Jungle of Music: Turbo Fruits and Surfer Blood pack a musical punch at Jack Rabbits

Danae Leake

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Stein and Brock show off the grooves for  “The Way I Want You.”Photo by Danae Leake

Stein and Brock of Turbo Fruits show off the grooves for “The Way I Want You.”
Photo by Danae Leake

Jack Rabbits emanated a sort of musical jungle as recent host to Turbo Fruits and Surfer Blood. Sweaty and screaming fans were only part of the full experience. Green stage lights transformed the unmistakable red-doored venue into a tropical refuge for the night.

The doors opened at 8 p.m. but Turbo Fruits didn’t step onto the stage until 9:30 p.m. Many expect bands to start late but more than an hour was a bit much. Fortunately, their performance did not disappoint. The Tennessee-based band opened their set with “Where the Stars Don’t Shine” from their 2012 album Butter. The song was smooth as, well, butter, if Appalachia indie rock is your slice of toast.

The band was not explosive with energy on stage but you could tell they were feeling their electric stringed vibes. Turbo Fruits are not only musicians but also dancers. Several times throughout the performance, the lead vocalist and guitarist, Jonas Stein, would back off the mic and bob his head to the rocky beat. The lead guitarist, Kingsley Brock, or “holey man” – the guy had a hole in his shirt, shoes and pants – jumped around at the front of the stage while picking the melody. Bassist Dave Tits paced up and down his side of the stage, whipping his head to one side and then to another rhythmically with each step. Drummer Matt Hearn kept time with his cymbals and a Converse-shoed foot.

Drummer Matt Hearn kicks up the beat with Stein's hard-hitting vocals during "Don't Let Me Break Your Heart Again."Photo by Danae Leake

Drummer Matt Hearn kicks up the beat with Stein’s hard-hitting vocals during “Don’t Let Me Break Your Heart Again.”
Photo by Danae Leake

Aside from their own personalized movements and dances, the attire of the bandmates is worth noting. Three out of the four guys wore T-shirts of other bands. Stein wore a Camp Panther tank top, a band Turbo Fruits played with earlier on their tour. Tits wore a TV On the Radio shirt. This struck as odd because it is unusual to see bands wearing other bands’ merch. While this may distract from Turbo Fruits’ own brand, they gave a visual shoutout to the existence of other up-and-coming bands. But for all we know, the tank top clad band could have simply worn the shirts out of comfort. The venue did seem especially toasty that evening.

Another undeniable feature of the performance was Stein’s huskily smooth voice. I would describe his voice as similar to the one of Jim Morrison, frontman of The Doors. The distortion of the guitar complemented Stein’s voice, solidifying a vintage sound that could be heard on any The Doors records. Stein’s voice deemed appropriate for the band’s style since Turbo Fruits has a surf rock imbuing aura.

Throughout the show, I heard musical elements in Turbo Fruit’s music that brought me back to my days of binging on Beatles albums. The band’s set was fairly stripped down, with no bells and whistles like synthesizers and mixing decks. The band is also composed of a traditional four-person band, just like the Beatles.

Turbo Fruits kept up their momentum and style as they played through songs spanning from their repertoire like “Show Me Something Real,” “Favorite Girl” and “Sweet Thang.” They also performed songs from their most recent album titled No Control, which came out last April. Surprisingly, they only played about four songs from their newest album.

After fourteen songs, Turbo Fruits ended their set with “Volcano,” an oldie from their 2007 self-titled debut album. “Volcano” is a potential jam out song, but isn’t much of a fan favorite. I think it would have had a much better impact if it was played in medias res of the set. Stein performed “Volcano” as if it was a meditative spiritual. The repeating bassline established a trance uniting the guitar’s reverberating strums. This moment exemplified the band’s intention of recreating the classic ’60s rock sound. The band jammed out with the bassline for about a minute after their final song until the lead singer thanked the crowd and hopped off stage.

Overall, Turbo Fruits was a delight to watch and experience. Although I’ve seen bands with more enthusiasm on stage, Turbo Fruits has an invitingly warm and authentic presence under the limelight.

Now on to the headliner: Surfer Blood. There was a definite contrast to the band, particularly when it came to style and stage presence. To set the mood, green lights flooded the stage. The lead singer, John Paul Pitts, wore a green shirt that had palm fronds printed on it. The rest of the group wore green and grey long sleeve shirts, contrasting the sweaty tank-topped Turbo Fruits fellas. Anyhow, I appreciated Surfer Blood’s aesthetic. It was as if I was witnessing a musical jungle about to unfold.  The tropical stage lights beamed against the band’s clothing and the sound of the distorted guitar fused with the punchy drum-and-bass drive. I could already tell Surfer Blood seemed more reserved compared to their more raw-hitting counterpart. For one, the Surfer Blood members didn’t seem too excited to be onstage. They didn’t seem upset, but no one was smiling.

Surfer Blood lead singer John Paul Pitts powers through "I Can't Explain" from the band's 1000 Palms album.Photo by Danae Leake

Surfer Blood lead singer John Paul Pitts powers through “I Can’t Explain” from the band’s 1000 Palms album.
Photo by Danae Leake

Pitts opened the show with “Neighbor Riffs,” a song from his Astro Coast album.

“This next one is our fastest song,” warned Pitts after pounding out “Grand Inquisitor.”

The reaction from the crowd quickly followed suit. The crowd began to move and swirl into an all-in-good-fun mosh pit by the end of the third song. I noticed two guys with matching beards jerk their heads to the tempo. A woman and her clinging boyfriend mouthed the lyrics. She was the same fan who called out the question to the lead singer: “Do you have a thousand palms on your shirt?” That was endearingly clever since 1000 Palms is the name of the band’s most recent album. Fortunately, the mosh pit produced no fights. It was a bit surprising that Surfer Blood engendered a mosh pit at all. Nonetheless, the positive reaction from the crowd was infectious.

Surfer Blood’s musical maturity was immediately evident. The band was tighter and in better sync than Turbo Fruits. Aside from a brief sound mixing issue, Surfer Blood performed a smooth and professional show.

Surfer Blood performed a good handful of their songs from 1000 Palms. The crowd bounced and sang along to some of their favorite SB originals like “Take It Easy,” “Demon Dance,” “Swim” and “I Can’t Explain.”

Pitts, at one point, hopped into the crowd, demonstrating a punk band ritual. Turbo Fruits’ Jonas Stein took over Pitt’s guitar while Pitts sang “Take It Easy” in the sweaty crowd. Pitts danced with the crowd, his body gyrating next to the guys with the beards. It was a refreshing change of pace.

Although Surfer Blood had a tight band, I didn’t notice much of a group dynamic within the band. The bass player did his own thing in the corner while the older-than-the-rest drummer stoically kicked away the tempo. It seemed more like a one-man band. This is probably because Thomas Fekete, SB’s original lead guitarist, is temporarily absent from the band to focus on his cancer treatments.

Overall, Surfer Blood put on a good show. I could tell the crowd was satisfied, probably due to the mosh pit action. It’s clear that the West Palm Beach band has established a significant Jacksonville following. This was the fourth time Surfer Blood performed in this city and hopefully the band will come back, wanting more of the spirit and support from their Jacksonville fans.


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