Photo credit: Sebastian Ludvigsen
Turbonegro are cooler than you. It doesn’t matter who you are, they’re still cooler than you. Deal with it. Regardless of the fact that they dress like modern day Village People and are fronted by an overweight Gene Simmons look-alike, they still manage to come off as being cooler than you, me, or anyone else. Damn, how the hell do they do it?
19 Sep 2003: Lee's Palace Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Simply enough, by rocking harder than any other band on the face of the planet. Their legendary performances and releases from the mid-‘90s netted the Norwegian group respect, praise, and undying admiration from heavyweight peers such as Dave Grohl, Jello Biafra, Steve Albini, and the Beastie Boys. Then, in a sick VH1 Behind the Music-like twist, they self-combusted and broke up on the brink of bringing their unique brand of brash death punk to the top of the music world. Their over-the-top personas and excessive lifestyles had finally caught up with the band, resulting in singer Hank Von Helvete spending some time in a psychiatric intensive care unit.
After spending a few years apart, the band regrouped in the summer of 2002 to play some European festivals. The shows were very successful, and much to the delight of fans everywhere, resulted in Turbonegro deciding to reunite to record a new album and attempt to conquer the world once again.
Tonight saw them performing in Toronto for the first time in more than five years, causing expectations to run high inside of a packed Lee’s Palace. As the lights dimmed, a roar erupted from the sold out crowd. Beginning with drummer Chris Summers, the Turbs began to file out. As the members strapped on their respective instruments, master of ceremonies Von Helvete took to the stage, twirled his trademark cane above his head and the rock onslaught began. Ripping their way through Scandinavian Leather‘s “Wipe It ‘Til It Bleeds”, the sextet sent the floor into a pogoing frenzy, not something you’d normally see at a 19-plus show. But then this audience wasn’t your normal holier-than-thou group of Torontonian scenesters. Looking around it was remarkable to see such a diverse group of people at the same show. Punks, indie kids, middle-aged businessmen, head-banging metal guys and gals, and muscular frat boys wearing bassist Happy Tom-inspired sailor caps all gathered to pay homage to the band.
Living up to and then surpassing their own legend, Turbonegro kicked the collective asses of all in attendance. Focusing on material from this year’s Scandinavian Leather and 1999’s classic Apocalypse Dudes the group turned in an explosive 80-minute set. Although all six members turned in strong performances, Von Helvete and guitarist Euro Boy quickly became the focal points on the tiny packed stage. With his face painted like a mix of Gene Simmons and Alice Cooper, Von Helvete extended a biker glove-clad hand to the heavens as he belted each one of his lyrics. Dancing while his exposed beer belly bounced around, he even let loose a couple of high-pitched Dio-esque “Yeah"s and “Whoa"s much to the delight of his adoring fans.
Between songs he told several stories peppered with tales of sex, the French, customs agents, and brimming with homosexual references before launching into another one of the group’s anthems. Euro Boy, although just as entertaining, went for a less boisterous approach. Allowing his guitar to speak for him, he managed to strike every rock pose imaginable as he tore the group’s material. Ever the inventive fellow, when he got sick of playing on stage he climbed atop of the speakers, crowd surfed, or perched himself on the shoulder’s of keyboardist Pal Pot Pamparius and played there instead.
Realizing that no death punk show could be complete with some blood, Von Helvete picked up a small black cauldron and doused the crowd during “Drenched in Blood”. Before beginning the next number, “Fuck the World”, he told everyone that “this song is about being all drenched in blood and being all horny about it.” In a classy move, he then dedicated the track to a gentleman up front who had gotten covered with the majority of the fake red substance. Finishing things up shortly afterwards, Happy Tom blew a kiss and the Turbs left the stage.
Yearning for more, a few overzealous fans began clapping and chanting “I Got Erection”. Quickly the chant grew and echoed through the whole club. Looking to satisfy the audience’s insatiable need for more rock the group bounded back on stage and delivered fantastic versions of “The Age of Pamparius” and “Don’t Say Motherfucker, Motherfucker”. Knowing that everyone wanted to hear “I Got Erection”, Von Helvete decided to taunt them a bit before playing it. Dividing the room in half he got the crowd to do a fantastic call and response bit that would make most hip hop icons jealous. After two minutes of call and response he informed the crowd that they had “already done the song for us and now we don’t have to,” before beginning to walk off stage. As fans voiced their objections Von Helvete assured everyone he was just joking before breaking into arguably the best boner song known to man.
Turbonegro’s performance was a perfect textbook example of how to rock a show. Reeking of coolness, charisma and originality, the six Norwegians quenched the crowd’s hunger for a blast from the past, and in the process showed that they are stronger than ever. Rest assured, this time world domination will not escape Von Helvete’s biker-gloved grasp.