Frank Turner is a Wessex boy, but when he’s in Boston, he’s home.
The lanky Englishman, currently on the road for his Be More Kind world tour, kicked off a week-long mini-residency at Royale this past Tuesday night (June 26). He spared no energy while spreading the love, tearing through a catalog-spanning setlist that had everyone singing along with vigor until the houselights came on.
With a guitar in hand and a message in mind, Turner showed the capacity crowd at the Theatre District nightclub that even in these sketchy and uncertain times, you can still have a killer rock show while spreading a message of social awareness and understanding. To help him embolden that message for the maiden voyage of this string of shows, the folk singer-songwriter enlisted rising Massachusetts-born “snack rock” faves Speedy Ortiz and longtime friend Derek Zanetti of The Homeless Gospel Choir to get the night started — and judging by the laughs shared and lyrics screamed, the openers certainly did not disappoint.
Dawned in Crocs and a fanny pack brandishing his artistic pseudonym, a bespectacled Zanetti took the stage to a wave of applause before getting right to work, proclaiming “This is a protest song, and it goes out to our piece of shit president!”
The crowd went wild as the Pittsburgh native screamed out the message of solidarity, riffing into “With God On Our Side,” a track which points out the hypocrisy in America’s use of religion to justify their approach to handling power.
While he strummed away on his acoustic guitar, encouraging the crowd to “feel free to be yourself here tonight”, the sold-out audience grew increasingly receptive with every statement of positivity and inclusion made by Zanetti, and as he dug deeper into his short set, sharing his quirky stage presence and humor with the crowd, the applause only grew louder. Before cranking out arguably his most well-known tune, “Normal,” to end his night, as well as his national run with Turner, Zanetti took the last free moment of his stage time to share a little bit of a backstory of the song, and just how integral a friend giving him a cassette of Green Day’s Dookie was to helping him discover his potential as a musician, and ultimately saving his life: “It wasn’t about Green Day, and it wasn’t about punk rock. It wasn’t about weird haircuts or listening to the Ramones. It was about someone doing a radical act of kindness when I needed it most, and I really do think this world could use a lot of that right now.”
As his closing number drew to a close, Zanetti let his guitar ring out as he planted his feet at the edge of the stage, away from the microphone, and relished in the crowd’s chant of the final chorus. The vibe in the room was palpable, and the night wasn’t even close to being over.
Speedy Ortiz reciprocated their rumbling welcome with a few rumbles of their own, as the hometown quartet brought their spacey sound in heavy doses, and even a tad “trippy” at times, with a selection of what were evidently fan favorites. Garnering a different reaction from the crowd than Zanetti, more and more of the eclectic gathering of punks, hipsters, and a significant amount of dads began to bob their heads as frontwoman Sadie Dupuis’ soaring vocals burst out over the hard, thunderous drumming of Mike Falcone.
Shelling out tracks like “Buck Me Off,” “Lucky 88,” “Plough,” and “Villain,” among a handful of others, Dupuis filled in the gaps with appreciation for the crowd, as well as Turner for inviting them to play the gig, and even took some time to hype the Islamic Relief Fund, a charitable cause they’ve donated to throughout their own tour this summer.
Both of the first two sets were chalk full of social and political messages, and they’d certainly not be in short supply once the man of the hour came to join the party with his gang of musical cohorts. Anticipation swelled to the point of eruption as Turner’s backing live band, The Sleeping Souls, took to the stage, with their tattooed leader just a few steps behind.
Exhibiting nothing short of a child-like energy, Frank Turner sprinted off the stairs at stage left to dive face-first into the hard-driving “1933,” from most recent studio effort Be More Kind. Hopscotching his way around the stage, Turner beseeched the crowd to sing along, but they had already beat him to it.
The tone was already set for show #2202 before the bearded folk punk rattled off rousing renditions of “Get Better” and “The Next Storm,” but Turner wanted to lay down some ground rules before continuing on any further. “There are two rules that need to be followed tonight,” he warned. “One, don’t be an asshole. And two, if you know the words to these songs, sing along!”
As Turner strummed the opening chord of “Recovery,” a blaring sing-along nearly drowned him out, but he only fed off the energy that radiated off the elevated dance floor, creating a perfect storm of impenetrable punk power that would continue to drive the 23-song set deep into the night.
Without even the slightest sign of exhaustion, Turner proceeded to run, jump, and scream his way through a handful of new tracks, deep cuts and fan favorites alike, including “The Way I Tend To Be,” “I Knew Prufrock Before He Got Famous,” and “I Am Disappeared” to name a few. Leading up to “If Ever I Stray,” things were in full swing, but after Turner brought a willing participant to center stage, he sent it into total party mode, as the man was crowd-surfed from the barricade to the bar, where he picked up two shots of tequila, and was surfed back up front, returning them to the stage, and toasting the crowd with Turner.
Arguably the loudest roar of pandemonium came as it was Turner’s chance to shed some light on the current happenings in America, but before he launched into “Make America Great Again,” he wanted to clarify the song’s message a little bit: “This next song isn’t just about America, because I think racists should ashamed everywhere they fucking go. Don’t you?”
The Sleeping Souls, comprised of guitarist Ben Lloyd, drummer Nigel Powell, bassist Tarrant Anderson, and keyboardist Matt Nasir, certainly earned a break from the action, as their collective musical intensity only added to the already electric vibe throughout the increasingly sweaty evening. So Turner took the reigns with his acoustic guitar for a bit, and turned it into a storytime of sorts, discussing his athletic ineptitude in every sport but tennis, which was a perfect segue into an acoustic rendition of the normally higher-energy “Love Forty Down.”
With the end of the gig in sight, Turner made sure he got up close and personal with the passionate fans that packed the club to see him, as he scaled the barricade during “Blackout” and “Out of Breath” before making a quick, temporary exit following “Photosynthesis.”
At one point, Turner exclaimed that “punk rock should be a conversation between equals,” and while he may be one of the most well-respected acts in the punk scene today, he certainly practiced what he preached on Tuesday night, as he powered through each and every visible grimace to deliver the best possible rock show he could muster.
Following an invigorating performance of “I Still Believe,” Turner cranked it to ten as he rode the manic drum roll intro of “Four Simple Words” right over the barricade, as he transformed from punk royalty to the crowd-surfing kid that just wanted his own space to let loose to the music he loved. With a significant power move, Turner signaled the end of the night with a real grade-A tear jerker in “Polaroid Picture,” playing maestro to a still-energetic room as he pushed the mic aside to finish out the final chorus with the crowd.
With a final bow and roughly a half-dozen “thank you’s”, Turner and co. made their exit.
It’s clear that Frank Turner still believes that rock and roll can save us all, at least for four hours on a weeknight — and on Tuesday at Royale, he proved himself to be right.
Photos by Jason Greenough for Vanyaland; follow him on Twitter @dadbodvanilla.