Last night, I saw Frank Tuner play his largest headlining show in the United States so far, a sold out show at the Theatre of Living Arts in Philadelphia. Earlier in the day the punk and folk influenced British artist performed at the World Cafe for XPN‘s weekly Free at Noon segment. I’ll admit that I’m relatively new to Frank Turner. I’d heard good things about him, but I just never really got around to listening to his music until his latest album, England Keep My Bones, was released earlier this year. I was completely hooked on Frank by the time I got to track three. The album is simply addicting, a rollicking mixture of folk, punk, and good old-fashioned rock and roll, all clearly marked by Frank Turner’s distinct voice. When I listen to England Keep My Bones, I start to experience this strange feeling of English pride. I honestly have to remind myself that I’m in America, and that I have no English heritage whatsoever (although that album makes me sincerely wish I could claim some). When an album can have that effect on you, you just know it’s got to be good. From the rock and roll anthem “I Still Believe” to the fantastic a capella song about the Norman Conquest of England, “English Curse,” England Keep My Bones is an incredible and diverse album.
The sold out show was opened by former Cherry Hill, NJ resident Evan Weiss’ solo project, Into It. Over It. Evan Weiss, armed only with an acoustic guitar, took the stage and held his own despite the crowd’s incessant talking. It’s got to be extremely difficult to sit in front of a 1,000 people, many of whom are rowdy and have no desire to listen, and play a collection of deeply personal and emotional songs, but Into It. Over It. succeeded with confidence and poise. Even as people talked through his gut-wrenching performance of “Connecticut Steps,” a song written after finding out a friend had been murdered, Evan continued to appear absolutely thrilled to be playing.
Next up were Andrew Jackson Jihad, a stand-up bass and acoustic guitar folk punk duo from Phoenix, Arizona. Known for their sarcastic and witty lyrics, often commentating on difficult issues like social strife, politics, religion, self-worth, and social responsibility, the band put on a fantastic performance. Tons of die-hard fans were screaming along to every word, but the intense performance was also hampered by the rest of the crowd–disinterested people who I presume only cared about seeing Frank Turner. Besides Sean Bonnette’s acoustic guitar and Ben Gallaty’s stand-up bass, the instrumentation was limited to a special kazoo solo by Evan Weiss during the song, “Love In The Time Of Human Papillomavirus.” That’s right, a kazoo solo, and it was rather impressive. I can’t imagine how incredible AJJ’s performance would’ve been if I was at a smaller venue full of other fans. Here’s a video I took of one of my personal favorite AJJ songs, “People II: The Reckoning.” Unfortunately, you can hear a lot of background noise and talking.
Finally, Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls took the stage, and at last, the crowd quieted down–at least to some degree. Waiting in line before the show, I was surprised at how diverse the crowd was. There definitely wasn’t one type of Frank Turner fan dominating the scene. Fans ranged in age from kids around 14 to adults well over 50, and appeared to come from all walks of life. It wasn’t just a crowd of punks or hipsters or any other label, like so many concerts are. The diversity made it all the more impressive as the crowd sang along to old and new songs. As I looked around, tons of completely different people, people who probably would never hang out in the real world, were screaming along and shaking their fists, as Frank sang, “Now who’d have thought, that after all, something as simple as rock ‘n’ roll would save us all?” Everyone was smiling, laughing, and singing along, and the diversity of the crowd just made the scene all the more powerful. One of the highlights of the night for me was the “Glory Hallelujah,” a soulful song denouncing religion in favor of a more positive outlook on life. Dave Hause, of the Philadelphia punk band The Loved Ones, came on stage for the end of the song, as you can see in the video below:
Frank tore through his 18 song setlist, ending the show with a cover of Queen’s “Somebody to Love.” Of course, Frank Turner couldn’t end the last show of this extremely successful U.S. tour without an encore, right? Frank came back out without his band and played a beautiful cover of the Postal Service’s “The District Sleeps Alone Tonight.” Then the band joined Frank as they performed two final songs, “The Ballad of Me and My Friends,” and “Photosynthesis.” Frank brought all the other bands on stage for the last song and gave an inspiring speech about music connecting people and breaking down barriers. He implored everyone in the venue–bartenders and security guards included–to sing along for the final chorus with him, to create that beautiful moment of oneness and equality that shows like this can breed. As damn near everyone in the TLA screamed, “I won’t sit down, and I won’t shut up, but most of all I will not grow up,” one of those moments was born.