than 25.5 hours before. There were no repeats in an insurgent country set that rollicked on for an hour and included "Harm's Way," "Too Sweet to Die," "The Death of Country Music," "Nothing At All" and "Wreck on the Highway." Sally Timms joined her pals to sing "Old Flames Can't Hold A Candle To You," "Seminole Wind" and "Wild and Blue." The covers component of the concert was complete with playful dancing on stage and amped up interpretations of T-Rex's "20th Century Boy," Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues," The Who's "Baba O'Riley" and The Undertones' "Teenage Kicks." Two shows down; two to go.

Sam Roberts
, unfortunately, hasn't done much for me since his first album came out in 2003. So when given the choice of watching his headlining set on the east stage or chatting over a few beers with friends in the artist compound, I opted for the latter. I'll give Roberts and his band credit, however. They made pretty decent background music.

We decided to continue the socializing at Lee's Palace for a reprise performance from Shovels & Rope at midnight. Since I'd just seen the cute couple 10 hours earlier, I didn't bother taking any notes but am pleased to point out that the late show included a cover of Bruce Springsteen's "Johnny 99."

The music was over but the party continued with more conversation and beers on a friend's stoop until about 4 a.m. when it was decided it would be wise to break things up since Sunday's music would begin at 12:45 p.m. and two of my drinking companions were due to be playing it.

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