Way back in April, when Frank Turner released his latest album, "Tape Deck Heart", I wondered aloud how the album's change would affect his normally high-energy live shows. Sitting in a diner yesterday afternoon, I got a message from Brandon saying that he'd got passes for that night's show for me and my girlfriend. Having already bought a pair of tickets, we sent a few texts, and brought our friend Tim, who'd gone to the previous night's show in Northampton, MA, and my roommate Al.
Getting to the Upstate Concert Hall is a weird, weird trip. When you get off the Northway, you're met by a sea of strip malls and chain restaurants. And whatever Pioneer Bank is, there were like 3 branches in 2 miles or so. Keep going. Turn into the last strip mall. There's your venue. Way at the end, next to the church (which is also in the strip mall). They did their to unknowingly accomodate me, playing a bunch of Drag the River and Glossary tracks before the show got underway.
The entire ride over (or what I was awake of it for), Tim had been talking up the opening act, Minneapolis' Koo Koo Kanga Roo, and how strange of a live show they put on. I thought I was ready for it when they took the stage, but I definitely wasn't. The only way I can describe them is a mix of LMFAO, the Aquabats, and the children's TV show Yo Gabba Gabba (which is a product of the Aquabats' MC Bat Commander anyway), but seriously in the best way possible. What possessed Frank Turner to pick these two guys to open a national tour, I will never know, but damn do they know how to have fun. Their set consisted of a bunch of dancey, crowd-participation somewhat manditory rap songs and dances amongst other things, dinosaurs, unicorns, friendship bracelets, and what your favorite color is. The latter half of the set took place with them firmly in the middle of the dancing crowd, and ended with everyone partying under one of those giant multi-colored parachute things that you always loved from elementary school gym class. The best part of the entire set, though? The giant security guard who was next to the stage, often shaking his head, clearly not sure what the hell was happening.
The other opening act was Australia's own Smith Street Band. I'd been hearing a lot about how they've been absolutely killing it on this tour, and was really looking forward to see them for myself. As soon as they started bringing the guitars on stage, I knew we were good to go. A Jazzmaster, and an old Squier Jagmaster? Dudes, you get it! What wasn't got however, was at the soundboard. They had the frontman's vocals WAY too high in the mix, to the point that it almost drowned out the guitars, which is sad because they're both really talented players. The other thing I really liked about these guys is that they don't try and hide their accents when they sing, as some foreign bands will do. These dudes are clearly Australian. They look Australian, sound Australian, have Australian names like "Fitzy", and sure as hell better bobsled Australian. I don't want to say that I went solely to see the Smith Street Band, but they managed to exceed the hype I'd been hearing. Definitely worth checking out. I'm not sure if they have it recorded, but there was a bit during their set where the rest of the band went offstage, and the frontman (Lee, I believe?) took a few minutes to talk about how pumped he was that his parents were coming to the next show on tour in New York City, and then played a very touching song he'd written about his sister.
Finally, after standing through ten minutes of absolute hell (Frank Turner has a walk-out song now, and it's the entirely of Meat Loaf's "Bat Out Of Hell", easily my least favorite musician in the history of music), Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls took to the stage, with one extra Soul. Frank messed up his back over the summer, and was faced with two choices; cancel 6 months of touring, or don't play guitar. He's doled out a white shirt, slim fitting pants, and guitar duties to new boy Cahir O'Dohtery, and this might be for the better. Having seen him twice before, it's clear that sans-guitar, he's got way more freedom to move around stage, jump around, and dance, even with a bad back. This helped bring a lot of enthusiasm to the set, as did beefing up some of the newer songs. When I reviewed "Tape Deck Heart" and wondered how those songs were going to work with his live show, I was expecting them to be closer to the recorded versions. The band's counteracted this by bringing just a little bit more to everything. Some songs more than others. Perennial sing-along favorite "Long Live The Queen" got a really heavy, sped up treatment, and was fantastic. Even the slower songs they played, "Tell Tale Signs" and set-closer "Broken Piano" seemed beefed up. So a bit of advice, Frank. Even when the back's good and ready to go, keep Cahir around. You prancing about the stage and jumping into the crowd makes for way more of a fun time than you mostly stood around the mic stand, playing guitar.
And finally, to answer my question from April, yes. The slower songs on "Tape Deck Heart" work fine in a high-energy live set. They just had to be tweaked to fit the mold, and that was done perfectly.
Photos courtesy of Michelle McGrady Photography