It’s been said by pretty much everyone at this point that Turnstile are having a moment. That much has certainly been made abundantly clear by their past year of monumental success, from releasing their biggest album yet to performing live on prime time talk shows to collaborating with live music archivist hate5six for the best concert film of the past decade. It’s an unprecedented level of success for a hardcore punk band like themselves who’ve spent the past decade tearing up small, standing-room-only clubs with no barricades or fancy production.
But then again, Turnstile have always seemed to possess that special something that’s helped catapult them to the top of the food chain. As any fan old or new can attest, seeing the band live is pretty much the basis of their entire artistic statement; there’s a definite kind of magic that happens in every room they play. The Baltimore group’s music just gets people moving, turning entire venues into what’s essentially a half mosh pit, half dance floor. There’s an airiness to the breakdowns, crunching guitars and slamming drums; a certain groove in place of head-splitting heaviness, and a friendly, welcoming image that stands against the gatekeeping meatheads of the genre.
But how does a band like them maintain their hard-fought street cred and skate punk energy after they’ve traded out the bars and basements for stages at Lollapalooza and The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon? Or after their latest album soared up the Billboard 200 chart? The answer lies once again in their live sets. On the current Turnstile Love Connection Tour (the biggest one of their career) it’s a tight hour of favorites filled with both frenetic and kinetic energy; no distractions, no long-winded speeches about the road to get here, no wasted time trying to hype the crowd up. Just pure punk adrenaline and packed houses of ecstatic kids and scene veterans.
Look no further than the band’s recent sold-out stop at The Fillmore Charlotte in North Carolina - a venue that felt almost ill-suited to contain the kind of exuberance that Turnstile brings out of their audiences. They were last in the Carolinas only a little over a month ago, opening for My Chemical Romance just a couple of hours away in Raleigh. The very morning of the Charlotte show, they were announced as direct support for Blink-182’s massive upcoming world tour. But none of that A-list elitism or obligatory self-congratulations were to be found at the show that evening, in fact, the band didn’t bother to mention either career milestone at all - nor did they address the sudden departure of lead guitarist and founding member Brady Ebert prior to the start of the tour. Turnstile weren’t interested in the past or the future, only the here and now while up on that stage. It paid off in spades; both the band and audience were locked in that night.
Kicking things off in just the right way was fellow Maryland musician Snail Mail, who eased the rapidly growing crowd into her unique vibe of layered indie rock. Lindsey Jordan’s smooth yet vulnerable vocals glided over the crisp sounds of her own guitar and the sharp drums of Ray Brown and the rest of the band, offering a surprisingly sprawling array of songs you could lose yourself in throughout the set. The calmer pace, Jordan’s dry sense of humor, and the peaks and valleys of the music set the feel-good atmosphere that would soon go off like a powder keg. The set was mostly made up of tunes from last year’s excellent sophomore album Valentine, with the opening / title track acting as the closing song. It was a wonderful start.
Up next was rapper and producer JPEGMAFIA, who immediately got people rushing to the front and up off their feet with his high energy one-man show. JPEG, who fans affectionately call Peggy (the name was screamed at him all night), danced, bounced and strutted across the stage while rapping and singing along to an eclectic mix of beats and samples. Should he ever run out of breath, the crowd was right there to take over vocal duties, shouting every word with an enthusiasm not normally seen on your average Tuesday night. Feeding off of that energy, JPEG even made his way into the crowd for a couple of songs. “Oh my god, this is my favorite song! Oh my god!” a teenage boy to my left squealed in delight as the beginning of ‘I Cannot Fucking Wait til Morissey Dies’ started up. The place was undoubtedly buzzing now.
If you’re going to your first Turnstile show, you should be aware that down in the front, it’s either get involved or get out. Once the lights went down and the first notes of ‘HOLIDAY’ began, it was an immediate madhouse. I had never seen or felt crowd surges that intense outside of big festivals; a testament to the unreal level that Turnstile have ascended to in the past year. Drinks and other miscellaneous items were sent flying, several chaotic waves of crowd surfers made their way over top the mass of people, and the center of the floor became a whirlpool of rabid fans letting out every last bit of sweat. Just days earlier, the band were playing at 6,000-8,000 capacity venues up north to start the tour. With a max capacity of only about 2,000 people, The Fillmore felt downright tiny for the kind of show the hardcore rockers were bringing to the table.
But perhaps that’s what made it all the better and more potent. To see Turnstile’s stadium-ready dynamism condensed into a smaller area is to almost experience what it was like not so long ago as the group were making their way up the ladder. Bigger stages and bigger notoriety means considerably less of what helped Turnstile become legends in the first place, namely, tons of kids going absolutely feral on each other and being welcomed to leap on and off the stage throughout the entire show. As the band tore through a spectacular set celebrating their landmark album GLOW ON (as well as some old favorites), I couldn’t help but wish that I could see some of that old school hardcore zest in action. The Fillmore, with its gorgeous chandeliers hanging above the crowd and its uppity VIP seating areas, doesn’t really lean itself towards that kind of mayhem.
Then it happened. One brave and dedicated fan came over the barricade, quickly broke away from security to hop onto the stage and then promptly hurled themselves right off it. It usually only takes that first person to open the floodgates, and the flood was certainly unleashed that evening as more people followed suit. Bodies were flung from the stage to the floor, which had become a nonstop mass of motion moving in a perfectly chaotic rhythm with the music. Kids were climbing up the building’s structural poles to sing their favorite songs and then leap into the outstretched arms below. Security eventually seemed to just give in to the unruliness. I’ve seen dozens if not hundreds of musicians play that venue. Not one of them ever whipped the crowd into the kind of magical stage-diving, stunt-performing frenzy that I experienced with Turnstile that night. I’m not sure I’ll ever see something like it again.
The night came to a close with ‘T.L.C.’, a song that perfectly captures the sound and the ethos of the band. A blast of fast-paced fury opens the track before giving way to a celebratory explosion that got every living soul in that building jumping and howling with glee. The final words of the show, “I want to thank you for letting me see myself, I want to thank you for letting me by myself” echoed from the stage to the audience and back, connecting the wide array of hearts and minds there that evening in the way only great music can. Brendan Yates, Daniel Fang, Freaky Fanz, Pat McCrory and Greg Cerwonka took their final bows and made their exit. Fans continued to chant those affirming words on their way out the doors, riding high off that indescribable feeling that a life-changing concert gives you. Check out any of the various clips from shows on this tour and you’ll see why, in our current renaissance of heavy rock-driven music, Turnstile aren’t just having a moment but are possibly the moment. Don’t miss it.
Turnstile are currently playing across the U.S. with Snail Mail and JPEGMAFIA on the Turnstile Love Connection Tour. Get tickets HERE