Concert Review: Frank Turner at the House of Blues and Newbury Comics in Boston

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Beans on Toast, photo by Samlin Miller

The last weekend of September 2015 was unforgettable for Frank Turner fans in Boston, as he and his band, the Sleeping Souls, played two sold out shows in a row at the Boston House of Blues. Turner also performed a solo acoustic set at the Newbury Comics in Harvard Square on Saturday afternoon. That’s right-three Boston shows in just two days. The current tour lineup has been referred to by fans as the “Xtra Mile Party Tour”, as Turner and the Souls promote their new album, Positive Songs for Negative People, with support from Xtra Mile Recordings label-mates Beans on Toast and Skinny Lister.

The Friday night performance kicked off with a bang, with Beans on Toast and his simple acoustic guitar warming up the crowd with some “drunk folk” songs. Despite being the first support, Beans was greeted with a welcoming crowd, eager to participate in a call and response portion of the song “Fuck You Nashville” and singing along to “Charlie” in their best “reggae” voices.

Upon leaving the stage, Beans on Toast assured the audience that Skinny Lister would get them nice and rowdy, and he certainly wasn’t wrong. Their unique “shanty punk” style got the crowd dancing and shouting along right from the first song, “Raise a Wreck”. Beans returned to the stage to duet with Lorna Thomas (vocals) on “What Can I Say?” and the band closed with “Forty Pound Wedding”, a song written by Max (mandolin/vocals) and Lorna Thomas’ father, “Party George”.

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Skinny Lister, photo by Samlin Miller

Turner and the Sleeping Souls took to the stage with “Get Better”, with Turner opting for a new electric guitar instead of his usual acoustic. As always, crowd participation was of utmost importance, with sing-alongs for ”I Still Believe” and clapping during “Glory Hallelujah”. At one point, however, the crowd got a little too excited, and the music stopped halfway through “The Road” as security broke up a fight in the crowd. Turner expressed his disappointment, and said that people who fight had no place at his shows. The band didn’t let that get them down, however, and they were on top of things for the rest of the night. The musicians’ cheer showed, as they goofed around on stage together and Frank assured the audience that he’d be holding a birthday party with cake and a magician in Boston come December. A particular highlight of the set was the performance of “To Absent Friends”, a song Turner had never played live before, and had been requested in an email a few months prior.

Saturday started bright and early, with fans lining up for hours before Newbury Comics even opened to get wristbands for the in-store performance. Turner played one song from each of his studio albums, in reverse order, and while the Sleeping Souls were not at this particular show, the crowd made up for their absence by providing backing vocals and hand-clap percussion during the short performance.

Saturday evening’s House of Blues show started early, and with many still traversing over from Newbury Comics, there weren’t as many fans present for Beans on Toast’s performance as there were on Friday. Since Beans doesn’t typically write out a setlist, he took audience requests for most of his set. During one of the requests, “M.D.M.Amazing”, he told a story of a young woman who broke up with her boyfriend after finding out the romantic songs he said he wrote for her were actually taken from Beans on Toast. The moral of the story was that it’s ok to claim Beans’ songs as your own as long as he gets a t-shirt sale out of it.

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Frank Turner and Lorna Thomas, photo by Samlin Miller

Skinny Lister returned to the stage, repeating the songs that the crowd had enjoyed most on Friday, including “Cathy” and “John Kanaka”. The group’s excited foot stomps and impeccable harmonies stood out in this particular performance, as did the flagon of rum Lorna Thomas passed into the audience. She and Michael Camino (bass/vocals) each surfed the crowd over the course of the set (Camino with his double bass in tow). As the floor began to fill up, the crowd got rowdier and by the end of Skinny Lister’s set, everyone was involved in the music once more.

The dancing continued and was even amplified during Frank Turner and the Souls’ set. The audience jumped around through upbeat numbers like “Try This at Home” and “Love 40 Down”. The supporting acts made returns to the stage, Beans on Toast leading jumping jacks during “Recovery” and Lorna Thomas of Skinny Lister singing on “Silent Key” as Christa McAuliffe, an astronaut killed during the Challenger disaster. During the set, Turner made shout-outs to his record label, Xtra Mile, as well as the tour flag, a fan community project organized by Xtra Mile’s social media manager/queen, Valerie Gritsch. While the crowd danced and sang along through most of the set, they were also respectful during quieter numbers, particularly “Song for Josh”, a song written for Turner’s friend Josh Burdette, who took his own life in 2013. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house when the song was over. Turner and the Souls ended the show with a rousing rendition of “Four Simple Words”, but not before debating how long they could stay in residency at the Boston House of Blues before they got bored and homesick, with answers ranging from six weeks to a few years.

Though the Xtra Mile Party Tour has left Boston, it continues on across the US, so if you’re in the states, be sure to catch a show near you. For those of you in the UK and Europe, never fear, for Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls will be paying you a visit soon as well.

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