+ HARD ONS
Gaelic Club, Sydney
Friday October 17, 2003
WORDS AND PICTURES:
Doubtless we'll all sit around in years to come and reminisce
about this tour, droning on endlessly with our various war stories from
the Turbonegro campaign of '03 and boring the shit out of younger punters
who weren't there. Right now my thoughts are elsewhere however, because
my ribs ache and I'm pretty busy just licking my wounds (though not literally
- most are in places I wouldn't choose to lick even if I could reach them
with my tongue and it's not my ribs as such that ache, since God and a
lifetime of over indulgence have seen to it that I'm pretty well padded
around there, but I do have some impressive bruises developing in that
I won't pretend that seeing Turbonegro was a lifelong dream come true,
since I only cottoned on to them about three years ago, but considering
that at that stage they were long since disbanded and never likely to
reform, having them not only back together again but touring Australia
on the back of a new album certainly did have an air of fantasy wish fulfilment
about it and I was more than ready for a little darkness, or so I thought.
The Barman had insisted on one last drink at the pub on the corner, so
by the time we arrived at the Gaelic Club the place was packed (on the
Turbonegro website, this gig was originally announced as being at the
Annandale Hotel, but obviously the promoter wisely decided to move it
to a bigger venue, though clearly he still could have sold even more tickets
if he'd opted for the Metro). As we eased our way towards the front, the
Hard Ons were in full flight and well into their set. This was my first
encounter with them since Keish departed for good and Blackie took over
the vocals while Ray Ahn's mate in the Stalkers, Peter Kostic, took over
the drumkit, so that'll give you an inkling of how slack I've been lately.
So is it just me, or do the Hard Ons now sound a lot more like Nunchukka
Superfly than they used to? Even the jovial "Suck and Swallow"
with which they closed the set had been stripped of most of its playful
punk-pop veneer and instead sounded positively tortured and driven, bordering
on the downright demonic. Not that that's a bad thing of course. I wish
now I had managed to catch the whole set, but given my past record in
relation to arriving in time to catch support bands, even if for once
it wasn't all my fault, I'm hardly in any position to be taking the moral
high ground (and let's face it, "moral high ground" isn't a
phrase that looks like it belongs in any sentence involving the Hard Ons...
or Turbonegro for that matter).
After finishing their set, the Hard Ons didn't waste much time clearing
their gear off the stage. It turned out they needn't have hurried, since
it took, if not forever then close to it, for Turbonegro to come on. I
can't help suspecting that this was all part of the performance, part
of their master plan, giving the Turbojugend (of whom there was a surprisingly
large number in their natty sailor's caps - some obviously just purchased
at the merch stand on the way in tonight while others bore the unmistakable
stains of the gigs earlier in the week) the opportunity to open their
throats and vent their lungs in an undulating, seemingly never ending
chorus of "I Got Erection", like the sordid vocal equivalent
of a Mexican wave.
When not singing, or even when they were, they were busy making their
collective way forward to the foot of the stage and in the process packing
down tighter than any scrum you will have seen on the recent rugby world
cup highlights. This is where the bruising I mentioned earlier had its
origin. As soon as the Turbs fired up, the crowd behind me started pressing
forward relentlessly, stretching out desperate arms, hands and fingers
trying to touch a knee, a trouser leg, the toe of a boot... The Turbs,
Euroboy in particular, were more than happy to oblige; going right up
to the edge of the stage and sometimes even further.
When they started I was already jammed hard up against the stage, which
was at roughly the level of my navel although the foldback monitors then
provided an additional, though far less stable, barrier up to about chest
height. Soon those closest behind me were making vaguely irritated noises,
hinting at their displeasure that not only was I in their way, viz a viz
getting to touch an appendage of the rawk Godz, but I obviously wasn't
making any attempt to join in. What can I say? I was busy with my camera,
hoping to get a few good photos and anyway, once you've had Euroboy try
to sit on your shoulder and practically stick his dick in your ear, as
happened to me quite early in the proceedings, reaching up to grasp at
the hem of his jeans seems somehow... superfluous.
Hank Von Helvete may not be as svelte as he used to be, but he can still
fling that dolphin's blood around with the best of them (at least he claimed
it was dolphin's blood). I'd been warned that the show might involve a
passing shower of blood, so there had been more than a little trepidation
on my part while I waited, ready to whip my camera out of harm's way.
After the roadies had gaffer taped the setlists to the stage, I could
just make out that the first song was something to do with blood or bleeding,
but of course not only I was having to read it upside down (and at an
angle), I was working at the considerable disadvantage of not having actually
bought the new album yet (yes, I know, I'm hanging my head in shame as
I type this).
As it turned out, the opening song was "Wipe It Till It Bleeds"
off the new album, but that wasn't where the bucket of blood came into
play. Oh no that was during "Drenched In Blood" of course, much
later in the set. I'll freely admit that when that moment came, I ducked
cowardly to one side leaving a gap that was plugged instantly as those
behind me surged forward to receive their bountiful liquid communion direct
from the hands of rock's one true Prince Of Darkness. A short while later
Hank ripped open a pillow and soon the air was full of small feathers,
which drifted down onto the blood soaked fans and then stuck to them,
leaving them looking like they'd been on the receiving end of a bit of
rough western justice.
The set was weighted heavily with the newies pushed to the front, peppered
with the occasional highlight from the classic "Apocalypse Dudes"
or the preceding "Ass Cobra". "Selfdestructo Bust"
and "Back To Dungaree High" came fairly early, then "Denim
Demon" later and a monumental "Get It On". However once
they got into the home stretch, it was nothing but wall to wall classics,
closing with "Prince Of The Rodeo" and "Good Head"
and for the encores pulling out "Age Of Pamparius", "Don't
Say Motherfucker, Motherfucker", "Are You Ready (For Some Darkness)"
and - as if there could ever have been any other choice! - "I Got
Erection" (they didn't call their comeback tour the "Res-Erection
Tour" for nothing!).
As you might expect, "I Got Erection" included a heavy element
of audience participation. Hank took it in turns to lead sections of the
audience (boys vs girls, upstairs vs downstairs) in an extensive sing-along
worthy of the Wiggles at your nearest Westfield shopping centre, only
without the extensive pants wetting you'd normally expect from the pre-pubescent
audiences that Wigglemania attracts, or at least not quite so much of
it. When you feel something wet and warm down the back of your trousers
at a Turbonegro show, you just have to pray that it's nothing more than
flat beer being spilled by the punter behind you. Fortunately it's been
years since I last went to a gig wearing anything that wasn't completely
machine washable, because everything I was wearing certainly needed a
good wash when I got home...
There's a rumour going around that some attendees came away less than
completely blown away. A few apparently thought it was a bit tame (presumably
they'd come along desperate to see Hank shove a handful of fireworks up
his arse). There have even been allegations that Turbonegro are nothing
but a dumb glam band, a hair metal band, an obsolete stadium rock band...
Guns N' Roses meets Kiss. Who the fuck are these people and how can they
expect to hear what's going on with their heads jammed so far up their
Sure Kiss had their army, while Turbonegro have a navy ("Well, hello
sailor!"). Sure there's make up and amateur theatrics, but I reckon
Alice Cooper makes a far more valid reference point than Kiss (even if
they did all arrive on stage with disturbingly full and bright red lips).
Sure there's posing and pretension, but Turbonegro take their music very
seriously, if not themselves.
They are not the broad pisstake that Spinal Tap was and they've never
denied their death metal origins, but they do maintain a reasonable sense
of perspective and even the most serious endeavour inevitably has its
funny side if you keep your eyes open. Their's are, but clearly some of
their critics' aren't. They have realised that you don't have to have
your sense of humour surgically removed in order to be a serious musician;
you can be sincere without coming over all precious about it.
A Turbonegro performance is the Theatre of Cruelty set to music; Grand
Guignol with a groove (I'm just going for the alliterative effect here
of course, but I really mean "Grand Guignol with a beat", since
"groove" has now become synonymous with the electro/techno/spasmo
school, making it not just unrock, but positively anti-rock). They know
that rock is meant to be loud and aggressive and at its best, absolutely
overwhelming. If Richard Wagner was still writing his operas today, he'd
be writing Gotterdammerung with guitars.
Turbonegro have used showmanship to take back the stage from the shoegazers
and the overly earnest indie guitar pop bands. Their big rock sound requires
big rock gestures, but the fact that their tongues are pressed firmly
into their cheeks (and they allow themselves twice as many to choose from
as most other bands) doesn't make the music less intense or the experience
Despite the fact that the bar staff stopped serving drinks the moment
the band stopped playing, I came away from the Gay Lick Club wet and warm
and happy; I hope you did too. If you didn't, then I don't reckon it's