Punk musicians playing folk is a weird one. Ask any punk what new folk albums they've been listening to recently and you’re likely to receive a sideways look, a comment along the lines of “I don’t listen to that shit, man,” and possibly a retort of why you’re questioning their sexuality.
Yet give the same person a folk album by one of their favourite punk rockers and it’s one of the greatest things they've ever heard. Whilst a regular folk album would conjure up feelings of disgust, embarrassment and distaste towards “hippies,” if it has the punk seal of approval then they’re all over it like bedsores on a fat person.
And there’s no shortage of punk musicians that, for one reason or another, have gone down this path before; Greg Graffin from Bad Religion and Millencolin’s Nikola Sarcevic are two examples that immediately pop to mind. Within the punk world there is a noticeable element of musicians who when attempting to try something musically different gravitate towards an acoustic guitar and a flannel shirt.
And sure, it’s not a massive departure from what they usually play; the heart and soul are definitely there, the songs can reach a good quality, but the music is incorrect. There isn't one instance where a punk musician has delivered a folk-punk album better than his actual punk band. These albums consistently come off as a side project, one not as nearly as terrible as when an actor releases an album claiming “music has always been my first love,” but still not of the calibre of the body of work that the musician has previously released.
It was with this level of cynicism and trepidation that I attended The Revival Tour, featuring Hot Water Music’s Chuck Ragan, Frank Turner, Lucero’s Ben Nichols and Avail’s Tim Barry, accompanied by a number of equally talented supporting musicians. But overall, what was delivered was a night of charming captivating music enjoyed by the whole crowd.
Tim Barry was first up, and whilst possibly being the least musically adept of the four on the show tonight, got by on bucketloads of passion, character and crowd engagement. Towards the end of his set, he sheepishly commented to the crowd “I’m sorry for being brutally honest”--ironic, as his honesty and sincerity are definitely among his strongest points as a musician. He also looks like a punk Andy Roddick or Sean William Scott, spits a lot on stage and when he really gets worked up with his guitar playing moves around in a similarly jagged fashion to Midnight Oil’s Peter Garrett.
Next up was Ben Nichols, whose music probably lends itself best to a night like tonight. Due to its acoustic-based nature and with far fewer folk elements, it comes off as a bit less contrived as the other players' music. Accompanied spectacularly by slide guitar and fiddle, he captured genuine emotion rather than substituting this with passion, and the whole set felt a lot more natural. He also has one of the best singing voices around, and seems like a genuinely cool guy.
Chuck Ragan has been doing the folk-punk thing for a fair amount of time now, and bottom line: He puts on a very good show. His strong point would definitely be his musical skill at the genre, with his soulful voice, fitting harmonica and his ability to layer with the supporting musicians. The strongest point of his set would have to have been "Geraldine," on which he was joined on stage by Like...Alaska’s Jen Buxton, who followed up the duet with one of her own quality songs. Overall, he was solid as a rock, and as my friend commented to me as he was finishing up “Chuck Ragan: Definitely better than Ronald Reagan.”
The close of Ragan’s set brought to the stage Frank Turner, and after the two dutifully teamed up for a cover of Bob Dylan’s “The Times Are-A Changin," it was time for Turner to strut his stuff. My hopes were beyond low as I’d found his two albums to be more annoying than a fat person taking up two seats on a bus. But sometimes low hopes pay dividends, as Turner was the most engaging performer of the night. His strength is that he is heartfelt, and whilst on record this often comes off as irritating, live it comes off as completely genuine. He uses his charming persona to engage the crowd, peppering his set with amusing anecdotes of protests, ex-girlfriends and a number of covers (of note: the Postal Service’s "The District Sleeps Tonight").
To conclude the show, all performers returned to the stage for a few final numbers, joining forces to create arguably the best numbers of the night. Overall, the show was very good; due to its passionate nature, folk-punk definitely lends itself to the live environment.
Whilst I don’t agree with the motivations for so many punks musicians attempting to play folk music at a level of quality that is lower than both their own punk music and of other genuine folk musicians, live and in the moment they’re actually very good, and The Revival Tour is a prime example of that. For a punk musician wanting to try something different musically, you could definitely go a lot worse than playing folk; I mean, it’s not Dee Dee Ramone rapping or New York Dolls' David Johansen singing "Hot Hot Hot" as his alter-ego Buster Poindexter. It was undoubtedly a great show by talented musicians at which I had a good time. And what more can you really ask for.