Live Review: Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls with Will Varley and The Arkells at Livewire, Scottsdale, AZ – 27th January 2017

By on Wednesday, 8th February 2017 at 2:00 pm

Show #2015, in which yours truly makes intentional physical contact with a complete stranger

. . . but that happens later in the story. What happened first was a trip north from Tucson to Scottsdale, accompanied by my brother. Entirely certain that Casey would love Frank Turner and The Sleeping Souls as much as I do, I had bought tickets for the two of us months ago. The host venue for the evening was Livewire, where I recently saw Kaleo with The Wind and the Wave and Bishop Briggs. I mentioned my opinion of the venue in that earlier review, but I’ll add here that its mild level of pretention was perhaps at odds with an artist like Turner, whose shows have never pretended to anything more or anything less than folk-punk-rock at its finest. The main criteria for the venue choice might have been capacity. Turner and his colleagues had played a slightly smaller Phoenix venue, the Press Room, on their last visit, and they apparently made a good impression. On this night they sold out Livewire, to their own credit and much to the benefit of their special guests, Will Varley and The Arkells.

Will Varley photo

The amber glow of Livewire’s initial stage lighting was a perfect match for the warm, organic timbre of singer/songwriter Will Varley’s acoustic guitar and singing voice. The effect was marred slightly by the fact that Varley took the stage with the zipper of his trousers clearly open, sending a small ripple of giggles through the crowd gathered near the stage. Though Varley acknowledged the zipper midway through his set, he never bothered explaining it, instead effectively focusing his audience’s attention squarely on his music. Varley’s songs fluctuated between facetious absurdity (‘Talking Cat Blues’) and sincere sentimentality (‘From Halcyon’), and while he never took himself too seriously, it quickly became clear to the rest of us that his was not a talent to be overlooked. His latest album ‘Kingsdown Sundown’ is available now from Xtra Mile Recordings.

Canadian rock band The Arkells took the stage next, with a brash swagger and confidence more suited to a proper headline act. Lead singer Mike DeAngelis commanded his audience’s attention from beginning to end, punctuating the band’s energetic anthems with a combination of spontaneous banter, well-rehearsed yarn-spinning, and musical improvisation.

The Arkells photo

The Arkells started with three strong, high energy tracks from their 2016 album ‘Morning Report’ before dipping back into previous LPs ‘High Noon’ and ‘Jackson Square’. Keyboard player Anthony Carone’s impromptu mini-set of crowd-sourced Elton John covers, including ‘Rocket Man’, ‘Tiny Dancer’, and ‘Bennie and the Jets’ was among the most memorable moments of the evening, but it didn’t overshadow the end of The Arkells’ set, which they ended with latest single ‘My Heart’s Always Yours’ and the older favourite ‘Leather Jacket’.

Frank turner band photo

Frank Turner opened the headline set of his Show #2015 with a politically-tinged song written specifically for the current tour cycle, titled ‘The Sand in the Gears’. Starting with the lyric “Can’t I just spend the next four years at a punk show?” and ending with the line “let’s be the sand in the gears for the next four years”, the new track is best described as a call to action. Building on the crowd’s ever-growing energy, Turner and The Sleeping Souls swept through a vigorous set of crowd-favourite tunes from across his prolific back catalogue. Songs from Turner’s most recent album ‘Positive Songs for Negative People’ included ‘The Next Storm’ and an impressive full band version of ‘Glorious You’. After American radio hit ‘The Way I Tend to Be’, Turner paused for breath, taking a solo-acoustic moment for a fan request with ‘Least of All, Young Caroline’ and ‘The Ballad of Me and My Friends’.

Frank Turner solo

Between songs, Turner spent a lot of time proselytising about music as an area of common ground among fans in the current societal swirl of divisive social and political issues. It was a notable, if mildly condescending, departure from the typical artist-vs-politician banter, but it also turned out to be carefully scripted, leading his audience to a specific and pointed conclusion.

At the end of the set proper, during crowd-favourite track ‘Photosynthesis’, Turner split the general admission audience down the middle and prepared us to enact a “wall of death”. I was unfamiliar with the term, and my brother explained, to my horror, that a wall of death is a mosh pit ritual typically reserved for metal shows, in which the two sides of a divided crowd rush at each other during the heaviest part of a song and collide with extreme force. At the last suspenseful second, Turner recanted his wall-of-death wish, instructing his crowd to instead institute something possibly more scary: a “wall of hugs”. (The video below is from Turner’s San Francisco show a couple of nights later, posted by YouTube user Brian Greenaway.)


Which brings me back to the opening lines of this review. Frank Turner was asking each of us to hug another punter. Not a friend or companion; no, we were to hug someone we didn’t know. My ever-stoic brother flatly refused. But I was so swept away in relief at not having to participate in a wall of death the spirit of the moment that I turned and exchanged a warm embrace with the person standing on the other side of me. I’m not 100% sure if the person was male or female (or neither or both), but I’m 100% sure it didn’t matter. Gender, race, age, political persuasion—none of it made any difference. We were both fans, experiencing a moment of FTHC rapture, and we shared a glorious moment of fellowship. Hmm . . . maybe this is what Turner was getting at all along.

TGTF’s previous coverage of Will Varley is back here and our archived coverage on Frank Turner is right through here. For a full list of Frank Turner’s upcoming live shows, including his Lost Evenings at the London Roundhouse this May, consult his official Web site by clicking here.

After the cut: Will Varley, The Arkells, and Frank Turner and The Sleeping Souls’ set lists.

Will Varley Set List:

As for My Soul
Weddings and Wars
Talking Cat Blues
From Halcyon
King for a King

The Arkells Set List:

A Little Rain (A Song For Pete)
Hung Up
Making Due
Never Thought That This Would Happen
Pullin’ Punches
Private School
My Heart’s Always Yours ?Leather Jacket

Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls Set List:

The Sand in the Gears
The Next Storm
I Still Believe
Losing Days
Try This at Home
Long Live the Queen
Glorious You
Polaroid Picture
Plain Sailing Weather
The Way I Tend to Be
Least of All Young Caroline (solo)
The Ballad of Me and My Friends (solo)
The Opening Act of Spring
The Road
If Ever I Stray
Out of Breath
Photosynthesis ?//
Love, Ire & Song
Get Better
Four Simple Words

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