Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls - Live in Grand Rapids (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review

Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls

Live in Grand Rapids (2016)

live show

I was curious to see how Frank Turner’s show at The Intersection in downtown Grand Rapids on May 26th would stack up against his previous show at the same venue nearly three years earlier. That show was on a Saturday night and the tickets were ten bucks. This one was on a Thursday and cost twice as much. 2013’s Tape Deck Heart received quite a bit of buzz on college radio, but some fans didn’t really embrace it. Last year’s Positive Songs for Negative People got generally great reviews and was mostly loved by fans.

I was a lot more excited to see the opening acts this time around. I was not at all impressed by Koo Koo Kanga Roo or The Smith Street Band in 2013, but was looking forward to seeing The Homeless Gospel Choir and Two Cow Garage. The show started promptly at 7:00 pm, a half hour earlier than I expected. When I showed up at 7:35, The Homeless Gospel Choir, AKA Derek Zanetti, had already finished. I regret missing him, as I really enjoy his music. He plays protest songs that somehow manage to be both thoroughly modern and old fashioned. He also seems to be a genuinely nice guy. Check him out if you get the chance.

I was very impressed by Two Cow Garage’s inspired 45 minute set. You might be tempted to call them cowpunk, but they’re mostly just rock and roll. Most of the lead vocals are raspy, there’s lots of harmonies and the songwriting is excellent. Some time in the last couple of years, the former trio has picked up another guitar player. The extra member gives their already solid live show an extra kick. Every time I see them I pick up another of their records, and I like them all. It’s hard for this Michigan man to praise anything from Columbus, Ohio, but I really enjoyed Two Cow Garage.

Frank Turner and The Sleeping Souls took the stage at 9:00 pm sharp, and kicked things off with “I Still Believe” from 2011’s England Keep My Bones (my favorite Turner LP). They were dressed in white shirts with black ties and almost looked like proper English gentlemen. Turner on a couple of occasions referred to the proceedings as a punk show, but truth be told it was more like a big rock concert. There was almost no trace of his punk roots, and even his folk roots were mostly buried in the rock and roll bombast. There were sing alongs, call and responses and even a contest pitting the two sides of the audience against one another to see who could be louder.

Turner and his four piece band turned in an energetic performance. The man never stopped moving and by the end his shirt was soaked through with sweat. My personal highlight was “Glory Hallelujah”, the song that first made me a fan. The crowd loved “Recovery” and “The Way I Tend To Be” from Tape Deck Heart, and most in attendance seemed to know the handful of new songs sprinkled throughout the set. Turner strapped on an electric guitar for a couple of songs and even played a verse of Nirvana’s “Breed”. At one point he told the audience to put their phones away and he tried out a very promising brand new song caled “Sister Rosetta”. The encore included “Happy Birthday” to his tour manager and ended with a spirited version of the fan favorite “Four Simple Words”.

This show was a bit different than the last. The crowd was smaller (about 500 compared to 700) but no less enthusiastic. At times, Turner seemed like less of a storyteller and more of a cheerleader. This time around there were definitely more arena rock trappings. The one thing both shows had in common was that Frank Turner and The Sleeping Souls gave the crowd their money’s worth. For nearly two hours he had them eating out of the palm of his hand.