Jimmy Kimmel Live!, LA/The Glass House, Pomona
The glorious rise and rise of [a]Frank Turner[/a] has been such a heartening climb that only the meanest of indie fans could take umbrage against the good man and his trusty acoustic steed. And, brilliantly, it ain’t over yet. A pair of monumental main stage sets at [b]Reading[/b] and [b]Leeds festivals[/b] might have been the pinnacle of a lesser artist’s career, but for this waistcoated wonder, the truly epic ascent is yet to come. He might just have broken some extremely big news – that he’ll be headlining Wembley Arena next year – but Frank continues to keep a cool, calm head as he trucks into California on his first full band tour of the United States. Well, almost. “I’m shitting my pants,” he grins when we bring up his plans to play the 12,500-capacity London venue in April 2012. “I’d just about got over it, and then a friend of mine emailed me a photo of Wembley Arena when it’s empty, and I just shat myself all over again.”
Troublesome bowels notwithstanding, [i]NME[/i] catches up with Frank in possibly the most unlikely place to find one of the least pretentious musos you’re ever likely to meet: a swanky television green room on Hollywood Boulevard. If you’ve never been to Hollywood, think Leicester Square but with more trashy underwear shops, an army of people dressed as Spider-Man and a roughly 97 per cent higher chance of bumping into Ryan Gosling. So, not all bad.
Surrounded by free sushi and about to pre-record a couple of numbers for one of North America’s biggest talk shows, Jimmy Kimmel Live!, Frank could be forgiven for letting the whole shebang bring out an unforeseen showbiz side. “Here’s my showbiz fail,” Frank whispers. “Every single wall of this building is covered with photos of Jimmy Kimmel with various guests. I didn’t know which one was Jimmy Kimmel until I’d looked at a few. I’m not the kind of person who knows what famous people look like.” Thankfully, Frank figures out who the host is before Jimmy Kimmel jumps up onstage with the band and starts tootling on the harmonica in his suit for ‘[b]I Still Believe[/b]’. The overexcitable studio audience clap their hands and whoop blindly. It’s fun, dumb and it’s so LA, but it isn’t quite Frank. What is Frank though, is the ensuing 35-mile dash down the 101 freeway to suburban Pomona, famous for giving the world Tom Waits and not much else.
If it’s true that big cities get the music that suits them – from the bright lights and glitz of [a]The Killers[/a] to the urban clatter of [a]The Clash[/a] and the metropolitan hugeness of [b]The Throne[/b] – then smaller places have their own particular sound too. Hampshire lad [a]Frank Turner[/a] prides himself on his small-town ethos, channelling the twinkle of the green belt and the thrum of the suburbs with a wallop of dogged persistence. Cocking a proudly anti-cool snook at inner-city hipsters and flashy mega-production, [a]Frank Turner[/a] and [b]Pomona[/b] have more in common than you might think.
Rolling into the barn-like venue with just a few minutes to spare, Frank and his men in white shirts hit the stage almost immediately. The crowd are more than ready – their fists start pumping as soon as ‘[b]Eulogy[/b]’ rips open the set and they pretty much don’t stop for a full hour-and-a-half. Piston-driven passion, bar-room romance and melodic vitriol seep through the likes of ‘[b]Love Ire & Song[/b]’, ‘[b]Try This At Home[/b]’ and ‘[b]I Knew Prufrock Before He Got Famous[/b]’ – though the line [i]“The only thing that’s left to do/Is get another round in at the bar”[/i] is rendered somewhat obsolete by the fact that Glass House is only serving pink lemonade and pretzels.
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“When you’re young and you’ve read a bit of Noam Chomsky, it’s very easy to have these armchair anti-American views,” explains Frank before the show. “I’ve been on tour in the US since 2007 and I’ve played in 38 out of 50 states and America is absolutely not what it’s made out to be on TV.” He goes on to prove it by belting out atheist anthem ‘Glory Hallelujah’. And lo, instead of a knee-jerk walk-out, a joyful, godless mini-mosh forms.
Dismissive of the notion of ‘breaking America’, instead Frank is more than happy to chip away at the States by giving them back a little Woody Guthrie wrapped in a whole load of hardcore howling. “I’ve always felt that the UK is peculiarly obsessed with this all-or-nothing view of America,” he explains. “It’s like, either you’re The Beatles or you don’t bother.” So while [a]Frank Turner[/a] might not quite be doing an [a]Adele[/a] – and thank goodness for that – he’s sold out three-quarters of the 29 shows on this tour, and the rest have been attended by the kind of dedicated fans that make living in a van for most of your life totally worth it. “Fuck it,” he says. “There are shows to play. There’s work to be done. I’ll do it.”
If there’s a better way to end a show than with a heavy-oke version of [a]Queen[/a]’s ‘[b]Somebody To Love[/b]’ and a rousing pep talk about the communal power of music that whips everyone into a frothing frenzy, then we haven’t seen it in a while. England might keep [a]Frank Turner[/a]’s bones, but it looks like America has some hold over them too.