‘Musical Maxisms’ Column: Review of Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls at Irving Plaza


Some people will tell you it’s not smart to have high expectations because you’re likely setting yourself up for disappointment. However, when I purchased my tickets to see Frank Turner at Irving Plaza on Sept. 29, there was no way I was able to bottle up my unadulterated excitement.

Max Rosenbaum

Max Rosenbaum

I first discovered Turner when I was preparing to go to Bamboozle, a music festival, in 2011. I was a freshman in high school and was finally moving out of my listening to the worst top 40 phase. In the hopes to have more of a sense of the artists attending the festival, I looked up almost every band on the lineup. Of all of the music I sifted through, Turner stood out to a couple of my friends and I. For whatever reason, I ended up missing Turner’s set at Bamboozle that day — which remains one of my biggest regrets. So, when I saw that he was touring within a 40-mile radius of Lehigh, I jumped at the opportunity.

As if the experience couldn’t be better, Irving Plaza is — hands down — the best place to see a show. I first saw Green Day play there in 2012, and immediately fell in love with the venue. It’s small, but not too small. The sound quality is sublime. It’s an intimate setting, and you get up close and personal with the artist in a way you couldn’t conceive as possible.

From the moment the first opener walked onto the stage, it was confirmed that this was going to be a beautifully unusual night. Beans on Toast, the one man, travel-sized guitar playing artist was unlike any act I’ve ever witnessed before. His setlist included oddities such as “F**K You Nashville” and “The Chicken Song” — in which he made the entire crowd cluck like a chicken. Beans also performed a song called “Harry in a Helicopter,” which was about Prince Harry’s comment on how being in the army was like playing a video game. His set was not only a musical performance, but it was also a political, sacrilegious comedy show. I couldn’t have been more pleasantly surprised.

When Turner finally came out at about 9:25 p.m., the crowd burst out chanting — with both women and men in tears, myself included. His only two rules for the evening? “Be nice to each other and if you know the words, sing along!”

His 27 song long setlist was an infusion of expected songs off of his 2015 release “Positive Songs for Negative People,” such as “The Next Storm.” He played crowd favorites that the entire audience knew and sang verbatim, like “Recovery.” Also, to the surprise of his die-hard fans, Turner performed a handful of unexpected songs that he “hasn’t played in forever,” such as “Worse Things Happen at Sea.”

Turner and his band, The Sleeping Souls, had incredible showmanship. Frank would pour his soul out into each song, dancing around and jumping off of the drum set. You felt his heartbreak as he sang about feeling nostalgic about an ex in “The Way I Tend To Be.” His pain was tangible while crying through “Song for Josh” — a song about his friend committing suicide. There were no lulls or breaks at any point during the show. He was so drenched in sweat that you could vividly see his tattoos seeping through his white button down shirt. The energy of the concert was palpable, even during the slower numbers. For the first time in my lengthy concert attending career, I witnessed crowd surfers flopping their bodies over outreached hands during more folky songs like “If Ever I Stray.”

Two highlights of the night stuck out as not only extraordinary, but as moments that challenged the typical artist-fan interaction. Turner relates with his fans in a personal, unique and poignant style. First, during “Photosynthesis,” Turner broke at the refrain and instructed the person crowd, which was over 900 people, to crouch down on the floor. Then, he told the audience that once the song picked up again, he wanted them to jump up and belt out the noteworthy lyrics, “I won’t sit down/ I won’t shut up/ Most of all I will not grow up.” And, with surprising precision, the crowd bolted up and sang each word without skipping a beat.

My personal favorite moment had to be during the final anthem of his four-song encore. While singing the chorus of Four Simple Words, Turner ascended onto the speaker to the left of the stage. From the speaker, he leaped onto the balcony and let go, falling into the crowd. The shocked audience carried him while he belted out. I got to hold his leg, and it was possibly the most perfect nine seconds of my life.

As for my expectations for the show — Frank Turner and The Sleeping Souls put on a performance that surpassed every expectation. I surely won’t be waiting another five years to see them play again.


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