Woods / Parquet Courts / Jennifer Castle Horseshoe Tavern, Toronto ON, July 17

Woods / Parquet Courts / Jennifer Castle Horseshoe Tavern, Toronto ON, July 17
Photo: Matt Bobkin
The sonic similarities concerning the three musical acts that graced the Horseshoe stage are few and far between, but what they all did was deliver sets that exemplified their own style. First up was Toronto singer-songwriter Jennifer Castle, whose unique, sweet folk highlighted her quirky lyrics, whether involving copious amounts of metaphor, such as "Truth is the Freshest Fruit," or through straightforward storytelling, in "Bring Me My Friend." Her lilting vocals were put to good use, especially during the final number, "Sailor's Blessing," when Castle put down her guitar and sang a cappella, shifting and haphazardly dancing to celebrate her instrumental freedom.

The atmosphere was turned on its head when Brooklyn's Parquet Courts took the stage, bringing speedy mosh-invoking riffs to a crowd who seemed to know nearly every word. The quartet brought the energy, and even managed to keep a grip on their liveliness when slowing it down for sparser jams. The band's best tune of the set was "Master of My Craft," the opening track from their 2012 debut Light Up Gold, featuring fun spoken-sung lyrics and quirky riffs amid static, thumping percussion. While the band may not be masters yet, the crowd seemed to be enjoying it, and was enough to inspire one guy to stage dive over… and over… and over again.

Aside from geographical origin and the tendency to jam, the pairing between Parquet Courts and Woods was and still is a bit of an enigma, and the audience reflected this disparity: the crowd shifted considerably after each act, with many of those who clamoured to get to the front for Parquet Courts quickly slunk to the back for the freak folk five-piece.

Woods' music should be praised not for its diversity — every number began as a folk-rock piece featuring bandleader Jeremy Earl's distinctive and stunning falsetto, and eventually ended up as a lengthy jam driven by several crunchy guitar solos — but instead for how well they kept pulling it off. The early part of the set was highlighted by two hits from the band's latest album, 2012's Bend Beyond: "Cali in a Cup" and the title track, that exemplified the "Woods formula" and still left the audience wanting more.

What frontman Jeremy Earl lacks in stature and stage presence he makes up for in musical talent, between his flawless falsetto and mind-melding guitar solos. Another song of note is "Be All Be Easy," originally from 2011's Sun and Shade and recently revitalized on a new seven-inch featuring a fuller band. The song evolved again at the Horseshoe, largely in part due to the band's temporarily extended percussion section, joined by a guest drummer whose additional fills provided a nice touch alongside those of regular drummer Aaron Neveu. The whole band did their part to keep the music entertaining, from bassist Kevin Morby, who took a fun turn on harmonica during one of the earlier numbers, to guitarist Jarvis Taveniere, who held down the melodic fort whenever Earl went nuts on yet another solo. There was a lot of noise coming from the stage, but it was fun, folky, and fresh.

When Taveniere announced that their upcoming song would be the band's last, the consensus was that it was too soon into their set for such an event. However, once the song was over, the audience knew why they had made such a seemingly premature declaration: the last song was an odyssey of riffs and noise that cascaded and shocked for an extended period of time. Any trace of the song that began was gone at the end, as the tune slowly shifted and grew into a noisy spectacle. Aided by some interesting DIY projections by lightsweetcrude, the song provided a lengthy finale that occasionally got stale, but eventually wrapped up with rattling percussion and guitars as the band left the stage. They did return for an encore, "Rain On" from 2009's Songs of Shame, but it didn't even approach the grandeur of the main set closer. Ultimately, three very musical acts took three very different approaches to music, but they all made it their own, and sold it well.