Frank Turner has come a long way in North America since I tried to interest people in his Campfire Punkrock EP five years ago, first saw him on a small rooftop at the South by Southwest Music Festival in 2009 and witnessed him playing to an almost empty Molson Amphiteatre later that year while opening for Offspring.
Turner launched his 2010 North American tour in my living room in front of 30 of my friends and is now selling out shows across the continent. More than 1,000 people turned out for his all-ages concert at Toronto's Phoenix Concert Theatre on Friday night, making it his biggest headlining gig ever outside of the United Kingdom.
Turner was obviously jubilant with the turnout and rabid singing along by many in the audience, and it was reflected in his ebullient performance with his backing band, The Sleeping Souls. He opened with "Eulogy" and went on to play a mix of older material and songs from his latest Epitaph LP, England Keep My Bones.
A Canadian flag with Turner's name emblazoned across it was thrown on stage towards the end of the 75-minute opening set. It was draped across the front of the drum kit before briefly gracing Turner's shoulders during a surprise closing number: a cover of Queen's "Somebody To Love." So that's what Freddy Mercury would have looked and sounded like if he was a raging heterosexual.
Turner's encore began with a solo acoustic cover of Leonard Cohen's "Chelsea Hotel," which he introduced as a Toronto song. When I gently chided Turner and told him that Cohen was from Montreal when we met for drinks at a local pub after the show, he said he realized he'd made a mistake as soon as the words left his lips -- but it was too late to turn back. The song should go over well if he pulls it out again tonight for his show at Montreal's Corona.
Turner remained alone on stage for "Ballad of Me and My Friends" before The Sleeping Souls returned for a rousing run through "Photosynthesis" wherein the singer urged everyone in the house -- including the bartenders and security guards -- to sing the anthemic chorus. They did, and Turner rewarded the diehards up front by diving off the stage into their outstretched arms.
Slowly but surely, Turner is becoming a star. That's certainly the case in Toronto, at least, which he's claiming as his second home after London.
The British artist's Canadian tour is almost over, but he'll return next spring as part of an exciting double bill that I'm already looking forward to but can't yet reveal.