Saturday night, minutes before hardcore punk band Turnstile stepped onstage for the first of two weekend shows at a sold-out Roadrunner, Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” piped over the room, giving the crowd the cue they’d been waiting for: Time to open a mosh pit.
Celebration was in order. Last week, the Baltimore five-piece received three Grammy nominations (Best Rock Performance, Best Rock Song, and, to some controversy, Best Metal Performance) for work on last year’s spectacular “Glow On.” The album, their third full-length since the band’s 2010 formation, has been a rare crossover success: a heavily melodic affair, flecked with fluttering synths and danceable grooves, but still very much a hardcore record.
On Saturday, the band made a compelling argument for their award-worthiness with an exhilarating hour-long set that brought their recent material thrashing to life. Led by frontman Brandon Yates, the five-piece opened with “Holiday,” a bellowed rallying cry to let loose. Yates launched himself around the stage in demonstration with flying leaps, kicks, and twirls, generally carrying on as if he’d fronted a particularly cool boy band in a past life. His shirt only lasted a few songs. Beneath a colorful light show, the air of it all was free-spirited, not silly, but a conscious break from the intimidating and sometimes hypermasculine aesthetics that loom over harder rock.
In interviews, the band has spoken about their intent to shape a more inviting scene and extend the sense of community they’ve found at hometown shows, but a 3,500-capacity room like Roadrunner makes that a challenge beyond most artists’ control. While the night featured an enjoyably varied lineup — Mary Jane Dunphe opened the show with industrial avant-pop, Snail Mail brought mellow indie rock — when push came to shove, show-goers leaned into the shoving. The crowd resembled more of a physics experiment than a community as mosh-pit turbulence reached back to the soundboard: Most of the main floor wasn’t for the faint of heart.
But as sweatshirts and spraying water bottles whipped overhead, Turnstile anchored a feral kind of fun, performing most of “Glow On” and much of 2018 precursor “Time & Space.” “Blackout” became a decided centerpiece, spurred by a funky rhythm and Yates’s echoing roar: “If it makes you feel alive — well then I’m happy to provide!” An a capella turn on “Underwater Boi” brought the room back to a simmer, but the tempo never slowed for long. Early-career tracks “Drop” and “The Things You Do” delivered on classic hardcore aggression; “Fly Again” melted down into a propulsive five-minute solo from drummer Daniel Fang.
The encore-free set triggered one final frenzy with the tour’s namesake, the scampering “Turnstile Love Connection,” concluding with a fat burst of pink confetti that most of the band disappeared into. But not Yates: While the rest of the group slipped backstage, he slid out into the crowd for one more fleeting moment of connection. The moshing carried on.
With Mary Jane Dunphe and Snail Mail. At Roadrunner, Saturday night