For a band that seems to be taking nothing seriously, there is a lot to unpack about Turbonegro. The endless tours. The superstar status in the Scandinavian countries. That name (conceived to insult Norwegian Neo Nazis) The famous friends and supporters (Jello Biafra, Queens of the Stone Age, Mayhem, HIM, Metallica, Andrew WK, the Jackass crew, etc.). Their effortless ability to offend. The countless songs about man- love. The strategically inserted Roman candles. The line- up breakups and mental breakdowns. Turbojugend, their legendary fan club (2300 chapters worldwide). What the fuck is up with this band?
Case in point: Their previous album came out 6 years ago, was called Sexual Harassment and sounded like a looser, more chill Poison Idea. The new album, RockNRoll Machine, is a conceptually bewildering, hairspray- drenched tribute to Desmond Child, Judas Priest’s Turbo, neon, spandex and Pyromania. You get the idea. Is this inspired dementia? Trolling? An attempt to muscle in on the synthwave gravy train? Who cares. Both are recognisably by the same band but it’s safe to say that I still haven’t processed the mental whiplash. This is what happens when you are about to see one of your favourite bands for the first time. You wonder if they can pull it off.
Frustratingly, we arrive too late for Easy, the support group, due to weather- related issues (London was looking like Rosebud on Friday night and buses were slow). It’s a shame because I’ve listened to their stuff since then and I am now in love with their hook- laden, glammy hard rock. They did have the best item on the merch table though (a cherry red jacket with their logo). In any case, we have just gotten our drinks when the first bars of the Rock N Roll Machine suite start playing.
It becomes evident early on that the band has more or less frontloaded the setlist with the new songs- a risky move that pays off completely. I’m not sure what the general consensus to the new album is, but this crowd has clearly shown up knowing all the lyrics and gives them a returning hero’s welcome. And an excellent crowd it is too, a mix of the usual tattooed lifers, beardy hipsters, the Camden stoner contingency, groups of boys in sailor hats and eyeliner and girls that could snap you in two if they so pleased.
Anyway, the new songs have been growing on me. I mean, my friend Eirini points out that Skinhead Rock & Roll sounds like it should be playing in the prom night finale of an 80s sex comedy and that’s not intended as a compliment, but Hot for Nietzsche is already one of my favourite Turbonegro riffs of all time, while John Carpenter Powder Ballad lives up to its’ name AND sounds great pulsing through KOKO as we wander the various levels in search for booze and a balcony smoke.
Turbonegro has always been adept in unearthing the innate homoeroticism that comes with rock ‘n’ roll, from the leather gangs in The Wild One to corpsepaint- wearing bare- chested Vikings prancing in the snow. Which is to say that they are camp as fuck and look like they were drawn by Tom of Finland if he was really into denim, bears and AC/DC. Frontman Tony Sylvester is wearing denim hotpants and what looks like Klaus Meine’s cap and teases the audience flirtatiously. Euroboy (guitar hero of my teenage years) is jumping around in a factory worker’s onesie, spitting lithe, chrome- plated licks. He’s got Ace Frehley moves and elevates songs that I was on the fence about to rock Valhalla. Monolithic anthems like Get It On and the glorious City of Satan (prefaced by a Queen medley) become audience singalongs. Bassist and main songwriter Happy-Tom has his trademark sailor’s cap on and offers occasional, well- timed backing vocals, while remaining in a locked down groove with rhythm guitarist Rune Rebellion (shades and a man from Del Monte hat) and drummer Tommy Manboy (headband, streaky Alice Cooper mascara) for the duration. New keyboardist Crown Prince Haakon-Marius (I can’t even) is dropping 80s synth flourishes when he isn’t busy dancing around with a tambourine.
Sylvester used to be the president of Turbojugend, before being asked to join the band after the previous singer- the legendary Hank von Helvete- left for reasons associated with rehab and scientology. Happy-Tom has his own talk show, Trygdekontoret, for Norwegian TV. What the fuck IS up with this band?
Sylvester doesn’t have Helvete’s glam sneer and his voice is several octaves deeper. The Helvete- era of the group had a taint of malevolence which is now absent. In its’ place we get a goofier, friendlier vibe- like a bunch of thugs hat want to cover you in glitter instead of kicking your head in. They are still hilarious and you can still get offended if you choose, but (much like the Stones, the Stooges and AC/DC) they are slinky and cheerfully nihilistic. And I am on board with that sort of thing.
Fuck the World sounds enormous. Age of Pamparius comes like a wave of exhilaration and I Got Erection loses its’ inherent misogynistic vibe and transforms to a playful, all- inclusive terrace chant. They finish on a high and way too early. Perhaps everyone is in a hurry to walk a few blocks up to the Black Hart, where the afterparty takes place. It’s a great gig and a great night and proof that sometimes legends are justified. The night is young so we keep drinking.