"This is the largest show we've ever done in Orange County," marveled Frank Turner, as he looked over a packed House of Blues on Oct. 24.
"We used to play for eight people in London and here it's like a thousand."
Earlier in the evening, the fiery folk singer/guitarist proudly welcomed people to his 1,768th show (an unusually detailed gigography can be found at www.frank-turner.com).
Back home in England, Turner has headlined Wembley Arena, been top-billed at major festivals and watched his last two albums reach No. 2 on the UK charts. Having recorded and toured as a solo artist since the mid-2000s, Turner gained major attention in America when he signed to Epitaph Records, then toured with OC's The Offspring in '09. A pair of singles off 2013's "Tape Deck Heart" went top 10 at Adult Alternative radio.
Last week, that format feat was replicated via "The Next Storm," from latest release "Positive Songs for Negative People." It's currently in heavy rotation at SiriusXM channel The Spectrum. Frequently boasting a more expansive sound and upbeat attitude, the Butch Walker-produced "Positive Songs" is among Turner's strongest to date.
Accompanied by sharp backing band The Sleeping Souls in Anaheim, Turner and company delivered a tour-de-force performance that lasted just under two hours long and rarely wavered in intensity. They opened the 28-song set with "Eulogy" and fans dutifully sang along loudly.
Turner possesses a life-affirming attitude live and often plows straight into tunes with barely a pause (the fervent "Out of Breath" proved quite apropos). While singing about stepping outside to face the sunshine during "The Next Storm," he hopped around with acoustic guitar and the other musicians vigorously did the refrain, "rejoice, rebuild, the storm has passed."
Before the jaunty, mellotron-infused "Peggy Sang the Blues," the front man reminded concertgoers to treat each another with respect (Turner has a "random acts of kindness" fan campaign going through his Twitter account). They obeyed as the random crowd surfing and surges ensued. A soaring "Josephine" saw Turner switch to electric guitar and tease with what sounded like an Offspring riff.
There was a brief recollection about playing the nearby Chain Reaction and other venues in Fullerton and Riverside to introduce the darker hued "Polaroid Picture" and its memorable singalong chorus. A solo acoustic segment included "Imperfect Tense," a preshow request from a diehard fan. The dramatic song, played for just the second time on this tour, featured a wrenching vocal.
A joyful, autobiographical "Wessex Boy" was heightened by mandolin. "Photosynthesis," where Turner asked everyone to sit down and rise up at a strategic moment, was electrifying. "Plain Sailing Weather" found the band rocking with full force and "Glory Hallelujah" (a tongue in cheek take on religion) got a rousing response.
Toward the end, initial warmup act Koo Koo Kanga Roo, a comedic dance pop duo from Minneapolis, joined Turner and added some fun to the hit "Recovery." Main set closer "Try This at Home" felt like a punk rock hoedown. For the encores, they did enthusiastic versions of "I Still Believe," "Four Simple Words" and an extended "The Way I Tend to Be."
Earlier in the evening, Skinny Lister was one of the best openers I've seen all year. The feisty alt-folk sextet from London recalled the best bits of The Pogues and Dexy's Midnight Runners, especially amid songs like "Raise a Wreck" and "This is War," off latest album "Down on Deptford Broadway."
The charming Lorna Thomas and fellow lead singer Dan Heptinstall had an enticing blend. Traditional drinking song "John Kanaka" and the waltz "17 Summers" (where the double bassist crowd surfed with his instrument!) were among the standouts.
A version of my review originally ran at ocregister.com.