Back for its sixth year, Field Trip again proved that it is Toronto’s most laid back, welcoming weekend for music lovers, foodies and families, as the festival spread out across the grassy, comfortable grounds of Fort York and Garrison Common this weekend.
In contrast to bad trends which have spread to Canada from south of the border, Field Trip is known for offering quality over quantity, visitor experience over the endless queues and tensions of bloated festivals, and music artist curation is done with care.
This year’s headliners and boldest names were three-quarters female led: Metric, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Alvvays, (rounded out with a rousing set by Damien “Jr. Gong” Marley) and a special mention must go to our great discovery of the weekend, Middle Kids, visiting from Australia and with a not-insignificant crowd turn out of people who knew the words.
In recent years, Fort York has been the centrally located go-to location for the city’s outdoor music festivals of that just-right size and mix. It feels as if this new chapter for the historical site was an innovation of Field Trip’s organizers themselves (this year including Arts & Crafts and partners Live Nation.) Later this summer The National will bring a mini-fest mood of their own to the site. Toronto Urban Roots Fest (TURF) enjoyed several seasons there. Fort York feels like a field trip, the actual site of school trips of our Toronto upbringing. Now, the muskets are mercifully silent and replaced with music, an outdoor kids’ daycamp, and more diverse food trucks than you can count. VIBE is something suggested, even promised, by music festivals everywhere, a thing that is specific and conditional and harder to create in real life than in glossy teaser trailers. At Field Trip, good vibes are achieved through some kind of throwback civility, enabled by the luxury of the open space, the lack of crowding, the possibility to picnic. It’s something we’ve forgotten, gotten away from. It means that community can really happen like it used to as a matter of course in this city, when we all went outside for the summer, made for the beach and the parks and stayed there til it got dark, cold or rained.
Field Trip’s two big stages had a pop up day camp in the middle space between these areas, with the whole outside of the site bordered by food trucks and discreet vendors. A large hula hoop field emerged delightfully on one field, with a bouncy slide on the other. Saturday’s weather was as idyllic as it ever gets, with no bugs yet, summer highs and trees for enough shade to make everyone comfortable. Sight lines were possible anywhere, and the devoted had the barriers covered all weekend giving them front row access.
For us the weekend’s overall triumph was our own Metric, a band who emerged out of the same post-2000s Indie Pop moment as Sunday’s brilliant headliner, Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Metric’s career trajectory has seen them evolve from insightful social criticism and catchy hooks (and great riffs) to a more electronic direction on Synthetica (2012) and Pagans in Vegas (2015). Saturday’s Metric show, their first of this year, was well planned with an eye to reflection on the band’s personal story. Metric is at a point in their career that they can start to take a long view, and have such a strong body of work that they can curate a set list full of crowd-pleasers without coming close to exhausting their discography. Canada so rarely lets original, strong, weird bands push through at the level Metric has done building their sound since their emergence in 2001. As teased on Twitter, Fantasies, Metric’s 2009 fourth album, was played in full (as we all grapple with the reality that 2009 is now a throwback, but as tech and social media has made time untraceable and slippery, it is). Fantasies, Metric’s biggest record, was the perfect thing for this crowd of all ages fans. “Stadium Love” was built to be a stadium killer, a field transformer, a bid for just what this band had long deserved to be. And it is. It’s a wild, woolly, and weird musing on society, on music, on competition, survival and how we are all just creatures fighting for place and purpose. No one’s getting out (without Stadium Love). It’s that beautiful moment of music you wait for for half a decade: that kind of song that is written about frustration and sadness and is transformed into an anthem that chases away the very shadows it hints at. It is big, our world-stage worthy anthem that would be understood anywhere crowds assemble on the planet. “Help, I’m Alive” is as good as ever. The pressing question of “Gimme Sympathy” is still food for thought: “who would you rather be? The Beatles or the Rolling Stones?” (and we never can be sure how the band would answer this, a myriad question that depends very much on a listener’s deepest attachments to their own formative music (or their parents’). “Gold Guns Girls” is still prescient in a time of bombardment of U.S. violence, abuses of power and the hopelessness around mass shootings and gun control. Metric writes from the position of the border kid, the seventies child, who’s kept one eye on that border all our lives, trying to understand how American we are, or aren’t. What we share, and don’t. What is a border, anyway? And what is ours, unique, our critical (pose) detachment, our Canadianness. Our music, our culture. “Breathing Underwater” was full of poignancy, catching us off guard this time around. These catch-in-the-throat moments always occur at great shows, sometimes on cue, and sometimes at unexpected moments. And Metric’s lyrics always start from simple, clean poetics and leave room to breathe, to think and to be inspired.
In the biggest news of the festival, Metric also debuted two brand new songs in the back half of the set, which seamlessly manage to merge their latest albums with the Metric of 2009 and before. These songs sound like Metric, who are are real rock and rollers, and it also sounds like progress. (We believe the songs may be called “Dark Saturday” and “Now or Never”.) These songs were incredible. The show was rounded out with “Black Sheep”, “Youth Without Youth”, “Breathing Underwater” and “On a Slow Night”. Metric had the whole field in the palm of their hand, Emily Haines moving from side to side, two keyboards then to a side-stage mic, and doing more with a tambourine than seems possible. Her words in between songs were full of gratitude, reflection and encouragement, and the whole mood was the perfect ending to a Saturday we won’t ever forget.
THE REST OF BOTH DAYS
The two stages were easy to bounce between, so Field Trippers could conceivably get to at least some of each of the shows. (In between, a lively set in the kids’ area kept us further entertained with renditions of The Fresh Prince and the Ghostbusters theme.) Damien Marley’s set perfectly captured the last of Saturday’s sunshine both musically and literally. The Barr Brothers were energetic and enjoyable. Japandroids took the blame for the Vancouver-like rain that came in Sunday afternoon (but was not enough to ruin their great, humidity defying set.) Sets by Deer Tick, Alvvays, and Jacob Banks were among our top picks as well.
The other big story of Field Trip was the set by Middle Kids, here from Sydney, Australia. They told us they were jet-lagged but you’d never know it. It was love at first listen. Hannah Joy’s vocal is an original talent, but one that makes us think of our beloved Tanya Donelly, and a few other great rock women who come along about once a decade. Feeling like the last to know, we moved closer to the stage and started trying to learn the songs. Each one was full, big, bright and shiny. We’re now fans.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs were high on our list as one band we’ve always liked but have just kept missing. They feature heavily in Meet Me in the Bathroom, the 2017 book by Lizzie Goodman about the New York garage punk revival scene of the early 2000s, so they’ve been on our minds. “M.A.P.S.” was one of those crazy juggernaut songs that comes like a bolt of the blue and just enters your heart and stays there, and all who love it have played it countless times, so hearing that ringing guitar live was a very rare thrill. Karen O told the Toronto crowd that it’s about and for the person who broke your heart so bad you wanted to die, and it’s about the person you love more than the whole world. (Sometimes that’s the same person.) And as Karen O is now a mother, like many members of her audience, the song is even for moms and their babies. Why the hell not? It’s YYYs show. Their rules. At one point in the show, Karen O disappears from the stage only to walk the length of the front row barrier putting the mic before her fans to sing. All obey on cue, except one guy who shouts “I love you!”. Did O throw one of her bedazzled garments into the crowd? We can’t be sure.
“Heads Will Roll”, the YYYs’ perfect foray into dance music, was a fantastic club hit, and still is. It sounded electric. Nearby where we stood watching, kids sat atop their dad’s shoulders, others sat in trees like wild things, and the best of the bunch started dancing for their lives at what was possibly their first music festival. But maybe not. Maybe they’ve been coming here all their lives, in a fine new family tradition for old Fort York, very different from field trips of another time. “Heads Will Roll” is another anomaly, like “Stadium Love”: it talks about the best / most brutal ideas; (we all want to shout imperialistically from time to time “OFF WITH THEIR HEADS!” ) but takes anger and whips it into a great goddamn all ages party. And this Field Trip is one for the ages.
With thanks to Field Trip, Arts & Crafts, and Live Nation.
Words by Jacqueline Howell. Photos by Jacqueline Howell and Dave MacIntyre
Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Damian “Jr Gong” Marley
The Barr Brothers