As we bid farewell to March and welcomed April, Team GDW once again packed up the car and headed north of the border for an evening of great live music. With tickets in hand to see Ben Caplan and The Casual Smokers live in London, ON, we figured that it would be the worst kind of ‘April Fools’ experience to miss this particular gig. And so, just a measly 400 miles later, we found ourselves back at the amazing Aeolian Hall where Ben Caplan would take the stage that evening.
As the lights dimmed to signal the start of the show, the host and emcee introduced Toronto native and singer-songwriter Rob Moir to the stage for the warm-up duties. Armed with just his trusty (and well-travelled) acoustic guitar, Rob would entertain the sold out building with a collection of nine songs. After a subdued first three tracks, Rob stepped it up a gear when he launched into “The Fear,” and certainly had everybody eating out of his hands throughout the remainder of his set. Rob entertained the crowd with tales that preceded some of his numbers, including being completely lost (and having no phone signal) in a forest in Poland (“The Wilderness I Know”), and the hilarious tale of the affections (and monetary tips) from a drunken Frenchman in Australia, to whom he dedicated the track “Places to Die (Before You See the World).”
With every song, Rob built up both his intensity and vocal delivery, and we quickly drew a comparison to the ‘poetic-punk’ sound of Frank Turner. After the show, we happened to mention this musical similarity when chatting with Rob, and he responded with a smile and a tale about how he did indeed tour with Frank Turner, and that Frank had been instrumental in helping him book shows across the UK and Europe. Rob Moir proved to be a great entertainer, and once again, we found another opening artist whom we would love to revisit later on down the road.
Rob Moir Set List:
- This Is the Lie
- A Love With no Past
- Ports of Call
- The Fear
- The Wilderness I Know
- Crow Stew
- Places to Die (Before You See the World)
- Oh Margot Please
After the brief intermission, the host and emcee returned to thank Rob Moir for his great opening set, and to pump up the lively crowd for the headlining act. Ben Caplan and the three-piece ‘Casual Smokers’ then took to the stage to a strong welcoming ovation. With a mixture of die-hard fans (this was Ben’s third visit to this venue), and many others curious to learn why tickets were selling so fast for this show, the top-notch band – consisting of Caplan with drummer Jamie Kronick, bassist Anna Ruddick, and multi-instrumentalist Taryn Kawaja – would blow the audience away with a 19-track set list.
Having recently discovered this artist ourselves, thanks in part to social media and Bandcamp, we quickly learned that Ben Caplan lives his life almost continuously on the road, with a hectic tour schedule that rivals those such as Alan Doyle and Frank Turner for the “OMG how many live shows do you play in a year?” honors. With his astonishing Nordic-like beard and frizzy man-bun, Ben literally commands your attention the minute he hits the stage, and no matter which instrument he gravitates to first, he certainly does not disappoint. As the welcoming applause died down, Ben reached for an acoustic guitar to commence the show, launching immediately into the title track from his most recent “Birds with Broken Wings” album, and followed with “Seed of Love” from his previous “In the Time of Great Remembering” release. He would also effortlessly play keyboards, grand piano, and banjo throughout the set.
Caplan brings to his show an on-stage persona that can best be described as a “Jekyll & Hyde” character. When engaging the audience with his banter, his delivery is a soulful ‘low-bass’ rumble, almost a hushed whisper that leaves you automatically leaning in towards him to hear more. But once the music kicks in, the soft-spoken gentleman is transformed into a growling, bellowing monster of a man, an eccentric soap-box preacher that gargles, croaks, and leaves you defenseless to his whimsical charms and theatrical candor. And no matter how much he intermixes these personalities, the audience hoot and holler, which only serves to encourage him further.
With a mixture of tracks from both of his albums, Caplan was in fine spirits with “I Got Me a Woman,” his audience-participation number which he introduced as “a traditional folk song…that I wrote myself.” He also paused early during the show to make an announcement, and congratulate his “buddy and bassist and bestie” Anna Ruddick for winning her first ‘Juno’ award (Canadian equivalent of the Grammy) literally minutes before the show. The lively “40 Days and 40 Nights” would close out the set, and the band exited the stage to an incredible ovation by the packed house.
Ben would return alone for the obligatory encore and, once seated at the grand piano, amazed the audience with a graceful and moving cover version of the Louis Armstrong classic “What a Wonderful World.” Not quite done yet, Caplan asked permission from the crowd to bring the band back to the stage for a final number, and would end the show on a high with an incredible rendition of his hit song “Stranger.” And as the lights returned, and the crowd dispersed, the stagehands would begin tearing down the set, ready to pack up, hit the road, and do it all over again the next evening.
Ben Caplan: singer, songwriter, eccentric troubadour, and road warrior. Team GDW had an absolute blast in London, ON, and will certainly plan on attending several more shows from this group of talented folks in the future. If you are unfamiliar with this artist, and like an edgier brand of indie folk music, then be sure to check him out. After all, living his life on the road, there’s pretty much a certainty that he will be playing at a local venue near you.
Ben Caplan Set List:
- Birds With Broken Wings
- Seed of Love
- Ain’t Goin’ Down
- The Dozens (***unconfirmed***)
- Lover’s Waltz
- Night Like Tonight
- Devil Town
- ***New Track from upcoming theater production ‘Old Stock’***
- I Got Me a Woman
- Drift Apart
- Deliver Me
- Belly of the Worm
- Under Control
- Down to the River
- 40 Days and 40 Nights
- What a Wonderful World (cover version)