From Norway, punk with attitude and flair
Turbonegro might be known as "the heavy metal Village People," but their music is no joke.
By Steve Appleford, Special to The Times
Turbonegro is serious about this.
Witness the hard, blistering punk rock behind the flamboyant image, behind the makeup and all-denim outfits, the flamboyant costumes and the singer with the Alice Cooper fixation. That stuff is an amusing distraction.
England's Kerrang! magazine calls the band "the heavy metal Village People." Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age hails it as one of his favorite bands.
What the Norwegian sextet calls itself is "death punk," but the label is misleading, suggesting music that is extremely dark and extremely rigid.
Turbonegro is neither.
The band, which performs tonight at the Troubadour, makes pure punk that is raw and euphoric, landing somewhere between the Ramones and the Hives, while finding room for sudden flourishes of melody and epic, classic-rock pretensions.
"It's hypnotic suburban punk rock, with a tantalizing flair," says bassist-songwriter Happy Tom, who appears onstage wearing lipstick and a white sailor's cap.
The band already had a large following in Europe but hadn't made an impact in the U.S. when Turbonegro began an unscheduled four-year break in the late '90s. "That was due to heroin and schizophrenia, but now everybody's feeling much better," Happy Tom says without elaborating.
Turbonegro began in 1988, predating the new Scandinavian rock invasion (Hives, Soundtrack to Our Lives), but was unknown to most U.S. rock fans until Epitaph Records recently reissued two of the band's dynamic albums from the late '90s. Turbonegro reunited last summer after receiving an offer to play a Norway festival.
"We thought we'd do it for nostalgic reasons and see how it worked out," says Happy Tom. Now a new album, "Scandinavian Leather," is due May 6 from Epitaph, with songs co-written by Happy Tom and guitarist Euroboy, and cover art by esteemed artist-musician Klaus Voorman.
Homme, of Queens of the Stone Age, first saw Turbonegro in 1996 at the Kilowatt club in San Francisco.
"They say, 'Yeah, you could say it sounds a bit like the Stooges, but we do it better,' " Homme says with a laugh. "That's the perfect answer.
"Their sense of humor and sense of style and musical aesthetic very much hits my taste buds in the right spot," he adds. "They aren't kidding. They're Norwegian."