Oct 28, 2011 - Fine Arts    16 Comments

I Still Believe

Sunday night, I was born again in the fires of rock and roll.

I’ve never experienced the bliss and fervor I see on the faces of people at religious revivals, so I can’t be sure it feels the same. But if their god can’t offer them the same welling joy, the fullness of heart, the redemption of primal psychic and sensory needs, then I can’t fathom the attraction. And if some would say the bone-deep delight, the hope for the continued existence of love and beauty in this world, the honest-to-goodness peace on Earth and goodwill to all men that settled onto me with every blessed chord isn’t divine, well then, I would have to tell them that they’ve never touched that state of being.

By now, you think I’m exaggerating, overstating the case for the sake of a writerly challenge or a philosophical argument. I’m really not.

A big part of it was the music. If you’re not a fan of Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls, let me deliver unto you that great good news. Theirs is a happy polyamory of punk, folk, and old-fashioned rock and roll — if you need an equation, maybe this will help: Frank Turner & the Sleeping Souls = Green Day + Flogging Molly + Buddy Holly. Turner’s got a singular voice that fits all three genres perfectly, if you can conceive of such a thing without hearing it, equally at home in the cozy black box of a venue that is the famed Triple Rock Social Club or singing wrenching tales of blood and rebellion in a militia camp. And his ability to hold true to pitch and somehow stay melodic, no matter how raucous the refrain gets, is a rare thing as well. The band is equally accomplished, from the metronymic steadiness of the drums, to the ruffled arpeggios the keyboard layers on top of classic guitar and bass.

And the songs — Turner’s got the gift of nailing the catchy hook and rousing chorus, in both tune and lyric. The best of his songs should be the anthems of nations or, at the very least, the downtrodden masses. Even the ones that bemoan the toll of age and cynicism on a generation too tired to be the happily angry punks we once were bestow an unexpected optimism and communal goodwill. As a result, fans come ready to sing along, and I watched with keen curiosity to see whether an arms-around-shoulders biergarten sway, or a rollicking mosh pit would break out (a bit of both, at various points, as it turned out). And when you’re singing every song en masse, it’s no stretch to smile and talk with your newfound allies, in a way that just doesn’t happen at even the most intimate of other concerts. This was a show to restore a person’s faith in his fellows.

That we were even there was the definition of Serendipity, or Destiny, or whatever you will. I took the wrong pair of headphones (broken) and the wrong exit for home on a trip to the doctor’s one morning this fall. So while I’d been keen to listen to my own playlist, and to do it for a lot less time, instead I had the company of The Current, MPR’s excellent modern station, as I waded through snarls of traffic. About 15 minutes after I should’ve been home, “I Still Believe” came on the air. I was smitten — new favorite song, on the spot. When I got back, I queued up the YouTube video to show my boys. After it finished playing, up popped a little box, announcing: “Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls at the Triple Rock Social Club, October 23. Would you like to know more?” Why yes, yes I would. And at $13 a ticket, how could I pass up the chance?

So there we stood on Sunday night. We’d enjoyed the opening act, Into It Over It, enough to buy the guy’s album, but I knew I couldn’t make the whole show on my feet. We slunk off to the old bar next door, and I felt like a lame, hollowed-out, decrepit old punk. But a nice long sit, enhanced by some unexpectedly excellent comfort food, at least left me feeling competent to remain upright for the rest of the night. I was sore, and glaring at the hale and hearty 20-somethings occupying the few seats, when Turner and company took the stage.

And then they played, and I went to a different place. By the end of the first song, my jaded concert-going self was tingling with the knowledge that this was going to be an exceptional show. By the end of the second song, I forgot my pain and fatigue, no mean feat these days. And by the end of the third song, I found myself unexpectedly crying a little, as my senses sizzled like Fourth of July sparklers. My body thrummed, comforted and content as the heartbeat of my long-lost rock and roll mother lodged next to my own, bass in my belly and drums in my feet.

I was over-joyed, the pleasure of it all spilling out my fingertips like light. I couldn’t stop smiling. I wanted to run outside, take everyone by the hand, and bring them into this place, this time, this feeling. And I left the show restored in all the thirsty crevices I didn’t know were cracked.

So I’ll just let Frank and the boys sing us out:

“I still believe in the saints
In Jerry Lee and Johnny, and all the greats
I still believe in the sound
That has the power to raise a temple, and tear it down
I still believe in the need
For guitars and drums and desperate poetry
I still believe that everyone
Can find a song for every time they’ve lost, and every time they’ve won
So just remember folks we’re not just saving lives, we’re saving souls and we’re having fun…

Now who’d’ve thought, after all,
Something as simple as rock ‘n’ roll would save us all?
Who’d’ve thought that after all it was rock n roll.”



  • Speaking of transscendant music – Did you happen to see Aofie O’Donovan (of Crooked Still) singing with Yo Yo Ma on Leno the other night? Her harmonies with mandolin virtuoso and vocalist Christ Thile were @#!!ing mind blowing. Tears to your eye mind blowing. Worth looking up on YouTube.

    • I saw you raving about the performance the other day, but didn’t know which show, so I’m glad for the ref. As soon as the house quiets down, I’ll queue it up — thanks for the heads-up!

  • Thanks for being patient with my own bout of “You HAVE to hear this”. 😉 And Green Day + Molly + Buddy Holly sounds like an awesome combo. I’ll have to check them out. I’m in a psychobilly mood these days, sounds like this band might fit that bill at least a bit.

  • Thanks for so accurately capturing the feeling of that show. I was lucky enough to see Frank’s first Minneapolis appearance… a solo set in support of The Gaslight Anthem at the Cabooze. Never have I been so happy to have arrived early enough to catch the opening acts. I was hooked. I soon found myself acquiring as much of his music as possible. Seeing him again in support of Social Distortion at First Ave… this time with a band… cemented his status as one of my favorite performers.

    But the Triple Rock show… finally seeing a full headlining set… was a religious experience for those of us who don’t find that feeling through religion.

    Great show. Great review.

    • Thank you much for the kind comments; I’m unutterably happy that another fan thinks I captured the feel of the show and the room. 🙂 As a recent convert, I’ve got that evangelistic fervor, which for those who know me, know is really not like me at all. I’ve seen dozens and dozens of concerts, but I can count on one hand the ones that left me happy for days after.

  • Its nice to see that Frank turner is going down well in the U.S as he does in the UK. I have been a fan of his for a few years and every time I have seen him he has been better than the last. For any of you that don’t know, and are into heavier punk, then it is well worth checking out his old band’s material. The band is called million dead and features a side of Frank’s voice you don’t hear on his solo stuff. He can scream with the best of them and some of Million Dead’s catalogue of songs are , in my oppinion some of franks very best. A particular highlight is I gave my eyes to stevie wonder. Give it a listen

    • I’m so glad you appreciated my write-up, and thanks loads for the early music clue! I can’t wait to check them out. At the Minneapolis show, they closed with “Somebody To Love” by Queen, and I have to say, the scream to which you refer gives him the chops to do the only adequate Queen cover I’ve ever had the pleasure to hear!

  • I got hooked on frank turner this past summer after reading about him on a mother jones blog. Your review is what I imagine a concert must be like. listening and watching him on YouTube can convey that great excitement and joy that you evoke in your review. I haven’t had the chance to see him in concert yet, but hope to.

    • I’m really glad that feeling came through in my writing, and thanks for sharing your reaction! Part of why I didn’t write this immediately after we got home that night was because it took a few days for so many powerful emotions to percolate down to a point where I could find the words for them. It’s one of the trickier pieces of writing I’ve done, but it’s so satisfying to hear from others that I captured something close to their impressions, too. I’m sure you’ll have many chances to see him in concert — I have a feeling they’re on their way up in the world. 🙂

  • Amen, sister! Followed the link from Frank’s Twitter. I honestly got depressed in the week after I saw Frank Turner (twice) a couple weeks ago. His shows have become the highlight of my year, and I think you captured your experience very well. Frank deserves all his success and more.

    • Thanks so much for following the link, and for your kind words! I’m not surprised you’re a little depressed post-show — I’ve definitely got the feeling that it’s going to be a long time before I see another show that leaves me feeling that way, so I’m going to have to adjust expectations in the near future. I haven’t avidly collected bootleg recordings since high school age (grew up near Milwaukee, home of the famed Atomic Records, R.I.P.), and it’s a different age now with things like YouTube, but my first thought as we left was, “I have GOT to get that bootleg!!” 🙂

  • I had a similar experience to yours – I watched something on YouTube and the picture for the video of “If I Ever I Stray” came up and I thought “oooo! Castle and Guitar, this’ll be good”. Didn’t realize how good. YouTube was kind enough to share that he’d be in town, picked up tickets for my wife and I, and what a great time. Off all the concerts I’ve been to or worked at (sound engineer) this was one of the best. You captured it perfectly.

    • It’s so nice when the Internet suggests something other than porn. 🙂 And being a sound engineer must make it hard to enjoy concerts sometimes, since you’re aware of the tech side, so it’s great to know they were able to live up to that end of things at your show too. Concerts that make musicians and techs happy are a rare and beautiful thing.

  • […] family stuff, we did special things before and after October 5. I’ve already blogged about the Frank Turner concert we went to — it wasn’t really intended as an anniversary thing, but it was so wonderful […]

  • […] Former frontman for the punk outfit Million Dead, I can’t say enough good things about his fun, cool, loud, wonderful music. Trust me, I’ve tried. […]

  • […] about books and music and movies and games and a dozen other things, sometimes with the fervor of a revival-tent preacher. But there’s an uncloseable distance between where I am and the distant shore of fandom. I […]

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