The last time English singer-songwriter Frank Turner and has band, the Sleeping Souls, motored into South Florida, they were promoting their 2015 album Positive Songs for Positive People. Four years later, this title remains the most apt descriptor of Turner’s brand of optimistic punk, which in the hand of a lesser talent might sound like a watery contradiction.
But Turner’s relentlessly upbeat persona—buoyed by the genuine belief that, as one of his most enduring hits declares, “rock and roll can save us all”—has helped grow a dedicated fan base straddling the punk and folk worlds, and spanning from high schoolers and forty-somethings.
His ability to soothe a motley contingent of anxious souls with rousing campfire sing-alongs was on vivid display once again at last night’s one-off concert at Culture Room, a preamble to his handful of gigs this weekend for the lucky bastards onboard Flogging Molly’s Salty Dog Cruise. Turner had just finished a sit-down acoustic tour to promote his latest album, the high-concept No Man’s Land, and the bandleader appeared invigorated to once again be fronting a rock show.
From the furnace-blast opening of “Get Better” through the stumbling-waltz encore of “Four Simple Words,” Turner captivated the packed house for what he announced early on was “show 2,420.” This was a crowd full of bottled-up excitement primed to uncork, and by the end of the third selection—the early cut “Long Live the Queen,” played with an epic sense of grandeur—I was considerably drenched in sweat.
Turner brings to his live gigs a televangelist’s charisma that could nearly rouse the dead. When he asked us to pogo, during the chorus of “Polaroid Picture,” we pogoed. When he implored us to start a circle pit, during “Photosynthesis,” we circle-pitted. His commands were irresistible, in part because he was right there with us, breaking down barriers between performer and fan, climbing into the audience at one point, crowd-surfing atop us at another. As long we obeyed his two stated rules for the evening—“Don’t be an asshole,” and “if you know any of the words, you’ve got to sing along”—everything was fair game.
Though raucous punk numbers carried the night, a solo acoustic reprieve of “St. Christopher is Coming Home” and “There She Is”—a song about Turner’s now-wife, who flew in for the performance and the cruise—added texture, sweetness and a welcome sentimentality to the set. Turner transitioned these lovely tunes into the belt-y fan-favorite “The Ballad of Me and My Friends” before bringing the Sleeping Souls back to close out the show.
What was noticeably absent from the set was a single composition from No Man’s Land, Turner’s 2019 album celebrating the lives and legacies of underappreciated women in history. Though he played a small set of No Man’s Land tunes at his Radio-Active Records in-store earlier Thursday, the ballad- and folk-heavy album couldn’t seem to find purchase among the older, louder cuts. I for one didn’t miss them, and I suspect the same could be said for the roomful of sweaty and satisfied Frank Turner devotees.
Long Live the Queen
If Ever I Stray
Out of Breath
Plain Sailing Weather
I Am Disappeared
St. Christopher is Coming Home
There She Is
The Ballad of Me and My Friends
Be More Kind
The Way I Tend to Be
The Next Storm
Try This at Home
I Still Believe
Four Simple Words (partial)