STARVOX, (August 2003):
Turn Pale: The Saving Grace of Goth
June 30 - Johnstown PA: Menoher Sportsman's Club
I was three years old when The Birthday Party imploded for the last time on stage and I obviously wasn't attending the latest experimental music concerts at the time! But Turn Pale makes up for my parents' unfortunate timing, by providing music and live performances, which must be the inherited equivalent for the current generation of active Goth and dark music fans. They have the ability to expose a whole new generation of kids to how it's really done.
I have been championing this band for close to two years now, and each of my reviews glow brighter and brighter with admiration and awe for this quartet of Bloomington, Indiana musicians. And it is not without reason, nor is it blind adoration or hyperbole. Just read through some of my last few reviews from May and June and you may see that my praise does not always come so easily. Ask any of my friends or DJ colleagues and they will tell you that my jaded crankiness for what passes as 'Goth' anymore has reached a bitter misanthropic peak. I could continue to allow my disdain and disgust to drive me into reclusive hibernation from the scene; a scene I will be the first to admit I feel alienated from, and a movement where I truthfully have no place and have the growing feeling that I no longer belong. However, I could just say the hell with I donÕt like, dismiss it, and focus my attention on what ELSE is happening right now, and find stuff that is truly amazing, and worth writing home (and to StarVox) about. So that is what I will do, because despite the direction that the club scene is going in, I still believe that my tastes in music are relevant and could be appreciated by a vast variety of music fans. There is no band that I want to write more about right now than Turn Pale.
A current phenomenon that is raging out of control, a 'trend' that we have addressed before here at StarVox, is the fact that weekly club nights in bigger cities have replaced the long-time tradition of attending live concert performances. But this is a whole other can of worms, one I will decline to open because I want to stay positive. Optimism and the embrasure of it, is my July resolution. So needless to say, Turn Pale could not find an adequate gig in my home city of Pittsburgh, so my fiancée and a friend (hi Justine!) traveled to Johnstown PA to catch what I have been touting as potentially the most exciting Goth band active today.
Johnstown is a smallish town, about an hour and a half East of Pittsburgh. The drive was spectacularly pleasurable, traveling upward into the mountains, away from the heat and toward the tranquil shade of trees. Fueled by Mountain Dew, tobacco, and mixed CD-Rs with old school PIL, Wolfgang Press, Damned and Captain Sensible tracks (which led to a mischievous sing along of "Wot!") -- we were in great spirits when we finally arrived at the Menoher SportsmanÕs Club.
A fairly large crowd of Indie and Emo kids mingled on the lawn, played horseshoes, Frisbee, and talked with their friends. Apparently, this is what the Indie kids have to do in the relatively rural setting of Johnstown. They should be applauded for taking the initiative to find something constructive and rewarding to do with their time. It appeared to be a well-knit and organized community of friends and music fans. We of course, stood out like sore thumbs Š being the only remotely Goth looking kids around. We just sort of kept to ourselves, and hung around anxiously awaiting Turn Pale's performance. It was nice to find a soft patch of grass in the shade and enjoy the late summer evening breeze, and swat at gnats that sought to claim our Mountain Dew. We caught up with the Turn Pale guys and we chatted a bit, and as I had always expected from the emails I had exchanged with them, they are extremely down to earth, friendly, and almost shy individuals. After our pleasant conversation about music, their current tour, and other miscellaneous stuff, we were even more excited to see them perform after the realistic and formal connection we had made with the guys behind this music we have been quietly worshiping the past few months.
There were four other bands on the bill, all of which I am assuming were local. Because I hadn't initially planned on doing a write up of this show, I neglected to snag the flyer to see who it was that was actually playing. All the bands however, were very well received. The first of which were a melodic pop punk type band. Not our thing AT ALL, but I have to give props to their drummer because he was quite good and had some great fills. The second act was actually incredibly good, and I am very disappointed I didn't catch their name. Imagine if you will a confident but admittedly amateur tribute to Big Black and Neurosis. They were incredibly loud, brash, and quite animated. Falling all over each other, screaming their brains out, and making a kind of cacophonic noise that had more in league with early Industrial than it did with Hardcore. Though a little unrefined and rough around the edges, the band delivered a good set and I would be psyched to see them perform again. They were followed by a relatively good Emo/Indie act. The vocalist alternated between guitar and keyboard duties, where he played a few melodic piano parts that segued into loud swells of moody rock. All in all, I had to say the bands were pretty cool and considering their local 'lets start a band and have fun' status, all of the bands seemed to hint of greater things if they stick to what they are doing.
Soon it would be dark. And ever so appropriately, Turn Pale began to set up their gear. Within a matter of about ten minutes, they were ready to go. As lame as this may sound, I honestly began to get butterflies. Despite the rather understated settings, the wide rectangular clinical room, the lack of a real stage, etc - I was genuinely excited about what I knew was about to ensue. I watched as Marty set up his drums, and Chris tuned his bass and Nick tinkered with his amp and floor palette of effects pedals. There, truthfully, was no real atmosphere during the previous bands' performances. They just played, with the waning sunlight coming through the windows or the florescent overhead illumination and did their thing. Turn Pale however provided what I can only assume is one of their live trademarks - big ominous red floodlights and intelligent strobes: which I don't think people were at all expecting. And how WERE these Emo and Indie kids going to react to a band like Turn Pale? Would the band be well received? Or would the audience just be confused or turned off?
Soon enough, Michael Anderson, Turn Pale's captivating frontman, began pacing rapidly back and forth muttering his appreciation to the previous bands. He continued pacing - left, right, from one of the wooden pillars framing the make-shift stage to the next, spinning on his boot heal, head down, muttering, in a barely audible, but inviting mumble "We are Turn Pale, and we appreciate all you beautiful people for coming to see us play. We have some songs tonight, we hope you will enjoy them, we hope that you will dance." All the while the rest of the band had their backs to the audience, quietly tuning their instruments. The surmounting tension was incredible. And at a very imprecise and sudden moment, a moment that only the band was in tune with, while everyone else stood waiting, not knowing WHEN to expect, let alone what -- there was a loud CRASH as Marty began to pound his snare with unbridled force and immediately plodded into the dense militant march of "Slow To Drown," from the band's debut release "Kill The Lights." Chris began to pummel the body of his bass and Nick turned around to unleash his shrill scratch of angular barbed wire feedback drenched guitar upon the unsuspecting crowd. And then there was Michael, stomping to and fro, while his confrontational wails, shrieks, and playful crooning just sucked the air right out of the room. "I want you to be here, but donÕt speak! Just move your hands around in the air!" He pumped his fists with a rallying cry, lightly punching the low ceiling, gesturing wildly at the doe-eyed audience, flailing about like a wild beast soon to be unleashed from a lengthy captivity. The song's propulsive march soon shifted seamlessly into a groove-laden blend of PIL/Gang Of Four inspired death disco, while Michael playfully shook his assets and accosted the nodding audience members, while an unexpected burst of strobe lights shimmered throughout the shadow-drenched room.
Without missing a beat, the band bled into "Light Melts Away," an addictive offering of cascading drum fills, rolling bass lines, and ringing guitar harmonics. Michael continued to creep about, contorting his lean frame into various arachnid-like and threatening poses, jumping onto the remarkably stable card-table that housed the mixing board. Falling to his knees and wailing, jumping up and down with teasing menace. The sense of urgency and energy in the songs never waned for a moment, as the band forged into the frantic buoyancy of "Peaceable Kingdom." Turn Pale had most of the crowd entirely in a state of arrested curiousity and awe. Granted, some of the less adventurous headed for the door, but a good two thirds of the 50+ crowd remained to see what all the noise was about. To the delight of my fiancée and friend, the band launched into the looming gloom of "In Sight" - a pounding dirge of a track which I have been pushing hard in my playlists at Ceremony. The stark erotic rhythms lurched beneath the icy trickle of Nick's guitar riffing, while Michael wailed against the plights of 'minimum wage labour:' "How am I to get anything done / when the days keep flying by? When the days keep - FLYYY INNNG BYYYYY - Where do they fly to? Where do they FLYYYYY to? 'Cause I want to go there tooOOOOooooÉ"
It felt as if I had waited a lifetime to see a Goth band reach a state of such brutal intensity and flawless sublimity. It truly was at this moment that I felt that I was witnessing a band comparable only to The Birthday Party or the early sonic atrocities of the Swans. Turn Pale brought the place "DOWWWWN to the GrrowwwwnnnnnNNDDD"
They cut through more tracks from their debut CD, as well as introducing a noteworthy new track they had only performed twice before. They closed with "The Very Center Of It All," where Michael continued to accost and tease the audience, creeping along shaking hands and even mock biting a shaggy haired Indie rocker. "I am on the road and itÕs so nice to meetÕcha MEET'CHA."
And at last, gasping, sweating, and spent, Turn Pale's set drew to its close, leaving myself and a good many of the other audience members standing in the same state of exhausted fulfillment. Immediately, the bandÕs merch booth was swarmed with curious kids, who had surely never been exposed to anything quite so powerfully dark, yet rich with a kind of decadent disco sleaze and coursing with such surreal energy. I certainly had never seen anything quite like them -- with my own eyes, in the flesh, merely inches away from me Š before that moment
Perhaps I sound like an overzealous and obsessive fan of this band. Whatever. I continue to spread the gospel of Turn Pale, this time with even more irrefutable evidence to their power and potential. Their debut release is a landmark addition to the history of Gothic music, and an intricate chart for the course of its future. They very well could be the band to give the diluted jaded world of Goth a much-needed kick in the ass. Turn Pale deliver the kind of Death Rock that well reputed bands like Bella Morte, however great and successful they may be, they present only a cartoonish appetizer for the kind of Goth that WAS and the kind of Goth that Turn Pale IS. They are Goth without the fatiguing self-pity, and sans the worn out willowy ethereal interpretations of melancholy and beauty. They are socially and politically conscious, without being preachy. They do not subscribe to the same worn out clichˇs of adolescent sadness, juvenile spookiness or tongue in cheek cheese. They bring Goth back to its confrontational and energized Punk roots, foregoing the predictable fusions of synth pop, world music or metal, and do so without any chance of mistaking the purity of their alchemy. And if you want to dance, put away the drum machines and hearken to the groove that Mr. Marty McVicious will lay before you. No machine or computer can ever recreate the electric crackle of a live band, especially one with such determination, force, and urgency as Turn Pale. Finally, after the endless stream of basement projects, after the decline of Gothic MetalÕs unfulfilled promise, there is a potent hint of a musical revolution in the air. BUY this band's material! BOOK this band! DJs: SPIN this band! They are the saving grace of Goth. All they need is the chance to begin their conquest.
- article by Matthew Heilman / photo by Riley Manion