O2 Academy Sheffield // Tuesday, April 24
Before I start this review, I need to make a confession. Last Tuesday was my first ever experience of seeing Frank Turner live. And it gets worse. Until late 2016, I had never listened to a Frank Turner song. I know.
I may have been woefully late to the Frank Turner party, but I like to think of our first encounter as something more serendipitous. Like many, I seek solace in music, and my foray into Frank coincided with one of the most trying times of my life.
I was feeling pretty lost, but there was something about his optimistic brand of heartfelt punk rock that really resonated with what was going in my life. Without oversharing, his songs became my therapy, helping me to gain perspective and focus on what really mattered.
When a gig is loaded with such emotional expectations, it’s almost destined to disappoint. But if I had any apprehensions, Frank shattered them instantly. It’s been just over a week, but I’m still struggling to put into words just what this gig meant to me.
I’ll get to Mr Turner shortly, but first I need to talk about the support acts. I only managed to catch the last couple of songs from THE HOMELESS GOSPEL CHOIR, but that was enough. It’s not often you find yourself singing every word of the chorus to a song you’d never heard three minutes earlier, but such is the power of THGC.
Because when a self-labelled protest singer dressed in a glorious flamboyant suits passionately sings life-affirming songs about mental illness containing celebratory lyrics such as “you’re never going to be normal”, you sing that shit back.
Next up were ARKELLS. Now, I know this is a bold statement, but I’m calling it – best support band I have EVER seen. Seriously. I don’t know if it was their tantalising melting pot of rock ‘n’ soul, their joyful lyrics about life and love, or their frontman’s irrepressible energy, but they were bloody awesome. Just do me a favour and check them out.
And then it was time for the main man. Arriving on stage to a cacophony of cheers, he laid down two ground rules for the show:
- Be nice to each other.
- If you know the words, SING.
What followed was a gig that blurred the boundaries between performer and audience. There’s no denying that Frank is a formidable frontman, but his performance was undoubtedly elevated by his audience. The usual sea of phone screens was noticeably absent, ousted by a heartening sense of presence. Because this wasn’t a gig to watch through a shaky screen; it was a gig to experience.
For nearly two hours, he played his way through an impressive 23-strong setlist that spanned his 13-year career. From the hopeless optimism of Make America Great Again to the cheeky charm of Reasons Not To Be An Idiot, songs new and old were met by the same ferocious reception.
We danced to Four Simple Words, watched circle pits swirl during Out Of Breath and dutifully rose from the floor during Photosynthesis as we shouted in solidarity: “I won’t sit down. I won’t shut up. And most of all, I will not grow up.” Quite.
But best of all, there were my songs; the songs that have been there for me like a good friend with a bottle of wine and a much-needed dose of tough love. Except this time, the wine became champagne and the tough love became triumph.
As I relished the spine-tingling intensity of these lyrics echoing around me, they took on a new meaning. The despair I associated with them evaporated, making way for renewed positivity, purpose and hope.
I’ve struggled to put into words just what this gig meant to me, so I’m turning to the three that have stuck with me the most: Be more kind.
It sounds so simple, doesn’t it? But in a world that seems to be getting more batshit crazy by the second, living your life by these three simple words feels more important than ever before. Whether it’s to friends and family, to strangers, or to yourself.
Because we’re not dead yet.