TURF Review: The Mekons, September 18, Fort York

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“We’ve worked out there’s at least 17 people here so you’ve exceeded our expectations,” joked Mekons singer/guitarist Jon Langford as they took to the stage. While the majority of festival goers were taking in Death Cab For Cutie on the main stage, The Mekons played an impressive set, although Langford seemed equally impressed with TURF. “What a festival! You stay at the promoter’s house and he serves you drinks onstage. I’m glad the Americans didn’t invade you in 1812.” Yes, Jeff Cohen, one of the brains behind TURF, was just hanging out and handing drinks to the band throughout the set. Langford was enjoying himself enough that he joked that they should take Cohen on the road with them to continue offering up this “invaluable service” for the duration of their tour.

The band were later joined onstage by Dallas Good of The Sadies, who also played the festival on Saturday afternoon. Midway through, singer Sally Timms announced that Tim (actually it was Jon) had broken a string. “That’s a euphemism. We need a defibrillator. Is anybody a doctor? Not an internet doctor ..” She then asked if there were any Sadies out there who could come onstage and help them out. Dallas came through, taking to the stage and then joining the band on guitar for the duration. This was obviously a good idea – the Mekons are certainly no slouches themselves, but when you’ve got a member of one of the best live bands around onstage, you might as well keep him there.

TURF Review: Lush, September 17, Fort York

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20160917 Lush
Photo by Frank Yang

As much as they like to tout that the festival brings new music in, this years version of TURF was pretty much a stroll down memory lane for everyone. Even newer acts like Okkervil River have been around for a better part of a decade.

I was pleasantly surprised when Lush, one of the few leftovers from a bygone era that had yet to reunite and cash in on nostalgia, announced their intentions to tour again earlier this year. I was even more pleased when they announced that they were playing TURF. I had already made plans to go to Detroit to see them.

With the Lush logo hanging precariously in the background, a wet and rainy stage welcomed the band. The crowd was a mix of a small group of ecstatic diehard fans and then a much larger group who really just happened to be there.

Maybe I’m biased (I probably am), but the group sounded great, Miki Berenyi’s voice sounded as good as ever. One just needed to hear the opening section of “Light From a Dead Star” (a set highlight) to realize that. When she sounds good, then the rest of Lush just works. Berenyi and Emma Anderson’s guitars weave and dance around the vocals creating a dense layer of sound and that one might lazily characterize as shoegaze.

Through it all, the group kept their charming British humor, commenting frequently about the wet conditions (they claim they brought it from England). A great moment happened when the stagehand went on to mop the stage mid song. That guy’s a hero.

Obviously the biggest receptions came with the groups two biggest hits – “Ladykillers” and “Sweetness and Light.” Reflecting back on “Ladykillers,” it’s amazing how great a pure pop song that is and one might wonder what heights that band might have reached if they had chosen to go in that direction. I was sad they didn’t do “Ciao,” but it’s not like Jarvis Cocker was going to show up. Still, we can all dream a little.

TURF Review: Guided By Voices, Ween, September 17, Fort York

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At any given time during a multi-day festival with multiple stages, it’s practically inevitable that there will be conflicts. Even if an effort is made to schedule bands as unlike each other as possible, there will be conflicts. And while Guided By Voices and Ween don’t share that much in common musically, both bands came to prominence around the same time and both share a certain cultish devotion from their fans, and so there were some who were definitely disappointed when they were scheduled opposite one another on Saturday night.

Having never seen Guided By Voices before, my choice was clear, although I did still manage to catch the first half hour or so of Ween’s set before Robert Pollard and co. took to the stage and it had a a typical Ween feeling, with the band hopping between musical styles and genres from song to song. Perhaps as a nod to this being nominally a “roots” festival, they played some numbers off of 12 Golden Country Greats, including “Piss Up A Rope.”

As the time approached for Guided By Voices, I made my way towards the Rebellion stage, tucked away in a corner of the festival grounds. After opening with “The Quickers Arrive,” Pollard kept the momentum going, as you have to when you’re planning on plowing through as many songs as possible over the course of an hour and 20 minutes. And they did play a lot of songs, many of them not technically GBV numbers, but songs from Pollard’s seemingly innumerable side projects such as Ricked Wicky, Boston Spaceships, and ESP Ohio. The band played plenty of GBV classics though, including “I Am A Scientist,” “Game Of Pricks,” “Teenage FBI,” “Glad Girls,” and “I Am A Tree,” the latter of which featured Pollard assuming the crane kick stance a couple of times as well as him ceding the microphone to guitarist Doug Gillard as he took over lead vocals for a bit.

Guided By Voices played one of the standout sets of the festival and also were, as far as I know, the only band on the bill over the entire weekend to have a sandwich named for them at one of the food trucks – the “Uncle Bob.” Take that, James Bay!

TURF Review: The Hives, Skinny Lister, Explosions In The Sky, Margo Price, September 16, Fort York

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Early on in their 4:00 slot on the first day of the Toronto Urban Roots Festival, Hives singer Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist thanked all the people without jobs for coming out early. “They say rock n’ roll doesn’t work in the daylight, but they ain’t never seen The Hives before,” he later commented. It’s true, The Hives put on a fantastic show that would probably work well in almost any scenario. The Swedes put on a ridiculously high energy set that was the highlight of the day and one of the highlights of the entire festival. Almqvist himself would gladly tell you so – there’s a lot of swagger in the bands performance, as seen in Almqvist’s constant exhortations of the crowd to scream (“When we’re not making noise, you make noise.”) and his tongue in cheek comments like “I am your favourite rock and roll asshole” and “We will now play a very popular song from our back catalogue.” He joked midway through their set that The Hives had taken the fort after only five or six songs and while it was a joke, there was definitely some truth to it.

While The Hives were the undisputed winners of the day, a few other acts also put on impressive performances. English folk punkers Skinny Lister put on a fun show highlighted by an appearance of the band’s “seventh member,” a giant jug full of what i believe was rum (I didn’t get a chance to partake) and by singer Lorna Thomas jumping off the stage to dance with the crowd for the duration of one song. Austinites Explosions In The Sky put on a typically epic performance, though like The Hives, it seemed to be a bit early in the day for them – they put on a good show, but could have benefited from a bit more of a lightshow to accompany their post-rock instrumentals. But hey, you can’t have it all.


Another act making a strong impression on the first day was Margo Price, who played one of the earliest sets of the day after playing a show the night before at Lee’s Palace. The Nashville-based singer/songwriter has been referred to by some as the next big thing in country music and her set on the West Stage showed that she’s definitely got the goods. She played a mix of songs off her debut album Midwest Farmer’s Daughter and covers of classic country tunes such as Mickey Newbury’s “Why You Been Gone So Long” and Doug Sahm’s “Give Back The Key To My Heart.” One of the highlights of her set was “Desperate and Depressed,” a song inspired by a particularly bad show in Florida. “We probably won’t be going back there too soon,” she added. Price and her band of talented players closed off their set with “Hurtin’ (On the Bottle),” a song which deserves a place at the bar alongside the great country drinking songs.