If you wanted to get a feel for the Songbyrd Music House — a nice, new subterranean venue in Adams Morgan committed to booking local bands from various undergrounds and othergrounds — Friday wasn’t the best night for it.
The room was densely packed for Turnstile, a consummate neo-hardcore punk quintet from Maryland that instantly turned the place into a slam dancing free-for-all. So when frontman Brendan Yates opened the show singing about “no future,” he wasn’t recycling the stale nihilism of classic punk — he was advocating for complete engagement with the moment. More specifically: heads up.
But the band wore its nostalgia on its sleeve, too, proudly echoing the vintage grooves of Inside Out, a seething California hardcore outfit fronted by Zack de La Rocha before he joined Rage Against the Machine. And just as Turnstile sounded like a ’90s hardcore act, its crowd moved like a ’90s hardcore crowd.
Let’s be clear: Everything that used to be dumb about slam dancing is still dumb. It’s a thoroughly unimaginative ritual that favors the strongest, girthiest, angriest, meatheadiest men in the room — something that completely undermines the inclusive spirit that courses through Turnstile’s music and much of hardcore punk writ large.
But being pushed around at a hardcore show does feel different in the digital age. In a world overpopulated with zombie screen-gazers, slam dancing becomes a declaration of presence, an exercise in total alertness, and an act of full-body participation. Unless you’d like to see that iPhone crushed beneath someone’s boot, put it away and be here now.
Somehow, the mosh pit that formed during Turnstile’s Friday night show felt almost inclusive. A few women crossed the dance floor’s most treacherous zones, throwing elbows and fists with smiles on their faces. More than a few climbed onto the stage, yelled a few lyrics into Yates’s microphone, then dived into the crowd’s outstretched arms.
This all felt more like a genuine reaction than a ritualistic reflex. Culling songs from its terrific 2015 album“Nonstop Feeling,” Turnstile was offering all of the decibels and fury required at a hardcore show, but it was the band’s signature bounce and swing that was making everyone’s bodies move. Ultimately, this was dance music.
And after 30-odd minutes of shouting and shoving, Yates abruptly barked adieu: “Take care of each other! Respect each other!”
Maybe there was some poetry in that. If a certain level of care and respect had already been observed in that sweaty gyre of mosh, surely everyone could bring it up the stairs, out onto 18th Street, and into a more complicated world.