Toronto Urban Roots Festival-Day 3
The term “Save the best for last” may have been coined hundreds of years ago, but it’s never been applied more aptly than in describing the Sunday lineup of TURF. Headlined by the reunited Neutral Milk Hotel, the day featured sets by some of the best songwriters of the day and two of the most exciting acts I’ve seen in quite some time. We ended up arriving about an hour earlier than anticipated after a quick brunch at Thompson’s Diner. The West stage was our main attraction for the day, so we set up camp and checked out a set by a Tennessee-based group called Twin Forks. Sweet harmonies and a fun stage presence made them an unexpected surprise hit. They balanced out some of their originals with covers of Roy Orbison and Violent Femmes, to the delight of many fans from the previous day. We had been tipped by one of the local photographers to not miss the East stage performance by July Talk, and they certainly weren’t wrong about the bands combustible energy. From the second they took the stage their chosen mission was to wake up the sleepy Sunday crowd from their drunken stupor and they succeeded in spades. I’d heard of the band but didn’t know much about them. Apparently they have quite a following in their hometown of Toronto, and after just a few minutes it was obvious why. The main singer sounds a bit like George Thorgood with a modern rock band behind him. They also feature a female on vocals who got the crowd going by dancing and running all over the stage. It was certainly a lot more frenzied than Jenny Lewis on the West stage. Not that I minded at all. The last time we saw her live it was a huge disappointment, with Lewis barely able to get through her own songs without forgetting the words. This time she was spot on in all areas of performance. She opened with her latest single “Just One Of The Guys” and spent the rest of the set hopping back and forth through her catalogue from Rilo Kiley and her solo work. The new songs sounded good, but “Silver Lining” was probably my favorite of the set, followed by “A Man/Me/Then Jim.”
The most pure excitement of the weekend came in the form of gypsy punks Gogol Bordello. The band could have probably powered the whole city of Toronto with the energy they were giving off. They’re so theatrical and fun that I kinda wish their set could just go on forever. Between dousing the front of the audience in red wine and constantly grabbing the crowds attention it’s no wonder they’re one of the fan favorites. This was my first time seeing them live and I can’t wait to catch them again! Jeff Tweedy was one of the big selling points for the festival this year, and the huge crowd at the West stage was no shock. He came out with his son, Spencer, and the rest of his touring band to perform about 45 minutes of new tunes from his upcoming solo record (which he refers to as a “solo record performed by a duo that share the same DNA”). The songs are good, but a little slow for a festival. It wasn’t until the band left him alone on stage when he broke out some Wilco hits that the crowd really went wild. He did “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart,” “Jesus, etc,” “Passenger Side,” all solo before bringing the band back out for “You Are Not Alone” and “California Stars.” He’s always a fun one to see live, as his banter with the audience has come a long way and his natural charisma shines through in front of a big group. We somehow managed to get right up front for Neutral Milk Hotel. This was the second time we’ve seen them in the last 8 months and they’ll be at Pitchfork on July 19th. They’re so unbelievably good, even with a couple technical hiccups early on, that two weeks is almost too long to go without seeing them again. The crowd didn’t seem as into it as I’d hoped. I only saw people singing along loudly on a few occasions while I was singing my guts out on every tune. It’s fun to see Jeff and Julian hopping up and down like it’s still the late 90’s and they haven’t aged a day (possibly true in Julian’s case). Jeff’s voice still sounds the same 15 years after they scored a classic with In The Aeroplane Over The Sea. We took off a couple songs early to get back because we had an early flight to catch. We could hear echoes of the horns being played by Scott Spillane and Jeremy Barnes. Their haunting power a reminder of the memories that will echo in our minds from this amazing festival.