Frank Turner, Avail, The Bronx, Pet Needs @ Knockdown Center

Frank Turner, Avail, The Bronx, Pet Needs @ Knockdown Center

Frank Turner at Knockdown Center (photo by Ray Rusinak)

 

Back in September and October of 2012, The Melvins set out to accomplish what no one else had ever done. They played shows in all 50 States (and Washington DC) in 51 days. Buzz Osborne, lead singer and guitarist for The Melvins had this to say of that tour, “If stupidity got us into this mess then why can’t it get us out?”  You have to wonder if Frank Turner conferred with Buzz prior to taking on his 50 States in 50 Days Tour of the US. And while Turner clearly has the advantage of doing this tour while traveling in a rather luxurious tour bus vs. the Econoline van that The Melvins drove themselves in, it’s also true that the Melvins only had themselves to worry about. Pulling this endeavor off with a touring entourage of multiple dozens of musicians, stage crew, and support staff adds a whole other dimension which The Melvins didn’t have to deal with.

 

AND OH YEAH, there’s also this little world wide pandemic called Covid which we just can’t seem to say goodbye to which will constantly be hovering over this tour as well. Well in any event, Turner and his crew rolled into New York City on Monday 6/20 for day number eight and show number ten of the tour.  Actually it would be shows number ten AND eleven since Frank would be doing a midnight show at Crossroads in Garwood, NJ just about an hour after the lights went down at the Knockdown Center in Queens

 

Truth be told, I was less than enthused when it was announced months ago that the NY show would be at Knockdown Center. I’d never been there but I’d heard through the grapevine that it was a rather cavernous space which was more often than not used for events rather than concerts. Anyway, upon arriving at Knockdown shortly after 6pm, I was pleasantly surprised to find the room not nearly as big as I had feared and it was laid out rather nicely as well. And for those who just read 6pm and immediately thought, “oh there’s a typo”, no 6pm is correct. With four bands playing and with Turner playing a midnight show afterwards an hours drive away, things were starting early and a tight schedule was (hoped to be) adhered to.  

 

Opening band Pet Needs from Colchester, UK hit the stage at precisely 6:30 and wasted no time diving into their anthemic pop punk repertoire. I’d heard good things about them from friends who’d seen them earlier in the week in Portland so I was anxious to see what they were about. With this being their first time not only touring but also their first time ever visiting the States, suffice it to say the lads were quite stoked to be in New York. Their set was energetic and lively, comprised mostly of songs from their 2022 EP The Fractured Party Vol. I and last year’s LP, Fractured Party Music. And “party” is clearly an apt way of describing Pet Needs. I highly suggest catching them when they make their way back to our environs.

 

Next up was The Bronx who’ve been making the rounds in the punk (and Mariachi) world for years now. Hailing from Los Angeles, these hardcore punks hit the scene hard back in 2002 and that’s exactly how they hit the stage on Monday night, hard and loud.  ead singer, Matt Caughthran hit the stage running with “White Shadow,” a banger which opens up the band’s latest LP The Bronx VI. The rest of their set was a fast and furious mix of songs from all six of the band’s albums which had the circle pit in full swing almost from the get go.

 

The last of the opening acts was none other than punk stalwarts, Avail. They are one of those bands which holds a deep spot in every aging punk rocker’s heart. Joining the tour for a select set of northeast shows, having them on this bill was an absolute treat. Although I for one clearly fall within the aging punk rocker category, I missed Avail during their heyday in the early to mid 90’s…something about raising two young boys kind of kept me out of the circuit for a while. The good news is that I got to share this Avail show with both of the boys, which is pretty damned cool. Having grown to know and appreciate Tim Barry via his second career as acoustic troubadour, it was quite a sight to see him screaming and bouncing all over the stage along with Beau Beau, the group’s self proclaimed cheerleader. With a set comprised of mostly songs from the 90’s albums, they proved to be the punk juggernaut that their reputation always claimed them to be. 

 

Avail performing

Avail

 

It would have been a difficult enough task to have to follow any one of the three openers, but to have to come out after all three surely put the pressure on Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls. Taking the stage just past 9pm, Turner opened the evening up with an unusual starter for him in “Four Simple Words” from 2013’s stellar Tape Deck Heart album. Usually a song which is saved for later in his set, it’s also a song to which Frank goes into the crowd to dance with someone. I can’t help but think that due to Covid, crashing the crowd is off limits this tour and using the song as an opener was a good way of not only avoiding this but also setting the tone for what was to come. Either way, it worked masterfully.

 

Moving forward, Turner and The Sleeping Souls proceeded to play a mix of tried and true classics like “Photosynthesis,” “I Am Disappeared” (to which they added a nice new arrangement to), “Recovery,” and “Ballad Of Me and My Friends” to just name a few. But what Frank really pulled off nicely was his mixing in the new material in with the old and making the new songs feel totally familiar. The interspersion of songs like “The Gathering,” and “Haven’t Been Doing So Well” early on in the set felt absolutely seamless.  

 

There were a couple of songs which especially stuck out for me however. First and foremost by far was “1933” from 2018’s Be More Kind collection. While this album opened Turner up to a much wider audience here in the States, I’ve never been completely enamored by its poppy sensibilities. However, “1933” is an absolute punk rock protest banger and on Monday night it absolutely ripped. And as hard as it might be to actually put into print, it just might be one of his most powerful (non personal) songs he’s ever written.

 

Frank Turner performing

Frank Turner

 

One more highlight was the inclusion of “Out of Breath,” a song which doesn’t get paid much attention to from the 2015 LP Positive Songs For Negative People. A high spirited rocker, it fit in quite nicely coming off of “1933.” And interestingly, his following “Out of Breath” with his new song about his father, “Miranda” from this year’s FTHC was another non obvious yet masterful segue. While “Miranda” might not be my favorite song from the new album, Frank’s introduction and rendition of it on stage opened my eyes to it being a much better song structurally than I’d previously thought.

 

This brings me to the song which absolutely broke me. Scott Hutchison, the late singer from Frightened Rabbit, was a close friend of Turner’s. Scott’s passing was devastating enough for his fans but for actual real life friends of his like Frank it was brutal. Over the years since Scott left us, Turner would often play Hutchison’s song “The Modern Leper”  on special nights. Anyway, Frank wrote a tribute to Scott for the recent  FTHC album called “A Wave Across A Bay” which on Monday night hit home hard because as he said in the intro, his death broke his heart. But as sad as this story is, its also triumphant because Scott was “fucking great…and he smelt good”.  And then as fate would have it, the song to follow “Wave” would be “The House Where I Was Raised” and as someone who is in the process of cleaning out and saying goodbye to their childhood home, well you can see where it might have been more than just sweat rolling down my cheek at this point in the show.

 

 

Needless to say, the show again picked up from there as only a Frank Turner show can. He after all is a master at the art of creating a show of ebbs and flows, an incredible and true entertainer, who despite periods of gut wrenching emotions, knows how to take those very same emotions and turn them into ecstatic glee as if turning a switch. I know that I am not an objective voice when it comes to Frank Turner the performer and artist, but I don’t care. His songs reach out to me in ways not many other songwriters have. He can have me in an emotional puddle of tears one second and then jumping up and down like a god damned fool the next. He’s not for everyone, I get that…but he ought to be.

 

Scroll down for pics of the show (photos by Ray Rusinak)

 

PET NEEDS

Pet Needs performing

Pet Needs performing

Pet Needs performing

Pet Needs performing

Pet Needs performing

Pet Needs performing

Pet Needs performing

 

THE BRONX 

The Bronx performing

The Bronx performing

The Bronx performing

The Bronx performing

The Bronx performing

The Bronx performing

The Bronx performing

 

AVAIL

Avail performing

Avail performing

Avail performing

Avail performing

 

 

FRANK TURNER

Frank Turner performing

Frank Turner performing

Frank Turner performing

Frank Turner performing

Frank Turner performing

Frank Turner

Frank Turner performing

Frank Turner performing

Frank Turner performing

Frank Turner performing

Frank Turner performing

Frank Turner performing

Gang Of Four @ Brooklyn Made

Gang Of Four @ Brooklyn Made

Gang Of Four at Brooklyn Made (photo by Ray Rusinak)

 

When it was announced last October that Gang of Four would be touring the States in 2022, I looked at it with eager anticipation being as for some reason or another, I had never seen the band live before. But truth be told, I also carried a bit of trepidation about the prospect. I mean, as big a fan of David Pajo (of Slint among want others) as I am, would he be able to fill Andy Gill’s rather large shoes? (Gill tragically passed away in February 2020.) Also, this was 2022 not 1981 and lead singer Jon King had certainly aged just as much as I have over the years. Would he be able to maintain the crazed stage presence of the past or would it be some watered down “oldies” show? As things turned out, my worries proved to be totally unfounded, as the Gang played an absolutely incredible show on Monday night at a packed Brooklyn Made.

 

Arriving at the venue around 7:30, I was able to procure a spot up front just to the right of the stage. The show didn’t have an opening act per se but rather in classic early 80’s style we were entertained by DJ Night Nurse (AKA Amy Wachtel) who managed to get the growing crowd moving with an eclectic mix of roots reggae, punk and post punk dance tunes. 

 

Gang of Four took the stage around 9:30 with each band member meandering onto the stage one by one, culminating with Jon King, before they kick started the set with their opening tune “Return the Gift” from their 1978 debut full length LP Entertainment. And I have to say that my fears of King not being up to the task of performing with his youthful exuberance were immediately put to rest. King hit the stage like a dervish— flailing, spinning and bouncing all over the stage. From here the band moved on to what was pretty much a best of selection of songs from their late 70’s and early 80’s albums, Entertainment, Solid Gold and Songs of The Free with classics like “Not Great Men,” “We Dream As We Live, Alone,” and “Ether.” Throughout this first part of the show, King had been moving back and forth, up and down all over the place pretty much non stop. So when he left the stage for a moment after “Ether,” it wasn’t at all surprising to see him (out of sight from most of the crowd) fall to his knees and guzzle a bottle of water to catch a second wind of sorts. While this was all happening off stage, the band didn’t miss a beat with Pajo taking over vocal duties on a hypnotic version of “Paralysed” off the Solid Gold album.

 

The time off stage served King just fine as he returned and pretty much had the frenzied crowd of late middle aged former punks and millennials eating out of his hand. Coming back onstage with the fan favorite “Love Like Anthrax” sent the crowd right over the edge only to have the hysteria brought to a whole other level during the ensuing song, “He’d Send In The Army” during which King proceeded to smash a microwave oven to bits with a baseball bat all the while keeping time with the rhythm section of Hugo Burnham on drums and Sara Lee on bass. And while this is a stage antic which they’ve been doing for years, it certainly is still quite dramatic. To see a man, well into his late 60’s as King is, continue to demonstrate the rage and angst to which he displayed when he was a rebellious 20 something is something to celebrate (if not, unfortunately lament).

 

Gang Of Four performing

 

After scathing versions of “I Parade Myself” and “What We All Want”, the band got funky with their 1981 MTV dance floor classic “I Love A Man In A Uniform,” to which they were joined on stage with backup singers Dolette McDonald as well as Hugo Burnham’s daughter, Tess Burnham. This seems like as good a time as any to state how much fun it looked like everyone in the band looked to be having. Sara Lee seemed to have a permanent smile across her face all night long.  The majestic Burnham sitting atop the drum riser looked like he was having a blast peering down on King’s stage antics, all the while keeping a meticulous and steadfast back beat. And of course there was Pajo, the newest member of the band. Dressed in his snappy three button suit, he performed all night with a stoic precision which beautifully recreated Andy Gill’s rather unique guitar style and yet still maintain his own sense of style in doing so. It was even more pleasing to witness Pajo, who has experienced some mental health issues in the not too distant past, showing a sense of enjoyment in what he was doing up there on stage. When he and Lee exchanged glances at various points throughout the evening, you would be hard pressed to not have noticed the smile cracking through on his face. This, in and of itself, was a joy to witness and it alone was well worth the price of admission.

 

Nonetheless, the band kept the pace going as the show wound to a close with a mix of “To Hell With Poverty,” “Capital (It Falls Us Now),” and “Call Me Up,” to end the set. Closing out the encore with the all so appropriate “Damaged Goods,” with its anthemic chorus of “goodbye, goodbye, goodbye…” and the crowd screaming and repeating the words over and over right back at King, it is safe to say upon conclusion of the show that the sold out crowd had to have been happy with what they were so lucky enough to have just witnessed.

 

 

 

Scroll down for more pics of the show (photos by Ray Rusinak)

 

GANG OF FOUR

Gang Of Four performing

Gang Of Four performing

Gang Of Four performing

Gang Of Four performing

Gang Of Four performing

Gang Of Four performing

Gang Of Four performing

Gang Of Four performing

Gang Of Four performing

Gang Of Four performing

Gang Of Four performing

Gang Of Four performing

Gang Of Four performing

Gang Of Four performing

Gang Of Four performing

Gang Of Four performing

Gang Of Four performing

Gang Of Four performing

Gang Of Four performing

Gang Of Four performing

Gang Of Four performing

 

 

Gary Louris @ Brooklyn Made

Gary Louris @ Brooklyn Made

Gary Louris at Brooklyn Made (photo by Ray Rusinak)

 

Gary Louris, co-founder and lead singer for the seminal alt-country band The Jayhawks, is no stranger to New York. He and The Jayhawks regularly play here, most recently at Irving Plaza last November. However, as a solo act, Louris hasn’t visited New York City in quite some time. I could be wrong, but from what I can tell the closest he’s come in the last 10 or so years was either Freehold, NJ or Woodstock, NY. So Saturday’s show at Brooklyn Made was a much anticipated evening for myself and like minded fans of Louris.

 

Unfortunately I arrived at Brooklyn Made too late to see the live debut of Gary’s son Henry, who is actually an artist in the paint and print world first and foremost and only recently started pursuing a musical career. Henry released his debut single called “Titanomachy” in January and says that he expects to be releasing his first full length LP sometime this spring.

 

I did manage to get to the venue in time to catch Steve Almaas’s set to which I was quite happy about. Steve, a veteran of both The Suicide Commandos, a relatively short lived punk rock band formed in 1975 that never gained all too much traction outside of their home city of Minneapolis, and The Beat Rodeo, a rootsy alt-country (before there was such a thing) band. Almaas’s set was an enjoyable pastiche of song and tales from his long life in the not so famous world of rock and roll. An affable stage presence made his set seem familiar despite my not knowing any of his actual solo work. His bringing Gary Louris out for a duet on Steve’s “Goodbye Nicolina” off of his most recent release Everywhere You’ve Been was definitely a nice touch to what was already a very good opening set.

 

Gary Louris would eventually take the stage without much fanfare and started things off with “Almost Home” the lead track off of his 2021 album, Jump For JoyAfter the song, Louris reached to grab his 12 string guitar to which he said he was in a bit of a 12 stringy mood this evening, mentioning that it was a 1970 Guild 12 string which his “lovely” wife had bought him many years ago. It wouldn’t be long before we would discover that Gary’s wife was actually in attendance up in the balcony when she called out a line to The Jayhawks’s song “All The Right Reasons,” which Gary had stumbled upon.

 

That was the kind of night it would prove to be. Brooklyn Made is a pretty intimate room to begin with and the sociable, albeit sparse crowd made it feel even more so. I say sparse but must say that those who were there were clearly serious fans who were appreciative and respectful even if the mood in the room was one where a give and take from stage to audience and vice versa was quite prevalent, and as the evening progressed, quite fitting. Louris’s set was loose and informal— there were some forgotten words, a missed chord here or there and some technical issues with his six string’s power chord which in classic father-like fashion he blamed on his son Henry. But none of this mattered (to Gary or to those in the audience). It was this informality which gave the evening an almost “sitting in the living room listening to friends play songs” kind of feel. The evening was a perfect blend of solo material from the aforementioned Jump For Joy as well as 2018’s Vagabonds as well as a smattering of Jayhawks material, including a beautiful rendition of “Everybody Knows” which Louris originally wrote for The Chicks for their Taking The Long Way album and that The Jayhawks ended up including on their Back Roads and Abandoned Motels 2018 release. There was also an eclectic mix of covers thrown in for good measure.

 

To close out the evening Henry would eventually join his dad on stage for a handful of songs. The father and son would end up performing what might have been my highlight from the evening their cover of The Beatles’s “Dig a Pony”. Introduced as a throw away joke initially done on The Shitshow, a series of streaming living room jams that Gary and Henry did during quarantine, their version of the song was a perfect combination of comedy, spot on musicality and beautiful harmonies. (Head to @WaltzingPedicle on YouTube for the video). The show would be concluded with Gary and Henry’s take on “Tailspin” from The Jayhawks’s Rainy Day Music.  

 

And just like that, a beautiful evening of music and camaraderie in a room full of friends who just happened to be strangers was brought to an end. Was it a polished night of music and song? Not even close, but that’s what made it all the more special. We all have our worts and blemishes and on this one chilly night in Bushwick Brooklyn, Gary Louris performed a fantastic set of tunes with no apprehensions about displaying his.

 

Scroll down for pics of the show (photos by Ray Rusinak)

 

STEVE ALMAAS

Gary Louris at Brooklyn Made

Gary Louris at Brooklyn Made

Gary Louris at Brooklyn Made

Gary Louris at Brooklyn Made

 

 

GARY LOURIS

Gary Louris at Brooklyn Made

Gary Louris at Brooklyn Made

Gary Louris at Brooklyn Made

Gary Louris at Brooklyn Made

Gary Louris at Brooklyn Made

Gary Louris at Brooklyn Made

Gary Louris at Brooklyn Made

Gary Louris at Brooklyn Made

Gary Louris at Brooklyn Made

Gary Louris at Brooklyn Made

Gary Louris at Brooklyn Made

 

 

The Beths @ Webster Hall

The Beths @ Webster Hall

The Beths at Webster Hall (photo by Ray Rusinak)

 

Through no fault of their own, New Zealand’s The Beths have unfortunately not played here in New York all that much. First hitting our shores fresh on the heels of their debut full length, Future Me Hates Me back in the fall of 2018, Liz Stokes and The Beths played to sold out crowds at Mercury Lounge and Alphaville. Fortunate enough to have caught the Alphaville show, I came away saying to myself that this band was a sure bet.

 

Next time around there was no way they would be playing small DIY venues. Six months later, low and behold they were headlining another sellout crowd, this time at Music Hall of Williamsburg. Once again I was completely WOWED by the band. Whereas the Alphaville show presented a band still growing and learning how to play and perform on stage, the show at MHOW in March of 2019 displayed a band that had shaped itself into a serious performing act to behold. The band was scheduled to play an abbreviated US tour in April of 2020 where they would be playing small intimate venues prior to the release of their second LP, Jump Rope Gazers, which was slated for a July release. Well needless to say touring became a thing of the past in April 2020 and the tour along with the scheduled show in Brooklyn at Rough Trade (which had sold out in a matter of minutes) were scrapped.   

 

Jump Rope Gazers was released in July 2020 right on schedule and displayed no sophomore slump whatsoever. The album, I’m sure, would have vaulted the band to that next level if the band had been able to tour behind it. Unfortunately for The Beths however, they were stuck in New Zealand which had effectively locked their country down. And when I say locked down, I mean locked down for REAL. But while we here in the States were fighting amongst ourselves over lockdowns, masks, mandates and our precious civil liberties, New Zealand proved to have pretty much sealed the virus out of their country and as such the band was able to do a certain amount of touring and live performing at home while the rest of the world hunkered down in their homes. In any event, The Beths were able to capture some of this live performing on 2021’s The Beths Live In Auckland 2020. The album (and its companion video) aptly captured what should/could have been.

 

Which brings us to The Beths FINALLY being able to celebrate their great second album on stage here in the States. Ironically enough, we even had to wait for this to happen yet again when their original January date at Webster was scrapped— thanks a lot Omicron. Fortunately this time it was only a month delay, but nonetheless when The Beths took the stage at Webster Hall on Wednesday night, opening with the opening track “I’m Not Getting Excited” off of Jump Rope Gazers, it was quite clear that the packed room of fans were as happy and ‘stoked” (pun intended) for The Beths to be back in New York as was the band itself.  As someone who’s been going to shows at Webster going back to its days as The Ritz back in the early 80’s, I can say that the main floor has always bounced up and down along with enthusiastic fans as they dance and jump up and down to the music. This was however the first time I’ve ever experienced this phenomenon on the very first song of the evening. Not missing a single beat, Liz Stokes and the rest of the band (Jonathan Pierce on lead guitar and vocals, Ben Sinclair on bass and vocals and Tristan Deck on drums) ripped into a couple of fan favorites from Future Me Hates Me in “Not Running” and “Great No One” before playing their current single “A Real Thing” (presumably to be included on their upcoming LP which is supposedly completed).

 

 

One thing which has not changed at all about The Beths since they have grown from playing small DIY rooms to headlining rooms like Webster Hall is their genuine humility. Each and everyone one of the band members is clearly very much aware that they are lucky to be doing what they truly love and even luckier to be doing it for an ever growing fan base***. They bring an almost effervescent energy to their shows which bubbles over into the crowd. They are clearly having a lot of fun up on stage and when one witnesses that kind of exuberance it is only natural that it spills over to the audience who in Wednesday night’s case, despite the shoulder to shoulder lack of space, were absolutely having a complete and total blast.

[***Ed. note: Can 100% confirm this was true both on stage and off, I work at Webster Hall and sold merch at this show. The band was exceptionally awesome to the venue staff and Liz Stokes even taught us some NZ slang when she said merch load out was going “very cruisey” aka stress free. The band was very involved in all aspects of the behind the scenes stuff and it was very obvious that they were truly grateful to be there.]

 

The band managed to pack 14 songs into about an hour throughout the main portion of the set, split relatively evenly between their two albums. Sadly my only complaint about The Beths’ live shows in the past was their brevity and this seems to not have changed all that much this go around either. That being said, what the show lacked in longevity was more than made up for in its quality of material.

 

The Beths at Webster Hall

The Beths at Webster Hall

 

Which brings me to the fact that the band has gotten so damned good since the last time they were here. The jump in quality which I mentioned earlier between their visits in 2018 and 2019 has not at all slowed down. What especially stood out to me was the quality of the vocals and harmonies. This has always been a standout on the studio album recordings but now it is more than safe to say that at this point the band has gotten to where they can match those very same harmonies in a live setting just beautifully. The stretch of three songs to conclude the main set, “Whatever”, “Little Death” and “Future Me Hates Me” all from the first album had Stokes and the band clicking on all counts. Stokes’ phrasing and her ability to switch from her low key natural voice to her breathtaking falsetto was spot on. Meanwhile Pierce’s guitar solos were perfectly timed and I found them to be both understated yet totally captivating. All the while you had Deck and Sinclair providing a steady yet funky backboned rhythm section. 

 

After a brief minute or two offstage, the band returned for an encore. While Stokes did joke with the audience when a request from a fan in the crowd for them to do their version of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” from their 2018 holiday release, the band proceeded to light it up with “River Run: Lvl 1” and “Dying To Believe.”  All in all the show was near perfect and had this particular fan glowing. It was somewhere around midway through the set that the thought popped into my head that The Beths live show exudes “sunshine.”  I’m not sure if it’s the girl group meets The Beach Boys kind of harmonies or the bubbly upbeat music itself but The Beths are a near perfect soundtrack for summer fun. And while Wednesday afternoon did have temps in the in 60’s, upon leaving Webster Hall, the crowd walked out to more February like 30 degree temps. But it was no worries because the warmth and sunshiny feelings that The Beths bestowed upon us would be more than enough to keep us glowingly warm and comfortable for our trips home.

 

Set list:

  1. I’m Not Getting Excited
  2. Not Running
  3. Great No One
  4. A Real Thing
  5. Happy, Unhappy
  6. Out Of Sight
  7. Acrid
  8. Jump Rope Gazers
  9. Uptown Girl
  10. When You Know, You Know
  11. Mars, The God Of War
  12. Whatever
  13. Little Death
  14. Future Me Hates Me
  15. River Run: Lvl 1 (encore)
  16. Dying To Believe (encore)

 

Scroll down for pics of the show (photos by Ray Rusinak)

 

THE BETHS

The Beths at Webster Hall

The Beths at Webster Hall

The Beths at Webster Hall

The Beths at Webster Hall

The Beths at Webster Hall

The Beths at Webster Hall

The Beths at Webster Hall

The Beths at Webster Hall

The Beths at Webster Hall

The Beths at Webster Hall

The Beths at Webster Hall

The Beths at Webster Hall

The Beths at Webster Hall

The Beths at Webster Hall

The Beths at Webster Hall

The Beths at Webster Hall

The Beths at Webster Hall

The Beths at Webster Hall

The Beths at Webster Hall

The Beths at Webster Hall

The Beths at Webster Hall

The Beths at Webster Hall

The Beths at Webster Hall

The Beths at Webster Hall

The Beths at Webster Hall

The Beths at Webster Hall

The Beths at Webster Hall

The Beths at Webster Hall

Frank Turner- FTHC

Frank Turner- FTHC

 

FTHC (Frank Turner Hard Core) is the first actual new material we’ve gotten from Frank Turner since 2018’s Be More Kind. Of course there was 2019’s No Man’s Land, but the material for that album was actually written and recorded before Be More Kind. You see, after the 2016 American election, the world changed (most certainly not for the better) and Turner realized that he needed to address the state of America (and the world), so he decided to temporarily shelve No Man’s Land, his ode to historical women of the world and instead released his plea to mankind to be better, to be more kind. And then the pandemic struck and with England, along with pretty much the entire world shut down, Turner managed to release two collaborative albums in 2020. The first a split with NOFX called West Coast vs. Wessex where NOFX covered five Frank Turner songs and vice versa. Also released in 2020 was Turner and “buddy” Jon Snodgrass’s collaborative reprieve of their Buddies EP from 2013 called, you guessed it Buddies II (Still Buddies). Clearly, a lot of water has flowed under the bridge between Be More Kind and FTHC and Turner has made every attempt to cover as much of that water as he possibly could.

 

For those who read the title of the album with its inclusion of “hardcore” and were expecting Frank’s return to his Mongrel Horde days, the first track of the album certainly points squarely in that direction. “Non Serviam” kicks off with thrashing guitar chords, punctuated by a thunderous drum progression before Turner screams the opening lines:

 

I am the idiot

I was considerate

I thought things were different

But the dumb and degenerate

Can be so belligerent:

Aggressive illiterates

And this social barbiturate

Is cold and deliberate

A marketed cigarette

If you dare to be different

Good faith considerate

Then you are the idiot

 

The song is fast and furious and to put it lightly, angry. It seems very clear right from the outset that Turner is not happy with the ways of the world and while he’s mad as hell, he’s not going to take it.

 

Next up is “The Gathering” which was the first single from the album, released late last year. As a follow up to the opening track, “The Gathering” is almost a perfect segue. Forgoing the hardcore style of the former, “The Gathering” starts off and almost feels like a mid 70’s classic rock anthem. That is until you get to the bridge where things turn dark, real dark. Turner at this point begins to recite his mantra to what feels and sounds very much like it could be right out of the death metal album bin at your local record store. And then before you know it, the bridge is cut off with Ben Lloyd’s blazing guitar solo which only punctuates the death metal vibe coming across from the tune. With it’s almost satanic ritualistic vibe, “The Gathering” too is filled with anger but Turner successfully portrays it in quite a different manner.

 

And then BOOM, the third track on the album starts and Turner is right back into his classic wheelhouse. “Haven’t Been Doing So Well” sounds like it could musically fit in swimmingly on say, England Keep My Bones. That is as long as you don’t pay attention to the lyrics which are thematically right in lock step with the two previous tracks in their anger and frustration with the current world order. 

 

‘Cause I’ve been messed up, stressed out, talking to myself again

Locked up, left out, terrified of everything

Wound up, found out, waiting around for something to give

 

“Untainted Love” is a song about addiction and ultimately redemption. This (at least as far as I’m aware) is not a topic which Turner has tackled in the past. Drug abuse and addiction don’t normally pop up in his songs but the subject is handled quite poignantly in this tune which musically brings to mind The Gaslight Anthem and The Menzingers specifically in the chorus.  

 

Frank Turner performing

Frank Turner at Crossroads, October 2021 (photo by Ray Rusinak)

 

As for track number five, “Fatherless,” I can remember when I heard it for the first time at Crossroads last October being completely blown away with the lyrical content of the song (See pics/writeup from that weekend). The song deals with another subject which Turner has somewhat avoided within his catalog of songs. He has spoken in the past about his abusive relationship with his father but the hatred which comes across in this tune is something to which fans of Turner’s music have not seen before. Starting off with just a solo piano reminiscent to The Beatles’ “Let It Be,” one is immediately lulled into a peaceful melancholy which is abruptly transformed when the newest member of his backing band, The Sleeping Souls, drummer Callum Green kicks into a syncopated drum run which is then followed by Turner singing the words:

 

And I cried myself to sleep each night

For three straight weeks ’til I was dead inside

But I’m not asking for your pity

It’s just that fairy tales about fathers make me angry

 

But this tale too ends in triumph with Frank repeating over and over “look at me now.” However, unlike “Untainted Love,” where you feel a happiness come over the narrator after their victory over substance abuse, one feels nothing but the very same pity that the singer claimed not to crave at the conclusion of this song.

 

“My Bad” continues with the same theme of the narrator of the song being sickened by his parents, striking out on his own and ultimately realizing that he can’t escape his bloodlines. It’s a classic sins of the father tale which comes to a conclusion with Frank angrily singing “I did not want to be my father’s son”.

 

Which brings us to what may be the most startling song in this collection especially given the two songs which precede it on the album. As it turns out Frank’s father, the protagonist of the two previous songs and the benefactor of their vitriol, is now “Miranda.” Having transitioned relatively recently, Turner and his father have, while not quite reconciling, certainly now have a relationship to which each is attempting to put the pieces of their torn lives together again. 

 

And without missing a beat, the beautiful closing words “Miranda, it’s lovely to meet you” are met head on with the words “I spoke with Scott last night” as the next song “A Wave Across A Bay” begins. As he did with “Long Live The Queen” from Love Ire and Song so many years ago, Turner takes the tragic death of a dear friend (in this case Frightened Rabbit’s Scott Hutchinson) and turns it into a beautiful eulogy which no doubt will become the emotional highpoint to future Frank Turner live performances.

 

Listen to “A Wave Across A Bay”

 

“Resurrectionists” follows and while it is a very good song, I just don’t think it fits in thematically with what has preceded it. The tune itself, at least to my ears, would have been a great song to juxtapose his “1931” on Be More Kind. It would have been a perfect fit for that album whereas on FTHC, it just feels a tad out of place.

 

“Punches” is a song right out of the classic Frank Turner mold of sing along anthems. It no doubt will be a favorite of those who frequent the pit at Turner’s concerts. “The Perfect Score” has had me transfixed mainly because of the use of the guitar riff following each of the verses. While it’s not anything virtuosic, it just makes for a really nice vibe. While writing this I’ve been scratching my head trying to figure out what it reminds me of and I realized that The Beths do the same kind of riffing post verse on their song “Future Me Hates Me.” And while the two have their similarities as far as the riff goes, “Perfect Score” is most certainly a song unto itself.

 

I have to wonder if the Turner who wrote the words to “Photosynthesis” (on Love Ire and Song) back in 2008, where he’s complaining about all his friends being married with mortgages and pension plans, could have possibly foreseen the future Frank who would write a song like “The Work,” where he extolls the virtues of cleaning the garage and doing the laundry. No doubt quarantine had to have been a strange process for Turner. He not only had to stop touring (something to which he pretty much has constantly done the past 10 years) but he was also relatively newly wed when the pandemic struck. “The Work” is a prototypical Turner vignette about his new found need to give and take in his relationship with his wife. This theme is expanded further in “Little Life” where Turner expounds on the quieter, slower, calmer life to which he now leads. 

 

Which brings us to what I think might be the most interesting song on the album, “Farewell To My City.” In this one, Turner takes us on the meandering road trip of how he has managed to find himself where he is today. Starting out with a talking/ranting style which immediately brings to mind his good friend Micah Schabel. Turner and Schnabel had been on tour together when Covid first struck and then when Micah and his partner, artist Vanessa Jean Speckman, found themselves stranded in England for some time, they were welcomed to stay with Frank and his wife Jess Guise. I’ve no doubt that the time spent together was a learning experience for both songwriters. Bottom line being, while “Farewell” and its (not quite) talking blues style is a departure for Turner, on this one it clearly works.

 

So there you have it, my track by track breakdown of Frank Turner’s new release FTHC. All in all, as an avowed Turner fan, I am totally digging this release. Having heard quite a bit of it beforehand between seeing a handful of his live shows this past fall as well as the previously released singles, it is certainly refreshing to see an artist buck the trend of releasing the best song(s) from an album beforehand only to be let down upon the release of the entire LP. This is definitely not the case with FTHC. The one thing which I find most refreshing about the album is that while Turner does in fact break out of his traditional mold, even when he’s trying something new, the songs still reflect an air of familiarity.   

 

FTHC is available now via Xtra Mile/Polydor and available on all streaming platforms.