Another trip to Calgary, another week with the grandparents. And once again, I cleverly scheduled my trip to catch a few shows while there. I’d go visit my grandparents either way, of course (though I’m not sure they believe that), but if I can conveniently see someone who’s skipping Regina, well, that’s a win/win.
This brings us to Frank Turner. I saw him open for Joel Plaskett last year in Saskatoon. He was a great new-to-me discovery and I became an instant fan. This time around, Turner was headlining his own tour, but there was no Regina gig. He was playing in Saskatoon, and I thought about going, but that would have meant leaving right after work on a Friday, racing to Saskatoon (and at the end of October, there’s no guarantee that the weather or the roads will allow for that), and cramming into Louis’, where I had seen him before. I don’t expect you to remember reading about that show, but I remember being at that show, and the crowd at that show was hateful. I spent a good part of the show fantasizing about someone barricading the doors and lighting the place on fire. Despite the deaths of myself, my friends, and the artists, it would still have been a net gain for humanity.
But I digress.
My ticket promised two opening acts: The Smith Street Band and Koo Koo Kanga Roo. You’d think the kangaroo thing would have made me do some advance research, but I did not. I am glad that I did not ruin the surprise for myself.
I did not take the time on the ticket seriously, which means that Minneapolis’ Koo Koo Kanga Roo was already playing when I got to the MacEwan Ballroom. This is what I saw when I walked in the doors: the stage was bare. A good portion of the crowd was on the floor, standing in a circle around these two guys who were racing around, energetically singing about throwing a cat party, “so bring your cat and something to share.” Yes. I had no idea what I had just walked into. They then moved into a song called Unicorns R Real (“because, because, I BELIEVE IT”). Then they made everyone pick a favourite colour before bringing out a grade school gym class parachute. It was impossible for me not to enjoy this, and I’m not just saying that because the unicorn from the song was named James. Like me! I’m a unicorn!
A good portion of the crowd stayed in the beer garden and never saw this, and I get that. I don’t think I’d have appreciated this when I was 21. I don’t know what it means that I’m more apt to enjoy kids’ music now that I’m older, but whatever. Even if I’m mentally regressing, I’m glad I saw this when I did and I wish I’d made it for the whole set.
Before the Smith Street Band took the stage, I hit the stuff table to buy a Frank Turner CD and, more importantly, an official $5 CD-R from one of Koo Koo Kanga Roo themselves (Bryan – the one without the mustache). He was a very friendly guy, though I didn’t spend a lot of time with him since I figured he was better off talking to the actual children who were there. I didn’t see many, but the ones who were there really seemed to enjoy themselves.
The Smith Street Band hail from Melbourne and were a much more straight-forward rock band. They sounded like a band who should be touring with Frank Turner, if that means anything to you. These guys were really tight, and on any other night they’d likely have been the standouts. I enjoyed them, and I thought everyone else did too, but I’m not sure the lead singer agreed. Or at least that’s what I took away from “Don’t worry, we only have two more songs. I’m sorry for whatever we did to your families.” At least he got to stay in a nice hotel and take four trips to the sauna. He seemed to like that.
Finally, Frank Turner and his band, The Sleeping Souls, took the stage for Turner’s 1,748th show. Does he actually keep count? Who knows. He said it and I took notes. For you. Because I care.
Apart from the presence of the full band, another notable change from last year’s show was that Turner himself was not playing guitar. He told us that he’d developed back problems and his doctor advised him to cancel six months’ worth of tour dates. Turner declined, opting to keep the shows but turn guitar duties over to someone else. I’m not sure how guitar hurts your back more than constant touring does, but whatever. Backs are mysterious things. Mine sometimes gets mad when I load the dishwasher or tie my shoes. Anyway, the new guitarist was Irish, a fact that Turner seemed quite delighted by and brought up repeatedly. This made for quite the multicultural, if monochrome, show.
With no guitar, Turner seemed like he felt personally responsible for keeping up the energy level in the room. He sang his heart out, bouncing back and forth across the stage. Every other song, he led audience singalongs and encouraged dancing, jumping, clapping, anything. By the end of the show, everyone on stage was soaked.
I’d tell you what songs he played, but would you care? This is my clever way of deflecting the fact that I don’t know from titles anymore. If I listen to music, it’s in my car, on my phone, or at work, and I never really look to see what songs are called. It was probably about 1/3rd “ooh, I know this song, I like it,” 1/3rd “I think I know this one, I like it,” and 1/3rd “nope, don’t know this one – but I like it.” So it was a nice diverse mix. Or maybe it wasn’t. Like I’d know?
For the encore, Turner first came out by himself with the dreaded backbreaking guitar, saying he figured he could break the doctor’s rule for one song per night. He explained that he liked to play a local band’s song in every city, but since Feist was too obvious a choice and he wasn’t cool enough to know any Chixdiggit songs, he had to settle for playing a Canadian band’s song. “I have a tattoo on my arm of a cat named Virtute,” he said. Not everyone knew what that meant, but those that did (me me me I know things) were super excited. Turner added that The Weakerthans are one of his favourite bands (ooh ooh me too we’re pals now) and launched into Plea From a Cat Named Virtute. I had been good all show about keeping my phone to myself, but I had to record this. I wasn’t near the front, but you can at least hear it clearly.
The full band came back out for a few more songs, and that was the evening. And it was great. Super great. If you get the chance to see any of these bands – or even better, all of them together – I highly recommend you take it. I’m finishing this off on November 15, 2013, and if there was a way I could get to Charlotte, North Carolina tonight to see this show again, I’d do it. I looked back at my reviews for this year, and this show is battling Leonard Cohen for Show Of The Year status. They were two very different evenings and I’m not sure how you compare the two – clearly, we need Cohen to sing Unicorns R Real while Koo Koo Kanga Roo covers Hallelujah. Preferably while standing on Aaron’s front lawn, because if you’re going to have ridiculous wishes, you may as well go all out.
Speaking of Koo Koo Kanga Roo, they were waiting in the lobby for the crush of people making their way out of the ballroom, taking one last shot at selling more CD-Rs. “24 hit songs, only $5!” A lot of hustle goes into silly cat songs.