So a funny thing happened last Friday night, and I know that’s a peculiar way to start a story that’s supposed to be a show review, but, well, here we are. The latter stages of Frank Turner‘s Herculean tour in support of his latest album, Be More Kind found their way to a Friday night stop at the Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom in Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. Though it had been a few years since I’d been in the area, I’m a native of New Hampshire, and as is requisite when you’re a Granite Stater, I’ve spent many, many hours eating Blink’s Fry Doe and perusing the airbrush t-shirt shops up and down the strip at Hampton Beach. I’ve taken in a handful of shows at the Casino Ballroom in years past, though the last of those was a Sevendust/Drowning Pool/Stereomud show as a recent college graduate a week prior to 9/11, which is a statement that provides a lot more context than you might realize.
A lot, obviously, has changed since then. I’ve lived in Massachusetts for a decade-and-a-half with my wife of fifteen years (the night of this show marked our anniversary) and, more recently, with our just-about eleven-year-old daughter. The three of us headed to the Seacoast on this particular evening, and immediately upon reaching the top of the stairs inside the venue, the feeling of deja vu made its first appearance. This wasn’t a nu-metal show, and I wasn’t 21, and I was with my wife and my kid and yet, immediately everything started to feel familiar. Due to a bit of a snafu at the ticket window (also not the first time) the show had already started — Sam Coffey and the Iron Lungs were 3/4 of the way through their first song — so I got into normal position in the photo pit and went to work and it kinda went away for a bit. I’d never experienced the Canadian sextet in person before, and they were a lot of fun. The spandex-and-sequin adorned Coffey led his denim-vested band of misfits through a high energy set that owed more than a little bit to T. Rex and would have been right at home on an arena stage several times the size at the 2000-capacity Casino Ballroom.
Bad Cop/Bad Cop were next up as the tour’s direct support, and as I’ve said many times on these pages, they’re one of my favorite bands for myriad reasons. When the California-based quartet put out their sophomore album, Warriors, in June of last year, it presented as one of the first albums to fire a direct shot across the bow of the newly-inaugurated Trump administration. It was powerful, angry, defiant, righteous, raw…everything a classic punk rock album should be. They’ve been boldly and continuously flying the flag since, and this set was no different. Pulling from both of their Fat Wreck studio full-lengths and their Boss Lady EP, the band’s set was not only well received by the Turner diehards in the crowd, it seemed especially fiery given the day’s breaking news surrounding the week-long postponement of Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation vote in the US Senate in favor of what, it seems, was a sham investigation. It is frustrating that we’re still at a point where the foursome don’t have to look far and wide for new ways to be inspired and fired-up, but damnit we’re lucky to have them.
Frank Turner took the stage for his headline set and, though he was accompanied by his full band, the Sleeping Souls, the lights were low and Turner dove into the first notes of set-opener “Be More Kind” accompanied only by an acoustic guitar. It was a bit of a delicate other side of the coin to the firebrand BC/BC set that preceded it, that was an equally poignant rallying cry amidst these crazy times. The full band kicked into high gear on the set’s next track, “1933,” and I’m paraphrasing a bit, but there’s a line at the beginning of the song’s second verse that makes reference to the idea of surveying the landscape and thinking “we already did this.” As that line bounced around my head for a second while I was switching lenses in the photo pit, the deja vu came roaring back. In the song, that line has a negative connotation, drawing a direct parallel between the events going on in the West now and those that the Greatest Generation witnessed building in the pre-World War II lead-up. As it relates to this story and this show in particular, though, my brain twisted that line to a more positive context.
I’ve been privileged to shoot Turner and his supremely talented crew more than a few times in the last half-decade most recently at a date on the weeklong Boston run that closed out the first US leg of the Be More Kind tour. Though I’d never seen him play some of these specific songs and had certainly never done so at this venue, in this State, with these people, I was overwhelmed with a sense of familiarity that I’d never quite experienced before. Turner and his band have long been quintessential road warriors in every sense of that phrase, rather famously having played well over 2000 shows at this point in their respective careers. The “Frank Turner And The Sleeping Souls” live show is inspiring not just in the message of the lyrics — if you’ve never heard “Be More Kind” or “Recovery” or “Get Better” or even “Four Little Words,” you can probably paint an accurate picture of their content based on title alone — but in how honest the unit are as performers. Each of the band’s five core members (yes, though the pictures don’t prove it, they were all present, but the lighting sucked worse than my self-taught photography skills) are the musical equivalent of the athlete who “leaves it all on the field every night.” The bulk of the night’s set – seven of a total of 23 songs – was culled from the band’s most recent release, but in typical Turner fashion, he dug WAY into the vault for a solo acoustic rendition of “Wisdom Teeth” and even FURTHER into the archives for a rather poignant take on “Nashville, Tennessee.” Though he’s from across the pond — “Olde Hampshire,” to be exact — Turner has become one of the most dependable and familiar lynchpins of the US music community, trying desperately to inspire the world around him to wake up and fight to keep this country from falling off an all-too-familiar cliff. If only we’d be able to stop having this same conversation again and again.
Anyway, head below to check out our full photo stream from the evening!