Field Trip 2015 Day 1: Alabama Shakes, Arkells, Purity Ring, The War on Drugs, De La Soul

Photographs by Neil Van.

I went to Field Trip last year with wide eyes and a naive sense of curiosity. I praised every small piece of it and how well it resembled a fun day out with the class. I noted the artists painting walls, the fun tents, the long lines of food trucks akin to an outdoor cafeteria and the eager “classmates”. I came back to Field Trip this year and not much as changed. Yes, the enthusiasm came from a writer who had not had many festival experiences outside of the extreme metal ones he attended when he was a teenager. I’m glad nothing has changed, though. This was the festival that brought joy to me like the case of nostalgia and childhood fun was dropped on my doorstep. I knew not much could go wrong on a day like this, and knowing that two were coming my way was enough to get me excited once again.

With the most fun in any hip hop set I have ever seen, De La Soul was a perfect fit for this weekend. The legendary trio was authentic, clean and hilarious. There was nothing fake about the banter between these three hip hop veterans (even with a staged swearing jar that they incorporated into their show). You can tell these were three friends from way back when that still love what they do. The chemistry between rappers Posdnuos and Trugoy the Dove was like any you’d see between hip hop artists on stage, but it had heart behind it. DJ Maseo started the set off asking which of us liked classic, old school hip hop. For those who do not know the group, this probably sounded like just a call out. Everyone who attended and is a fan of De La Soul knew that this was a genuine turning back of the clock. It’s nice to see rappers not trying to be dangerous or cunning. Last year’s Field Trip had the nice guy rapper Shad, and if he ever took a lesson from big rappers, it’d have been from this trio who were humble, real and passionate.

On the topic of humility, The War on Drugs played a more atmospheric and calming set (that contrasted with the rest of the fun and big acts that day). Adam Granduciel had a bit of a tough aftertaste from the last time he came to Ontario, when Mark Kozelek started a large online war between the two (and Granduciel wanted nothing to do with it). The best way Granduciel could have won was to brush this insult off and pretend it never happened. When most musicians say that they are proud to be playing within a city, it feels like they have to say that to win our approval. When Adam Granduciel said it, it felt like a victory. Nothing was lost between The War on Drugs and Ontario (look into that in any way you wish). The set was beautiful and chilling. I’ve seen the band play before at The Phoenix shortly before the Sun Kil Moon fiasco, and the set there was good as well. However, The War on Drugs are meant to play within a festival despite what any naysayers are willing to claim (no matter how big they are). The music and energy resonated throughout the entire area and not just the single stage they played on. Welcome back, The War on Drugs; I’m glad you won the battle.

Another battle won was the one where a childhood ambition could potentially be squashed by the real world. Arkells singer Max Kerman told the Field Trip guests that he went to elementary school nearby. The band is from Hamilton, Ontario, and they have since experienced the world. Kerman told us a secret: he decided to be in a band with his friends once his fortune was told by a “cootie catcher” during a recess at that very school. Maybe this realization is what gave the band energy. Maybe it was the fact that they were at field trip at all. Maybe the band is just a firework waiting to explode. Either way, Arkells gave the most bombastic show that day. Each band member was on the verge of keeling over from being so ecstatic. This is a band you won’t truly get until you see them live and in action. They’re still children at heart, and that is the best criteria one could fulfill at an event like Field Trip.

Alabama Shakes may not be from Canada, but they displayed a similar sense of youthfulness and love for their crowd. If you took the fun of De La Soul, the aura of The War on Drugs and the energy of Arkells and shipped them to the south and waited for the contents to mix, Alabama Shakes is what you would get, and it’s why they closed the evening off with a bang. They jammed and they howled. Like the previous three acts, and simply any other this weekend, Alabama Shakes are a festival group that thrive on the open air and a sea of people to coast on. Brittany Howard introduced the whole band and asked us who we were. She then mentioned that someone they knew by the name of Ricky was in jail. Their set was in love of life and the gift of music they are able to give to the world. They know that this wave can end at any time. With tasteful lighting, raw power and all the love to give, Alabama Shakes were a pleasant, yet powerful, way to end the evening.

The final act to be mentioned here didn’t have it as easy as the majority of the acts this day. Purity Ring had both the best set and the most difficult, and if there was anything to be taken away from it, it’s that optimism will save any situation from being a complete disaster. The set cut out from technical difficulties at least three or four times with songs stopping dead in their tracks like the proverbial and literal plug was pulled on them. This first outage was during their very first song, so things were not off to a good start.

What could have been the source of these short fuses? Perhaps the complicated set up was to blame. There was a giant moon that lit up amongst dripping streams of lcd lights that hung from the rafters. A huge set up of crystals were smacked by Corin Roddick to pass off as both an electronic drum kit and somewhat of a synthetic keyboard. At one point, there was a fan of projected lights that doubled as a synthetic organ that Megan James played with her hands by hitting the tops of these lights to create sounds. She wore mirrored gloves that reflected these rays into the crowd. All of this, amongst other effects, meant that there was a very small room for error since there was both a sensory and an electronic overload waiting to burst.

When the set worked, it was breathtaking. I am not the biggest fan of Purity Rings’ latest album Another Eternity, but the songs off of this album were magical live. It was a pop concert drenched by a cloak of dark wave misery, and it was every bit as enchanting and mistifying as you could imagine.

James fought through all of the odds to get things to work. She cheerfully talked between the outages, by telling us the stage was slippery and fun to dance on and how these outages were beyond her control (as she giggled). During one song, it appeared as though something got in her throat. She coughed off mic and proceeded to sing between each, somehow, controlled fit. She proceeded to run off stage to get water. She even fought against a tired and worn out crowd. She asked us why we were so quiet to liven our spirits up. If she can deal with a set falling apart and a vocal hazard, we can deal with a festival.

Eventually the power outages were too frequent and dominating, so Purity Rings’ set was cut early. James apologized for the misfortunes but told us that they would be back in the fall to perform again. This was a big opportunity for them, as festivals are the best platforms for mosf musicians. Maybe it didn’t work out for them, but their set was still a big win for us. Had the duo let this nightmare devour them alive, things could have been ugly. The two of them tried their best to be jolly, and we kept both that joy and the beauty of their working set with us when we left (not the hiccups). Someone is most likely going to be fired, but luckily Purity Ring was all but fired up, as they kept the fun and happiness of Field Trip alive even during this technical storm.

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