Time was, leading a Dublin crowd in a cheery sing-a-long of “There is no God” would have resulted in widespread condemnation and public order offences, but these are different days. These are shanty songs for disaffected children of all ages and Frank Turner, at long last, knows his audience like the back of his hand. Though he takes the time to note, in that only-half-joking way of his, that people have been offering hearty congratulations in the direction of ‘debut’ album Tape Deck Heart (his fifth), Turner is very much preaching to the converted tonight. Case in point; set opener ‘Four Simple Words’, a song nary a few months old, is roared back by the faithful come chorus time.
It’s a smart beginning, the refrain of “I want to dance” accordingly met by the majority, not least backing band the Sleeping Souls, who, clad in white shirts like accountants on their night off, throw themselves about like they’re in a Dillinger Escape Plan tribute act. Note to the bassist: that one move where you act confused by your own instrument? Yeah, drop that.
There are bigger issues than dodgy shape-throwing, though. The Sleeping Souls bring verve, energy and admirable skill, but they also add a large amount of gloss and polish to an artist that works better without it. Million Dead is long in the grave and those who keep wishing for a return to such a style continue to miss the point in a most depressing way, but Turner is a man of conviction and raw confession, his musings more suited to a battered acoustic guitar and lone spotlight.
Alas, he’s not the maudlin type and though his songs are laced with barbs aimed outwards and inwards, Turner understands the release offered by live music and the community it can form for an hour or two. Tape Deck Heart, his biggest hit to date, features heavily. It stands as validation for all the years of graft, the sleepless nights, the weird accusations of “selling out”, the political bullshit, the kicking and screaming. And yet, despite the hero worship from those gathered, these new cuts barely graze, the bright lights of the evening sometimes exposing too much. ‘The Way I Tend to Be’ is nice but extremely basic, not terribly far away from the safety of a Mumford & Sons set. ‘Plain Sailing Weather’ comes with a typically self-deprecating precursor about having it all but “fucking it up anyway” and, again is just there. ‘Tell Tale Signs’ sees Turner mostly fly solo. Stripped down and earnest, the presentation is pretty, but it’s hard not to see a 31-year-old man awkwardly take on the mantle of his much younger self.
This is Turner’s third time in Dublin in the past six months. It’s show #1394, as we’re informed prior to a spirited rendition of ‘Peggy Sang the Blues’. It’s a strange time for him. He’s unlikely to sell out a stadium, but he wasn’t exactly out of place at the Olympics. He’s hardcore at heart but clearly applying more accessibility to his work. ‘Glory Hallelujah’ and its atheist shout-out works largely because of the die-hards, as does so much on display here. It’s tough to know whether Turner can marry his past and his present in the future, but tonight isn’t about that.
“I’ve had a really shit day today, and you guys have reminded me not to bury myself in my troubles”, he announces before ‘I Knew Prufrock Before He Got Famous’ glides over all, no time to really consider that burying himself in his troubles is the Frank Turner Way and that he’ll do this all again tomorrow and the next day and the day that follows that. It’s a knowing line that tells you everything you need to know about Frank Turner, if you’re willing to listen. The song holds secrets too; the bittersweet sting in the tail delivered with the right amount of resignation, the broad smile across the face of the man behind it more curious than ever before.
Main image by Paulo Goncalves. More images from Frank Turner’s gig at the Academy can be found here.