TURBONEGRO
+ HARD ONS
Gaelic Club, Sydney
Friday October 17, 2003

WORDS AND PICTURES:
JOHN McPHARLIN

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 general neighbourhood).

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 own arses?

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 less satisfying.

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 Turbonegro's fault.

3/4

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