Three nights with Frank Turner
British folk-punk singer/songwriter Frank Turner launched his current North American tour in my living room on Jan. 25, and then played three more shows in the next two nights at a trio of other Toronto venues. Aside from Turner and Epitaph Canada's Tonni Maruyama and Keith Maurik, I was the only person present for all four performances.
Turner had promised on night one that he'd try to mix up his sets so people who saw him multiple times during his Toronto stay wouldn't get the same songs every time. While there were some repeats, mostly of songs I had no problem hearing over again, the Bahrain-born entertainer lived up to his word.
You can check the set list, and find a download link to about 40 minutes of the performance, from my abode here.
Here are capsulized reviews of the other three shows:
Horseshoe Tavern, Tues. Jan. 26
Turner packed the house for a free show at the Horseshoe, during which he opened with the same three songs as the night before: "I Knew Prufrock Before He Got Famous," "Try This At Home" and "Substitute." He followed that with "Isabel" and a Love Ire & Song favourite about the after-effects of a major bender, "The Real Damage." A female member of the audience was recruited to come on stage for a closing harmonica solo on "Dan's Song," and she acquitted herself reasonably well for someone who'd never played before.
"Sunshine State" was introduced by an amusing story about an ex-girlfriend who Turner realized wasn't particularly faithful. "Long Live The Queen" got a lot of people singing and clapping along and Love Ire & Song's title track was particularly strong.
Turner then offered up a cover of what he called the greatest song ever, Half Man Half Biscuit's "Vatican Broadside," which featured the stirring refrain, "Who the fucking hell are Slipknot?" The traditional folk ballad "Barbara Allen" and the Weakerthans' "Watermark," which Turner had performed during a radio interview with Dave Bookman on 102.1 The Edge a night earlier, rounded out the covers portion of the evening.
Turner was sweating profusely by the time he got to Poetry Of The Deed single/video "The Road," which had many in the impressively enthusiastic audience singing along. Things slowed down with "Journey Of The Magi," which he had told me earlier in the day was one of the two favourite songs he's written. Things livened up more for the last two numbers, "Photosynthesis" and "The Ballad Of Me And My Friends."
Gibson Guitar Lounge, Wed. Jan. 27 (early)
This was an invitation-only performance recorded for Punkradiocast.com and held at Gibson's showroom and performance/party space. I arrived early to find Turner in the showroom shredding away on a black electric Epiphone that he'd taken off the wall, something he said he loves but doesn't get the chance to do very often. He then joined us in the lounge where bottles of Steam Whistle beer and shots of Jagermeister were being given away.
Turner opened his set with "Nashville Tennessee." Then, noting his surroundings, he introduced "Romantic Fatigue" by saying, "Anybody that knows how to play guitar had absolutely no friends when they were a teenager." He claimed that "Romantic Fatigue" was the first song he'd written as a solo artist, and it was good to hear something I'd never heard him do before.
"Try This At Home" was next and was followed by another number I'd never heard him play before, "To Take You Home." He then introduced a new and still untitled song that he'd previously told me he was very happy with, which includes references to Bob Dylan and Patty Hearst sailing around on a pirate ship.
A request for "Substitute" was granted, and Turner said the next song was written for his "fuckin' cool" mom. It was "Faithful Son" and another cut I'd never heard live before. There was a request for a Take That cover that Turner had played on BBC Radio and, while he told a story about it, he didn't play the song. He instead covered a much, much better song: Bruce Springsteen's "Thunder Road." It was another first for me.
Turner finished his set with "The Ballad Of Me And My Friends" before rushing off to The Dakota Tavern, where I soon joined him at a table for a pre-show dinner.
The Dakota Tavern, Wed. Jan. 27 (late)
After filling the Horseshoe to capacity for the free show on Tuesday, I thought this smaller venue would be packed like a sardine can by people willing to pay seven bucks to see Turner, local rock hero Ian Blurton and psych-rock band Huron — who also acted as Blurton's accompanists. It was busy, but not as much as I had anticipated.
Turner opened with "I Knew Prufrock Before He Got Famous," the other of the two songs he ranks as his favourites. It was followed by "Father's Day" (during which Turner's voice cracked) and a cover of The Postal Service's "The District Sleeps Alone Tonight," which I didn't know the first time I heard Turner perform it last March in Austin, Texas at the Kerrang! party during the South By Southwest Music Festival.
Turner reprised the Dylan on the pirate ship song and, like on Tuesday night, asked for a volunteer to play harmonica on "Dan's Song." Another woman filled the role admirably. The new and still untitled drinking song that Turner had performed at my place was brought out again, as was "Try This At Home" and "Heartless Bastard Motherfucker" after a request. He played "Jet Lag" and admitted that he was feeling the combined effects of jet lag from his flight from England and fatigue from partying upon his arrival.
"My voice is a little fucked today, which is entirely my fault," Turner said before launching into "Long Live The Queen."
"Back In The Day" and "The Road" kept things rolling before Turner acknowledged, "I can't believe that so many people give a shit about what I do when I haven't spent much time here."
Turner promised to return again soon (though his concert calendar is packed through the first half of the year, so far) and concluded with "The Ballad Of Me And My Friends."
The boisterous crowd demanded an encore, which Turner said would deprive him of time with drugs and supermodels. But he gave in and led a rousing sing-along version of Abba's "Dancing Queen" that had almost everyone in the basement club joining in.
The final installment of my "Turner In Toronto" saga, a Q&A transcript of a conversation recorded at the Horseshoe Tavern on the afternoon of Jan. 26, will appear on this page after an article I wrote about Turner is posted on the Spinner web site.