By Niki D’Andrea Photos by Luke Holwerda
Better than: Taking the kids to Chuck E. Cheese.
Well, it finally happened. I got to see six Norwegians in sailor caps and chaps playing songs about erections and destruction.
I am talking, of course, about metal/punk/inverted glam/whatever band Turbonegro, a group that has an unbelievably loyal fan base. The devout are called Turbojugends, and they number in the tens of thousands worldwide. They dress like the band members, donning denim jackets with patches sewn on them and white sailor caps or army helmets. Sounds sorta like the Village People, I know, but let me tell ya: even the most flaming gay of the Village People would probably tighten their sphincters and run screaming from Turbonegro -- or run laughing, because unlike the Village People, Turbonegro is funny on purpose. Also unlike the Village People, Turbonegro flat-out rawks.
But before I get to the gushing ironies, or the luminaries of the local music scene that showed up, or the friendly jabs at Phoenix that singer Hank Von Helvete took from the stage, there are some opening acts to discuss.
Year Long Disaster: First of all, the drummer was playing a clear drum set, which I haven't seen anyone play since Joey from old Berkeley punk band Blatz (add five brownie points). Second, the drummer is Brad Hargreaves, who used to hit skins for Third Eye Blind (subtract those brownie points). But don't hold that against Year Long Disaster, as the trio sounds nothing like the band that heaved such songs as "Semi-Charmed Life" and "Never Let You Go" upon us. Third, the singer/guitarist of the band is Daniel Davies, son of Dave Davies of The Kinks, and bassist Rich Mullins came from psych-rock group Karma to Burn. But throw the pedigree comparisons out the window -- Year Long Disaster doesn't sound like anybody else...except maybe Wolfmother. They've got the same gritty, concentrated '70s rock sound of the Aussie power trio, with slightly less pop sensibility (and Davies' afro has slightly less spring in it than Andrew Stockdale's 'fro).
Mondo Generator: I was eagerly anticipating this set because I'm a big fan of both Queens of the Stone Age and Kyuss -- both former bands of singer/bassist Nick Oliveri, now fronting Mondo Generator. I'd also read that Oliveri likes to perform completely naked, so I was hoping some indecent exposure would happen, too (it didn't -- he never went farther than removing his shirt). Musically, Mondo Generator was a screaming, slow-lurching beast that reminded me of The Melvins, but with more linear rhythms. Overall, I was a bit underwhelmed by the band's 30-minute set, but I don't know what I was expecting -- Queens of the Stone Kyuss, maybe? Whatever my prejudiced perceptions, Mondo Generator still sounded tight and burly. They just didn't blow me away. Of course, I might have also been biased by the fact that Turbonegro was coming on next.
Oh yeah, baby, this is what we came to see.
There were several hundred people packed between the walls of the Brickhouse just before Turbonegro took the stage, and they were all ecstatic about seeing this band (get the back story on Turbonegro here). Several notables from the local music scene were hanging out and getting rowdy, including Tana Satana, Bam-Bam, and JJ Jet Jaguar of Asses of Evil; Lucky Dagger of The New Romantics; Shane Ocell of Via Vengeance; and promotion powerhouse Will Anderson of Lucky Man Concerts. This was a Lucky Man show, but Anderson’s clearly a fan, too. “I’ve seen Turbonegro several times,” he told me. “This show would be sold out if there wasn’t a Diamondbacks game going on tonight.”
It looks sold out to me. Everywhere I turn, there are hot chicks (punks, goths, and betties, oh my!); dudes in denim jackets; endless white sailor caps bobbing around in the crowd, people of both genders wearing black face makeup identical to Von Helvete’s; and at least ten guys in Motörhead shirts, for some reason (I hope Lemmy didn’t die today and I just haven’t found out yet). There are even a handful kids (with their parents) in the audience, and I do mean kids -- these little Turbojugends won’t see 16 for several years. And yet here they are, sitting on their dads’ shoulders in the pit, pumping their fists, smiling, and shouting along to “All My Friends Are Dead.” Finally, parent-child bonding has reached the sublime. Thank you, punk rock.
A young Turbojugend throws up her devil horns.
Who couldn’t love Turbonegro singer Hank Von Helvete? The guy comes onstage wearing the cheesiest vest (white leather with a big American flag design all over it, complete with suede fringe hanging off the breast pockets), jeans that hang below his bulging, bare gut and show a flash of ass crack, with American flag chaps that match the vest. He’s also wearing a black bandana with a pot leaf motif all over it.
“It’s great to be back in the hottest town on Earth. But you’ll have to excuse me -- I was food poisoned at Cooper’sland over there,” Von Helvete tells the audience, referring to the Brickhouse’s neighboring restaurant, Alice Cooper’stown. Then he laughs. “Just kidding.”
This was Von Helvete’s entree to the song “Everybody Loves a Chubby Dude.” Like most of Turbonegro’s tunes, this one has a killer retro rock riff, which guitarist Euroboy cranks out while standing atop the monitor. The band sounds solid and huge in this club, especially with the audience singing along to every song. It was like seeing an arena band in an intimate venue.
There's no way Von Helvete got that outfit back home in Norway.
When the band launches into “Midnight NAMBLA,” the crowd explodes into a big, bouncing mosh pit. The song “Denim Demon” elicits even more shout-alongs, and even some crowd surfing. The only lull in screaming comes during Von Helvete’s between-song banter.
“We are in a very dry place,” he says from the stage. “It’s not very moist, is it? And when it’s not moist, you can’t have sex. But here’s a tip from Europe -- it’s called oral sex, and if you don’t like it, you can blow me like the wind.”
This, of course, led into the song “Blow Me (Like the Wind).”
But Von Helvete’s joshings aren’t just for us. He uses Turbonegro bassist Happy Tom as a springboard, too, for the song “Sailor Man.”
“He thinks he came to Phoenix on a big boat from Japan. He said he was down at the Phoenix docks picking up sailor men. That’s how deep his alcoholism goes.”
Turbonegro played on for more than an hour, throwing everything from “City of Satan” (off 2005’s Party Animals) to “Do You Do You Dig Destruction” (off this year’s Retox) into the mix.
At the end of the night, the crowd was sweaty and sated, and Turbonegro was off to the next city, and the next throng of Turbojugends.
Personal bias: My great-great-great grandmother’s cousin’s daughter’s neighbor was Norwegian.
Random detail: Turbonegro's onstage accoutrements included 10 bottles of water, 9 towels, 6 microphones, and something that looked like a bottle of Tums. Also: you can get a beer, a burger, and fries for just $5 at the Brickhouse.