Photos by Neil Van.
For what might be my first and last experience at Field Trip, I was determined to make the most of it. Last week Broken Social Scene’s Kevin Drew said in an interview that he thinks this will be the penultimate iteration of the festival that his record label Arts & Crafts puts on, although he may be saying that now because of all the work that is needed to his band putting on the finishing touches to release their first album in seven years (their first record released since Field Trip began in 2013).
Checking out the grounds at Fort York you had Harrison on the main stage playing smooth electronic music that got a small crowd standing in front of the stage dancing along to the sounds of summer. In between the insane amount of food trucks there were plenty of bars too selling Brickworks Cider and Kraken Rum, which is different then the usual bar fare at fests. Over on the side stage Yoke Lore, a two-person band, played like there was a full five piece on stage. They put on a good show and hopefully were able to make plenty of new fans. If you look back at the previous lineups of Field Trip, it is shocking just how well it is curated as almost every bottom of the poster name has graduated significantly. Acts like The Darcys, River Tiber, Vance Joy and Andy Shauf have all become big name performers after first appearing bright and early at Field Trip.
Checking out the Laugh Barracks there was a Perfect 10 showcase, a Toronto institution on the comedy scene created and MC’ed by Daniel Woodrow that showcased about a half dozen comedians doing five minute sets. One of the highlights was Chris Robinson who actually performed with his newborn son Carter in a Baby Bjorn and was fast asleep the whole set. A highlight from Robinson was him telling a story about meeting a gangster with a stutter and how its hard to take someone serious as being tough at that point.
Up and comers Joseph (no it’s not a guy but instead a trio of ladies) braved the blazing heat to get the crowd pumped up with their country meets 90’s alt-pop. By the time the end of their set rolled around and they played a rousing version of their hit White Flag the crowd was singing along. Veteran spacey electronic rockers Royal Canoe had a ton of fun on stage. Alexa Dirks aka Begonia sang back up vocals for the group, and you can see her on her own at Wayhome later this summer.
Matt Mays showed what an honest to goodness rock star show is supposed to be like with plenty of loud guitars and fast drumming chugging the tunes along. Mays proved he may the only guy to look even cooler in a fedora in over 60 years. Mays vocals are shockingly powerful and reminds you just how underrated he is as a talent. The crowd eagerly sang along to classics On the Hood and Cocaine Cowgirl.
Portugal. the Man have long been the indie scenes next big thing but never seemed to break into the mainstream in the way bands like Arcade Fire and The Black Keys did before. The band released seven albums in seven years before taking four years off, their longest hiatus of their entire career. Finally Woodstock is coming out this year but with only one track released it’s hard to tell what the whole album will be like. The band came out to Metallica’s For Whom The Bell Tolls before launching into a annihilating set of blistering rock. The band was always well known for their live shows, but they seem to be on a different plane currently. The intense guitar solos, heavy bass loops and psychedelic hippie pop on the keyboards gave the festival an adrenaline shot in the arm. Between playing older hits like People Say, Holy Rollers and Creep in a T-Shirt they also managed to inject some instrumental covers of The Beatles She’s So Heavy and the guitar solo from Weezer’s Say it Ain’t So. In recent years I’ve seen acts like Alabama Shakes, Grouplove and Foals play before headliners or on side stages at festivals tear it up so hard you know they are destined for greatness. Portugal. the Man may have eclipsed them all. By the time their set finished with the only song from Woodstock released so far, Feel It Still, a Soul Bossanova (you know the Austin Powers theme by Quincy Jones) like offspring, which brought the funkiness and cemented the notion that they might be the best booked band on tour this year.
While the counter programing was excellent, getting a sweet spot for the last two acts on the main stage was too good of an opportunity to pass up. Getting right up to the front for A Tribe Called Red was an amazing experience. Having seeing them several times over the years and seeing how much they have grown both in stature and live performances is a pleasure. The fact that a DJ set can consist of only original music and no popular samples is a testament to the confidence and quality of the music that ATCR plays. As soon as the three members came out on stage they were greeted with a loud cheer, putting a huge smile on 2oolman’s face. Their usual powwow dancers graced the stage at various points in their set, always amping the crowd up as much as any bass drop did. The music that ATCR is making right now might be some of most culturally impacting Canadian music ever all while doing it as some of the top electronic producers is equally as impressive. Backstage both George Stroumboulopoulos and rock royalty Gord Donwie were dancing around and enjoying the music. DJ NDN took to the mic to exclaim just how big the crowd was all grooving in unison.
Headlining the first day were the festival founders Broken Social Scene, they came onstage to a roar from the crowd as they played Cause = Time a classic from their 2002 breakthrough album You Forgot It In People with just the regular core six band members lead by Kevin Drew, Brendan Canning et all. Wondering what guests might appear with the band in their hometown was a fun game to paly beforehand. You’d have to imagine Feist would be there since she is a headliner on Day 2, but would the other ladies of BSS show up, or maybe K-os or Jason Collett would make a rare appearance, there was also the thought of a true surprise guest like Gord Downie or one of the other acts playing the fest like BBNG. By only the second song answers became clear, as all the ladies of BSS were present. Feist, Amy Millan and Emily Haines rotated lead songs all night long, starting with 7/4 Shoreline. What would have been an epic closing number for any other band was only the second song of the set as the massive horn section came out to play the famous riff at the end of the song prompting a thunderous yell of excitement from the crowd.
Toronto is unbelievably lucky to be the home of a band like Broken Social Scene, while they are always great live, there is a certain irreplaceable energy that this city feeds to them and add to the fact that they revitalized the music scene in Toronto almost singlehandedly makes every musician want to be their best friends. BSS has their share of legendary shows from their former annual island park shows in the early years to their Harbourfront show that was made into a film (This Movie Is Broken), and with a new album and potentially ending their own fest (yet again) it was ripe to be a memorable one. Drew acknowledged that the band was able to play deeper cuts due to Emily Haines’ presence and it was not wasted. During epic solos Feist jammed out on the air guitar as Amy Millan growled at the crowd. Several new songs were played and as Drew introduced current single Hug of Thunder as a song that Feist wrote, we were told that the band loved the song so much it had to be the title of the album that has yet to hit shelves.
In a more somber moment the band dedicated Anthems for a Seventeen Year Old Girl to the victims of the Manchester bombing at Ariana Grande’s show last month. BSS were actually the first band to play in Manchester after the attacks so it was fitting they would play such a delicate song in honour of the city and those effected by the tragedy. While it wasn’t mentioned by any acts it was sobering that while a crowd of ten thousand people enjoying amazing music over in London, more terrorist attacks were occurring. Haines and the other ladies proved just what kind of power their music has in an utterly touching manner. The band only had a ninety minute set, and it seemed to fly by as the band was having just as much fun as the audience was, every time people came on hugs went around and backstage members and their families danced and shared drinks joyfully.
Drew told a story about how he met Haines twenty-six years ago after being introduced to her by Millan, being an alumni of the same highschool where they went always brings a certain amount of pride to my heart. If you walk around the halls of Etobicoke School of the Arts, their presence is still felt as their lore is overbearing and you can even spot Haines’ name on the Graduates with Honours wall in the main foyer. The band ended their set with a killer three song set including Superconnected, Backyards and KC Accidental. Thankfully BSS didn’t feel the need to take an encore break as we probably got an extra song out of them because of it. All in all this might have been one of the best 1-2-3 acts in a festival in a longtime with Portugal. the Man, A Tribe Called Red and Broken Social Scene. This festival is so perfectly fit for Toronto, I’m sure we all hope this truly isn’t the last year.