A punk-folk storm blew through downtown Phoenix on Sept. 21, making a heavy-handed pit stop at the Crescent Ballroom. It brought with it three high-energy rock acts: headliner Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls and two supporting acts soloist Jenny Owen Youngs and the 6-piece Larry and His Flask.
The intimacy of Crescent Ballroom was ideal for the gig. It allowed for the rapport with the audience, and these groups seemed to thrive off of it, be it Youngs’s sharp banter with the crowd, which eventually led to a marriage proposal, or Dallin Bulkley of Larry and His Flask leaping into the pit to share his enthusiasm — and copious amounts of sweat — with the audience.
“It’s amazing being out with Larry and His Flask. It’s a cool line-up,” Turner expressed. “I pick all of the support acts for my shows. It’s a point of pride for me.”
Turner was joined on this tour by his live band, the Sleeping Souls, which he described as having a similar relationship to him as the E Street Band with Bruce Springsteen.
“We’re not quite a band, but then it’s not like they’re just a bunch of random hired guns I found running around the car park before the start of the tour,” he said. “It’s been the same line-up for four years, and we have no intention of changing that.”
Hailing from the small, English city of Winchester, Turner grew up listening to punk rock and hardcore music. He began his career as a member of the post-hardcore band Million Dead.
“Million Dead was, in a way, a culmination of years of listening to that kind of music, and I’m proud of what music we made, but once it became apparent that that band wasn’t gonna last, it was just like, I needed to do something different. So, Million Dead came to an end and I thought, ‘Let’s try it out. Just a few shows with me and the acoustic guitar,’” Turner said. “I did a handful of shows and just felt really, really good about it. I just felt really comfortable, like I’d found my niche in life. And I kind of still feel like that now.”
Turner describes his musical influences as being guitar-based punk rock and indie-rock, and he noted artists like Johnny Cash and Bruce Springsteen as having opened him up to new genres he hadn’t previously been familiar with.
The English rocker proudly declared the Phoenix stop on this tour to be show number 1,274 of his solo career. It is this kind of diligence that allowed Turner to make note of and celebrate his 1,000th solo show with friends and family at the 2011 Strummerville festival in Shoreditch, London.
With so many performances under his belt, it’s no surprise that Turner has come across a few colorful characters in that time.
“There’s a woman from Switzerland who is really quite utterly, utterly out of her mind. She did at one point send me her poetry, which, given that she can’t really speak English, and it was in English, was interesting, not least because it was about 20 pages of poems about wanting to sleep with someone that you see on the stage,” Turner said with a laugh. “But, you know, she’s actually a kind soul.”
Since then, Turner’s career has taken a few memorable turns. Last April, Turner played a sold-out show at Wembley Arena in London to 12,000 spectators, a show that was captured on the “Road to Wembley” tour DVD to be released later this year.
“(The show was) mad. It felt like the period of a lot of hard work coming together and paying off, you know?” Turner said. “Without wanting to be too kind of over-the-top about it, I felt like we did it the right way: playing an arena show while still on a small, independent label. I still respond to all of my emails, I still kind of manage myself, I still do all of the things I did when I first started out.”
Following the stadium show at Wembley was an invitation from film director Danny Boyle to perform at the 2012 London Olympics Opening Ceremony.
“It was really funny. He said, ‘Go away and think about it. Don’t make a snap decision.’ And I was like, ‘No, it’s all right. I think I’ve made up my mind about this one already, playing for 27 million people in one go,’” Turner said. “But yeah, he’s a fan and it was disarming but cool.”
Riding on the coattails of a successful year, Turner is now travelling across the country with Youngs and Larry and His Flask on his second headline tour of the U.S. The start of the tour was marked by two shows in Boston.
“We sold out, which was just amazing,” Turner said. “It made me feel really good because I’ve been coming over here a lot and putting a lot of time into it, and it felt like that was all going somewhere.”
He went on to note another tour high: this year’s Riot Fest in Chicago.
“We were playing on a stage where basically every single band was a touring buddy of ours, so I basically just got a deck chair out and a bottle of whisky and sat down and was like, right. I’m staying here all day,” he said. “And then I fell over quite a lot at the end of the night.”
The nearly two hour set played by Turner and his band included hits from his four studio albums, the most recent being the 2011 release “England, Keep My Bones,” a record that featured fewer full-band arrangements than those previous.
“But that’s one of the nice things,” Turner said. “I want to have shade and light to what I do. I want to have heavy songs and I want to have a cappella songs, and every conceivable thing in between.”
Reach the reporter at email@example.com