Frank Turner wound down the North American touring run in support of his 2015 full-length, Positive Songs For Negative People, in a big, big way; by headlining the Agganis Arena in his adopted American hometown of Boston, Massachusetts. Turner has played the greater Boston area an awful lot over the last decade, and this particular night, Turners 2031st show as a solo artist, marked his biggest headlining show in the Western Hemisphere to date. It doesn’t exactly reek of journalistic credibility to insert yourself and your outlet into a story, but, well, this is 2017 America. Here at Dying Scene, we’ve covered Frank Turner perhaps more extensively than most other artists over the last half-dozen years, and in some ways Dying Scene’s increase in readership has mirrored Turner’s own increase in listenership on this side of “the pond.” It’s not a 1-to-1 causal relationship, mind you, just a reflection on our similar paths; we’ve caught up with him at record store performances and small club shows and large club shows to opening for bands like Dropkick Murphys and manning afternoon sets at larger festivals. So it was with great pleasure (and perhaps more than a little pride) that we got the chance to take in the events of the evening as Turner and his high-powered backing band, The Sleeping Souls, did their best to blow the roof off the not-quite-capacity 7200-seat arena located on the campus of Boston University.
Okay, back to the regularly scheduled, full-journalistic-integrity portion of the recap. Turner took the stage promptly at 9:20pm accompanied by only an acoustic guitar and started in alone on the first few verses of his newest track, “The Sand In The Gears,” before being joined by the remainder of the Sleeping Souls (Ben Lloyd on guitar, Nigel Powell on drums, Tarrant Anderson on bass and Felix Hagan, filling in for new father Matt Nasir on keys/mandolin/tambourine/etc) for the song’s group singalong outro. From there, as you might imagine the bulk of the set’s remaining twenty songs drew from Turner’s three most recent — and most popular — albums; Positive Songs…, 2013’s Tape Deck Heart, and of course, 2011’s breakthrough, England Keep My Bones, though even half-dozen older tracks turned in to rousing, full-audience singalongs as well. Frank Turner fans are notably passionate and rowdy, and the increased scope of the venue didn’t seem to invite very many casual fans; yours truly did several laps around the floor and the seating areas and found nary an ass in their proverbial seat for the bulk of the evening.
No doubt because of his increased popularity in Europe, but Turner didn’t seem overwhelmed by the size of the venue; appreciative and in awe, maybe, but not overwhelmed. While Turner’s roots remain very firmly planted in his love of punk and hardcore and metal, the energy that Turner and his band have always played with are perfectly suited to play to the very back of even the largest venue, performing as though it’s their duty to keep even those in the cheap seats out of their…well…seats. Before the night was over, the set would feature a full-venue “wall of hugs” (think a metal show’s ‘wall of death,’ only with much less death), opener Will Varley circling the venue and selfie-ing with the people in the top of the back row before taking a celebratory Jameson shot with Turner, and the frontman himself crowd-surfing for the bulk of show-closer “Four Simple Words.” As Turner himself pointed out, some of these efforts might seem like (and were, in fact) typical arena rock frontman hijinks, but they have an effect of engaging everybody in the process. Rock shows are, by definition, communal, celebratory events, and Turner and his mates have perfected the art of taking their responsibility to the audience seriously while conversely not taking themselves too seriously at all.
New Jersey punk veterans The Bouncing Souls served as direct support for this particular night, their only night on the Frank Turner tour, and their first Boston show since the release of their 2016 full-length, Simplicity. The Souls have conquered stages across the globe for more than a quarter-century, so they certainly seemed right at home on the Agganis’ large stage. The band ripped through eighteen songs in their forty-ish minute set, kicking things off with “That Song,” from 2001’s How I Spent My Summer Vacation. From a strictly sonic perspective, straight-forward one-guitar punk rock doesn’t necessarily translate well to a large hockey arena, as the sound tends to come across as loud and muddy. That seemed to be the case for the first half of the Souls’ set on this night, although things certainly improved from there. And the four-piece certainly had more than their fair share of amped up fans in attendance, with traditional favorites like “Sing Along Forever,” “Anchors Aweigh,” “Lean On, Sheena” and, of course, “True Believers,” inspiring gang chantalongs from all points (the latter featuring an unannounced, stealth-style on stage appearance from Boston punk legend Mike McColgan on guest vocals).
Arkells had been touring alongside Turner on the bulk of this run, and while they weren’t direct support on this particular evening, they certainly could have been. The Hamilton, Ontario-based five-piece hit the ground running from the first notes of set-opener “A Little Rain (A Song For Pete).” This is the first time that Arkells have graced the pages of Dying Scene, and their power-pop sound is outside the traditional scope of Dying Scene’s coverage spectrum, but their high energy, politically-charged set filled with positivity and unity was perfect for the evening’s overall theme. Arkells frontman Max Kerman rivals Turner’s own energy, and he had propelled himself onto the railing and into the crowd before the first chorus of the set’s aforementioned first song. If you’re a fan of Turner’s brand of arena folk-rock (and we are) and have a penchant for modern rock radio bands like Twenty One Pilots and Catfish and the Bottlemen, give them a Google.
With apologies to show-opener and frequent Turner tour mate Will Varley, the scope of the setting and the check-in procedure contained therein meant that yours truly missed the photo op portion of his set, though the latter half of his set that we did catch (especially “Talking Cat Blues”) were especially well-received be the vocal crowd. We’ll catch you next time, Will; promise.
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