The first time I saw Frank Turner, he was a co-opener (Lucero was the other opener) for Social Distortion at Roseland. I really enjoyed Turner’s set – his energy and charisma are catching. It’s funny – I remember his set as solo acoustic but when I went back to read my review I wrote that he was playing with his band. I bought tickets for him the next time he was in town but that was when I had walking pneumonia (and didn’t know it) and was too exhausted to leave the house. But I did get to see him again when he played three sold-out nights at Irving Plaza. So, when it was announced that Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls would be touring with Lucero, I was there.
I have been to the PlayStation Theater in two of its previous incarnations. The theater does not change – just the name. Depending on the artist, the floor has seats, then there’s a raised area in front of the soundboard, which can also have seats, and behind the soundboard is a section with bleacher seating. For this sold-out show there were no seats but some people did sit in the bleachers. When I got there, all the spots in front of the stage were taken but some spots at the railing on the upper section were open and I took one of those. It was actually a better spot because you could see the band, sound was terrific, and you could watch the audience (which is something that will be relevant later).
Lucero’s Roy Berry’s (drummer) photograph:
Turner’s new album, Be Kind, has a lot of great songs on it and I was looking forward to hearing it. Also, I knew that Lucero would be playing their new album, Among the Ghosts, from start to finish because Ben Nichols (singer/guitar) because he had posted about it on Instagram.
“Great first night with Frank Turner. I’ve decided on this run we are just gonna play the new record,in order. It’s called Among the Ghosts and it comes out August 3. So I know it’s asking a lot. Nine new songs (we are saving one for a surprise) and maybe one old one. That’s gonna be the set on this tour. So. You’ve been warned. That’s what we are doing for the next month. I really like the new songs and they are fun to play. Most folks in the crowd have no idea who we are anyway. So it doesn’t matter to them. For the folks that do know us… thank you for letting us play the new album. In the Fall we’ll do a little bit of everything. But for now it’s all Among the Ghosts. Album photos by @michaelnfoster and the photography is amazing.”
While I was waiting for the first act, I took a look at the t-shirts – Flogging Molly, The Hold Steady, Skinny Lister, Jawbreaker, Ke$ha, The Interrupters, The Menzingers (who were also playing on most of the tour but not in NYC), Gaslight Anthem, Rage Against the Machine, Murder by Death, Blink-182.
The Homeless Gospel Choir (aka Derek Zanetti) is the most freaking adorable artist I have ever seen. Zanetti picked up his acoustic guitar and was thrilled that it was still in tune. Between his songs, he told stories – most about how punk music saved his life. His stories were funny, even if the mostly political songs were not. Every song was introduced with a quiet, “This is a protest song,” which was funny and sweet at the same time. Later, when I was looking at the merch tables – Zanetti was selling his own homemade stuff with prices written on a piece of cardboard – one t-shirt said, “This is a Protest Song.” He seems shy and bold all at once. It was loud fast punk music on an acoustic guitar from a 35-year-old from Pittsburgh. He told us that his latest album, Normal, was written for a puppet show about a guy from Pittsburgh born in 1983, who is short, chubby, and has beautiful blue eyes, and he smiled and batted his blue eyes. There were anti-Trump songs and anti-big pharma songs. A song about musical preferences. And sometimes you tell people about the craziness in your head and they shove drugs down your throat and you cannot write songs for a year and a half and you try to jump off the Clarendon Bridge and you write a protest song about Pittsburgh called “Seasonal Depression,” in which not everything is true. A friend gave Zanetti a Green Day tape and that changed his life. For “Normal” (“you’re never gonna be normal ‘cause you’re a punk”) he added a line about the Dead Kennedys for the older people in the crowd. (Yay!) Zanetti is truly sincere – he meets lots of kids around the world who are criticized on the internet and think that is all there is. But write a punk song and you will find that something as simple as music can make a huge difference. It’s okay if you like any music (he names artists/bands of different genres and then all the different types of metal) except if you don’t love Queen – then he can’t trust you. The crowd (not a full house for his set) was quiet and respectful and very into Zanetti. I cannot wait until he returns to NYC.
For Lucero, the crowd was noisier. There were those of us who were there for the band and others who were waiting for Turner. Ben introduced the album by telling us that most of the songs were about missing his family. Before “Cover Me,” Ben said that the way that Derek feels about Dookie is the same way he feels about Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, which is what the song is about.
Looking up, I saw Oliver Peck in the VIP balcony.
Ben said that it was crazy to play an entire album no one ever heard of – even in front of a Lucero crowd would be nuts. He thought it was a good idea and put it on Instagram and now he had to do it. They did skip one song – he said it was difficult to play live. Before “Loving,” Ben talked about his brother making movies (he named all of them) and someone yelled out “Raising Hell” and Ben answered that that’s the other brother, who is a criminal defense attorney in Austin. Jeff (Nichols) is just kicking butt.
I like the new songs – I was familiar with some from having heard them at other shows – but all together I think it’s a great album. Ben announced “Slow Dancing” as the one old song but then someone from the audience passed him a shot along with a request and Ben, being susceptible to bribery, played “Nights Like These.” John C Stubblefield (electric bass) is one of the rocks that the band stands on. Rick Steff’s (keyboards) pretty melodies smooth off the rough edges. Roy provides the rhythm that seems deceivingly simple but is more complex than you think. Brian Venable (guitar) is the other rock from which all the songs have that distinct Lucero sound. Ben’s lyrics and vocals are as heartfelt as ever.
Among the Ghosts
Bottom of the Sea
Everything Has Changed
Always Been You
To My Dearest Wife
Long Way Back Home
For the Lonely Ones
Nights Like These
The Sleeping Souls (Ben Lloyd – guitar/electric mandolin/vocals; Tarrant Anderson – electric bass; Matt Nasir – keyboards/mandolin/vocals; Nigel Powell – drums/percussion/vocals) came out to big applause and then Turner runs out on stage, guitar in hand, and the crowd went crazy as the band played “1933” from the new album (“The world outside is burning with a brand new light/But it isn’t one that makes me feel warm/Don’t go mistaking your house burning down for the dawn”). The song, like others on the album, are political high punk energy but with a pop sensibility. In other words, the songs aren’t as angry as the songs you associate with punk. Turner repeated his two rules – don’t be an asshole, which means don’t let your fun interfere with the fun of those around you and if you know the words, sing along.
Turner never stops moving. He’s constantly running and jumping. Frequently jumping on the two apple boxes on either side of him. He does not need them – he’s tall – so I guess they are there for emphasis. His charisma is incredible. He talked about the opening acts (“Lucero is why I play and I have them on my arm” – his Lucero star tattoo). “The Way I Tend to Be” is about Ben and Turner stuck in an elevator and drawing lots as to who was going to eat whom.
The only places in the US that Turner has not toured are South Dakota, Wyoming, and Hawaii (“there’s a fucking tour”), so even though he is an Englishman, he felt he could comment on our country with songs like “Make American Great Again” (“by making racists ashamed again”). The audience knew the words to all the songs – both old and new.
Turner did a solo set on acoustic guitar that included “Long Live the Queen,” which is a song about loss. His uncle (his father’s twin) had died that day and the song was dedicated to him (“we live to dance another day/it’s just now we have to dance for one more of us”).
The audience is encouraged to clap and sing and yell along and comparisons were made with other cities. For some reason, Pittsburgh always elicits boos, even in Columbus, who does not boo for anyone. Before our night, Philadelphia was in first place in terms of audience participation. There was a small mosh pit and Turner asked them to make a big hole and the mosh pit grew bigger and Turner again asked for no one to be an asshole. One person crowd-surfed to the front and Turner asked that during one of the songs, when he said, “1-2-3-4,” all the people who never crowd-surf – the small guys and the women – should all start surfing. I’ve never seen so many women crowd-surfing and doing so safely – no one was an asshole as much as I could tell. There was no grabbing or idiocy. A Frank Turner audience is one where women are safe.
The last song of the set was a crowd favorite “Photosynthesis” (even more favorite than all the other favorites). For the encore, they played the first song from the new album, “Don’t Worry” and then “I Still Believe” (“Now who’d have thought that after all/something as simple as rock ‘n’ roll would save us all”), which is a perfect lyric for Zanetti and he ran out and played a harmonica solo in the song. Turner was bent towards him and I could not quite make out if he was whispering in his ear or kissing his cheek. Turner crowd-surfed into the audience to dance with a woman during “Four Simple Words” (“I want to dance”) and then crowd-surfed back to the stage. He asked us all to put our arms around each other (the floor audience did – those of us above them did not) and it was amazing to see the crowded floor swaying together to “Polaroid Picture” (“hold close to the ones that you love/because we won’t all be here this time next year/so while you can take a picture of us”). The entire encore was like a micro-version of the entire show with the energy and emotions that the band gave us and that we gave back. If you only saw the encore, it would have been like you had seen the show.
Turner also thanked both the road crew and the theater crew several times. The band was dressed in white long-sleeved shirts and black pants. Lloyd and Nasir wore a suit jacket and Turner wore a black skinny tie.
By Carene Lydia Lopez