I knew seeing Frank Turner at The Media Club was bound to be a special, intimate experience. When I realized that Northcote and Dave Hause were the opening performers, I knew it was going to be the quintessential singer/songwriter performance of the year. I couldn’t have been more right about anything. The sold-out club had a special feeling of anticipation from the moment I walked in. Matt of Northcote and I discussed that very thing, moments before he took the stage.
Standing solo with only his harmonica and acoustic guitar in tow, Matt Goud of Northcote was lucky to be the first to strum the evening’s opening chords heard in “Wheels,” followed by a personal favorite, “Goodnight” (both from his Borrowed Chords, Tired Eyes EP). The sound in The Media Club is almost always perfect and tonight was no exception. While his harmonica was a little hot, every nuance of his unique voice and each note played on the guitar rang out perfectly. He immediately had the room’s attention. Being my third time seeing Matt, and first since I became 100% familiar with his album, it was admirable how the arrangement changed in certain parts of his tunes this evening. His vocal accentuation in “Energy” was a shining example of just that.
Matt dedicated “All I Have Is Time” to his favorite street in Canada: Whyte Ave in Edmonton, AB. Being an Edmonton native, I couldn’t help but smirk and nod in approval. I’ve come to count on a few cover tune gems from Mr. Goud. Tonight delivered a great solo surprise cover as well as a staple Northcote cover in a form of a duet, the former being an excellent rendition of Tom Petty’s “Hardest Part” and the latter: Hot Water Music’s “Trusty Chords.” Dave Hause took care of the chorus, while Matt sung the verse. Matt and the room joined Dave for the final chorus.
After Matt closed his set with “Worry”--a catchy number that includes a favorite lyric, “I don’t know where we’re going but I like where we are”--the room couldn’t have agreed more. I know I did. A week prior, I’d mentioned to Frank that he should keep his ears open for Northcote tonight as I suspected his was rather unfamiliar. Minutes after the set finished I asked Frank what he thought, who said, “He was fucking awesome.” Frank later addressed Matt as a “fucking legend” during his thanks. End of story.
I’m a fan of the Loved Ones but hadn’t heard much from Dave Hause’s solo career. He explained early on that his set was to include some Loved Ones tunes, a handful of solo cuts and a couple covers thrown in. Perfect. His raspy voice--thankfully--was audibly clearer and stronger than during his duet with Matt earlier on. As expected, he presented a solo tune first, proceeded by “Living Will (Get You Dead)”, from his Loved Ones catalogue.
On the final stop of his and Northcote’s Canadian tour he made mention that “if this isn’t the most beautiful city in Canada, I don’t know what is.” He explained that while he likes his home of Philadelphia, it’s actually rarely sunny, despite popular belief. He was sure to give our hockey team, the Canucks, a nod in the form of dedicating “Jane,” another Loved Ones song.
“Resolutions” and “Pray for Tucson” were newer, solo songs heard amidst a couple covers: one by the Explosion and another duet with Matt for the Replacement’s “Can’t Hardly Wait.” Matt’s tambourine was clear, without any mic or amplification everywhere in the small club--that’s how intimate the show really was. Dave closed his set with a new song about a friend who’s made strides with substance abuse. He explained that it’s easy to write a song about someone who’s fucking up but much more worthwhile to acknowledge one’s recovery. I’d have to personally agree with Dave on that, if anything else, this evening.
The room of 150 people was packed as could be as our English headliner assembled his equipment--again, simply a guitar, a mic and harmonica. “I Knew Prufrock Before He Got Famous” and “Try This at Home” was played first and foremost. During “Substitute,” Frank was heard singing “I’ve had many different girls inside my bed,” immediately echoed by a fan’s exclaim of “Not me!” who made everyone (including Frank) smirk and set the intimate fan vs. performer tone for the rest of his set. Frank afterwards had a laugh and said “Well, maybe that’s more of a ‘and you never will’ type of remark.” Frank then called upon a volunteer to play harmonica for “Dan’s Song,” who lip-synched every word of the tune when he wasn’t playing.
Frank’s lyrics are truly the reason why this guy speaks to me, song after song, lesson after lesson. His songs about failed relationships, regrets and the rigors of love are no exception. “Isabel” and “Sea Legs” were so apt for such identification. An untitled song that he gave a temporary title, “Steve,” followed. This detailed a frightening tale about a woman who has terrifying dreams night after night about pirate ships and Patty Hearst. Chills ran as I heard, “I’m just an imprint on the bed sheets.” Frank seemed to express quite a bit of pain during the final verse of “Long Live the Queen,” but his heart sounded like it was clearly breaking during the course of “Jet Lag.”
Frank’s first of three cover tunes was Chris TT’s song about the futile efforts of political songwriting, “Preaching to the Converted.” Loudon Wainwright’s “Motel Blues” followed, leaving an a cappella traditional number, “Barbara Allen,” also heard on his Take to the Road CD/DVD.
Prior to “Love Ire and Song,” he detailed a story about making a nostalgic visit to an anarchist demonstration in England, years after he abandoned such a drive. He realized that standing there for eight hours waiting to piss and risking to be arrested simply isn’t his cup of tea anymore. He did, however, have a cop help him get out of an ex-girlfriend debacle that he was unexpectedly dealing with upon said visit. Other classics such as “Worse Things Happen at Sea” were played alongside another new tune called “Rock 'n’ Roll All Night.” Thankfully, it wasn’t the KISS rendition.
Frank explained that encores are “fucking stupid” so he’ll make no exit before playing his final four. He did, after all, have a clear desire to “get drunk without a guitar in his hand.” We all heard, sang and danced to “The Road,” “Photosynthesis” and (by an earlier request) “St. Christopher” and nearly cried by the final notes of “Ballad of Me and My Friends.”
Beers, cheers and a great feeling of unity resonated here this evening. Earlier, Frank explained the feeling he had when he heard an amazing song and just wanted to quit because he felt it’d now all been done. Well, I could relate in a similar sense in that I questioned any point in reviewing any other show this year--as each and every one is sure to pale in comparison. The English bloke I spoke to was ecstatic to have seen the contrast between Frank and his band play to 3500 people a couple weeks prior, to Frank alone in a room only the fraction of its size. It’s difficult not to romanticize the details of the evening, but it was truly an honor to be a part of this unique, one-off show tonight in Vancouver. Let’s hope it can--to some degree--be recreated again.
Review and photo gallery