Tuesday, July 22nd, 2008

The Rogers Picnic

Photo by Frank Yang

The Rogers Picnic, the little one-day festival held on the grounds of Historic Fort York, was supposed to be a low-impact affair – hang out, shoot some bands, check out some acts I’m not too familiar with, just chill, y’know? That was the plan, anyway. Unfortunately nature had other plans. I’d hoped the deluge of Saturday evening and Sunday morning would do it for the rain for the weekend, and when the skies cleared around noon on Sunday, I was optimistic enough that the worst was over to take my bike down to the concert site.

From the look of the lineup, things seemed to be running a touch late getting started, but The Carps were still able to kick things off on time. I’d actually been advised to miss the Scarborough duo if at all possible but despite the dire warning, they weren’t all that bad. Their drums-and-synth electro-funk was certainly on the sophomoric side but they managed to engage the small crowd – most were still outside the gates in line – and get them moving. Sure, their repertoire of antics consisted of pretty stock rock moves – crowd surfing, climbing into the audience to sing and smashing a cheap bass guitar to cap things off – but those moves have only persisted this long because they still sorta work.

Photos: The Carps @ Historic Fort York – July 20, 2008
Video: The Carps – “From Compton To Scarboro”
Video: The Carps – “Heaven’s Gates & Hell’s Flames”
MySpace: The Carps

Though I’ve seen Born Ruffians seemingly countless times previous (okay, four times) I hadn’t caught them live since last October and not since the release of their debut full-length Red, Yellow & Blue earlier this year. By now I appreciate that I like about 60% of what they do, but the fact that the other 40% often finds its way into the same songs keeps me from really getting into them. But I do respect that they’ve carved a distinctive sound for themselves and that they’re managing to maintain their quirks while crafting some catchy songs. And judging from the number of Ruffians t-shirts I spotted being worn proudly around the audience over the rest of the day, they’re successfully growing their fanbase. Or maybe their shirts were just the most absorbent.

Photos: Born Ruffians @ Historic Fort York – July 20, 2008
MP3: Born Ruffians – “Knife”
Video: Born Ruffians – “I Need A Life”
MySpace: Born Ruffians

To this point the weather had only threatened, maybe some drizzle, but nothing too fierce. Maybe it was intended to make Londoner Dizzee Rascal feel at home because when the Ruffians finished up, the skies opened up and carried on pouring through most of his set. Though most serious hip-hop fans would have been at the Rock The Bells tour elsewhere in the city that day, enough in attendance seemed to be into Dizzee’s chart-topping (the #1 single in the UK right now is “Dance Wiv Me” from Maths + English), so-called “grime” to reciprocate the energy he brought to the stage, even if they weren’t familiar enough to make his call-and-response efforts wholly successful and when his sideman exhorted the crowd to “make some fucking noise” – which would have been after every song – the audience obliged. And while it’s unclear if they were really calling for an encore or just happy that the rain was easing off, Dizzee came back out for a couple more numbers. It didn’t throw the schedule off, though, so no harm no foul.

Photos: Dizzee Rascal @ Historic Fort York – July 20, 2008
MP3: Dizzee Rascal – “Where Da G’s?”
Video: Dizzee Rascal – “Dance Wiv Me”
Video: Dizzee Rascal – “Where Da G’s?”
Video: Dizzee Rascal – “Flex”
Video: Dizzee Rascal – “Old Skool”
MySpace: Dizzee Rascal

While I was initially ambivalent about Vampire Weekend, I’ve gotten off the fence on the “nay” side. It’s not backlash to the hype, it’s just that I find their self-titled debut to be anywhere from bland to annoying, depending on my mood. That said, I was still curious to see how they did live and while I wouldn’t have been surprised if their chirpy pop had actually managed to summon out the sun (it didn’t), they still didn’t especially impress. Granted, their tunes are quite hooky but there’s something irritating about them that I just can’t get past… musically, it’s harder to put a finger on but on this day, it’s most definitely singer/guitarist Ezra Koenig’s horrid sweater and beach shorts ensemble. Hey, I never said I wasn’t petty.

Photos: Vampire Weekend @ Historic Fort York – July 20, 2008
MP3: Vampire Weekend – “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa”
Video: Vampire Weekend – “A-Punk”
Video: Vampire Weekend – “Oxford Comma”
MySpace: Vampire Weekend

I’m not especially familiar with just how Animal Collective works, but my first reaction on seeing them take the stage – nominally they’re a four-piece but today were just a duo – was that if I were a fan who’d come to the show just to see these guys, I’d feel a bit cheated. But as it turns out, Panda Bear and Avey Tare are all you need to make a helluva racket. Armed with an arsenal of instruments both conventional and electronic, they crafted a dense and steady 40-minute psychedelic drone that was either the best or the worst thing the happen the whole day, depending on who you asked and what drugs they were on at the time. I can’t imagine how loud it’d have been if the rest of the band was present. I found it interesting but also easy to be distracted from, particularly when the it began to pour again. Chart has a pre-fest interview with Animal Collective.

Photos: Animal Collective @ Historic Fort York – July 20, 2008
MP3: Animal Collective – “Peacebone”
MP3: Animal Collective – “Forest Gospel”
Video: Animal Collective – “Water Curses”
Video: Animal Collective – “Peacebone”
Video: Animal Collective – “Fireworks”
MySpace: Animal Collective

I didn’t know who Chromeo were before Sunday, but henceforth they shall be known as the act that pretty much stole the day (though who they stole it from – no one else really owned – is unclear). It’d have been easy to dismiss the Montreal electro-funkers as a pair of goofs, but they put on a terrific, charismatic and funny performance that got most everyone in a party mood and forgetting for a moment that they were all going to have pneumonia the next day. Though they pushed the limits of good taste on how much vocoder you can use in a set, they incited more than a few mud-splattered dance parties out in the field. Somewhere, backstage, I could imagine The Carps frantically taking notes on how to do what they do correctly.

Photos: Chromeo @ Historic Fort York – July 20, 2008
MP3: Chromeo – “Fancy Footwork”
MP3: Chromeo – “Needy Girl”
Video: Chromeo – “Bonafide Lovin'”
Video: Chromeo – “Fancy Footwork'”
Video: Chromeo – “Tenderoni'”
MySpace: Chromeo

Again, the rain had eased up and again, we dared hope that that would be the end of it and it’s here that I’ll point out a fact about the stage setup that surely affected the perceived intensity of the performances. Because of the rain, the bands were positioned about halfway back in the very large festival stage so that even in a full downpour, the rain wouldn’t reach them and their gear and no one would die in a very messy and very electrified accident. And don’t get me wrong, I’m all in favour of no one dying, but setting the performers so far back from the audience – factor in a fairly large photo/security pit – and it was difficult for any of the acts not tethered to instruments and amps, which is to say Dizzee Rascal – to get any real chemistry going with the audience. Unfortunate, but necessary I suppose.

Anyway, Tokyo Police Club had a tough act to follow and it was difficult for them to do so from where they were standing (literally). Though the fuzzy blasts of compacted pop that made up A Lesson In Crime and the recent Elephant Shell translate very well to the big stage, the four of them seemed very small up there. Singer/bassist David Monks took a few forays to the edge of the stage – I guess he had the long patch cord – but that made the staticness of his cohorts that much more evident. I’ve seen them perform better and fans may be interested to note that Monks mentioned they’d be playing again locally in December.

Photos: Tokyo Police Club @ Historic Fort York – July 20, 2008
MP3: Tokyo Police Club – “In A Cave”
MP3: Tokyo Police Club – “Juno”
Video: Tokyo Police Club – “Graves”
Video: Tokyo Police Club – “In A Cave”
Video: Tokyo Police Club – “Tessellate”
MySpace: Tokyo Police Club

The presence of Cat Power on the lineup, as eclectic as it was, was a bit of a head scratcher. Granted, she’s a marquee name in any context but considering that except for Animal Collective, she was the only act with more than two albums to her name and also the only one who had been around in the 20th century, it was going to be interesting to see how she went over with the much younger demographic in attendance. Now I’d seen Cat Power twice in support of The Greatest and both – solo and with the Memphis Rhythm Band – were magical in their own way. I hadn’t, however, seen her since she’d reconfigured with the Dirty Delta Blues band and released the almost all-covers Jukebox. That was the context for this performance and whereas those other two shows were shining examples of the new, fitter and healthier (but still sorta crazy) Chan Marshall, this one didn’t measure up to that standard.

From the get-go, she was fixated with sound problems both real and imagined and spent as much time interacting with the sound tech as the audience. Though she’d later say her voice was gone, to my ears she sounded terrific as did the band, though they mostly kept the backing simple, only utilizing the impressive musical talent assembled to cut loose a couple times. What was distracting, however, was the seemingly on-the-fly reinventions of most of the songs that made up the set lists. The melodies from familiar songs were turned upside down or discarded entirely in favour of lines of Marshall’s own invention, which often meandered and rarely repeated. Even her own “Metal Heart”, completely reinvented for Jukebox, was turned on its head again and only recognizable when the title surfaced in the lyrics. It may have been that she knew exactly what she was doing and it was all by design, but considering who we’re talking about the converse could just as easily be true.

It’s hard to say how well Cat Power went over – there were definitely fans in attendance but there were also many who were clearly bored and/or confused, and it was hard to blame them. This was a very young audience and Cat Power comes from a very old place. It’s not to say that the two can’t meet, obviously they can and often do, but it’s also not a given. Marshall finished off her set by tossing a bouquet of flowers into the audience – a nice touch – and introducing the band, and then was gone. And so was I.

Photos: Cat Power @ Historic Fort York – July 20, 2008
MP3: Cat Power – “Metal Heart”
MP3: Cat Power – “Song To Bobby”
MySpace: Cat Power

It’s easy to read my not sticking around for headliners City & Colour as a deliberate diss to the screamo-turned-country stylings of Dallas Green (who got the name for his band from his own name – Dallas is a city, green is a colour. I just figured this out), but in truth if I wasn’t completely exhausted, soaked and genuinely concerned about coming down with trench foot, I’d have probably stuck around if only to see what all the fuss was about. But instead I, and not a few others, headed out from former garrison of the city of Toronto and into the finally dry night. The folks at JAM, Chart, The National Post and eye stuck around, however, so if you’re looking for complete top to bottom reviews, head there.

And I don’t have trench foot, thankfully, though I’m not sure my shoes can be salvaged.

By : Frank Yang at 8:38 am
Category: Uncategorized
RSS Feed for this post10 Responses.
  1. chico says:

    Dizzee’s got 3 albums, but otherwise nicely done.

  2. rgsc says:

    I thought Chromeo, Animal Collective, and Dizzee were great. TPC and Vampire Weekend were both good but neither performance wowed me. I didn’t see all Born Ruffians’ set – stuck in line – but they were very good. For my money, they are twice the band that TPC is – I just don’t think Elephant Show was that great, where RedYellowBlue fulfilled the potential of the ep.

    From where I was standing (under a tent in the licensed area – mercifully sheltered from the torrential downpour from just after Born Ruffians on – and a beer tent with good sightlines?!?! and chairs! it was a wonderful thing.) The sound for Cat Power was terrible. I think it may have been a result of how the speakers were positioned, although for the earlier acts i had no problems hearing. For her, though, it was abysmal. I actually left 2/3rds the way through her set. I hadn’t seen CatPower before and was really hoping for something great but it just never happened.

    Despite the rain it was a pretty great show. Good crowd and, for the most part, good sound. Thanks again for hooking me up.

  3. Bob says:

    Finally. Another person who finds Vampire Weekend to be completely overrated! Like you, I don’t necessarily hate them, but I do find them to be a bit boring. Great review. I hate rain, and I’m mostly glad that I didn’t go, but it was good reading your commentary.

  4. Martin says:

    Props on coming out and saying what needed to be blogged… Vampire Weekend are somewhere between boring and annoying…

  5. Chuck says:

    "Granted, their tunes are quite hooky but there’s something irritating about them that I just can’t get past… musically, it’s harder to put a finger on but on this day, it’s most definitely singer/guitarist Ezra Koenig’s horrid sweater and beach shorts ensemble."

    Couldn’t agree more. Aside from their all-too-underwhelming set (not that I expected a whole lot), the shorter-than-short shorts were outright distracting.

  6. Jahmal (Carps) says:

    I often wonder what it takes to make a mark with respected music bloggers. Must you find your inner Byrne? Or just replicate whatever band and or artist the writer loves?

    I appreciate you dug what we do, but I think we might have been more impressive than you let on? Let your friend know that black boys don’t bite. You don’t need to run from the band like a plague.

  7. erin says:

    to be taken seriously don’t have a song called "big booty girls". and the plural of carp is carp. no S. bloggers are notorious grammar nazis who will throw "elements of style" in your face so hard you won’t be able to form complete sentences, much less run from rabid, plague-ridden black boys.

  8. Jahmal (Carps) says:

    But bloggers aren’t real writers? So how can they march in the name of grammar?

    Big Booty Girls is about something. Take a listen. And there is nothing wrong with a fat ass. Maybe that’s my curse as a black man?

    Everybody wants to win. You know that.

  9. Jahmal (Carps) says:

    Amazing Photos BTW Frank.

  10. fireworks says:

    I had a great time! I mean no rain would have been a plus but what can you do? favorite set of the day would have to be animal collective despite the lack of excitement from the audience. maybe it’s just because this guy wasn’t playing! haha http://www.youtube.com/watc