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.