Straight up: this was one of the greatest nights of live rock’n’roll I have ever had the pleasure to witness.
And I very nearly didn’t go. No-one else I usually go to concerts with wanted to go. There was an element of thinking this was going to be too loud and too wild at our age (and in this age). Some people just don’t like metal that much, and Turnstile definitely fit that category, as well as hardcore/punk.
But the more I listened to Turnstile’s 2021 album Glow On, and especially the songs Blackout and Don’t Play, I knew I had to be there if there were still tickets in London. The O2 Forum in Kentish Town was sold out, but the Roundhouse had a few seats left. No standing – that was all gone. Usually at the Roundhouse it’s the other way round: the seats are snapped up quickly. That told you something – people were there to rock! A seat suited me just fine – I was there to observe, tap a foot, relish the riffs, with beer in hand and camera at the ready.
I had never heard of Turnstile until last December, when the end of year Best Of lists started coming out. They featured in a few, and I liked the way they were being described. So I checked out Glow On, and thought, wow, there’s some good stuff on this. I then got hooked on two tunes, Blackout and Don’t Play, put them on my best of 2021 playlist and rather neglected the rest. Until the last couple of days when I decided to mug up on the collective works. There was a helpful set list for the recent Nottingham Rock City gig on Setlist FM which I thought would give me a good idea of what they were about to play (in fact it was the same set). And the more I listened, the more I thought, this is going to be awesome.
But there was a bonus in prospect – Chubby and the Gang were opening for them. Another great no-nonsense rock’n’roll band. They were terrific at Latitude last year, when they came on after the brilliant Wet Leg in the Alcove tent, and played forty minutes of high speed rock’n’roll – a cross between Dr Feelgood, early Clash and Motorhead. Jon G and I were blown away – we struggled to enjoy Wolf Alice afterwards on the main stage, because it seemed so tame in comparison, much as we both love them.
So, at 6.30, I headed out to Camden. Get there just after 7.30, have a beer, take my seat for Chubby at 8.15. Didn’t figure with London Underground. Piccadilly Line was suspended, Northern Line had severe delays. Both legs of the usual route gone. So bus to Ealing Broadway, Central Line to Bond Street, Jubilee line to Swiss Cottage. Twenty minute walk over to Chalk Farm, the Roundhouse’s location. Got there just before eight. Two hundred metre queue down the road. Aaaaagh! Covid pass checks slowing things down of course, though it was efficiently organised. London life…
I made it to my seat by 8.25, so got to see two thirds of Chubby’s show. Just as I sat down, one song ended and they started up on Lightning Don’t Strike Twice, one of my two favourites. Warmed the heart it did. Hundred-mile-an-hour rock’n’roll, with Chubby (who isn’t at all chubby) strutting around, bawling out the lyrics. Occasionally he gets the harmonica out – just like Lee Brilleaux did for the Feelgoods – but it’s hardly audible in the barrage of sound. The usual moshing going on just back from the front of the stage. Best avoided if you are over thirty, though there is always the odd old geezer trying to re-live his youth. And fair enough – I just do it more sedately.
The set rushed by entertainingly, and finished with their great anthem to West London, All Along the Uxbridge Road. Set us up very nicely for the headliners…
Bought a couple of beers at the interval, drank one, took the other back to the seat, and got ready to rock – in a manner of speaking. Lights dimmed, a bit of doodling, a blaze of light, and then the band piled into Mystery from the new album. Plenty of Nirvana in this one. Greeted by the crowd in the only way possible – fists in the air, chanting, and a lot of jumping around. Stayed like that for most of the show. It was fascinating to watch from above, as well as completely joyous to behold the antics of the band. This is music that makes you smile – it is just so exhilarating, so much fun. I haven’t studied the lyrics, they could be about anything. You can’t discern them much above the beats and the relentless power chords anyway – other than the signature chants, of which there are quite a few. But even if they are about lost love, or the end of the world – you know, your standard pop themes – it doesn’t really matter, because the whole show is a celebration of everything that makes rock’n’roll as essential today as it was when Elvis was driving teenagers mad in the fifties.
They played 21 songs in just over an hour – no messing around here. That’s very much the punk ethos. Not much opportunity for solos. But Turnstile are an accomplished band and demonstrated that throughout the set. They have been around since 2010, with their first album/EP Step 2 Rhythm released in 2013. There are all sorts of musical twists on the latest album, even a slow song! Alien Love Call was the lighters out moment in a sea of pounding beats, pile-driving riffs and lots of shouting. And while Glow On provided half the set, all their albums got a look in. I liked that – if you have crowd favourites from past albums, why not play them? A live gig is a time to entertain and celebrate, as well as showcase new material. Turnstile got the balance just right.
If I had to describe the music with reference to other bands, I’d say Turnstile combine the best of Metallica, Nirvana and the Beastie Boys. The latter is important: there are no rap tunes as such, but there is a feel and attitude about the band that relates to that music. No great surprise when they hail from Baltimore in the US.
Blackout and Don’t Play were highlights of course, but really, I loved the whole show. And what a great way to end, with TLC (Turnstile Love Connection) – a super-fast bit and then the power chords kick in and the chant begins: I want to thank you for letting me see myself. (See myself alternated with be myself.) A chant for the times, and a fitting end to an amazing show.
A bit of a photo dump follows. Some are a little blurry – it’s hard to capture people on the move as the lights blaze. But I hope they’ll give you some sense of the dynamics on an exceptional night of rock’n’roll.
Starting with Chubby and the Gang.
And then my new favourite band, Turnstile!