Positive Songs For Negative People, the title of Frank Turner’s latest album, is a wonderful summation of his post-Million Dead career to date. Riddled with modest malcontent, calls to arms and frustrated angst, Turner’s music, lyrically, often amounts to a (sometimes heavily personalised) insistence that the world can do better, aligned with a suspicion that ‘better’ won’t actually come to fruition.
Malcontent – and more – has long been at the base of some of rock’s finer moments. While Turner can be more the kind of guitar-clutching miscreant who leans on a turn of phrase and a clever message than anything particularly punky, he does perform in a way that carries many of the hallmarks of the genre: his absolutely relentless energy and insistence on community and inclusiveness even in the course of a short show are instantly engaging.
Surprisingly, the Olympia is the largest venue Turner has ever played in Ireland. Having made his way to the level of the 12,500-capacity Wembley Arena and Reading Festival main stage slots in the UK, though, he feels larger than life here. Bouncing off the walls for the early moments, he whips his way through ‘I Knew Prufrock Before He Got Famous’, call to arms ‘I Still Believe’ and self-deprecating anthem ‘Try this At Home’.
There are plenty of playful antics. In ‘Ben vs. Larry’, Turner sets up the two halves of his audience in a dance off, before insisting they hug it out en masse later in the show. Two audience members – the kazoo twins (or the kazoo lovers, once it becomes clear they’re an item) – have brought along their buzzy instruments and hit the stage to play through ‘Hits and Mrs’. One audience member has flown over from an anonymous English town and met Frank before the show; he’s rewarded with a crowd surfing mission involving stop offs all around the front half of the venue.
And it’s all one big sing-along. ‘The Road’ is a loud rallying cry against staid sameness, roared from every corner, ably backed immediately with ‘If I Ever Stray’ and love-in to the rural south of England, ‘Wessex Boy’. Songs seem shorter live, performed at break net speed with a side of sweat and a glorious indifference to hitting every roared note. There’s a couple of big tracks missing – ‘Peggy Sang the Blues’ is a particularly notable absence – but with plenty of back chat and 24-tracks crammed into two hours, this doesn’t drag for a moment of its brazen length.
Turner’s always insisted that he’s not all that: a product of a scene that he’s part of, not fronting; just a guy who followed his passion and made something of it. It’s an easy ideal to buy into on a night life this; like he proclaims in ‘Balthazar Impresario’, “always take to the stage like it’s the last night of your life.” If you were told this was in fact Turner’s last show, it wouldn’t jar with the action on stage. Few enjoy themselves before an audience – and compelling the crowd to do so too – more convincingly.