Tracks Monkeys With Lasers

Frank Turner @ Shepherds Bush Empire – 29/10
November 7, 2009, 8:47 pm
Filed under: gigs | Tags: , , , ,

It’s easy to forget just how Frank Turner has come in such a short amount of time. That line doesn’t quite capture the truth as he’s been writing, touring and recording for a few years now but if you were to chart his ‘popularity’ as a graph, the last 6 months or so would see the line go through the roof.

I’ve not followed Frank from the beginning of his solo career, only hearing of him after the release of ‘Love, Ire & Song’ but I seemed to have got involved just as this wave of (well deserved) popularity began to surge. As such, in the last year I’ve gone from seeing him play small in-store shows and free gigs at the music Mecca of the Flowerpot to this; his biggest solo headline show to date, in front of a sell out audience of 2,000 fans at the Shepherds Bush Empire.

Heading down to the venue and teaming up with some familiar faces from other Frank shows, Lexapalooza events and the like, we made our way into the venue to grab a good spot and catch the support acts. The first of these was a guy I’d seen only weeks before in Beans On Toast.

As he came out, the crowd was only just starting to build, which was a bit of a shame as he deserved a few more people to be there for his set. With a newly released album with 50 tracks, he had a lot of material to draw from and played a good all round set of tunes I’d heard before and ones I hadn’t. The stage here suited him much better than the one at the Flowerpot from Lex Lite and he seemed much more comfortable than when I’d seen him there. Perhaps he’d finally found his groove (as such) with this being the last date of the UK tour which he’d been on with Frank but he definitely seemed more confident up there with some good chat between him and the audience too.

This meant that his acoustic tracks all came along a lot better with the crowd all getting involved (and in one case, even stopping clapping as he told them to) and the atmosphere was great. The only thing missing was the backing vocals his girlfriend had provided at the Lex Lite show which gave some of the songs an extra layer which worked really well.

But one thing that did make a reappearance from that show was the raps that he’d just started performing and these definitely worked better on the bigger stage. This was also helped out by the fact his accordian player could make it on this occasion and, as I alluded to in the last review, with everything going right, these were probably better than the guitar tracks. A very solid opening to the night.

After Beans came a band I’d seen support Frank when I saw him play the New Slang night at McClusky’s in Kingston a few months ago in Fake Problems. Now, I’ve heard a lot of people say that they didn’t really do anything for them on the night and I’m quite surprised at this as I thought that they were quite good overall. Maybe it was because I knew their material that I enjoyed their set but I also enjoyed them at the previous show when I’d never heard of them before.

Anyway, I enjoyed them a lot more this time round as I was now familiar with the album ‘It’s Great To Be Alive’ and thing that there are a few great tracks off the album. The strong songs like ‘The Dream Team’ and ‘Don’t Worry Baby’ all got a play and sounded great with the vocals as ‘snarly’ as before. As I mentioned in the previous review of them, I think the frontman of the band is pretty good and that the band all work really well together on stage. A decent enough performance from them to get me ready for the main event.

With both support acts been and gone, it was again time for Frank to make to the stage with the band. They did so to great applause and then launched straight into what’s becoming the traditional set opener for the band with ‘Live Fast, Die Old’ which always sounds amazing live and always gets the crowd going (with this gig being no exception).

From there on, the first half of the set consisted of a lot of material from the new album with ‘The Road’, ‘Poetry Of The Deed’ and ‘Dan’s Song’ all being played, the latter with the guest appearance on harmonica as has been the case through the tour, but there was also a smattering of older material including ‘The Real Damage’ and ‘Substitute’.

The most striking of the older songs during this part of the set, however, was the ‘punked up’ version of ‘Long Live The Queen’ which is completely different from the version of LI&S and sounded great. It’s a strange song to hear reworked like that because of the story behind it but it did sound fantastic, the crowd loved it and the band all seemed really happy with it too.

After these tracks came a song I’d never heard before and it was something of a surprise to heat with ‘Nashville Tennessee’ being played and, again, this sounded great with the full band.

Soon after that came two polar opposites for songs when it comes to Frank’s career. The first of these was the reworked cover of ‘Smiling At Strangers On Trains’ which was originally performed by Million Dead (Frank’s old band) and is a fantastic song in it’s own right. The reworked version was, unsurprisingly, a lot more like the acoustic version off ‘The First Three Years’ but was one of the highlights of the night with myself and the little group I was with singing along at the top of our voices. The mini-talk beforehand about his days in MD and how it got him to where he was today was also quite poignant but said without being egotistical as it may have come across. After that came the fantastic ‘Sons Of Liberty’ with Frank playing the fiddle section as a guitar solo which worked really well.

Soon after came one of the most surprising songs of the night with the band clearing the stage leaving Frank on his own. He took this time to talk about folk musics and some of it’s roots before singing a beautiful a capella version of an old English folk song ‘Barbara Allen‘ which was simply mesmerising. Thankfully, the section of crowd I was with all felt the same way and stood listening in silence but it’s a shame not everyone could be the same.

After the raptuous applause following the song, Frank went on to ‘Love, Ire & Song’ which is one I always enjoy live. It also works really well as it allows the band to come back on and join him and join in as the song progresses. From there on, we were treated to a few more tracks including the always-brilliant-live ‘Father’s Day’ (which has a completely meaning following Frank’s interview in the Evening Standard), the best performance of ‘Prufrock’ I’ve ever seen and then, to finish ‘Journey Of The Magi’ which is fast becoming one of my favourite tracks off the album.

A brief break and he was back out on stage for the encore, kicking off with ‘The Ballad Of Me And My Friends’ which surprised me as I’d only ever seen this played as the set closer. This led straight into ‘Reasons Not To Be An Idiot’ (literally leading into it as it seamlessly went from one song to the next) before finishing with an uber-long edition of ‘Photosynthesis’ with everyone who’d played on stage that night making an appearance as well as a few others including Charlie from Xtra Miles (Frank’s UK label) who performed a rather epic stage dive after losing a bet with Frank.

Altogether, it was a truly awesome night. It was almost spoilt for me by some of the almost inevitable idiots you get in the crowd at such a gig (including one group smoking, another who was so drunk he could barely stand but eventually got thrown out for pissing into a water bottle right in front of a bouncer and another 7ft guy who kept trying to bulldoze his way through) and also for the fact that the sound levels weren’t quite right for the first few tracks. Once this was sorted though, the crowd seemed to come alive and the atmosphere was somewhat special. It was also crazy to turn round at times and see the four tiers of the crowd all jumping and singing along (although I was jumping as much and singing as loud as anyone else there!) The band (Dive Dive) are always brilliant at these shows as well and it wouldn’t be the same without them and I wish them luck with the release of their new album immenent as well.

As I said at the beginning of this ramble, it still amazes me to see this sort of crowd having seen him play at much smaller shows only a few months ago but Frank does deserve all the success he gets with his amazing live performances and the fact he puts on more shows in a year than there are days in which to do so.

Only a month and a bit til the next show at the Union Chapel!

Fake Problems – The Dream Team (live)

Frank Turner – Sons of Liberty (live)

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