August 25, 2013

The Frank Turner arena tour and the changing nature of a live show

So today Frank Turner announced a UK tour. Of arena venues. And despite being my favourite act to see live over the past five years, I find myself not being not desperately excited about getting tickets. But bear with me, this isn’t a venue-size/popularity thing. There’s something more going on that I’m trying to figure out.

It started at the last Frank Turner gig I went to, when for the first time in about ten gigs, a mosh-pit formed, right in front of me. Which is fine. Not my sort of thing – I like a bit of a dance but throwing myself into other people doesn’t really do it for me. It’s also a bit annoying when it forms right in front of you as you can’t ignore it (without risking becoming part of it) but you can just move. You get a worse view maybe but it’s not my place to tell people how they should be enjoying the music they all paid to come and see too. Hell, I was one of the annoying kids jumping around to James in 2001 while the fans from 1991 looked on mildly perturbed.

But then, towards the end of the set, he played I Knew Prufrock Before He Got Famous, for the fans who had been with him for a long time. And I realised something interesting: you can’t mosh to Prufrock.

The first time I saw Frank live, he spent as much time on stage playing solo as he did with a band. As the shows have gotten bigger that’s mostly vanished and the band and setlist louder and rockier. And less of something I want to see.

Now I’m happy for artists to change and evolve, and I don’t expect or even want them to cater for me at the expense of doing what they want to do. But one does get a feeling of losing something. Had my last Frank Turner show been my first, I probably wouldn’t have gone back. I’d have accepted it as “not really for me” and moved on. But when you’ve enjoyed it previously and seen it change, you feel your missing out a bit. Ironic in the case of Frank Turner as I’m sure there’s a ton of Million Dead fans that felt let down when he first picked up an acoustic guitar.

But what I do wonder is how much of this change is down to Frank, and how much is down to a perceived necessity to do things this way in order to play larger venues and to cater to a crowd that want to mosh themselves silly. Indeed, the latest album, Tape Deck Heart, is possibly the slowest and most restrained album yet. Which is perhaps why only two or three songs from it have been regularly making the live setlist.

This isn’t a solo versus band thing either. The full band versions of St. Christopher is Coming Home, Journey of the Magi and Father’s Day are hauntingly beautiful in a way that can’t be done solo, but generally absent from the set in favour of the faster, rockier numbers. And even within the same songs, the live arrangements are getting less and less on the folk end of the scale and moving further to the punk/rock end.

I’m trying very hard not to sound like too much of a cock in writing this, as I’m very aware it could easily be seen as just whining that an artist isn’t do what I want him to do.

But my point is more that there’s been a fundamental change in how Frank performs live as he’s moved to larger venues, and that’s why I might give the next tour a pass. He’s still one of my favourite singer-songwriters ever, and I’ll continue to get very excited about new album launches and so on, but perhaps the live show just isn’t for me any more. Or perhaps I’m just getting old.

- One comment Not publicly viewable

  1. Dan

    Interesting thoughts on the whole situation. There are a few things you’ve written that I can relate to.
    I can’t claim to have been a fan of Franks since the begining but I’ve been going to see him regularly for the last few years and I can certainly see how things are changing a little.

    I first saw Frank opening up solo for The Gaslight Anthem in Bristol a few years back. I didn’t know any of his songs. My friend that I went with was there to see Frank and I was there for GA. It’s been a long time since an (unknown to me) opening band/artist blew me away but Frank certainly did that & from that moment on I was a fan.

    In the years since then I’ve seen him probably 10 or 12 times either solo or full band & never been disappointed. Personally, I still prefer him solo. Those are the shows I’ve enjoyed the most but I think it’s fair to say that solo tours are now likely to be in the minority given that his popularity is ever increasing.

    From the gigs I’ve seen, it is those solo acoustic shows that tend to offer the most variety in terms of setlist. Invariably those gigs have been in smaller venues and maybe the pressure is ‘off’ a bit, and the whole thing is a bit more relaxed? I do tend to find that with the full band shows these days you know what the setlist will be and if you were contemplating doing back to back or multi nights on a tour then you won’t see a much different set night to night.

    I would think that whatever he’s doing show wise these days then the changes are down to Frank and not being introduced out of some misguided thoughts of thats how it ‘Should’ be done. He looks to me like he’s enjoying every minute of it up there.

    I’ve never met him & I’ve got no desire to meet him, but from what I can see he has a fair amount of respect from his peers – the likes of Chuck Ragan, Tim Barry, Jon Snodgrass, Fat Mike, Brian Fallon etc all seem complimentary towards him and what he’s doing. If Frank is from/influenced by this type of scene then I would doubt he’s doing anything out of necessity.

    I can relate to you wanting to skip this tour. I did the same with the Wembley gig. I didn’t see the need to go to an arena show at that point since I knew smaller FT shows would soon be on the horizon. And they were. But, times change and it seems more of those smaller shows are going to be few and far between.

    Since the music is the overriding factor, I’m happy to take it when and where it presents itself as far as FT is concerned these days. There aren’t many bands I’d make an effort to see in an arena (a handfull at best) but now the time has come I’m happy to add FT to the list.

    Apologies if these seems a bit of a ramble!

    28 Aug 2013, 21:49

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