While most American families prepared to tuck into their turkey dinners on Thanksgiving, Team GDW hit the road and headed back to southern Ontario for a “3 concerts in 3 nights” weekend. Reviews of all three evenings will follow, but for now, the focus is on our first live experience with Montreal alternative-folk rock band The Franklin Electric.
After an Australian tour, and many evenings honing their craft across Quebec, TFE were ready to make their debut at the legendary Horseshoe Tavern in downtown Toronto. The band would perform every track from their 2014 “This Is How I Let You Down” album, whilst also road testing some new material from their upcoming sophomore release “Blue Ceilings” (available in early 2017).
We arrived at the Horseshoe Tavern and instantly sensed the history of this storied venue. How many famous Canadian artists made their names playing in these small downtown bars and clubs? And even after fame and fortune has been earned, how many continue to return? Quite a few, to say the least.
Sitting directly adjacent to the checkerboard floor, our table neighbor told us that this was the centerpiece of the famous “That Night in Toronto” line from the Tragically Hip’s “Bobcaygeon,” which sent a small shiver through me at the thought that we were sharing space with something so intimate to the wonderful Gord Downie. We were also informed that the lady telling us this was in fact the mother of two members of the opening act that night, and we received a wonderful brief history of “Common Deer” from somebody who really does know them well.
Hitting the stage at around 9:15 p.m., Toronto’s five-member Common Deer wowed the rapidly forming crowd with a fantastic violin- and cello-laced instrumental, before launching into a handful of songs that grabbed your attention whether you wanted them to or not. On “Feather and Bone,” violinist Graham McLaughlin split the vocals with Sheila Hart-Owens, whose vocal range far exceeded her petite stature behind the keyboards.
Mixing classical string arrangements with modern folk riffs, their self-proclaimed “orchestral indie” music was well received by the audience. “He’s an engineer, but gave up the job and money to play the music he loves,” stated the proud parent and friends, and after hearing their music, we could not agree more that they made a great choice. With an acknowledgment that a debut EP was currently in the works, we have added this to our list of essential listening once released. It was a pleasure to meet with bassist Connor Farrell after the show, and to wish him and the band nothing but the best in their musical journey.
The Franklin Electric commenced their set at around 10:25 p.m. and warmed up the crowd pretty quickly with some tracks from their current album. Lead singer Jon Matte was positioned center stage with his keyboards, and alternated between piano, guitar, and his trusty trumpet (gotta love hearing that trumpet on “Old Piano”). While some new material was introduced and well received, the emphasis remained on sharing the wonderful songs from their debut. “Strongest Man Alive” and “Alone” were played with great passion and wonderful musicianship, and the crowd below the stage welcomed the band onto that checkerboard floor to perform an unplugged track in close proximity to those lucky fans.
After closing their set, TFE returned to knock out an amazing encore. Title track “This Is How I Let You Down” and the radio-friendly hit “Unsatisfied” were played to perfection. I happened to record a little of the encore on my phone, and still feel chills from the haunting piano and melodies upon repeat viewings.
Returning for a second encore (this Horseshoe Tavern crowd were there to party), Jon acknowledged that Canadian legend Gordon Lightfoot was playing at Massey Hall that night, and closed the show with an outstanding rendition of Lightfoot’s “If You Could Read My Mind.” Some things are better left unsaid, but I’m going on a limb here and breaking all rules of music journalistic integrity….Jon nailed it, and with the band’s arrangement behind him, to me, this was better than the original version.
TFE had a more than memorable Horseshoe Tavern debut, even though they technically omitted one track from the album (but it is probably way too much of an inconvenience to go out at midnight to find a full scale orchestra for the ‘remix’ version of “Unsatisfied”, right?). Next time, guys, maybe next time. The Franklin Electric: an amazing live band, and one that we plan to see again next time they are in a town near (or not so near) us.