Frank Turner & the Sleeping Souls
With Andrew Jackson Jihad and Into It Over It
Culture Room, Fort Lauderdale
Thursday, September 29, 2011
Better than: Frank Turner without the Sleeping Souls
The Culture Room is busy but far from full for highly touted English folk-punk artist Frank Turner's first proper headline appearance in South Florida. It comes in the midst of an international headlining tour to support his acclaimed new album, England Keep My Bones. Before all this, prolific and energetic duo Andrew Jackson Jihad do a fine job of getting the youthful crowd buzzed up with their witty and infectious slice of Americana-infused indie punk. People dance, a solitary body flies through the air, and the band's seamless idiosyncratic segue into Fleetwood Mac's "Go Your Own Way" sets the tone for a night when emotively nostalgic cover versions become poignantly compelling.
Turner and his backing band, the Sleeping Souls, take the stage and launch straight into mission-statement album opener "Eulogy." It's a sleek, tight, and pristine-sounding band that now accompanies his troubadour verses, and this new sonic strength gives the overall performance a consequential edge and depth. Newer album tracks like "I Still Believe" and "One Foot Before the Other" -- songs written for a band to play on big stages -- are dynamically and powerfully executed, while older acoustic folk-oriented tracks such as "I Knew Prufrock Before He Got Famous" transform into rousing, hard-rock anthems.
There's arguably a slight element of subtlety lost in this delivery, yet as a collective -- all attired in matching white shirts -- they are a visually impressive and consummately professional outfit. Turner is a wholly engaging performer; wired yet genial, confident but modest and appreciative -- displaying all the tangibles of someone who has played more than 1,000 shows in the past five years. Despite a well-received set that leans heavily on the new release but liberally dips into his previous albums, there's a curious eclecticism to the sound and overall response.
While the outward post-adolescent poetic angst of "Substitute," with its refrain of "music is my substitute for love," is eagerly devoured, newer, more-confessional, and inwardly reflective tracks such as the Elliott Smithesque "Redemption" seem slightly lost. His new album may be his most commercially successful release, yet one senses the loyal fanbase he has garnered in the U.S. is more comfortable with his earlier punk-oriented catalog. This is also perhaps inevitable for a subtly allusive performer who moves from agit folk-punk stomps to an a cappella narrative of the Norman Conquest ("English Curse") within minutes, and in fairness, his ambitious 23-song set doesn't really suffer any lulls throughout.
A closing stretch of stirring fan favorites evolves into a surprising and impeccably executed cover of Queen's ballad "Somebody to Love" and is followed by a tender solo acoustic rendition of Tom Petty's "American Girl" after the encore. There's always the danger of things like this getting slightly tedious at the end of a 100-minute set, yet it provides a crystallized sense of idealistic communality to the show that began with the line "Everyone can raise their glass and sing" and ends with a room of people singing the chorus to set-closer "Photosynthesis."
Close friends dance arm in arm and curious attendees discuss which albums they're now going to buy. There's a sense of unpretentious unity to proceedings, and like a folk singer from a bygone age, Frank Turner -- another show in another new city notched -- leaves the stage to drink beer with his fans at the bar.
The crowd: Half-young, enthusiastic, thoughtful, pierced, and tattooed punky types who discovered Turner while he supported the Offspring/Flogging Molly/Social Distortion and keen to dance and sing. The other half, a diverse mix (indie kids, young professional couples, guys in their 50s wearing Tommy Bahama gear) of randoms who heard he's a bit like Billy Bragg/Woody Guthrie/Joe Strummer more up for nodding heads and having a drink.
Overheard in the crowd: "Boooooooooooooo..." -the South Florida folk-punk scene gets surprisingly sectarian when Frank mentions he played in Gainesville the night before.
The bassist of the Singing Souls was throwing moves and facial expressions seemingly inspired by Green Day's Mike Dirnt all night.
Try This at Home
I Still Believe
One Foot Before the Other
I Knew Prufrock Before He Got Famous
Peggy Sang the Blues
I Am Disappeared
Sons of Liberty
If Ever I Stray
Long Live the Queen
Somebody to Love (Queen cover)
American Girl (Tom Petty cover)
The Ballad of Me and My Friends