Turnstile Is Happy to Provide at Stubb’s

Big riff breakouts lead five-band testament to punk plurality

Turnstile (Photo by Gary Miler)

“And if it makes you feel alive/ Well, then I’m happy I provide/And when you see me on the floor/It’s just a part of my show, show, show, show, show.” I couldn’t tell you exactly when Turnstile wrote these lyrics, from their 2021 single “Blackout,” but they’re pretty clearly out of date.

After a decade spent climbing from the lowest, filthiest rungs of the DIY ladder to the heights of Jimmy Kimmel Live!, it seems unlikely these big riff breakouts will ever again play stages at an equivalent elevation to their audience. While the group are far from a true-blue hardcore band (somebody recently described their frisky, playful style to me as Weezer songs with Rage Against the Machine riffs), it was still surreal to find Stubb’s, on a blisteringly-hot Friday evening, sold out to an almost purely punked-out crowd. Each municipal patched denim jacket and gapless tattoo sleeve provided testament to Turnstile’s scene bonafides.

You likewise couldn’t knock the authenticity of the group’s prodigious supporting lineup, which trended almost exclusively towards Eighties-rooted purism. Recent Run For Cover signees Truth Cult share Baltimore origins with the headliners, though their sound screams influences from about an hour south. Bandleader Paris Roberts’ political lyrics and Guy Picciotto-esque howl are pure straight edge D.C., even if each individual band member probably has more hair on their head than the entire Dischord Records roster combined.

Turnstile (Photo by Gary Miller)

It’s a testament to the modern plurality of punk and its glorious dearth of genre walls that the next band, New York’s Ekulu, play the sort of burly crossover thrash once the lone domain of beer-swilling meatheads. In the Eighties, if you had Suicidal Tendencies in your tape deck, you were probably giving wedgies to the kids who snuck off at night to debate ethical imperatives at free Fugazi shows. In 2022, the scrawny members of Truth Cult spent the entirety of Ekulu’s set thrashing in the wings and gleefully hopping on to share the microphone with the band’s Hulked-out, bandanna-wearing frontperson.

Come eight o’clock, crowd crunch finally became heel on ankle. No surprise, California’s Ceremony, around nearly two decades, was the first of the night to gather a passionate following to the pit. In the 2000s, the band mastered powerviolence – an especially breakneck hardcore variant packing wildly fluctuating tempos within a single song. Today, their set is like a single, extended powerviolence track. The band lurched between the frenetic Circle Jerks worship of their zenith to recent dabbling in mid-tempo, Talking Heads-style new wave. The appeal of the latter material personally escaped me, so I mostly bobbed my head waiting for the next riveting blast beat, but everyone I’d moshed with just minutes prior seemed to know the lyrics. Shout out to guitarist Anthony Anzaldo, who played shirtless in a speedo, as he should, because he is hot as hell.

Turnstile (Photo by Gary Miller)

The night’s final opener was Ohio’s Citizen, another group who has made something of a pivot from post-hardcore to post-punk revival, though bouncy dance rhythms have done nothing to dilute the melancholy thrum consistently powering their work. This group’s heart-clutching anthems, beyond being expertly played, were also perfectly placed as a relative cooldown before the headliner – allowing the pit demons a break from high-kicking in aggression to instead shove around in angsty reverie.

Any spirit of introspection immediately dissipated upon the synth intro to Turnstile’s Glow On opener “Mystery.” This friendly little keyboard part functioned as a dog whistle, heralding slamming breakdowns to come. The crowd immediately tore itself apart trying to open about 25 pits. I’m a fairly broad-shouldered young man who knows the importance of keeping a wide stance to stay on your feet. But during a blistering three-song opening blitz medley also encompassing “Real Thing” and “Big Smile,” I was ricocheted from the front row on a 100-square-foot journey around Stubb’s, witnessing a tour of devastation not unlike the beach storming in Saving Private Ryan.

My immediate thought was that the venue had radically overestimated its capacity and that mass-mosh events were better suited for Emo’s. Thankfully, by the time the band launched into “Blackout,” the divergent strains of aggression found pockets to accommodate them and a collective head-banging equilibrium took hold, remaining essentially stable for the remaining fifty minutes. Occasional harrowing crowd tilt moments had the insensitive yelling “Astroworld!,” but most crowd surfers made it to the security team unscathed.

Turnstile (Photo by Gary Miller)

It was even, on occasion, possible to lean back and admire Turnstile. Despite the many quirks and goofy doo-dads of their songwriting, there’s a pleasingly traditional understatement to the band’s center-stage confidence. A lot of hardcore frontmen view it as their responsibility to coach the crowd’s energy – building hype with song names or asking directly for circle pits. Aside from the occasional “how we feeling?” and one call-and-response, Brendan Yates instead spent the night bounding around in pure guru reverie, utterly possessed by his own songs as though he were a Turnstile fan and not… Turnstile. (I’m tempted to refer to his shuffling moves as jazzercise, though that might just be projecting off his physique. Dude’s about as ripped as anyone in the genre since Henry Rollins’ shift to spoken word concert hall tours.)

Behind Yates, any band would look a little causal in comparison, so give it up to the musicians of Turnstile for digging their heels into total approachability. The band spent more of their performance smiling and waving at individual fans than any rock headliner I can recall. That friendliness may have been conciliatory, because these guys were riffing way harder than they do on record. “You really gotta see it live to get it” bassist Brady Ebert sings on solo dream pop showcase “No Surprise.” I was already an agnostic on Glow On’s gauzy production, and after seeing how brutal the songs can be when freed from the album’s pinkish haze, I’m now doubly so. Likewise, it really takes a crowd mirroring the energy spikes of highlights like “Holiday” and “Underwater Boi” to emphasize the band’s mastery of shifting dynamics.

The night’s final proof that this is a special band, utterly in sync with the audience, came when the plinky electronic fade-out of ostensible closer “Turnstile Love Connection” gave way unexpectedly to that opening “Mystery” keyboard part. As most of the audience had been in a state of panic and disarray when they first played the song, the band climatically returned to it as a thank you and sign of gratitude. Turnstile were, indeed, happy to provide.

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Turnstile, Stubb's, Ekulu, Citizen, Truth Cult, Ceremony

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