With the Toronto Urban Roots Festival featuring 44 artists over three days last weekend, concertgoers were bound to miss out on a few good acts. While headliners like Beirut, Sam Roberts and Neutral Milk Hotel made for obvious must-sees, here are four bands you might have missed – but you should definitely check out.
While you were: Sleeping in
Playing to a somewhat sparse crowd in the first slot on Saturday afternoon, 27-year-old singer-songwriter Caitlin Rose didn’t disappoint. Her style was relatively standstill, no flash, but her vocals and lyrics were enough to convince me. Rose was backed by touring group Los Colognes, who delivered a steady beat and high guitar notes to compliment her soft voice. Show closer Shanghai Cigarettes, off her debut album Own Side Now, proved to be perfect music for laying back on the grass on a blisteringly hot afternoon.
Shovels & Rope
While you were: Getting out of the house
Any two-piece, male-female, guitar-drum duo probably hates the comparison, but here it is anyway: Shovels & Rope are a twangy White Stripes – minus Meg White’s lack of stage presence. The chemistry between husband and wife Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst, who have been performing together since 2008, was infectious. The pair would seamlessly swap instruments and vocals, and get up-close in each others’ faces when jamming out. Some set highlights included Tickin’ Bomb and Hail Hail.
While you were: Watching Violent Femmes
Festival performances can be tricky beasts for many performers, who are forced to cut down their set, play in the daytime and to an audience that didn’t come just for you. That was not a problem for Pokey LaFarge. His take on country music is far from genre-bending, but the payoff came in the performance. Backed by a five-piece band, including two musicians on horns and a drummer/washboard/harmonica player, LaFarge managed to transport everyone back to the summertime of the 1930s. LaFarge capped the show with Central Time, the title track off his latest record and an ode to his St. Louis roots. Filled with audience callbacks and horns kicking in at the song’s peak, it was a fine way to say goodbye, Southern-style.
While you were: Watching Neutral Milk Hotel
They are pretty well known in Canadian indie-rock circles, but even lead singer Menno Versteeg was a bit surprised by the strong turnout for Hollerado’s festival-closing set. After all, even his wife was over at the main stage catching Neutral Milk Hotel. Those in attendance were treated to a rocking set filled with extended jams, a searing light show and top-notch stage banter. Fans cheered for an encore, and the band was ready to oblige, but they had run past the festival curfew. So they kicked into an a cappella of a tune everyone knew: O Canada.
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