Frank Turner, 36, still punk as fuck.
For a live music establishment, The Forum has easily the most lavish bathrooms that I’ve ever had the pleasure of relieving myself within. Expensive washrooms aside, this place is always a beautiful venue to witness any kind of show at – pop, metal, rock, hip-hop, or any other musical flavour. So it was fitting that this grand Melbourne favourite played host to the honest, catchy and charming folk-punk sounds of Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls this past Sunday night; marking the U.K. musicians 2,288th show. Y’know, not that anyone is counting or anything.
The beauty of Frank Turner’s well-written work and genuine lyricism is how it attracts people from all different ages, tastes and demographics. allowing punters to leave-their outside lives at the door. For instance, our photographer for this show, Owen Jones, is a massive ’80s glam metal nerd who mostly listens to music released between January 1st, 1980 and December 31st, 1989. My other friends that I’d come along with also don’t solely fit into the folky, singer-songwriter world that defines much of Frank’s art. What with one of them being a thrash/hardcore/slam music lover, another one a massive pop-punk fan, and then there was my younger brother who jumps from The 1975 and Carly Rae Jepsen over to Sigur Rós and Death Grips in a heartbeat. Yet we all love what Frank does.
Beyond my own friendship group (we being some of the younger members in attendance), this eager crowd ranged from: Mohawk-spouting punks wearing Rancid T-shirts, elderly fans who knew every word, the odd hardcore kid and metal head soaking up the musical feels, and even a couple of suits out-dressing the lot of us. It was a varied bunch, but that’s the power of what a guy like Frank makes with his music. He’s cultivated a lengthy career spanning a huge range of emotions and sounds, thus pulling in all kinds of people from all walks of life. Which made for a really beautiful, communal atmosphere on the night too.
Touring in support of his seventh LP, this year’s ‘Be More Kind‘, it was new material that took the set’s main presence. Thus getting all notable appearances from the likes of ‘1933‘, ‘Don’t Worry‘, ‘Little Changes‘, ‘Blackout‘, ‘Brave Face‘ (featuring the “Melbourne Gospel Choir”, as we were labelled), and the heartfelt title track that contains one simple message: try to be more kind, my friends. Frank also, perhaps thankfully, left out ‘Make America Great Again‘ from the night’s set list. Which I was glad about, as that song just wouldn’t work nor really apply for an Australian audience who’s now living under ScoMo law.
Personally, my favourite Frank Turner record is 2011’s masterful ‘England Keep My Bones‘, but this whole performance enamoured me with a new-found love and respect for the ‘Be More Kind‘ songs. A burning passion that I already harbour for the ‘Tape Deck Heart‘ tunes, of which there was plenty of awesome cuts to choose from here. Standouts like ‘The Way I Tend To Be‘, ‘Recovery‘ and ‘Plain Sailing Weather‘ all sounding huge when bolstered by the loving voices of the gathered fans.
Fittingly, for a record like ‘Be More Kind‘ that’s about trying to relax and make sense of a world that is seldom anything but calm and sensible, this show erased all thoughts in my mind pertaining to outside issues that weren’t the wonderful gig unfolding before me. From the mighty, room-filling sing-alongs and the care-free smiles that abounded around me, I wasn’t the only one floating in that same elated boat. Even an en-mass arm-around-the-person-next-to-you sway come the night’s end didn’t feel forced or out of place either, with friends and strangers alike linking shoulders in unification. Any personal inhibitions and outside bullshit was dropped by all in attendance the moment Frank Turner and his pals hit the stage. And something tells me that was a very big goal in the mind of Frank himself. Well, mission accomplished, mate!
For a guy who was battling a throat infection, if the man of the hour hadn’t informed us so, this night sure could’ve fooled me. Other than looking out of breath by the last third of the show and looking noticeably weary, Frank wasn’t gonna phone it in; giving every one a bloody good show. Because damn, Frank was up-keeping his on-stage energy as best he could throughout, guitar in-hand or not, bounding across the state and singing tunes more than well enough despite his vocal ailment.
This held all the way through full band folk-punk antics like ‘The Road‘ and ‘Get Better‘, right over to Frank’s solo moments for ‘Jet Lag‘ (played at the request of a fan travelling between Brisbane and Melbourne for both shows, the fuckin’ legend), the classic ‘Ballad Of Me And My Friends‘, and the always incredible staple, ‘Photosynthesis‘, which was as anthemic as ever. There was barely any rest for the wicked across this huge 25 song setlist, and the crowd was happy to participate that extra mile by whipping up a hasty circle pit for the racey, Dropkick Murphy’s-esque ‘Out Of Breath‘. Hell, Frank and his merry band of men played just past the gig’s scheduled end of 11pm. Now, that probably sounds like a weird compliment on my part, but how often do you see an artist perform right up until the scheduled closing time for their gig? Exactly, not very often.
Even for the encore, Frank didn’t slow shit down. Kicking the last stretch off with a surprising punk rock cover of 1983’s ‘A New England‘, featuring the song’s creator, Billy Bragg himself, coming out as a very special guest for this one-off performance. From there, the resonating “in defence of rock’n’roll” belter of ‘I Still Believe‘ exploded across the venue’s walls. Then the band dropped the Queen-like intro of ‘Four Simple Words‘ to start off with the punk portion of the rollicking track, whose climax saw Frank getting amongst the fans to dance with one lucky female fan. All right before ‘Tape Deck Heart‘ fave, ‘Polaroid Picture‘, took the night on home with support acts Emily Barker, The Hard Aches and Billy Brag returning to the stage to take part in a joyous, altogether-now finale.
I don’t think any Frank Turner show coverage is complete without talking about the people who help make it all possible: The Sleeping Souls. This backing quartet help bring both old and new songs to life gloriously so as their leader guides the show forward. Guitarist and occasional harmonica and mandolin player, Ben Lloyd, bassist Tarrant Anderson, backing vocalist and piano/organ/keys player Matt Nasir and rock-solid percussionist Nigel Powell are equally as vital to the operation that is a live Frank Turner show as the man himself is.
Although, I must give a special mention to Tarrant and his animated bass-moves, which were giving me real life; always an eye-catcher across the night’s proceedings. And sure, he’s mainly playing simple root and eighth notes, for the most part, but I’ll be damned if he didn’t look like he was loving every single goddamn minute of playing music with Frank and the rest of his dear band mates. A certain charm that was undoubtedly reflected back by the adoring audience throughout.
Frank Turner’s music has been a large part of my life for quite some time now, and that won’t change any time soon – I got teary-eyed when ‘I Am Disappeared‘ started up. During this time though, I’ve learnt what’s the most endearing quality about Frank’s music, and that’s the sheer authenticity of it all. From the recordings, musicality and performances, right down to the brutally tell-all lyrics that he so openly shares in his songs about his thoughts, love life and general experiences. This is also a defining aspect that bleeds right over into his stage mannerisms. Because when Frank asks a crowd how they’re going and if they’re having fun, he means it. When he thanks everyone for their time and support over the long and hard years of touring, it’s always uttered with complete sincerity. When he changes up certain song lyrics to name drop Melbourne, he does so because he’s genuinely happy to be there (in Melbourne or otherwise), playing for people who really do care. And when he makes jokes with the audience, he’s not trying to force things, rather, he’s just keeping the good vibes maintained and connecting with people a little more closely.
The last time I caught Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls live was during his previous Australian tour in 2015, at the Corner Hotel in support of the ‘Positive Songs For Negative People‘ album cycle. And honestly, it quickly became one of my favourite Corner Hotel shows of all time, second only to Architects‘ 2014 headliner and The Dillinger Escape Plan’s final Melbourne show last year (which was absolute fucking chaos). So, after The Forum had closed for the night, in the aftermath of seeing such a heart-warming show, I’m still in love with what I saw and heard. Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls at The Forum on Sunday, December 2nd; now one of my favourite shows at the prestigious Melbourne venue. Frank Turner; not just saving lives but saving souls and having a blast whilst doing so!