Turbonegro At The El Rey Theater, Saturday May 25th 2013
I go to many shows with a sort of outsider’s eye and I like it! I mean I go to shows without knowing about the music of the band and all their shenanigans and antics, I don’t know the rules and the dress code and I discover all this in situ. And if there is a band which means shenanigans and dress code, it is the Norwegian band Turbonegro! The fans are so devoted to the band they dress like their frontman and belong to this mysterious (to me) Turbojugend, which seems to be much more than a regular fan club according to their website: ‘the Jugend fostered not only the myth of the band but established a common sense for like-minded individuals, manifested in a rock’ n’ roll lifestyle and friendships all over the world. In particular friendship has been the spirit of the Turbojugend from the beginning and this spirit has been essential to keep the Jugend alive.’ This very special community has even a series of rules, and when I arrived at the El Rey on Saturday night, I thought I had entered some private meeting of an unknown secret society.
The little sailor hat and the denim Turbonegro jacket – the band was such a big deal in Norway that Levi’s used them to front ad campaigns – were apparently the things to wear, as the navy theme is apparently a big one for the death-punk band – that’s how they call themselves! Their frontman, ex- Dukes of Nothing’s Tony Sylvester, had the size and the raucous voice of Fucked-up’s Damian Abraham, was dressed like a gay-parade captain/police officer, and had an Alice-Cooper-spider eye – or was it an Clockwork Orange’s eye make-up? He is actually British and the fourth frontman of the Norwegian band after frontman Hank Von Helvete quitted Turbonegro in 2010, became clean from heroin and a scientologist – yuck, I may have prefer to stay on heroin. But if you watch old videos like this one, you can easily understand why this fun-trashy lifestyle was not compatible with the church’s principles.
So no more fireworks in the butt from Hank, but Sylvester was completely at ease in the middle of this mix of homosexual aesthetics, sex and anal references, and overall falsely macho attitude, that was making some guys in the crowd super excited. The band’s music has been described as a mix of hard rock, punk hardcore, and glam rock, and it was a little bit of all this indeed, but I was hearing more AC/DC or ZZ Top than Black Flag or Bowie. If there was any proof they wanted to transcend genres, their outfits were a mix bag of punk, plain humor, retro-flashy-glam and gayness à la Village People – the bassist Thomas Seltzer aka ‘Happy-Tom’ was dressed as a sailor, the drummer, Tommy ‘Manboy’ Akerholdt as a baby, one of the guitarists, Rune ‘Rune Rebellion’ Grønn, as a farmer, while the other one, Knut ‘Euroboy’ Schreiner, had adopted a sort of 70’s look.
But the spectacle was both on stage and in the crowd, not only because of the Halloween parade costumes but also for the rowdy fervor that all these fans were showing. The El Rey crew had a hard time to contain them all night long, a lot of them were so aggressive, boisterous (and totally wasted) that they must have spoiled the joy of some others who had come to listen to their favorite band. A punk girl wearing a GG Allin t-shirt was piercing my eardrums with her repetitive squeaks and was getting out of control, whereas a few other obnoxious guys were looking for trouble, giving a hard time to the El Rey security guards during the whole show. I actually thought the band was not out of control and was staying rather decent for such trashy attitude going on in the crowd! Tony Sylvester was doing a lot of talking between the songs, bringing a little of humor which wasn’t calming down the crowd at all. He even encouraged the crowd to get wasted because it was a long weekend, just before the song ‘Wasted Again’, and I thought it was totally unnecessary! Some guy making ugly faces and raising his fists, was doing a massive head banging, and another one violently jumped on the stage but was caught by the security. I was on the side of the stage but this didn’t completely protect me from the mayhem.
In the middle of this violence, Turbonegro rocked hard with a punk fury and some heavy metal moments for close to 2 hours; they were loud and theatrical, trying to look and act stupid for the fun of it, and if I didn’t get all the dirty sexual references (and I am sure there were plenty of them),… their last (and come-back) album is called ‘Sexual Harassment’ and features songs with funny and evocative titles such as ‘You Give me Worms’ and ‘Tight Jeans, Loose Leash’! This became pretty obvious with one of their last songs entitled ‘I Got Erection’, that Sylvester transformed into a sing-along.
After the encore, Tony Sylvester came back on stage without his shirt on, showing his tiger-tattooed large belly, he was also wearing a crown and a royal cape showing the English flag that could have scared the hell out of Morrissey, and at this moment, he had raised from Duke of Nothing to King status, totally in control of his out-of-control turbo-nation.
I knew nothing about them, and if I still don’t completely understand the obsessive cult around them, they were a lot of fun (in the homoerotic sense of fun) and a powerful raw rock’ n’ roll act to see live. More turbo (= fast) than negro (= dark lyrics?), they may be our chance to see a band who doesn’t care at all for good taste,… another proof? They originally wanted to be called Nazipenis,… oh my!
PS: Nick Oliveri (ex Queens of The Stone Age) was there, and he was wearing one of these denim Turbonegro jackets!
All my Friends are Dead
You Give me Worms
I Got a Knife
Rock against ass
T. N. A. (The Nihilistic Army)
Tight Jeans, Loose Leash
Dude without a Face
F. T. W. (Fuck The World)
Get it On
The Age of Pamparius
Back to Dungaree High
Turbonegro Must Be Destroyed
I Got Erection
Final Solution (Pere Ubu cover)