TURF Day 2: Friday Night Lights
The first precipitation of the weekend occurred early Friday evening. However, the spirits of those in attendance would not be dampened. The credit for this exuberance would have to be attributed to JD McPherson and his set of old-school R&B, Rockabilly, Blues and Hillbilly tunes. A surface reading of his music can been taken as straight up nostalgia, an attempt to re-create a sound that existed 50 years ago – evident in lyrics filled with references to “party lines” and other relics of the past. However a reading of his bio and a closer listen to his music reveals that McPherson is equally influenced by hip hop and punk music as he is by the likes of Little Richard. What’s old is new, it’s not a new story but no less interesting. It heartens me to see that there are those like McPherson who are carrying the torch of past musical traditions, but also looking to find a voice of his own by incorporating contemporary influences. All that being said, McPherson’s music is not the kind that you have to think too much about to enjoy – you just feel the rhythm and let your hands, hips, and feet do the rest.
Next up after the rock ‘n rolling set of JD McPherson was a pace car of sorts. Justin Townes Earle had taken the Eastern stage looking as though he rolled straight off the set of the film Bound For Glory. However, judging by the size of his backing band and the sophistication of their set-up it’s highly unlikely that Earle arrived at Fort York by hopping in an empty freight car – although it’s something that I could see him doing. Justin is the son of the great American singer-songwriter, actor, and activist Steve Earle, who donned his son with the name “Townes” in honour of his friend/mentor Townes Van Zandt whom he considers to have been one of the greatest songwriters to have ever lived. It seems that Steve sealed the fate of his son to follow the calling of penning country/folk/blues tunes and live a life on the road playing for the likes of those gathered at TURF this Friday evening.
Justin Townes definitely possesses an ability to craft melodic and thoughtful tunes that draw on intensely personal material, yet is universal in its themes. It’s also a great help that he is backed by some players who are obviously well seasoned, likely holding more than a handful of years over Justin. Justin’s voice and lyrical style would remind anyone familiar with the Deep Dark Woods of their lead singer – Ryan Boldt. Earle’s stage banter is best described as unconventional, but entertaining. Perhaps it’s a desire to perform with a tone and attitude that he imagines those beat poets he admires, like Gregory Corso, would. He certainly left the impression with the audience that he was a rambling man with a lot more rambling to go.
The next band is one who certainly was a change in direction and pace. A silver/metallic heart pinned up on the backdrop of the Western stage, along with a plethora of gear and mics, heralded the arrival of neo-soul practitioners Fitz and The Tantrums. Seconds into their set, it was apparent that they were there to get the party started. Hands were being clapped over heads at the urging of the very talented vocalist/hype-person Noelle Scaggs. Unfortunately for me, I had to depart this dance part due to a part-time job slinging drinks. As I walked down Strachan Ave. I could still hear the party rolling on clearly.
Upon talking to some fellow concert-goers later on, I hear that I missed a legendary set by the Hammer’s favorite rocking sons, the Arkells. I also heard they were also joined by some members of legendary Toronto cover band, Dwayne Gretzky. Needless to say, I was bummed that I missed out. Alas, I didn’t weep for long as there was plenty of music to be had in the two days to come.