Frank Turner at The Horseshoe Tavern, Toronto, ON: By Scott Thomson

Mar 09, 2010

If there is one stereotype of Toronto audience’s over the years, it is that they don’t dance. They don’t sing. They just stand around, tap their feet, and try to look cool. It is something I have heard countless times, and like most stereotypes, there is a basis for it.

By in large, Toronto, being Canada’s biggest city, it is also one of its most self conscious. I am not sure whether it has to due with kids not wanting to ruin their new shoes, purchased from boutiques on Queen St. West, or whether it has to do with a general complacency from knowing that bands will always come, regardless of how enthusiastic the crowd is.

The fact is, Toronto is one of this country’s touring stops. If a band is to play north of the 49th parallel, they usually, if not always, stop in Toronto. Go to a show in any other smaller city, and the crowds are much different. Gone is the Canadian politeness, and in its place, by in large, is an audience auditioning for another concert; for another tour.

The point of all this is simple. If you are in Toronto, and you happen to actually find a show with an emerged, and engaged crowd, you take note. It will likely be a concert to remember. 

On January 26, 2010, England’s Frank Turner was lucky enough to see one of these crowds.

Playing the legendary Horseshoe Tavern as part of local radio personality, Dave Bookman’s, weekly indie-concert series, Turner put on one of the best sets I have seen in a very long time.

For years now, every Tuesday night, the ‘Shoe—as it is typically referred to—opens its doors up, free of charge, and puts on a show of up-and-coming artist. Usually the bands that play don’t become huge, but upon occasion, you can see someone who is about to break. It was the case when The Strokes played before Is This It was released, and it was the case when Turner took the stage.

By the time I got to venue, it was about half packed, but by the time Newmarket’s Cavaliers! finished their set, the bar was as packed as I have ever seen it.

Turner hit the stage, acoustic guitar in tow, and jumped into “I Knew Prufrock Before He Got Famous” from his great record Love, Ire & Song. It was obvious from the first note of that song that the show was going to be something special. The last time he was in Toronto, Turner was opening for the Offspring at an outdoor amphitheater, so this was essentially the first show he ever played for his fans.

The crowd pushed forwards, fists in the air, singing as loudly as any I have ever heard before. At points, I was literally five feet from Turner, and I had a hard time hearing him sing. People weren’t just singing, they were letting go of everything they had. It was the easily the most passionate crowd I can ever recall seeing.

Turner’s set list played heavily on Ire as well as his 2009 release Poetry of the Deed, much to the chagrin of some of his older fans wanting to hear songs like “Once We Were Anarchists” and “Casanova Lament”

“I guess some people think I take requests!” Turner joked.

He didn’t miss a step all set. Between songs he joked about the origins of his songs and maintained his control over the crowd, even going as far as pulling a member of the audience on stage to play harmonica.

Having just come in from England the day before, Turner talked about suffering from jet lag. If he was, no one noticed. He played folk music with a fury reserved for hardcore bands.

By the time he got to his cover songs, he could have just about played anything, but the true showman he is, he sang, acapella, a three-hundred-year-old, English folk tune, and pandered to the Canadian crowd by jumping into his take on The Weakerthans’ “Watermark”

In all, he played most of his last two records, and did eventually play a few older tracks to satisfy everyone, before closing the set off with “The Ballad of Me and My Friends.” Before the song, he talked about wanting to get everyone singing in unison, because, as he put it “music isn’t about a singer with an ego complex”.

That night, we sang, we drank, and we celebrated. Music, love, death, and freedom were all on display, with Turner leading the orchestra. 

After his set, the exodus began, even though there were two bands to play. I am not sure how many people stayed, but after Turner, it would be hard task to follow up with anything that good.

Leaving the bar that night, my voice was strained, but I felt great. It was the release that was needed to get me through another week of mindless labor.

Here’s to hoping he comes back soon.