I’ll be honest, I never saw Bad Brains at their peak—of course I didn’t, in 1984 I was only 10-years-old, my concerns were baseball, Star Wars, and one could argue that the great rasta-ragers were on their way towards a downward slide at that point and I was a good three years away from falling in love with punk. The pinnacles of the ROIR tape and Rock for Light were behind them and while one could argue that I Against I is a worthy member of their pantheon of greatness, I’m not here to talk about the sickness of their jams. There was and is a mystique about those early years of Bad Brains and their live shows—hushed tales told by graying softening old punks muttering about how “you have to have been there to understand” and how to witness HR, Darryl, Earl, and Dr. Know hold court was to witness something truly transformative and fundamentally a religious experience. To see them live, at the peak of their power, was to have your life forever changed—a Germs burn upon your heart, a pose to crash, nevermore, amen, etc.
So this is where I find myself, at the Great American Music Hall to see a band called Turnstile that I’ve only listened to and have dismissed a hundred times over as being something I’ve seen and heard countless times in countless basements and shitty UFW halls over the years and, to be honest, I’m not sure why I’m here.
There are the openers, a solid garage band called Razorbumps and two sorta-emo-sorta-pop-sorta-punk bands both of which are proud members of the current Epitaph roster—Culture Abuse and Touché Amoré—I mean that bill alone would have probably sold out this music hall with claims to be both great and American—but we’re not here to talk about them either.
Let us instead talk about my insane, I’ve probably been drinking too much theory—seeing Turnstile live is probably as close as you are going to get to seeing the bouncing off the wall, raging insanity of seeing the Bad Brains at say Madam’s Organ or at an early A7 gig.
From note one, my jaw was on the floor—the ball of infectious energy pouring off the stage just flattening me. Watching them tear and bounce through song after song while a cascade of stage divers flowed around me… if anything, I was perplexed. Why wasn’t this captured on the recordings? Why wasn’t I prepared for this? Why am I wearing my glasses still? I just got them fixed!
Going back to the records today it occurred to me—Turnstile have somehow managed to internalize all the good and bad ideas puked out in hardcore since the Middle Class/Bad Brains/SS first came to a globally conscious decision to bring us their noise and perfect it.
In them I hear Minor Threat’s melodic blasts, Cro-Mags' grooves, and Cold World’s hip-hop flex. Blasts of raw hardcore fury, breakdowns galore—they are the epitome of so many things that have come to define East Coast hardcore without the machismo and I didn’t see it.
I’m not saying they are the greatest band of all time—and honestly, this is probably their pinnacle. No one can burn this bright for long--so it goes with hardcore but while you have the chance, don’t waste it. The name of their record is Time & Space for a reason.