Upon arrival, a Turnstile concert seems like most other concerts. The younger fans find their way to the barricade, the bearded fellows stick to the bar. The millennials hover around the middle — and here’s where a Turnstile concert isn’t so tame — not close enough to catch the guys who sneak through the side and onto the stage before flinging themselves back into the crowd, but well-placed to catch showers of beer, sweat, hoodies and the occasional shoe. Heads are banging straight to the back.
That was more or less the scene at The Regency Ballroom on Feb. 23, the first night of Turnstile’s sold-out North America tour, when the band’s second opener, Citizen, came on. The crowd, not yet drunk enough to let go of their beers, instead created a circle pit.
“Circle pit! Circle pit!” Citizen’s frontman shouted at the crowd, which, like a child eyeing dessert, found it in itself to make some space and eventually swallowed a group of men to the tune of jet-engine loud emo alternative rock.
There’s something funny about a circle pit seen in profile. It looked less like moshing and more like a bunch of heads prancing buckish and rambunctious, like unbroken horses. Over a bunch of bobbing heads, bouncing curls started to look roguish and pugnacious, the moshers sizzling with so much energy that the floor felt superheated.
Both openers noted the heat of the venue; when Turnstile took the dark, hazy stage with enough sustained bass to stun the crowd into silence, drummer Daniel Fang didn’t bother with a shirt. Frontman Brendan Yates seemed to agree that Fang, whose drumming drove the night, was on the money, and discarded his shirt a few songs in. The two of them — assembled with a couple guitarists and a bassist — make for a commanding duo: Yates punched and leapt his way across the stage and Fang punctuated his outbursts again and again on the drums.
The band plays with the improvisational and off-the-walls essence of, if not choreographed, then practiced performers. Their light show is smartly calculated to draw out the set’s highs. In “Blackout,” they cut to black with the repetition of “show” as Yates shouts “It’s just the part of my show, show, show, show, show.” In “Underwater Boi,” blue lasers filtered out from the stage like sun through water.
Turnstile’s catalog is made up of songs on the shorter side. The 15 tracks on Glow On — the album for which they’re touring — average under 2 ½ minutes. Their emo inspirations aren’t shy; on Glow On, Turnstile sings about loneliness and heartbreak, missed time and self-loathing. Live, the group performs its music without lulls, sweeping up the crowd, blitzing them and plopping them down not gently, but not rudely with the final song, “TLC” — the house lights came up without an encore, soliciting a few “boos” and plenty of “awws.”
Whether you’re a fan of Turnstile’s music or not, it’s hard to miss the fact that they make it very well, and that it comes out live just as effectively. The band is full of hard exteriors and pensive lyrics, songs that turn vulnerable themes into cathartic release, edged with a little rage. “There’s a clock in my head/ Is it wrong, is it right,” Yates belted on “Mystery” to a crowd eager to clock out for the night. “And it’s been so long/ Is all the mystery gone?” a question ignored in favor of moshing and crowd surfing.
Every so often, a couple competing crowd surfers relished in those few seconds of anonymous notoriety, bursts of punk spunk that juxtaposed the music’s hard edges with a rowdy but endlessly expressive audience. The crowd surfers, content to linger above the fray, returned to a reality of illusion and screaming; they felt less interested in those glimmers of transgressiveness than in being momentarily distinctive. But Turnstile, in its performance, is often all about basking in the pit, romping, stomping and letting out pain.
Contact Dominic Marziali at [email protected].