Gaelic Club, Sydney
Friday October 17, 2003

The Barman

The utter absurdity of it struck home, halfway through.

A packed Gaelic Club - many of the 800-plus punters in white sailor's hats - is watching a large gutted, shirtless man in beard and white facepaint hauling himself around a stage against the backdrop of a Norwegian flag, waving a cane and bawling lyrics about death and destruction. He's flanked by a guitarist who looks like Eric Bloom after a day at the local lawn bowls club; a bassist whose long blonde locks, eye shadow and lipstick stamp him/her as a Taxi Club/Tranny Alley habituate; a flashy lead guitarist in Nazi cap; and a third guitarist-cum-keyboardist who wears rouge and looks like he's giving his microphone a head job.

The band is cranking out something akin to the bastard aural offspring of heavy metal and glam punk, an unholy noise delivered with a degree of energy and conviction that belies the fact they've been on the road for a year solid.

All around the club, the audience is full of deliriously happy people.

It's almost Scandinavia Week in Sydney. The Hellacopters played two nights earlier and although none of them are spotted in the crowd, all that freshly-purchased merch gives them an undeniable presence.

Turbonegro's first Sydney show might have been at the sprawling outdoor creche that is the local Livid festival date six days earlier, but tonight is clearly the gig to catch. This is indoors, the audience are adoring and, as the band points out, it's their show and nobody elses.

As adoring as their fans are, the venue takes no chances and goes as far as draping the glass-fronted fridges behind the bar in black cloth, so no-one gets the idea that they can buy their booze in bottles.

It's a sell-out before the headliner makes it to the stage and a good crowd is already in evidence as the Hard Ons churn through a lean set of new material, peppered with old favourites.

It's been a long time between drinks for me and the Hard Ons. Their brand of punk pop is pretty well timeless although they disappeared for a while with two members devoting theit time to Nunchukka Superfly. They're clearly not the same band - Keish moved on a couple of years ago, replaced by the very capable Peter Kostic on drums - and Blackie now does all the singing. Ray Ahn's relatively short-haired these days so the hair twirls don't have the same impact and the fire breathing's not on display either, but musically the Hard Ons are the best at what they do, no argument.

"Don't Want to See You Cry" remains a stand-out, maybe their best two-and-a-half minutes, but there are other less catchy side trips into left field that have a slight echo of the materail two-thirds of the band have explored in Nunchukka Superfly.

Can't place many of the tunes as I haven't heard the last two albums but this is a band that's lost little with the march of time. They're probably better players. The show-closing "Suck and Swallow" lays 'em in the aisles and leaves everybody hungry for more.

Are You Ready for Some Darkness? There's anticipation in the air as the clock ticks down to the arrival of the Denim Demons, whose "faux-mosexual" onstage exploits at Livid have been favourably reviewed in the local press. It's rare that the jaded Sydney Morning Herald hits the mark in its music reviews, so we should be grateful for small mercies when they rate Turbonegro's set as their personal highlight.

"The Blizzard of Flames" is the predictable into tape and the inevitable "Wipe It Till It Bleeds" follows, with Euro Boy in the ascendancy up front on guitar. A top-hatted Hank Van Helvete strips down to flesh (and lots of it) before too long, giving hope to all of us. He runs out all sorts of corny patter and trusts the audience to catch him when he flops his personal mass of humanity into that of the crowd.

Turbonegro are the theatre of the absurd but don't make the mistake of thinking they can't play. Chris Summers (drums) and Happy Tom (bass) provide a solid undertow and Euroboy some solid guitar fireworks. Pal Pat's keyboards and impassioned backing vocals lift the recent material above the hardcore level of earlier albums. Songwise, we get the bulk of "Scandinavian Leather" ("Drenched in Blood" provides the opportunity for Hank to produce a bucket of red liquid and splatter the crowd. Judging by the faded stains on a few sailor hats, a few punters have come back for seconds and maybe thirds, with Turbonegro doing a show in Newcastle, two hours north of Sydney, the night before.

"Back to Dungaree High", and a crunching "Get It On" (thanks very much for the riff, Andrew Shernoff) are prominent. "Good Head" can't be faulted. (Hey, before you say it, that's a comment on the song, but what the hell...) Was "I Got Erection" going to be left off the set list? This is the tune that the crowds chant before AND after European shows, I'm told.

There's a bit of debate, post-gig, about the merits of Turbonegro. One guitarist whose opinion I do respect is hanging out at the back and tells me they're nothing but a warmed-over heavy metal band. There are certainly elements of metal there, and maybe some people get too hung up on the schtick. I still rate "Apocalypse Dudes" as one of the albums of the '90s (a nod to Big Al Creed, then of the New Christs, for the introduction). It's derivative as hell, sure, but a watershed of sorts and a collision between Scandi punk and glam metal. It's also a whole lotta fun.

Just like tonight.