Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Live Review: Frank Turner, O2 Academy, Newcastle, 17/11/2012

No one - not even his most warped, deranged detractors - can possibly denounce Frank Turner's work ethic. The man is quite simply a machine, and shows no sign of slowing even with a relentless schedule that's thus far yielded four albums, a host of EPs and relentless touring since his departure from Million Dead back in 2005. Things may have seemed a little quiet of late, but that's because the Winchester singer-songwriter has been locked away writing and recording a new full length, atop of appearing at the Olympic opening ceremony and stalking stages topless with hardcore side project Mongol Horde whenever he's faced the novelty of a day off. It's an approach that's bearing fruits way beyond his established fanbase. Indeed if this ram-packed return to Newcastle's O2 Academy (solo show number 1,291, no less) proved anything it was that Turner has suddenly, and quite belatedly become massive - a guise which suits him no end considering the confident, crowd-pleasing and utterly brilliant manner with which these performances are conducted.

Now firmly established in his own right, it was telling that a large proportion of tonight's audience had patently seen Turner play live before. Luckily, the high expectations they'll have carried were more than delivered on, with the man and his backing band, The Sleeping Souls racing through their catalogue of earnest folk-punk anthems backed by the usual deafening singalongs from punters for whom they've become a way of life. The setlist had been shuffled around a little, and last year's breakthrough LP England Keep My Bones was appropriately well represented, but by and large highlights came courtesy of the same old sources; the likes of "I Knew Prufrock..." "Substitute" and "I Still Believe" all soaring through their glorious universal relevance.

With that familiarity as well as the show's timing in mind, tonight's biggest draw was always the prospect of hearing brand spanking new material. Never one to disappoint, Turner complied with a trio of unfamiliar cuts, although truthfully their success was somewhat mixed. There wasn't anything particularly wrong with "Recovery," for instance, but it all seemed a little standard, while the huge premeditated response to "Four Simple Words" couldn't prevent it from coming across as a cheap live trump card. Thankfully, there was a gem in the form of "Wherefore Art Thou, Gene Simmons?" - a passionate, withdrawn jab at the Kiss man's notorious bedroom antics. It didn't pack quite as hard a punch as "Long Live The Queen" (what does?), but nevertheless already sounds like one of the most emotional and resonant compositions he's penned to date. It was a shame then that a sizable minority of the crowd chose to chat over it rather than listen - a mistake they'll regret once they hear a recorded version.

However it turns out, the new record is sure to be Turner's biggest, most anticipated yet, and with that pressure will come added scrutiny. The same will most likely apply to his live shows, but whilst their sheer frequency runs the risk of overkill they remain for now a gripping and largely undiminished proposition. You certainly sense that many who attended tonight will show up again come his next visit to the region, and barring disaster or implausible decline it's also a fair bet they'll leave once more with soar throats and smiles stretched across their faces. Quite frankly, that'd have to be brain dead not to.



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