Frank Turner has made a name for himself by playing small venues around the clock and around the globe. His solo tour lands him at Dublin’s Whelan’s, but this time he’s come with more baggage than before. He’s now played at the Olympic opening ceremony in London, headlined the Wembley Arena and finally found his way into critics’ good graces, despite his Eaton background and affection for protest songs laced with social comment. Their verdict is unilateral; he’s going places. Only they forget that he’s already been everywhere, and then some. So when he takes the stage, he’s still a scrawny troubadour—one of us.
Turner blares his lyrics with insistent, impatient ferocity that also channels your own angst. His songs, although heart-wrenching, don’t offer much leeway for individual interpretation: The Real Damage, Reasons Not to Be an Idiot and Substitute, are specific, detailed, and to the point. Yet you still manage to learn a lot through them, both about the singer, as well as yourself. It shouldn’t work, but it plays in his hand perfectly. His enthusiasm runs high in the anthem-like songs: I Am Disappeared, The Road and I Still Believe, but they’re not overbearing and, most importantly, Turner really cares about making every single person (even the one dragged in by their unwilling partner) have a good night. He’ll tell you a story—like the one about his friend’s plan to seduce Kylie Minogue—answer heckles from the audience, teach you the chorus, so that no one in the audience has an excuse not to participate, then finishes off with his signature song, Photosynthesis.
Yes, the list of his achievements is astounding, as is the number of days he spends on tour. But on stage, he’s just a man with a few stories to tell. And yes, they are stories. Turner is famous (or is it notorious) for his resistance to mainstream abstractions in his lyrics. Others say that his lyrics are so easy to memorize because the narrative leads you from one verse to the other. This might help explain why the audience (although, obviously familiar with the material and the artist alike) is so reluctant to dance. The place is packed, the atmosphere is steaming but the people lay back and let the words overwhelm them.