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Henry Rollins, clearly annoyed with me for busting into the front row and taking photos.
Henry Rollins, clearly annoyed with me for busting into the front row and taking photos.

Rollins brings humorous, hardcore storytelling to Turner

At OnMilwaukee.com, we are stoked to be able to deliver reviews before anyone else in the city. We check out the show, then we go home and write the review immediately following.

For the first time in a decade of reviewing shows, however, I wish I had more time to contemplate what the hell just happened on stage.

I saw Henry Rollins tonight perform a three-hour spoken word performance at Turner Hall Ballroom. I have never seen anything like it. The 51-year-old Rollins, who looked as tattooed and buff as ever in his black T-shirt and black pants, spoke non-stop, without taking so much as a single sip of liquid, and told intelligent, political and entertaining story after story.

"I'm a 33 playing at 78," he warned.

Rollins, who once fronted '80 punk band Black Flag and later The Rollins Band, is also a writer, comedian, publisher, actor and radio DJ.

He started his spoken word performance tonight by saying, "Thank you for taking half of your weekend and giving it to me" and delivered dozens of stories that flowed gracefully, one from the next, about such a wide variety of topics it's impossible to understand in retrospect how it all fit together. And yet it did.

Turner Hall was packed with fans and yet during the lengthy show only one time did someone yell out something at Rollins. People were mesmerized. Plus, the sound was really good.

For the first 15 minutes of the show, Rollins spoke about Abraham Lincoln, "rugged individualism" and Americans' lifestyle choices. He basically said so many Americans are afraid of overseas dangers and yet are killing themselves.

"We are snuffing out the American candle with corn chips and inactivitiy," he said.

Rollins went on to speak about Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old Florida boy who was killed for "looking suspicious" by a man who, at this point, remains free. Rollins sees this as an important reflection of present-day America and a prediction of the country's future.

"However this gets worked out will be the report card for the entire country," he said. "This represents the finger on the pulse of America."

Rollins gave a run-down of his thoughts on presidential candidates. (He did not comment on Obama). He called Mitt Romney "the emptiest suit in America" and compared him to a political Max Headroom. He said Ron Paul looks like his suit is still on the hanger and he needs to improve his posture. Rick Santorum, according to Rollins, might wanna try holding some testicles in his palm other than his own.

"Anyone's who's so obsessed with it, maybe should explore it," he said. "Dot a few I's and cross a few T's, sort of speak."

He spoke about women's right, and called for men to stand up not for women's rights, but with women for the sake of their rights.

About five times throughout the evening, people applauded his commentary. At the end, he received a standing ovation.

He talked of letters he received from soldiers on the verge of suicide and self-loathing teenaged girls who turned to him for body approval. (He wrote them back, and admitted to getting no feedback and therefore no resolve as to how his letters were received). Also, he delivered a love letter of sorts to the audience. He said, "you are my great obsession" and admitted that his biggest fear was disappointing us. He said the audience was all he thinks about after 4 p.m. every day on tour.

"I can no longer taste food. All I think is, 'They are coming. They are coming to listen to you...Who do you think you are?'"

Rollins has been on tour for 31 years, delivering about 100 shows a year.

"I have no real talent," he said. "I'm just interested in everything."

The second half of the show – yes, we are only to the second half – he spoke of "stabbing the bleeding a-hole" (this is something that needs to remain among audience members only, forever), a nightmare of receiving a lap dance from Twisted Sister's Dee Snider, a trip to an Evangelical church in Kentucky where worshippers waved around venomous snakes and rocked his world with their incredible music talents, visiting the dead bodies of former North Korean rulers, delivering soap and soccer balls to Haitian people and eating rat livers.

Rollins was funny, militant, warm, smart, humble and extremely intense.

Experiencing and understanding as much as we can while on this earth is our human responsibility at this point, according to Rollins, and he deeply believes in withholding judgment on people and things based on how they appear on the surface.

"Eat as much weird food as you can, hopefully it doesn't blow you up, and listen to as much music as you can that you can't snap your fingers to," he says. "I know you know this."

Talkbacks

RideNoEvo | March 25, 2012 at 9:28 a.m. (report)

You forgot to mention that when you took that picture he actually stopped the show to give you a "really," which happens about once a show to someone. This 3 hour rant of classic Henry, which is about the normal length for his spoken word tours, was one of his better performances. I've seen every tour since celebrating his 40th birthday at the Vic theater in Chicago in 2001, and can't wait to see next years show after the recalls and presidential election.

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