To say Frank Turner is one of the best live acts I’ve seen is an understatement.
I’m just going to throw it out there. If in several years, Frank Turner hasn’t gone from the clubs he is playing now to larger music halls (or maybe even stadiums) I will consider giving up reviewing music. That’s right, I’m going all out. I’m putting my professional reputation on the line that Frank Turner is the real deal, and that if he keeps up his blistering touring schedule and album pace, nothing is going to stand in his way or slow him down.
This was my second time getting to see the England native singer songwriter. I saw him back in February open for Celtic powerhouse Flogging Molly. And I bring them up as another baseline of Turner’s greatness: I’ve see a lot of shows and a lot of bands, and nobody comes close to Molly. But Turner, he just might be sitting comfortably in the number two best act I have ever seen slot, and he is among the best of company.
But last time was in a large music hall (follow me here, Turner will be filling them soon, remember?). But this time, I was up close, being bumped and nearly pushed over into his monitor, as the jam packed(it has to be sold out, or close, it was probably the most full I’ve ever seen the place) crowd danced and sang along with Turner, who was the ringleader of this circus act of musical greatness.
But, in true Turner fashion, let’s begin at the beginning.
First up was Buffalo natives Failures’ Union. They weren’t bad by any means, and for a local opening act were actually very tight and sounded really good. They just didn’t seem to fit on the bill, and were a few notches away from my normal music comfort zone. They played several good jams, but the rest seemed mixed in a lull of nothing that really stood out to me. Solid opener, but just nothing that made me rush out to buy a cd.
Next up was William Elliott Whitmore, who couldn’t have been further away from the first act. This was my first experience with the banjo and guitar trabadouring nature of this man, who does the ever daunting act of playing by himself on stage. Sitting on a stool, Whitmore hollered in a deep baritone brawl, with songs about moonshine, trains, death and love, all while hammering at which instrument he happened to have in his hands at the time.
The crowd roared in approval after every song, but it took me a few songs to get into his set. However, the beauty lied in the simplicity of his music, and with every note you could see the passion and delivery that Whitmore both gave, and the emotional release he was getting, from playing. I would have enjoyed a little more variation between songs, but it was just so heartfelt and moving, that I am hard pressed to complain.
And now, the man of the hour. When it all comes down to it, people go see live music to see their favorite songs turned up, sung loud, and Frank Turner managed to bring the crowd everything they expected, and then some. By the end of the set, sweat was pouring from Turner, who led his crew through a blazing, and yet still romantically sweet, set of songs covering the best of his already large library of folk punk tunes.
And let me not underestimate that line. There are many punk bands that can play blasting speeds, and many folk bands that can simmer slowly and weep tears from stones. Turner captures both of these elements, often times within the same song, and has molded a folky rock concoction that is as extreme as it is pure. In a live context, this means an enhanced and enriched version of his already powerful recordings.
Almost any moment of the set is a journalist’s dream, from the brand new song that Turner premiered that had the crowd billowing just as much as the old favorites, to the somewhat lengthy story that involved a London political demonstration, an evil ex-girlfriend, and a gracious cop (re-telling it just wouldn’t do it justice), to the tales of the night prior that ended with Turner doing the window throw of shame after a little too much partying.
However, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the wonderful group that Turner has gathered around himself. While the band still tours under the Frank Turner moniker, the sound has really developed into a full ensemble presences. And as not always the case with solo men starting to tour with a group, they were pulling equally their weight. Turner has surrounded himself with very talented musicians, and that shone throughout the whole night.
Finishing off the night with “The Ballad of Me and My Friends,” Turner broke the barrier between fan and musician, sat on the stage monitor and played in the middle of the now crowd turned mob. Music was why they came, and Frank Turner did nothing but deliver in every way possible.