Frank Turner releases a live album from his recent tour where they played each song a bit differently to normal.
Anyone aware of Frank Turner will know he is always on tour, playing in excess of 200 shows around the world each year. Recently, among that relentless schedule, he has also found time to publish 2 books and put out a record without the backing of his usual band, The Sleeping Souls, in the form of No Man’s Land (review here). It was clear that a normal tour would not suit that record nor do it justice. Therefore, the shows consisted a solo acoustic set from Frank playing the songs from his latest record which was then followed by the full band joining for acoustic re-works of his regular set-list favourites. The second half of that format is presented here.
A long-time fan who has lost track of the number of times I’ve seen him (he’s much better at that!), I decided to pass on these shows partly due to fatigue and partly ticket price, as intriguing as the concept of the shows may have been. This turned to regret the day after my local show happened and deepened on hearing this recording of the Newcastle show on the tour. I may be London based now, with Alexandra Palace as my local venue (where he played the theatre rather than the big room on this tour), but I went to university in Newcastle and went to many shows at the City Hall in my time there so this recording brought back a little of that as I can easily imagine the space it is set in.
Further, while I discovered his music in first year at said university, I really fell in love with it while bombing around the West Country in my hardy T-reg Ford Focus, blasting his Take to the Road live album out the windows at full blast. I have a soft spot for well produced live albums as I feel music often comes alive in that format as opposed to suffocated through studio technology.
All that pre-amble to say: I think this may be my new favourite Frank Turner record. The songs are each given a new life in the way they are reworked. The influence of Matt Nasir on Frank’s pre-Sleeping Souls material is immediately apparent while other tracks have very little rearrangement but benefit from the full-band acoustic treatment. What is also remarkable here is that Frank’s voice is given the space to prove that not only can he sing very well when not competing with a punk-rock backing, but his voice is maturing very well as he gets further into his career and gets older.
The spoken word styling of the opener (Ballad) is a little awkward but it is such an important song to him and his fanbase that it matters not one bit. By the time the rearranged harmonies of “We’re definitely going to hell, but we’ll have all the best stories to tell” hit, you know you’re in a for a special couple of hours. This is reinforced by the spiritual stablemate I Knew Prufock where the song isn’t fundamentally changed from it’s original form but years of playing it live have let it evolve and with the volume turned down slightly the emphasis is given room to breathe and the impact is just as great.
A large part of the recording and show plays out like a paraphrased version of his books, telling the story of his love life, life on the road and battles with drug addiction through his songs. It is a charming ‘evening with’ format that sweeps you along and wholly entertains rather than just providing music.
Reasons Not To Be An Idiot gets a bluegrass treatment with a reggae breakdown that is pretended to be improvised. It is a version filled with life and fun that a full rock show version doesn’t allow and a real highlight of this record.
This is followed up by the always-haunting setlist mainstay I Am Disappeared. This track must be their most experimented on and I adore how it continues to evolve with each incarnation. I was initially fairly cold towards this track on the album, however, through the shows it has become a highlight as the musical elements and scale are carefully tinkered with and controlled to create an experience of stadium proportions. The one here is a further evolution of the live version as captured in studio form on Songbook. I can see another re-recording of it before the end of his career. It is a song that deserves a polaroid every 10 years or so as it matures.
Photosynthesis drops it’s speech section which is another refreshment to the normal live shows and brings it back to it’s roots, Recovery get’s almost ragtime vibes from Nasir’s piano tuning, and I Still Believe sees Frank as close to his normal live singing style (strained voice etc.) as he gets here to round off the ‘encore’ of big hitters before settling down to Be More Kind for an impassioned finish. Maybe drop the falsetto next time though Frank, yea?
Overall it will be interesting to see how this acoustic side-step, where the quality of the musical ideas are brought to the fore and the quality musicianship of the band is shown off, ends up influencing future records and shows. One gets the sense that they know how good they are and that they work well together but that their best record and shows still lie ahead of them as they figure out how to best put their talent on show.
For the fan club and new-comers alike this is a beautifully realised and captured record of the show and demonstrates the diversity of musical passion and capability of a band who hit their stride years ago but are still firmly marching towards their peak.