Turnpike, for me, are that band you go and see at every opportunity that presents itself, where you stand in the front row with a handful of people and wonder why so many others seem to pay so little attention. They've been one of my favourite bands (note: favourite bands, not just favourite local bands) almost since the first time I saw them. Their music is simultaneously clever, boneheaded, technical, lacking in technique, ear-splitting and aurally orgasmic. Song structures are merely loose recommendations on where a particular piece of music should lead - each player is free to head off on a whim at a moment's notice, or to attempt to play a particular part completely differently to how they've played it previously. And yet the songs are complex, twisting journeys that are unpredictable and yet always hit their marks.
In the last year or so there have been rumours that Turnpike would break up and transform into some other band. Thankfully that plan seems to have been abandoned, but the idea of changing direction somewhat seems to have been retained. New songs have been introduced recently: the first one was introduced a few months ago and is by far the most schizophrenic song the band have yet written. Starting with a bubbling bass riff in 5/4, it eventually builds up and explodes into a rudimentary sort of thrash metal before falling back to where it began. The second new song was unveiled at the Mere Noise Meltdown on Saturday evening, and was in huge contrast to the retro-tinged garage rock performed by most of the other bands on the bill. Featuring more twists and turns than... well, something very twisty and turny, it displayed guitarist Adam King adding a bit of Ian Williams to his usual Steve Albini meets Ash Bowie guitar stylings. Individual notes and melody lines are clearer than they have been for years in Turnpike's music, although still delivered in a highly twisted, clanging fashion. Meanwhile, the rhythm section of Chris Bryant and Tim Evans provide their usual mix of solid anchorage mixed with appropriate levels of chaos, except now with double the number of 90 degree turns in the music and greater flow than ever before. The total effect is mind blowing, throughout the song I found myself being more and more astounded with every newly introduced riff.
Older songs were also performed on the night, both released and unreleased (though familiar to anyone who has seen the band since their debut full length dropped in 2006). They were similarly impressive, and performed as well as I've ever seen them (despite some occasional problem with guitar leads being disconnected due to the Step Inn Front Bar's limited stage space). Although the set was a short one at only five songs, it was packed to the brim of explosive, exciting music. Turnpike may well fall within the confines of 'math rock', but they also display a vitality and energy that bands in that genre often lack, who instead getting lost in studiousness and the search for perfection in performance. Turnpike dismiss that aspect of the genre, and hence are able to comfortably fit into a night such as the Mere Noise Meltdown, where attitude and perceived authenticity reign supreme.