At first glance you could be forgiven for thinking that Frank's folk crusade wasn't fairing too well as the crowd in the Retro bar tonight are rather stand offish and in terms of numbers don't appear to have increased since his last visit. However it becomes evident that problems with advance promotion have played their part and with other dates on the tour being sold out it seems that the crusade is very much alive and well. Of course there could also be a case made that Manchester just isn't a very folk orientated town, either way it makes for a rather strange gig!
Beginning with 'Romantic Fatigue' Frank performs well, it's not that his guitar playing was ever bad but almost constant touring is bound to make the performance slicker and so it proves. 'Nashville Tennessee', taken from the forthcoming Campfire Punk Rock EP follows and proves to be one of the highlights with it's catchy riff. Last time around there was a hardcore of fans standing in front of the stage but tonight everyone is rather reserved and stands back, leaving a void between Frank and the audience and this certainly doesn't help the attempts at crowd participation.
Best song of the night is 'Worse things happen at sea', which leans towards the more English folk sound of artists like Justin Sullivan and is a welcome addition to the set. Utilising minor chords more than the country influenced songs gives it a more mature feel that allows Frank to inject a real energy with his vocals. This is complimented by 'Casanova's Lament' with it's gentle lilting verse and more reserved vocals, another good song that highlights Frank's honest approach to songwriting. Whilst this honest approach works very well on the aforementioned songs at other times it can be almost too honest, songs like 'Thatcher Fucked the Kids' for example are a little too blunt and looking around the crowd it appears some are struggling to see where he's going with it.
The penultimate track is the Million Dead song 'Smiling at Strangers on Trains' and this acoustic version just gets better every time I hear it, on first listen I wasn't too sure as the only comparison was the Million Dead version but it really does work well. The set finishes with 'The Real Damage', Frank's tale of waking up in unfamiliar surroundings and it still raises a smile, been there done that just one too many times! The crowd reaction is generous if not ecstatic, maybe the relatively short set wasn't long enough to draw people in or maybe they just weren't into it? The broad mix of folk styles that Frank plays perhaps makes it hard for the casual observer to get onto Frank's wavelength. In terms of performance though you can't fault him, his musicianship is tight and accomplished, he's always entertaining to watch and always tries to engage the crowd. Good performance, decent set, average crowd.