2013 has been a pivotal year for the men in Fort Frances. They’ve attained goals, fulfilled lifelong dreams, and most importantly released some great music. It started back in the spring with the release of Harbor, the beautiful EP that has held strong in my Top 25 since it came out (currently #15). They toured a bit behind that, headed up to New York City for a show which led to them releasing their cover of the Ryan Adams song “New York, New York.” They hit Daytrotter and Audiotree for sessions before going a bit quiet again. When they came back it was with ferocity-they released a new 7″ single and followed that almost immediately with a cover of Sufjan Stevens’ “Chicago.” And, oh yeah, they went to NYC again to play in the Outlaw Roadshow which is personally curated by Adam Duritz of Counting Crows and Ryan Spaulding. So I guess it’s been a pretty good year.
What better way to cap it off then with a hometown show at the best venue in the city, Lincoln Hall. It was well-attended for a Sunday night (I’ve been there on other Sundays when it’s pretty sparse) and there wasn’t a single jerk in the crowd, which must be some kind of record. The band seemed pretty excited and came out guns blazing with a long instrumental intro on “How To Turn Back Again.” This was the first of many little things that made the show different than any other I’ve been to, and no one appreciates that more than me.
The band wasn’t different-same three guys it’s always been-but there was something in the way they were playing that was not familiar to me. Like they had been watching tape and studying different rock moves to grab the audience. Four songs in, with “Losing You,” I half-expected David to do a power slide across the stage during his guitar solo. It was fun! There was a point where he hit a chord and kicked his echo into gear, and he looked almost shocked that it worked-he was laughing at himself and it was hilarious. He added a little vocal intro to “City By The Sea,” and there were other little variations to songs. It’s not unlike what Dylan does sometimes when he gets tired of singing what the audience expects so he just writes a new verse.
The set list covered pretty much everything you would want in a Fort Frances show. They went back to The Atlas for a few songs, played everything on Harbor and both tracks on the new single (I personally prefer “Habits,” but the live version of “Plastic Hearts” has me rethinking that). One new track was played, called “Everything Is Starting To Make Sense.” It’s still in the development stage, but definitely an indicator of good things to come on the next album. There was a surprising new cover that came not quite halfway through the 17-song set, one of the greatest songs of all time, “Nothing Compares 2 U” by The Purple One.
My biggest hope going into a show is that I’ll be surprised by something. It’s tough for bands like Fort Frances to do that because I’ve seen them so many times. Last night proved to be an exception. It wasn’t like I was watching guys I’ve known for a couple years and have a pretty good working relationship with, every song felt completely new. That in itself is an amazing feat to pull off, and the fact that they sounded great on top of feeling new is just the icing on the cake.
Fort Frances has a few more dates on the books before the end of the year. On November 14th they will be at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota, the 15th at Grinnell College in Iowa, at Radio Radio in Indianapolis on the 16th, the 22nd they’re at Whole Music Club in Minneapolis and finally the 23rd they’re in Eau Claire, Wisconsin where I assume they will play “White Roses” and Justin Vernon will be crying in The Cabin. You can RSVP and get tickets for all these shows on the band’s Facebook page.