I am not going to lie, with the possible exceptions of Jeff Rosenstock, The Menzingers and PUP, Frank Turner is my favorite live act out there today. It pained me terribly to have not seen him onstage in 2020 and when 2021 started out, it didn’t really look like I was going to get to see him this year either. But then I received my Bands In Town notification that he was playing Hammerstein Ballroom at The Manhattan Civic Center in October. Hmmm, that’s an ambitious venue for him, I thought. Well as it turned out, he was coming across the pond as an opening act for Counting Crows. WOW, that’s a cool lineup…I mean, for people of a certain age, “who doesn’t love Counting Crows?”
Of course seeing Frank Turner as an opener wasn’t my ideal way I’d want to be seeing him after nearly two years, but what the hell, we all can’t be beggars and choosers. The trouble was, the date conflicted with a previously scheduled appointment. DAMN! Ah but shortly thereafter, a second show was added, the concert gods were indeed looking after me. NOT…the new show was also on a date which I couldn’t make. “Oh well, it’s just not meant to be” I thought. And then a more complete headlining US tour was announced, but the closest city was in Hershey, PA and that date was no good for me either. I figured I must have really pissed somebody off somewhere along the way.
Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago and I get another Bands In Town alert, “Frank Turner has announced new shows in your area.” And sure enough Turner (or more probably his booking agent) scheduled two shows in one day, one at Philadelphia’s Underground Arts on a Sunday afternoon, and a second show that very same night at Crossroads in Garwood, NJ. Crosswoods lands a lot of great artists to play their very small venue in the middle of nowhere New Jersey (they recently hosted Laura Jane Grace there). This is thanks to concert promoter Andy Diamond, who presents shows at the venue consistently. Crossroads was actually the last place I’d seen Turner back in October of 2019, and that night was also the second half of a double header show after a matinee at Jersey City’s White Eagle Hall.
Needless to say, I was STOKED, with a capital S.T.O.K.E.D. Waking up on an unseasonably warm October Sunday morning, it was a beautiful day, one which the immortal Ernie Banks would have proudly declared “Boy, it’s a beautiful day—let’s play two!” I headed down to Philadelphia and arriving at Underground Arts with a good amount of time before opener Kayleigh Goldsworthy’s set was scheduled to start, I found the room to be almost completely full already. Looks like I wasn’t the only one craving some Frank Turner. Goldsworthy’s set was, as always, a perfect prequel to Turner.
Shortly after Goldsworthy finished up, Turner walked onto stage with his Sleeping Soul’s bandmate and multi instrumentalist, Matt Nasir, who was joining Turner on this tour as his vocal harmonizer, mandolinist and on stage straight man. In any event they took no time to warm up and jumped right into Turner classics, “The Ballad Of Me and My Friends,” “If I Should Ever Stray,” and “Long Live The Queen,” which will always bring a tear to my eye; at this point as much out of joy as for sadness. All told the set was decidedly much more of a “greatest hits” set than he usually does at these impromptu solo shows while on tour as a supporting act, but this was just fine by me however, after waiting two years to see him live again.
Turner did manage to mix in a couple of new ones from his upcoming FTHC album though, “Haven’t Been Doing So Well” and “The Gathering,” both of which have already been released as singles. There was an altogether new one called “Imperfect Tense” as well. All in all it seemed obvious to me that Turner was still getting back in the swing of things after having been off the road for almost two years. For a guy like him who is ALWAYS on the road (this was show number 2560 for him), I was curious how the longest layoff of his career would treat him. Performers are much like athletes after all and they get out of shape when inactive too, both vocally as well as physically. In any event, while it was clear he was still getting back to fighting shape, nothing prevented it from being a fantastic Sunday afternoon.
Frank Turner at Underground Arts
After the show, we fortunately had enough time to kill before having to make the drive up the NJ Turnpike for the next round, so it was a no-brainer that we stop at Joe’s Steaks and Sodas for the obligatory Philly Cheesesteak (Wiz, not provolone for the record). The hour and a half drive up to Garwood, NJ was uneventful (largely due to a cheesesteak induced semi-coma). We got to Crossroads around 7:30 PM to find a line of people wrapping throughout the parking lot like I’ve never seen before. Understandably, with Vax and ID checks required, entrance into the venue was taking a bit longer than usual. In any event we gained entrance relatively quickly and soon found a nice spot up front, stage left. For those who’ve never been, Crossroads is a SMALL room, with a low stage and for sold out shows some of the sight lines can be challenging.
Kayleigh Goldsworthy came on and immediately seemed to be much looser and relaxed than she appeared that afternoon. We would find out during her set that that comfort level had something to do with shots of tequila which were done in between shows. If I failed to mention it earlier, she is such a pleasure to see live. Your first impression upon seeing her is of this sweet and charming singer/songwriter…which she most certainly is. But then she starts telling her stories between songs and she can make a longshoreman blush. Anyway, her evening set was great. Lots of old nuggets mixed in with new material from her forthcoming album, as well as one song which she promised would never be recorded or released and which would probably never be played live again after this night called “I Want To Party With You,” a song about the loneliness and desire for human interaction during Covid. Let it be known that from the reaction of the crowd, not releasing it would be a mistake.
Turner hit the stage along with Nasir around 9:30, opening up with his coming of age epic, “I Knew Prufrock,” and then followed the afternoon’s setlist pretty closely. He moved the new song, “The Gathering,” up in the queue and dropped “Long Live The Queen,” but otherwise it was the same. That being said though, it was the same, but much better now that he was warmed up. Like Goldsworthy, Turner appeared to be much more relaxed and comfortable (Crossroads can have that effect on artists, it’s that kind of room…or it might have been the tequila).
Frank Turner at Underground Arts
The next shift from the afternoon was the replacing of “Imperfect Sense,” with a different new song called “Fatherless.” Let me say right now that this was the tipping point of the show for me. The song has to do with Tuner’s relationship with his father, something he has not particularly addressed throughout his career. And the song flat out R.O.C.K.S.! Sunday night it was obviously performed acoustically but it still came across like a blitzkrieg. It makes me fear for my mosh pit life when he plays it with the full backing of the Sleeping Souls. At this point, let me just say that from what I’ve heard thus far, the upcoming FTHC doesn’t appear to be anything less than a punk rock tour de force. The rest of the evening stuck to the plan set out earlier in the day, which was just fine by me and the rest of the packed out Crossroads crowd.
The half hour drive back to Staten Island was sweat soaked and blissful, having spent my day experiencing what I’d been dreaming about for the duration of lockdown.
For what I thought was my last Frank Turner show for the foreseeable future, it would be plenty to hold me over until next time. Sure there were the two Hammerstein shows coming up, but I couldn’t make either one of them, or so I thought. I had to work on Tuesday night, but as it turned out, what I thought was a conflict on Wednesday was actually happening on Thursday and all of a sudden I was free for the show, thus I was Hammerstein Ballroom bound Wednesday evening for Frank Turner Round III.
Finding a parking spot a mere three blocks away from the venue was the first omen that it was going to be a good night. The second was running into Derek Zanetti of Homeless Gospel Choir and Doug Murphy, Turner’s sound guy and general tour jack of all trades on 8th Avenue as I was walking to the ballroom. As I entered the hall I was pleased to see that the room was about halfway full with Turner due to hit the stage shortly. Clearly playing an opening set is different than being a headliner in that respect. At just about 7:30 sharp Counting Crows’ Adam Duritz appeared onstage and introduced both Frank Turner and Matt Nasir and they proceeded to commence the evening’s festivities with “If I Should Ever Stray.” Three shows and three different opening songs. Again, the set was heavy on the “hits”, something which you’d expect a seasoned artist playing the role of opener to do.
Frank Turner at Hammerstein Ballroom 10/6/21
It was funny however that on Sunday, Turner had joked how it was comforting to play to crowds that actually knew his songs because this hadn’t been the case thus far on the Counting Crows tour. Well the looks and inquisitive stares which came in my direction as I sang along (rather loudly) to most of his songs sure made me appreciate what he’d said a couple of days prior. I was surprised to get yet another new one from Turner called “Little Life,” which he performed while Nasir was on his “union break.” This one has me highly anticipating the release of FTHC.
Closing out his set with what has to be his best known song outside of Frank Turner circles, “I Still Believe,” Turner had finally succeeded in getting the entire room to sing along to the chorus:
Now who’d have thought that after all,
Something as simple as rock ‘n’ roll would save us all.
Now who’d have thought that after all,
Something so simple, something so small.
Who’d have thought, that after all it’s rock ‘n’ roll
Yes indeed, in times like these, who WOULD have thought that something as simple as rock n roll could save us all?
Scroll down for pics from all three shows (photos by Ray Rusinak)
At Underground Arts
At Hammerstein Ballroom