Show Review: Frank Turner at Stubb’s

by Brian J. Audette

Photography by Jake Dapper

Frank Turner

Britain’s Frank Turner is no stranger to Austin, Texas. When he made his first appearance in the States as a solo act back in 2007, it was for several SXSW shows, preceded by a warm-up gig in San Antonio. Since then he’s been back to Austin just about every year, often multiple times. He even got a Texas state tattoo here on one drunken SXSW evening and is an avowed fan of our very own Mineral, whose influence can be seen a bit more in the later work of his old band Million Dead.

You might say that Frank Turner is a fan of Austin, but I’m definitely a fan of Frank. An in depth look at my listening statistics over the last six years since I first began following him reveals that I’ve listened to Frank Turner as many times as the rest of the artists in my top 5 over that period … combined. When Frank (solo or with his backing band The Sleeping Souls) comes to town I never miss an opportunity to go out and see him play. I’ve seen him at least eight times that I can remember over these last six years and Last Wednesday’s show at Stubb’s BBQ  may have been one of the best.

Frank Turner Stubb's

I got to Stubb’s early (just after the 5pm door time) in order to ensure I got up front for Frank. I have a love/hate relationship with Stubb’s in that I love the bands that play there, but usually hate the crowds. It always seems like any spot in the crowd further back than the sound booth will see me surrounded by chainsmokers who would rather talk than enjoy the music. Up front at Stubb’s can be dicey for different reasons, especially at heavier shows, but for me seeing Frank is a religious affair and the closer I am, the more sincere my worship. This meant that once I had claimed my space I was staying put for all three opening acts, but as Frank tends to choose good tour mates I wasn’t concerned.

Pittsburgh’s one man band Homeless Gospel Choir opened the evening with a round of self-described “protest songs”. Dripping with sincerity and wearing a kitschy button-down shirt, and a pair of loud, red-rimmed sunglasses, Choir’s Derek Zanetti quickly won over the crowd with his autobiographical songwriting and witty banter about growing up punk and learning to fit in with those who didn’t.

The Menzingers amped things up next, leading the crowd to form its first mosh pit of the evening, while the band blazed through several newer tracks and a few old favorites from their middle years. I was a big fan of The Menzingers second LP Chamberlain Waits several years back, but I never really got into their more recent stuff as much. Still, I enjoyed the work they put in on stage and the crowd seemed to agree.


Menzingers have a devoted following of their own, as this shot from their Barracuda appearance last year attests

Things took a decidedly more country turn when Lucero took the stage next. Out of the three openers, this was the band I was the least familiar with, but I’m a sucker for the fringes of country and folk music and Lucero delivered with a sincerity and fervor that bordered on punk, while still holding true to their whiskey-soaked roots.

As the headlining set time drew closer, the stage lights went down and the crowd began to amp up. I was standing center stage, just a couple of people away from the barrier, and the excitement was almost as thick as the humidity. As the house music faded out, the backing beat to the new album (Be More Kind)’s most rocking track “1933” began playing as the Sleeping Souls took their positions on stage. A moment later Frank arrived, guitar on his back and ready to rock.

Grabbing the mic he immediately jumped into the song’s first verse “Stop asking musicians what they think/he said softly as he poured himself another drink/while outside the world stepped over the brink”. Be More Kind is a new direction for Frank. A little mellower, a little poppier, and less introspective, it’s an album about the current times, about survival, and compassion. “1933” is about that moment so many of us can relate to of waking up to discover the world went crazy, or maybe it always had been and we were finally waking up to it. While I had heard Frank play this song acoustic a couple times during SXSW this year, hearing it with the whole band and with the crowd singing along was revelatory.

Frank Turner Stubb's

“Get Better” and “The Next Storm” off of 2015’s Positive Songs for Negative People kept the energy high, followed by the lyrically dense and emotionally raw “Recovery” off 2013’s Tape Deck Heart. As far as opening salvos go, this was Frank saying “even though the new stuff is different, it doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten how I got here”, while simultaneously priming the crowd. Half the reason to see Frank live is his showmanship. Always engaging and rarely standing still, Frank knows how to work a crowd and bring the rock while still seeming like a nice bloke you could grab a beer with later.

The next section of the show featured old favorites interspersed with some of the more upbeat new stuff. “Little Changes” featured the first of several instances of Frank guiding the audience to participate that evening, a staple of his shows that never loses its charm. “The Way I Tend to Be” came next, followed by the mellower, but poignant new song “Be More Kind.” “Long Live the Queen” (possibly the most rocking eulogy you’re ever likely to hear) saw the first real mosh of the set, causing me to uncharacteristically admonish the people pushing behind me, assuming they were the same people who had tried to push their way to the front earlier. When I realized it was just the mosh, I felt rather foolish indeed.

Frank Turner Stubb's

As the evening continued, Frank played hits, favorites, and deep cuts all the same and the audience devoured it. Throughout he sprinkled a few more new songs, including “Make America Great Again” a song that appropriates the Trumpist slogan for a much nobler purpose and for which the video was shot here in Austin during SXSW this year.

As is his custom, about ⅔ of the way through the show, the Sleeping Souls left the stage and Frank played some solo songs. The section opened with “Going Nowhere” off the new album and Frank’s acknowledgement that when he wrote the song he didn’t realize that Americans wouldn’t get the line in the chorus “In there like swimwear”, but that he’s heard so many fan theories about its meaning since, that he’d rather not spoil it for anyone.

Frank Turner

“Song for Josh” an emotional ballad for a lost friend came next and then the band returned for the poppy and eminently danceable “Blackout”, the final new song of the evening. The raucous and appropriately named “Out of Breath” came next during which Frank directed the crowd to form a circle pit and which they happily obliged. As has become custom, the pre-encore segment of the evening closed with the now classic “Photosynthesis”, where Frank pulled a young fan up on stage to help him sing the closing verse.

After a brief rest, Frank returned for his encore alone and began playing “Love Ire and Song” off the album of the same name. Part lament, part drinking song, part protest song, this has always been one of my favorites and easily a favorite to sing with a crowd. Afterward frank did some crowd surfing while singing the next song and then jumped into the crowd to dance with a random fan for “I Wanna Dance” after that.

Frank Turner

The night closed with the heartfelt “Polaroid Picture” a song about stopping to smell the roses and keeping in touch with old friends. By the time all was said and done, my throat was raw from singing, my legs were sore from dancing, and I was soaked in the sweat of the evening. A true religious experience! Judging by the crowd around me and stretching all the way back to the very edges of Stubb’s that night, it was one that was shared and with any luck will be again soon.

Be sure to check out Jake Dapper’s full photo set from the evening here!