Oslo, ByLarm music festival
The Manics once had a great slogan, ‘all rock n roll is homosexual’ they pouted in defiance. Turbonegro understand this in a fantastically lewd, loud and crude manner as they put the amp into camp but in such a twisted and deranged way that they look like they are walking out of lysergic horror film. They are also so macho that, like the New York Dolls before them, they somehow look even more straight no matter how much blusher they slap on.
The fact that the self styled denim boys are also a great rock n roll band who seem to have got tighter and more switchblade concise in the last year also helps and the fact that they have just delivered one of their best albums, Sexual Harassment, in a long and, lets face it, quite deranged career does not harm their continued case one bit.
They have also pulled off that rarest of rock n roll tricks- losing a frontman and getting a new one who not only makes the transition seamless but makes the band even better.How dare they do that!There’s lots of great things about Turbonegro but the one thing you cannot get away from and the one that defines them is their image. An image that is one part pouting neo glam with the camp cranked to ten and one part like a crew of tripped out sailors hitting dry land and so desperate to get laid that they have raided the make up room of the local brothel and splattered on the blusher and are ready to fuck anything- including rock n roll with a series of songs that are funny, dark and oddly quite menacing in their raw power.
This is a raw power that digs the gutter punk of the Ramones, Stooges and the Dictators with the sissy strut of the prime time New York Dolls but with a metallic KO edge and a genuinely hilarious debunking of PC rock n roll with utter gonzoid lyrics that are fantastically stoopid. There is also a keen knowing and a deep understanding of rock n roll culture that makes them fascinating as well as funny.
As they stand there delivering tight and fierce rock n roll, dressed in sailor hats and sawn off denim droog clobber, they manage to look hilarious and terrifying like the baddest of the bad ass crews in rock n roll and the only ones left who know the truth
It’s fair to say that Turbonegro are like no other rock band yet on the other hand, their camp, sailor boy pouting fairground show it so like all other rock n roll that its like its holding up a mirror to those macho boys and showing them for what they really are.
They have also turned themselves into rock n roll’s weirdest cult with the Turbjugend- clutches of similarly deranged folk in cities across the world who wear sawn off denim covered in patches, referencing various aspects of the band.
There may have been some nervousness when the band lost their singer, the charismatic giant haystack of Hank Von Helvete who left to become a scientologist and also enter the Eurovision song contest (look, I know this all sounds made up- but it’s all true!) But Tony Sylvester has arrived and staked out the home turf with his own take on the bands’s lunatic schtick. Tony looks like an old sea salt covered in barnacle tattoos and also looks like he has been waiting for his whole life to walk into this bizarre set up and make the band his own.
Oh yeah, we also got some history with this mob.
Way back in 1986 I went to see the Butthole Surfers on a UK tour at the Boardwalk in Manchester and met some very drunk and, quite possibly, tripping Norwegian lunatics. They, somewhat surprisingly, had nowhere to stay because no one wanted to put them up so we, of course, said they could stay round my house.
On the way home we passed the West Didsbury Conservative club and, in a moment of drunken lunacy, decided to make an archaic social comment by carving a swastika into the front door whilst the Norwegians were the look outs- which in their stage was quite possibly not the best plan.
Of course they failed miserably in their task, maybe because their heads were full of dancing elves and brilliant psychedelic visions and we were caught by the cops. It was sort of our Bullingdon Club moment in reverse and we had to go home and get soap and water to wash the swastika off the door which didn’t work because it was carved.
The cops, eventually, didn’t really seem to mind and let us all go and we hung out for a raucous night with our new Norwegian buddies who I never bumped into again until nearly three decades later in Oslo when it turned out that they are heart and soul of Turbonegro.
Tonight they have a point to prove, it’s Tony Sylvester’s biggest profile show in the band’s home town and there could be blood or fake blood or message board moaning but he totally delivers. Tony used to be our friend as well but has gone off us now but we still love him and he more than easily makes the home turf his own and totally redefines the band like a pipe smoking cartoon character straight from TinTin.
Tonight is a triumph, it’s never easy to come back to your home town with a new head on a strange body and make it your own but Turbonegro do this magnificently.