Turnstile & Snail Mail @ Shrine Expo Hall [11/4/22]
As a five-foot nothing girl I was terrified. But as a punk fan, I was ecstatic.
Approaching the Shrine, I saw groups of Turnstile fans of all ages wearing all black thick eyeliner. After spotting more than 15 concert-goers with septum rings, my friend turns to me and says, “There are so many people with their septums out.” We had put bandaids on our nose rings in the uber-ride over, after seeing a girl get her piercing ripped out during their set at This Ain’t No Picnic in August.
I began following Turnstile after their collaboration with Blood Orange on GLOW ON. Although the band has been active in the hardcore scene since the early 2010s, GLOW ON helped the band achieve mainstream status, as the album received critical acclaim, setting the group up for multiple late night performances and an opening slot for Blink 182. Songs like “UNDERWATER BOI” and “NEW HEART DESIGN” blend guitars drowned in reverb with the band’s usual power-chord melodies, whereas “NO SURPRISE” and “T.L.C. (TURNSTILE LOVE CONNECTION)” seamlessly transition from melancholic breakdowns and synth-based progressions into fast-paced tempos. GLOW ON introduces unique elements into the Turnstile soundscape that amplify the gritty highs and somber lows of the album, and the band achieves a newfound depth to their sound.
Restless energy filled the venue. Fans fidgeted in place, wearing their anticipation on their sleeves. Staff workers were on edge, keen to call out any loiterers that offered even a whiff of trouble. I myself was wired; the tension was palpable.
Around 7:20, Japanese electronic group Kumo 99 abruptly begins their performance. Bass vibrates the floor as singer Ami Komai nonchalantly strolls around the stage. The juxtaposition between the head-pounding mix and Kumai’s cool presence indicates that the audience should be dancing, not watching. Even though concert-goers are not paying attention, the group delivers an upbeat performance that would be perfect for a small indie venue.
In between sets, “The Gift” by the Velvet Underground played softly on one of the speakers. The song functions as an eight minute short story, written by Lou Reed and spoken by John Cale, that describes a young love story gone wrong. Although the story may have been played at random, I can not help but notice a striking similarity to the themes of heartbreak present in Snail Mail’s newest album, Valentine.
Shortly after the story ends, Snail Mail comes on stage and dive right into “Pristine.” The song is almost five years old, yet fans scream the lyrics alongside her, a testament to Lush’s impact on the sad girl scene.
Jordan moves swiftly through her set, stopping sparingly to address the crowd. Unlike her studio releases, where she belts out the lyrics with passionate angst, she serenades the crowd with somberness. She sings with a different type of heartbreak tonight. When she sings “I’m feeling low, I’m not into sometimes” in “Heat Wave,” her low no longer screams agony, it now whispers of sorrow. She has moved to a different stage of grief, shifting from anger and bargaining into depression.
She ends her set with “Valentine,” the single from her latest album. Here, the performance reaches its peak: the band leaves it all out on the stage, and she brings her characteristic vocal intensity that the crowd has been craving all night. By ending on a high note, she brings up the energy in the space again, preparing the audience for Turnstile.
When Snail Mail leaves the stage, a low agitation begins in the crowd that grows with every moment. When photographers move into their designated section, they bounce their legs and anxiously check their phones. When fans chat with each other, their talk mainly consists of impatience, and becomes more sparse as the time goes on. When each song on the venue playlist ends, the crowd roars with excitement, expecting the band to come on.
Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)” blasts on the speakers, and the crowd goes wild; they know this means the band is about to play. The audience belts the chorus and dances with one another. In this moment, the crowd becomes one, flowing left and right in waves.
At last, Turnstile frontman Brendan Yates calmly walks on stage wearing a navy bomber jacket that he will take off after the first couple songs. His back is turned to the crowd, providing one last moment of quiet anticipation before the chaos.
With no warning, he screams “Now it’s a holiday!” and all hell breaks loose. Guitarist Pat McCrory and bassist Franz Lyon run laps around the stage as Yates punches the air. Mosh pits open up all the way to the back of the venue.
“10 Years!” Yates exclaims, and the crowd erupts. Turnstile might be over a decade old, but they still perform with the rage and intensity of a group fresh on the punk scene.
His voice is cool yet powerful, it commands attention from everyone in the audience. We watch his every move, taking it all in; he has us right under his thumb.
When I finish taking photos, I sprint around the venue to find my friends. I meet up with them during “UNDERWATER BOI” (a much needed slow down from the first three songs), only to learn that one of them got punched in the face during “BLACKOUT.” Nevertheless, once the band launches into “DON’T PLAY,” we run back into the crowd.
By nature, each song comes to a screeching halt, leaving only a couple moments to breathe before jumping into the next headbanger. This flow works in their favor: with each abrupt stop, they have the crowd on their knees, begging for more. Yates pauses in between songs to check on the audience and addresses every section of the venue. The pits reopen when he gives us the signal.
After “FLY AGAIN,” drummer Daniel Fang performs an impressive six minute long drum solo. He captivates the crowd by playing complex rhythms while looking like he is barely moving. Just when he starts to slow down and we think he is going to stop, he picks up the pace again with ease and tact.
Yates comes back on stage and yells, “Get ready to jump!” and we do what we are told. My friends and I jump while linking arms, so as to not lose each other in the crowd. A man nearby gently shoves fans to the side of a mosh, and when he has complete space, starts swinging all around. It is total chaos, but in the best way possible.
During the last song of the night, “T.L.C. (TURNSTILE LOVE CONNECTION),” Yates sings, “I want to thank you for letting me be myself.” It goes both ways: the fans let themselves go during their set precisely because the band played as themselves.
Turnstile might be over a decade old, but their music will continue to create a place for alternative rock fans to feel seen.