If you search back through the annals of Dying Scene history, there exists the very real possibility that Frank Turner and The Interrupters and Chuck Ragan would each individually rank pretty high on a retrospective “top ten most photographed artists” list. I’m pretty sure I’ve shot them a collective two-dozen times myself. And so obviously when it was announced that the trio would not only be touring together but that that tour would find its way to Boston’s MGM Fenway Music Hall on a Sunday night, of course yours truly would be there! (Editor’s note: Laura Jane Grace was slated to appear on this bill as well but had to bail semi last-minute. Jesse Malin was a late add as a replacement and an even later cancellation due to an unexpected injury.) Unexpectedly chaotic traffic-related issues aside (seriously…not entirely sure who made the executive decision to sync up the ending time of Northeastern University’s graduation ceremony inside Fenway Park with the doors-open time at the MGM outside Fenway Park, but that person should be fired into the sun), the evening was about as enjoyable and high energy as you’d expect.
Accompanied on pedal steel by long-time wingman Todd Beene (of Glossary and Lucero and Tim Barry fame), Chuck Ragan got the evening’s festivities started off in fine fashion. When an event is co-headlined by not one but two high-energy, full-band acts, particularly when it’s a venue as cavernous as the shiny new 5500-capacity MGM Fenway, you never really know how well an acoustic-based opener is going to translate. Rest assured, Ragan’s trademark road-worn growl was more than enough to not only grab the attention of the decent-sized crowd that showed up so early but to shake the sparkly new building to the rafters.
The bulk of Ragan’s ten-song set was culled from his 2011 release Covering Ground and its 2014 follow-up, Till Midnight, both of which included Beene on pedal steel and backing vocals as a member of The Camaraderie. Coupled with a holler that could raise the dead, Ragan plays his trusty Martin acoustic with the ferocity of John Henry’s hammer, so the subtleties and soaring notes of the pedal steel make for a unique sonic balance. The one “cover” in the set was of the Ragan-penned Hot Water Music staple “State Of Grace,” a nod to the Hot Water fans in the crowd and to the band’s thirtieth anniversary, which will be coming next year!
The Interrupters stormed the stage next for their co-headlining slot on the bill. They kicked off their set with “Take Back The Power,” the biggest single from their self-titled 2014 debut full-length, and spent the course of the next seventy-five minutes in a constant barrage of frenetic energy and positive vibes. The band’s dynamic lead vocalist, Aimee Interrupter, rarely spent a full verse in the same place, instead dancing her way back and forth across the width of the stage, engaging with – and feeding off – the joyous crowd every step of the way.
Not to be outdone, guitarist Kevin Bivona and his bass-playing younger brother Justin frequently danced their respective ways back and forth across the stage and spent as much time airborne as they did with their feet planted to the ground. Jesse Bivona is about as rock-steady a drummer as you’ll find in the scene, serving as the band’s gas pedal and providing harmonies-on-harmonies-on-haronies with his brothers. Touring “fifth Interrupter” and pride of Dover, NH, Billy Kottage amps up the band’s live presence and coolness factor on keys and trumpet.
Spreading the love for the band’s four studio releases pretty evenly throughout their sixteen-song set, there’s the sense that the band could have easily played twice as long and still kept the audience in the palms of their collective hands. In spite of the high-energy nature of the band’s set, a particularly high note was their performance of “Alien,” from last year’s In The Wild album. The down-tempo song is a bit of a sonic outlier, and is also probably the most personal song on an immensely personal album, and so there are those among us who wondered aloud if it would make it into the band’s set. Yet Aimee’s voice not only never faltered but soared to new heights by the time the song reached its sonic crescendo.
And then it was time for the evening’s closing act, the inimitable Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls. Obviously Boston is not a hometown show for the Wessex boy himself, but at the very least Boston has become a home-away-from-home over the course of the last decade-plus, as many a US tour have started or ended – or both – in the city proper or in other nearby New England cities. Wielding a Gibson SG as his main axe on this run, Turner and crew (longtime sidemen Tarrant Anderson on bass, Matt Nasir on keys and Ben Lloyd on guitar now joined by Callum Green on drums) immediately ripped into “Punches” from last year’s FTHC album, a clear sign that this was very much going to be a high octane rock-and-roll set.
Turner and crew have played their fair share of epic long shows or, on numerous occasions played two-a-days like a high school football team in the dog days of summer, so being able to play a 75-minute, 17-song headlining set allows them to condense all of that energy into a solid, blistering set. As a result of the countless miles together, the band has long been one of the most locked-in groups around, and that was on full display at MGM. It is probably tempting for some bands to play “just the hits” in such a situation, but The Sleeping Souls did a pretty solid job of featuring the more punk-rock-tinged FTHC (including a scorching rendition of “Non Serviam”) amidst a setlist that featured tracks from eight of his nine studio albums spanning back to 2007’s Sleep Is For The Week. Sorry No Man’s Land…maybe next time.
Check out more photo galleries from the three killer performances below!
Chuck Ragan and Todd Beene Slideshow
The Interrupters Slideshow
Frank Turner Slideshow