Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Frank Turner returns to the Horseshoe

British singer/songwriter Frank Turner made his first appearance in Toronto in 15 months on Monday night and, after playing the cavernous Sound Academy on his last visit, he happily returned to the cozier confines of the Horseshoe Tavern.

The show quickly sold out, but those who arrived at the club early were treated to a surprise acoustic performance by the man who headlines arena tours in his homeland and played at the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympics in London. It didn't take long for the venue to fill in after that and the place was pretty much packed by the time Turner's longtime friend Beans on Toast hit the stage for a solo acoustic set of his own.

I'd seen the English artist a few years ago at the South by Southwest Music Festival in Austin, Texas and enjoyed his easygoing delivery of wide-ranging, topical tunes. While chatting with him afterward, he pulled out a marker and drew two lines on my face, leaving me looking like a much less cute version of Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes.

While I'd listened to a few Beans on Toast songs online since then, his new The Grand Scheme of Things was the first album I'd listened to from beginning to end. I was impressed. It offers wit and insight in balanced measures, and the "drunk folk singer" provided entertaining renditions of several of its songs at the Horseshoe. 

It wasn't long before Turner and his band The Sleeping Souls trotted across the stage to be met with hoops, hollers, shouts, screams, whistles and clapping by the folks that surged forward to get as good a view as possible. 

The energy from the audience was met and returned by the musicians, who cranked out songs from across the catalogue and only let up when Turner took time to address the crowd with his typical humour, humility and profanity. He even briefly played electric guitar, which added a different wrinkle, and fell off a monitor on to his arse -- luckily not damaging his back which had caused him issues in the past.

Pretty much all of Turner's most popular songs were played during the 90-minute set, and a handful of new numbers from a new album due later this year were presented. They sounded promising and those in attendance responded enthusiastically, even if they couldn't sing every word like many were with virtually every song through most of the performance.

It was sweaty and fun, the way a good rock-and-roll show should be.

On a more personal note, I was pleased to be name-checked by veteran sportscaster Dave Hodge from the stage as he introduced the proceedings. Turner also acknowledged me (along with Hodge and Collective Concerts' Jeff Cohen and Ben Pearlman) during the show, which was nice.

I first saw Turner in Austin in March 2009 and spoke with him for the first time later that year on the night after I watched him open for The Offspring at the Molson Amphitheatre, when we shared pints at the Horseshoe. He opened his 2010 North American tour in my living room and I've written a lot about him over the years, and he appreciates the support even though he's now achieved a level of popularity where he probably wouldn't have to.

It was good to catch up with Turner while drinking a dram of Jameson Irish Whiskey with him backstage before he went on, and in the club's front bar over pints of 50 afterward when the throngs of fans who wanted autographs and photos finally thinned out. We'll both be in Austin for South by Southwest again later this month so we may get a chance to exchange pleasantries again before he returns to Toronto later this year in support of the new record.

In the meantime, just as Beans on Toast has a new album out this week through Xtra Mile Recordings (which is now distributed in Canada by Fontana North), Turner's The Third Three Years was released digitally by Xtra Mile this week as well.

It's his third installment of material not included on his studio albums and includes previously unreleased demos, radio sessions, B-sides, duets, live tracks, one-off side projects and covers of Queen's "Somebody to Love," Tom Petty's "American Girl," Townes Van Zandt's "Pancho and Lefty," Paul McCartney's "Live and Let Die" and Bruce Springsteen's "Born to Run."

It may be a wee bit hit and miss in places, as these types of collections can tend to be, but it was compiled for hardcore fans more than casual listeners just dipping their toes into Turner's repertoire. So if you like Turner and his music, you'll definitely like The Third Three Years.

Finally, I apologize for the less than stellar photos accompanying this post. I was using my new iPhone for the first time when I took them. Yes, I've finally taken the plunge. And no, you can't have my number.

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