Although the official start to the season is still a few weeks away, the Summer 2017 concert season was officially kicked off this past weekend with the Field Trip Festival at Fort York. It was an incredibly diverse series of artists performing on the two stages with a little bit of something for everyone.
Winnipeg’s Royal Canoe showed off their impeccable style with the entire band dressed in matching dark blue outfits. The group plays a smooth blend of electronic indie rock laid over hip-hop beats, tweaked with off-kilter rhythms and production tricks. Frontman Matt Peters used a vocoder-like microphone to transform his voice for several songs, while bassist Brendan Berg brought the grooves to the stage. Songs like “Walk Out On The Water” and “Bathtubs” very much established the mood the band were going for, a very mellow vibe meant to sway along to.
Emotive east coast rocker Matt Mays recently took up residency in Toronto and was all too happy to play for his new fellow city dwellers. No stranger to Fort York, Mays played in nearly the exact same spot just nine months ago at TURF 2016. But with a fresh EP (Once Upon A Hell Of A Time) it was time to light up the grounds once again with his surging heartland tunes. A little Tom Petty, a little Bruce Springsteen, and a whole lotta energy make up the DNA of Mays’ songs, with new tracks like “Faint of Heart” burning up the stage. It was closer “Cocaine Cowgirl” that got the most cheers though, the nostalgic lead guitar line fitting perfectly with the evening sun.
While they might be gaining notoriety thanks to their funk-pop hit “Feel It Still”, Alaska’s Portugal. The Man very emphatically want people to know that they’re still first and foremost a rock band. Playing what was undoubtedly the loudest set of the weekend, the guys were light on stage banter but heavy on riffs. Kicking off their set covering Metallica‘s “For Whom The Bell Tolls” was a pretty definitive omen of what was to come: a relentless collection of fretwork and extended jams that bled into each other. The set was incredibly steeped in material off 2013’s Evil Friends, with no less than five songs from that album being played. “Feel It Still” was saved to cap off the set, and had everyone humming the inescapable hook long after the end of the performance.
Shambolic supergroup Broken Social Scene finished off the first night of the festival in appropriately grand fashion. As they prepare to release their comeback album Hug of Thunder they’d like to remind people that they do things only one way: big. Not only did they start their set with two huge singles (“Cause=Time” and “7/4 Shoreline”), but they concluded the latter with a veritable army of brass instruments playing the catchy hook. There were about a dozen people on stage at any given time, including the next day’s performer Leslie Feist, Metric frontwoman Emily Haines and Stars singer Amy Millan. They helped bring classics like “Stars and Sons” and “KC Accidental” to life, along with new songs like “Hug of Thunder” and “Skyline”. It was a very much epic end to the first night of the festival.
Feist‘s solo set was decidedly less cacophonous than her guest appearance with Broken Social Scene, but no less entertaining. The folk singer’s freewheeling spirit made for a very playful performance that drew many laughs and cheers from the crowd. Playing songs from her just-released record Pleasure, she used the bridge of “A Man Is Not His Song” to voice her concern that people wouldn’t know the parts she wanted them to sing. The crowd surprised her pleasantly as they proved that they’d already memorized the whole album. The set was finished off with massive hit “1234”, albeit in a more stripped-back form.
Field Trip was capped off by headliners Phoenix. The French indie-poppers had a complex stage set-up as always and wowed the huge crowd with a set full of lights and lasers. A towering mirror was raised above the band and showed off the technicolor dance floor they had under them. A fancy stage might be visually entertaining, but without the tunes to back up the lights it’s just an empty gesture. Luckily Phoenix have great tunes in spades and that problem is sidestepped entirely- this is a whole package sort of deal.
Each song had its own unique graphics and colour scheme- latest single “Ti Amo” had the band bathed in red, while fellow new tune “J Boy” had the floor flashing old school television test colours. Fans were going absolutely bonkers for every song, so one can imagine how they reacted when the band pulled out a big single like “Entertainment” and followed it with the even bigger “Lisztomania”. Girls near the front of the stage were literally swooning over lead singer Thomas Mars and company. The ineffably cool crew continued on with a mix of new tunes and old hits like “If I Ever Feel Better”, finishing with the song that put them on the map, “1901”. It was a triumphant end to Toronto’s first big music festival of the year and a great way to start the summer.