TURBONEGRO at the Phoenix (410 Sherbourne), Saturday (September 22), doors 6 pm. $20. 416-870-8000. Rating: NNNNN
With a back-to-bludgeoning new Turbonegro album turning heads, their three classic studio crushers being reissued and a troubling tell-all biography on the way, Norway's demented denim delinquents seem primed and ready to take on North America.
But considering how quickly the ass-rocket comedy of these nihilistic numbskulls can turn into emergency ward tragedy, it's probably a good thing that Turbonegro's Saturday-night blast at the Phoenix occurs near the beginning of their 20-date tour of terror rather than at the bitter end.
Long-time Turbonegro fans will be relieved to know that the group's perplexing bubble-gum phase is now behind them and, as the menacing Retox (Cooking Vinyl/KOCH) album demonstrates, they've happily returned to the no-nonsense style of hard-bashing rock 'n' roll brutality for which they are revered.
"After making the Apocalypse Dudes album in 1997," explains frontman Hank Von Helvete, "we discovered that it wouldn't be difficult to make some well-produced punk recordings that were flamboyant and glamorous by adding elements of classic rock and pop music to what we were doing already. The bubble-gum thing was an experiment, and it took us quite far, but we didn't plan to make music like that forever.
"The Apocalypse trilogy has now been completed. With Retox, we wanted to say that the party's over, it's time to start a new one from the beginning. Our concept was to go back to the basics of punk rock and the new wave of British heavy metal that first inspired us. That proved to be a very paradoxical process. We spent a lot of money over a year filled with grief and frustration to make a record that sounds very simple."
Although Turbonegro has never been above copping a cool riff or borrowing a useful line from another song, they've raised their recycling efforts to brazen new levels on Retox. They don't even try to disguise the fact that their song Welcome To The Garbage Dump is essentially a straight amalgam of Iggy Pop's Kill City and Charles Manson's Garbage Dump, which GG Allin covered on 1987's You Give Love A Bad Name (Homestead).
Von Helvete has a hunch how such a thing may have happened.
"Happy-Tom is our underground music guru, the geeky collector nerd of the group. He has those serial killer cards and some GG Allin albums, too. When he comes up with some good lyrics for a song, he doesn't always tell us where they come from. He knows that the rest of us don't have access to the same rare recordings, so if he can find something useful in an obscure song and trick us into believing that he's the genius behind it, he'll do it every time.
"It was also Happy-Tom who brought the gay humour to the band, but he didn't tell us he was homosexual himself. He finally came out about two months ago onstage during a concert. People have been speculating for years about our sexual preferences - we've all been suspecting each other of secretly being gay - but it turned out to be Happy-Tom. Who would've guessed it would be the guy in the sailor suit?"
No doubt even more surprising revelations will follow in the Turbonegro book, Sagaen Om Denimfolket (The Saga Of The Denim People), written with the group's full cooperation and soon to be published in Denmark by Gyldendal Forlag (www.gyldendal.dk). Von Helvete seems less than thrilled at the prospect of having the grizzly-bear-wrestling man behind the creepy greasepaint exposed for all to see.
"That book will tell the whole sad/bad story about us," sighs Von Helvete. "It was written by the highly regarded Norwegian music journalist Håkon Moslet, who was a fan of the group when Turbonegro started but now thinks the band is total shit and we're all assholes.
"It's probably the most self-destructive band biography ever written, but it's not something we're worried about. We know we're fucked as soon as it comes out in October. We're looking for a small Inuit village we can move to on the Northwest Passage."
Additional Interview Audio Clips
Although Turbonegro are amoung Norway's top musical exports, the Norwegian government and musical establishmenthave apparently been less thean enthusiastic about he group's global success. Hank Von Helvete tries to explain why.
With a new Turbonegro tell-all biography about to be published, can a Turbonegro feature film be far off?