THE SULTANS OF SCANDINAVIAN SLEAZE; TURBONEGRO AND MONDO GENERATOR @ THE NOKIA THEATER
Turbonegro oozes with street level glam-rock grit, and they’re goddamn proud of it. Despite all of their lyrics being in English, this over-the-top band formed in the late ’80s comes from Oslo, Norway, which doesn’t particularly strike me as a geographical purveyor of rawk (obviously metal is a different story), but watching them perform this past Tuesday night at the Nokia Theater in New York (with Nick Oliveri’s Mondo Generator as support), they might as well have been transplanted from the Lower East Side heyday of glam and trash. And the truth is, that era is no doubt what got these tri-curious chaps started on their mission of filthiness in the first place.
This is most definitely a party band, but not nearly the type you’d see performing at the debutante’s ball. Their Village-People-from-the-gutter appearance (complete with sailor’s cap), crunchy guitar-driven sound, and fuckit-let’s-fuck attitude brings to mind prurient acts being committed in back alleyways, needles decadently being shared in the aforementioned late ’80s, and all sorts of hedonistic wonderlandesque underground sex clubs from eastern Europe. These guys love spectacle, especially as far as ostentatious homoerotic posturing goes, but thankfully there’s also a certain amount of brains that cums along with their copious cock swaggery…
And there sort of has to be, I suppose, what with half the guys on stage wearing ladies makeup and their rotund lead singer proudly flapping his flabby gut around….overtly sexual but not so sexy–hardly worthy of traditional rock star idolatry that typically makes a 13 year-old girl’s panties wet. Not that these rockers care about pandering to the commercial contingent in the least: on their first studio album, Hot Cars and Spent Contraceptives, they clearly make note of their target audience with the track “I’m in Love With the Destructive Girls”. (ps… best track name off that album is definitely “Vaya Con Satan”)
The band’s sleaze-rock, high mids sound (occasionally incorporating three guitars when the flamboyant keyboard player would pick up an axe) is certainly dynamic and contains plenty of hooks throughout, but to the well-trained ear, the songwriting comes off as pretty simplistic. Not that that’s the point; the crowd of we-just-wanna-rock-ers couldn’t have cared less. But I did.
So when the tripped-out, corpulent singer started making astute observations about New York in between songs, the contrast of “yah yah yah let’s get WASTED” and clever(ish) insight about the way that the Giuliani era affected sex/the sex trade in NYC was a welcome departure. And you sort of got the sense that this kooky, rubenesque Nordic dude has been out there living the life in city after city and knows a thing or two about the (sleazy side of the) world. Which is frankly hard not to respect.
Impressively, the NYC glam/trash contingent came out in droves for the show, and sang along to every word of every song. Where had all these folks been hiding, at the Rocky Horror Picture Show? Ostensibly, these fans have been following Turbonegro for years and years, and perhaps for many the band has at this point become a guilty pleasure that pisses in the face of guilty-pleasure embarrassment. Or maybe the base, defiant rawk actually touches folks in their soul. What else could songs like “Don’t Say Motherfucker, Motherfucker”, “Zillion Dollar Sadist”, and “Rendezvous With Anus” do but inspire?
Each member of the band could play his instrument pretty well, but the point here seemed more to show off their exuberance (which they did repeatedly) rather than their shredding capabilities. And that’s not to say that their lead guitarist couldn’t or didn’t shred–he did in almost every song–it’s simply that technical skills almost always become underscored when there’s a serious message of smut in the foreground.
Bottom line: in essence, Turbonegro is a one-trick pony; their brand of let-yr-balls-hang-out titillating cock rock gets the job done in a simplistic sense, but in addition to the groin, I expect and prefer my aggressive music to have big heart and brains as well. Turbonegro certainly deserves its place in the world of rawk, and the band’s live show is a sight to see, but don’t sacrifice another sought-after performance for this unless if you are already a die-hard fan.
I definitely expected a lot more from openers Mondo Generator, fronted by ex-Queens of the Stone Age bassist Nick Oliveri. Don’t get me wrong–Oliveri himself still rocks, and his bass playing was definitely the best part of the music; he added plenty of impressive frills and transitions in most songs, and his raspy scream wasn’t unbearable–but that wasn’t nearly enough to win me over (not by a long shot), and I couldn’t help feeling like he was selling himself way short with this project.
The drummer could basically hold a beat, but that was pretty much it, and shouldn’t we strive to far surpass the bare minimum? Both guitar players’ tones sounded canned as all hell, and neither axeman seemed capable of playing anything other than bar chords (again with the bare minimum!), less one mediocre solo, which was, well, mediocre.
None of the songwriting had any weight whatsoever–each tune came and went and oh well who cares–except for the last number, which was….you guessed it, a QOTSA cover!
Were Oliveri to jam with other similarly talented players, and were those jam sessions to yield a new crop of tunes, I am fairly confident that those tunes would be worth your time. But these tunes, and this band, is most definitely not.