Fresh off their quadruple EP concept album, The Alchemy Index, California-bred Thrice like to keep things interesting. Currently touring the country with punk superstars Rise Against and Alkaline Trio, Thrice has built a core fan-base as pioneers of the contemporary hardcore and punk scenes, blending elements of metal, pop-punk, folk, electronic and classic rock to formulate a melting pot of aural goodness. IBreathetheUnderground caught up with front man Dustin Kensrue before Thrice took the stage at the Congress Theater this month in Chicago.
IBreathetheUndergroud: How would you describe your music to someone whoís never heard it before?
Dustin: Itís always been changing but it has roots in punk and hardcore. Itís been, over time, incorporating a lot of stuff from a ton of different genres. At this point itís like kind of dynamic and versatile rock. I donít know. Thereís a lot of heavy hitting stuff and thereís a lot of melody in there and everything in between Ė from stuff thatís super mellow at times to things that are really, really heavy.
If you could set one thing on fire, what would it be?
Thatís an interesting question. I donít know. I always think too literally for these questions. Too bad you canít set fire to ideas.
Iíd probably set fire to the 911 Commission Report because itís a giant pack of lies and omissions.
Whatís it like touring with legends of the scene like Alkaline Trio and Rise Against?
Weíve known both of them for awhile. Weíve known Alkaline for a really long time. Theyíre like friends and peers to us. Theyíre all awesome guys and great live bands, so itís definitely a pleasure being out with them. Itís great being out with Gaslight [Anthem], too. Theyíre a great band. I hadnít heard them much, hadnít heard them at all until we knew that they were going to be on this tour. Then, I picked their record up and Iíve been digging that quite a bit. What are your preconceptions prior to the first of a two-show homestead for both headliners, especially in a town that takes so much pride in its hometown legends like Chicago?
Our outlook on this whole tour is weíre two of four on this, and we havenít done something like that in awhile. Itís been a lot of fun. You have to earn it, you know, and just go out there and play hard for forty minutes. Play for the people that are there to see you and play for the people who have never seen you before. You can never see how a show is going to go. Itís really unexpected Ė especially when youíre earlier on the bill. Sometimes you think itís going to be a really good reaction, and itís not. But then, later, it seems like it did something. Sometimes, the total opposite. You think itís going to be awful and people are just having a great time. We really donít think a whole lot about that kind of stuff. We just go out there and play.
What is your favorite body of water?
I would have to say the Pacific Ocean because Iím from California and I feel an affinity with it, I guess.
How important do you feel your art is to your music?
I donít differentiate our music from art. I see art as being a pretty broad concept and I feel like the aspects of the music and the aspects of our lyrics and whatever [album] design weíre doing is all speaking to and coming from some other place. If you talk about the contrast between art and a consumer product, I think we try to focus on it as art and not as a product.
Musical evolution is a key component to creating a successful legacy for your act, and Thrice has certainly done its part to move forward sonically. Do you ever step back and think, ďAre we changing too quickly for our audience?Ē
I definitely think we have at times, but, when youíre trying to be true to yourself and what you want to make, thatís a better gauge of how youíre progressing than if people like it or not. Iíve been thinking about this a lot, this issue, and what it means for us to even be making music at this point, ten years in, and what our band is. When weíre writing a record, it could one of a million places, you know? Especially at this point, after The Alchemy Index. I was just thinking that what makes us who we are is not just who we are as people now, together playing music, but where weíve come from. Iím hoping to try to build a new fort without completely shredding our artistry. Weíre trying to do what we can do best and better than anyone else, the places we can go that maybe no one else would go. We all just love different kinds of music. More and more everyday weíre into completely different things. We have a lot of core bands that we like together.
Itís a weird dynamic. I definitely feel like we alienated a lot of fans at certain points. But I do feel like a ton of people really appreciate the fact that weíre just trying to push ourselves and do something different. Thereís no right or wrong way that that could have been done. So itís just more opinion if people want to hang out or not. I definitely appreciate people that take the time to just listen to the records that weíve made and try to understand why weíve made that record and where weíre going and why we like it. I think usually those people whoíve been fans before will take that time in appreciating the new records.
Have you ever had a mud facial?
No. Iím not big on massages and stuff like that because I donít feel like itís worth the money for me. I buy my wife massages and stuff like that but for me Ė I donít need that. I gotta keep that money for something else.
The Alchemy Index is a ball of concepts. Thereís the surface concept (manís relationship with the elements as depicted lyrically), but more important is the deeper idea behind the quadruple EP, revolving around the elements that make up Thrice as a band. Having broken it down, do you feel like itíll be easier for you to fuse these elements to perfection on the next album?
No, I think it probably makes it harder in a certain way, but I do think it was good for us as an exercise and even just to clear our heads and be able to refocus now on where we could or should be heading. I feel like its good in that sense as something we needed to do.
What prompted you guys to break with Island [Records] and how did you choose Vagrant as the next step?
The Island thing was pretty mutual. They didnít know what to do with us anymore, and we knew that they didnít know what to do with us and didnít really want to invest in the band anymore. Most of the people we had worked with over there had gone at that point. The music industry is just shuffling all the time, especially with the majors. They balked when they heard the majority of the record and our A&R guy at the time actually had to leave after we left. Weíre really glad we left because he was our dude there. He kind of helped us negotiate getting out of there Ė Island saving a bunch of money and us getting to keep the record that we worked so hard on. I feel like it worked out better for everyone. There wasnít any bad blood. It was just kind of like, ďThis doesnít make sense for either of us anymore.Ē It was nice that it didnít get super-messy.
So whatís next for Thrice? Have you guys decided on your direction for the next album? Have you started writing?
Weíre in the process of writing. We could write anything, so itís like, ďWhat should we be writing and what kind of direction does that look like?Ē I think weíre still figuring that out. Itís definitely not set enough yet to put into any kind of words.
What US city that youíve visited has the best air? You take a breath and say, ďDamn, it feels good to be alive.Ē
Maybe, like, Seattle. Thereís a freshness there. Same with Portland. Thereís a freshness and thereís also a damp quality thatís not humid really. I hate humidity. I almost said Denver or something, but I really like the kind of wet, earthy smell. Youíve got the ocean coming in and you have plenty of rain. I like how it smells.
The Bouncing Souls and the Lawrence Arms have quite a few similarities. I'm not just talking about a stubborn adherence shared by fans to use the article "the" when stating their band names. There's something deeper, some sort of poppy instinct within the body of each band's work that shines through in a sonic onslaught on listener's ears.
You can't really hear the similarities between the two bands quite as clearly on their recordings, but I had an alcohol induced revelation at this past weekend's Riot Fest. TLA and TBS are perfect bed...err, stage-fellows...?
The House of Blues is really an extraordinary venue, but a surprising place for a punk show of this calibur. Simply put, the HOB is pretty well kept and clean in terms of Chicago venues, and the audience that attends Riot Fest is generally...not. So it wasn't exactly a surprise to see the pop-sensible punk rock fans had a dominating "one-up" status on the old school punkers.
When TBS took the stage, I was pretty excited for their set, as I'd seen them at Warped a few years before and absolutely loved them. Still, although I'm decently knowledgeable when it comes to TBS' repetoire of songs, I found myself fidgeting throughout the hour-plus set. I got mad love and respect for TBS, but one word I would not use to describe them is "versatile."
So what did I learn? There might be a few other bands I've only seen play at Warped Tour that I should avoid going to see in a regular concert setting.
When you get fidgety at a show, you turn to the bottle for support, which made at least half of the crowd a little jazzed for the Lawrence Arms by the time it was their turn to rock the HOB.
And then it was their turn.
As usual, Brendan Kelly kept the crowd laughing with his drunken antics, Neil Hennessy was a blur of hands and fingernails, and Chris McCaughan brought the ladies to their knees with his sexy pot-voice. They played songs from every album and even surprised the crowd with "Quicentuple Your Money," a fan favorite that doesn't get dragged off the shelf too often. The energy level was amazing and the crowd was slightly out of control.
Take it from a guy who has been to a lot of shows: the Lawrence Arms have some of the best fans in Chicago.
Oh, you were dragged in by the headline and you're waiting for the point, huh?
When my attention started waning during the Bouncing Souls set, I ran into Hennessy and chatted things music. Kelly's wife just had a baby, which has pushed plans for a new album off into the unforeseen future. So, from what I gathered, it appears talks with Fat Mike have developed the possibility of a 7" series, in the tradition of other Fat bands. Hennessy mentioned that, since the band members have been busy with other things, Fat Mike suggested that they record songs as they write them. Then, he'll release a few here and there as 7"s.
Hennessy didn't mention that there was anything specific in the works as of yet, but that it was an idea being bounced around. Let's hope something gets moving shortly, huh? I feel like I'm starved of new Lawrence Arms material.
"I never tried that / I never tried that / I never tried that / but I know I don't like it."
- Brendan Kelly, "The Devil's Takin' Names"
A post over at AP.net today got my mind whirring. A slot machine of bands I used to listen to in high school spun mercilessly until it stopped on three Hippos. I hit the jackpot.
Does anyone even remember the Hippos? They were an upbeat ska-punk band that were bought by Interscope -- shortly before the pop-ska movement began losing steam, Reel Big Fish began losing their short-lived airplay, and Mighty Mighty Bosstones began losing their ties to a major label. The Hippos just barely missed the transition into synth-fueled power-pop a la Ozma (or, later, Motion City Soundtrack, HelloGoodbye, etc.) that would have put them ahead of their time. Instead, they went the way of the buffalo and earned a prominent spot on my underground music "Where Are They Now?" list -- although I think a lot of those mid-to-late 90s poppy ska-punk made that list.
I thought of these guys because an ex-girlfriend of mine used to make these spectacular perfume-doused mixtapes for me that often featured a Hippos song or two. There's an element of nostalgia that plays into the love I've got for these guys, but the band sells itself as a legendary key to the door of post-OpIvy ska. If you're interested in giving these guys a listen, your best bet is to check out 1996's Forget the World, a true ska-punk classic if ever there was one. (Released jointly by then-young labels Vagrant and Fueled by Ramen, the Hippos were an important part of establishing each label in the scene.) Complete with RBF-esque harmonizing vocals, strategically placed punk beats, and upbeat horn sections, the extinct Hippos are fun, catchy dance music.
Again, Universal is killing me with this no embedding shit, so go here to check out the band's video for "Wasting My Life." To hear some more stuff, check out the band's LastFM page.
Should my next post be dedicated to the Impossibles? I've got a feeling today's ska kick is going to fade faster than the fad itself did.
"I'm not a large water-dwelling mammal / Where did you get that preposterous hypothesis? / Did Steve tell you that, perchance?"
- Hiphopopotamus, "I'm the Motherflippin"
Ladies and gentleman, Chicago natives Rise Against have finally avenged the creation and subsequent release of 2004's near-miss Siren Song of the Counter Culture with this week's drop: Appeal to Reason.
It's kind of hard to put my thumb on exactly what gives this album perfect timing. It's not a direct response to SSOTCC like 2006's The Sufferer and the Witness, which was spectacular in it's own right and instrumental in positioning RA as the new reigning punk rock champions. But it's not exactly a step deeper into the existing boundaries of mainstream pop-sensible music. It's more of a statement that defines new boundaries for the norm of the music scene; it's an album so confident and brimming with emotion that even the most outspoken punk rock skeptics can't ignore.
The one thing that's clear: this bands revolves around Tim McIlrath's overpowering vocals and ideologies. Don't get me wrong; Joe Principe's bass guitar has been a significant factor in the success of this band. There's a lot to be said for the rest of the band, too (even though the other spots have been revolving doors over the band's nine-year career). But McIlrath is the life-force.
Reviews of ATR have generously likened RA to a more generation-conscious Bad Religion, which I find to be a satisfying comparison. I just have a few comments on this; for one, the lyrics are socially-charged and active (a Bad Religion recipe for success), in high contrast to the blatant finger-pointing of 90s political punkers like NoFX and Anti-Flag. The vocals are a major driving factor for both bands, and the songs are chock-full of poppy hooks and anthematic choruses. But the real diverting factor between these two bands: Bad Religion's music is formulaic, static, and has withstood the test of time, while Rise Against continues to prod into unknown territory, thrusting themselves forward through the preconceptions that surround punk rock.
This band is not afraid to push the limits. Five full-lengths through, I doubt they've even reached their halfway point.
So why the comparison to SSOTCC? Well, for one, ATR just feels like the production quality is eliminating some of the rawness of previous recordings. SSOTCC was afraid to go there, and you could hear it. Somehow, TSATW was catalyst enough to show RA what needed to be done before they could make their unique punk style work for them in the studio without directly selling the rawness and energy of the live show. Rather, they're selling quality, precision, and evolution in this recording and saving the live show for the real fans.
They had to go and do a radio-friendly single -- "Re-Education (Through Labor)" -- just to piss me off. The video (which was apparently filmed in the basement of the Chicago-favorite Congress Theater) captures the band's determination perfectly. I wanted to post it above, but apparently Universal Group doesn't like getting their shit pimped, as they've disabled embedding. Check it out here instead.
"Spin out of control / Spin out of control / Try to recover, but collide with each other / We spin out of control."
- Tim McIlrath, "Kotov Syndrome"
I always feel like I'm sitting at the bar of some small club sipping a whiskey when I listen to Dillinger Four. Albeit you could draw that conclusion directly from each album's production quality -- but I really meant how the music makes me feel. It's like the band has something wiser behind it than the pop-punk powerhouses spewing out the same catchy chord progressions and hooks, yet something more playful than a lot of today's political punkers. The band succeeds in blending the raw with the - for lack of a better term - marketable.
I've been a huge Dillinger Four fan since the first time I listened to them -- back when they were the centerpiece for Hopeless Records' Hopelessly Devoted to You compilation series. Those comps were truly historical collections for 90s punk, showcasing respected now-veteran scenesters like Mustard Plug, Against All Authority, Guttermouth, the Queers, Funeral Oration, the Weakerthans and Samiam; defunct or still unknown but truly spectacular bands like 88 Fingers Louie, Digger, Fifteen, and Scared of Chaka; even Thrice, Avenged Sevenfold, Break the Silence and Atom and His Package on more recent compilations. Ever since I first heard those comps, Dillinger Four became a band whose track record I've followed religiously for several years.
Dillinger Four hasn't shown a significant musical progression over the years, but the quality of their tunes hasn't diminished either, which is something only the finest punk bands can demonstrate. Let's be honest; punk rock isn't really about complicated riffs and musical progression anyway.
The band's newest recording, C I V I L W A R, stays true to Dillinger Four's hook-laden chord progressions, formulaic but catchy. You can feel a slightly different quality to the music; in an interview posted on AP.net, Erik Funk summed it up nicely:
"Now that it's done, I think it's more heavy on the pop side than our other records."
Which isn't to say that D4's signature rawness is gone -- it's just a little more subtle. After all, Fat Wreck Chords wouldn't promote a band that had gone soft, would they?
There's not much else to say about this recording. I love it. You either love 'em or hate 'em. D4 is straight-up, in-your-face pop-punk. They've got nothing to hide. So if you dig D4's other recordings, you're sure to like this one. If you don't like the old stuff, then stop reading this damn post.
Oops, too late. It's already over.
"I am not unforgiving / but I won't take the fall / Let the ashes surround us / I am not gonna crawl through / broken glass and razor wire."
- Dillinger Four, "Noble Stabbings!!"
Previously posted on:
Oh my, there is a lot going on in the world of music as of late that I'd like to blog about. For one, New Found Glory signed to Epitaph Records today. But we'll get to that tomorrow. Today's blog will focus on a super-group of sorts, a band formed from bits and pieces of Goldfinger, Dee Dee Ramone (band), Soulfly/Stone Sour, and New Dead Radio, with original members spanning Bad Religion, Circle Jerks, and Guttermouth. The band, of course, is Black President. DISCLAIMER: Band members claim the band name was decided upon before Barack Obama won the democratic nomination, so don't get your panties in a tussle just yet. Although socially charged, the band doesn't appear to have any such political obligations as of yet.
Black President is a fusion of old skool punk rock and old fashioned rock and roll. Think Rancid with a twinge of Against Me, guitar riffs reminiscent of the Living End, throw a little Minor Threat in the mix, vocal stylings a la the Distillers (with a male vocalist, of course), and you've got the perfect recipe for a punk rock shit sandwich.
From flowing chunky measures to raw superfast punk to churning old skool rock and roll, Black President is chock full of pop-sensible hooks and supercharged punk rock anthems. A little raw for the radio (but that's the way -- uh huh uh huh -- I like it). If you listen closely (whether intentional or unintentional), you may even hear something of a 90s Chicago punk scene homage throughout. Old and new skool Chicago bands that come to mind: Oblivion, Mexican Cheerleader, Apocalypse Hoboken, No Empathy.
Black President released their self-titled debut full-length today on Cobra Music. I suggest you hop on down to your local DIY record store and pick up a copy son.
"it was just our way of saying america needed a change & we could think of nothing more indictative of change in a racist, soulless system than a BLACK PRESIDENT. the sad truth is we donít support ANY of the candidates at this point."
- Black President, "our name & barack obama" (blog post 3/08)
Norma Jean is back with a vengeance. Out for blood, the Georgia quintet recently released The Anti Mother, a characteristic raging masterpiece that screams for the scene respect that this band deserves and usually gets.
Since Josh Scogin left the band to form the Chariot, a lot of unfounded talk bustled across the scene that Norma Jean wasn't up to 2002's Bless the Martyr and Kiss the Child level, that O God, the Aftermath (2005) wasn't quite on par with the band's previous work. Still, some people were impressed with the offering. Personally, I wasn't exactly impressed, but it wasn't a terrible album. It never really made a significant spot in my rotation, but it was good for a stray listen every so often.
Cory Brandan, Scogin's successor, powered the band back to hardcore splendor with 2006's Redeemer, which ironically enough seemed to redeem the band's status as scene pioneers. It was pretty clear to me at the time that if you weren't ready to move on with the band away from its roots, then there was always the Chariot, which essentially picked up where BTMAKTC left off.
To me, Redeemer had a sonic quality that could be felt more than heard; the band's typical dissonant style was still there, but poppy hooks bled through the noise and formulated strong tunes, supported by an evenly unpredictable drum pattern that wasn't too "out there," as much I cannot say for the previous recording. (Pop in OGTA and you'll see what I'm talking about.) I like experimental music, but I felt like OGTA wasn't really working for them. I think the band felt that too, as Redeemer is such a drastic countermeasure (and was released only a year after the previous recording).
Stepping in the dominant footprints of Redeemer, The Anti Mother is a tantalizing and catchy journey through the evolution of the band that loses no edge or momentum from earlier work, capturing a raw earnestness that pumps through unfamiliar riffs laced with surprisingly strong hooks, bolstered by the characteristic heaviness and dissonance that only Norma Jean can seem to capture.
Norma Jean appears to have finally found a niche in the realm of melodic metalcore, solidifying their position as pioneers of the scene. If you're not happy with it, then go listen to the Chariot. I can't offer refunds -- only peace of mind.
"I guess a liar's heart is still true even if her lips are not."
- Cory Brandan, "Birth of the Anti Mother"
Holy shit. Can I just say -- and actually mean, for once -- that I've found my brand new obsession? Please? Okay, I'm going to say it anyway.If anyone can bring peace to the sickly giant that is Russia, then it is this band. And they know it. Say hello to Closure in Moscow.
This band blindsided me. Even though Circa Survive has kept me contented following Anthony Green's departure from Saosin (more on Green's new solo album to come), I didn't think anyone would be able to take young Saosin's place in my heart. But apparently Saosin chose the heir to the throne, as it threw its weight behind CIM after a flattering appearance in AP, where the young Aussie band cited Saosin as a primary influence (referring directly to the band's Green days).
Now, Closure in Moscow has...well...essentially...um...bro ught closure to fans of Saosin that were disillusioned by Green's exit. They pick up right where Saosin left out, pounding out high-pitched emotive music supported by unpredictable patterns and intense drum fills. They've preserved the haunting melodies while pushing forward with the song structures, driving a production of intricacy and beauty that's been unmatched by any band I've had the pleasure of listening to this year.
To be fair, CIM is more than just a Saosin clone. The band's influences and similarities shine through in their gigantic, aura-building sound. Think if Saosin and the Mars Volta eloped to Vegas, but Saosin got cold feet and hooked up with a showgirl named Fall of Troy, broke her heart, and flew out to the east coast to live with My Chemical Romance, an old college buddy. Meanwhile, From First to Last and Rufio are tracking Saosin like an animal, bounty-hunting for the reward money. Unbeknownst to From First to Last, it was Rufio's older brother Yellowcard that Saosin had murdered, and Rufio is searching for more than just money -- he wants revenge.
Sorry, I blacked out for a second. What just happened?
Closure in Moscow recently brought the thunder from down under, releasing its debut EP The Penance and the Patience in April of this year. Check them out.
"Line by line, it's not too late / We're biding time."
- Closure in Moscow, "Breathing Underwater"
Previously posted on www.ibreathetheunderground.typepad. com
I've been waiting in dire anticipation at least a year for this, so it is with great pleasure that I present you Underoath's fourth full-length studio recording, Lost in the Sound of Separation.
Christianity and brutality have never quite melded the way this sextet from Tampa, Florida has demonstrated over the past ten years. Blurring the lines between art and chaos, music and dissonance, and elevated spirituality and earthly frustration, each song Underoath has recorded is like a raging, insistent battle between good and evil. Aaron Gillespie's honest vocals seem eternally pitted against Spencer Chamberlain's explosive growls in an epic struggle for dominance, like two sides of the same coin tumbling down a bottomless well.
Underoath's latest offering plays deeper into that same dynamic, building up something beautiful and destroying it in a whirlwind of crunching guitars and wailing vocals. Fans of the band might remember Define the Great Line's (2006) face-melting intro, "In Regards to Myself" -- that is, until they pop this baby in and let "Breathing in a New Mentality" spin. The urgency of the record doesn't push its own limits as it drifts purposefully from song to song, drilling the band's staple catchy melodies into your head and leaving a hole in the back of your skull so the music can come and go as it pleases.
Although I'm a firm subscriber to the notion that production can be a record's biggest downfall, the quality difference between DTGL and LITSOS is most tangible in the drums, facilitating a self-sustaining product that feeds on a dominant beat, with layered guitars and the usual vocal meandering. Another production upgrade is apparent in Gillespie's vocals; nearly flawless, the recording captures the emotion and power that stands independent of Chamberlain's screams, while simultaneously working with them to present the contrast that solidfies Underoath as a unique ship in a sea of metalcore bouys.
Clearly, this is not a detour from previous records, but the evolution that Underoath fans could have only been dreaming about waiting for the album to drop.
"Oh, God! It's racing through my veins / I'm afraid there must be some kind of mistake."
- Underoath, "Breathing in a New Mentality"
It's been about five years now. Our relationship started out so strong and I thought you were the ones, the band that would make it big and would still deserve my respect. Over the past few years, you've taken me on a roller coaster ride that I can only call "complicated," so complicated in fact that I think you wrote the entire album Infinity On High about us. I don't want you to thinkthis is over -- but I have to confess, I've been having my doubts.
I knew I was in love with you the moment I first listened to Take This to Your Grave. From the opening riff of "Tell That Mick He Just Made My List of Things to Do Today" to the closing lyrics of "The Patron Saint of Liars and Fakes," you held my attention. You held it and you caressed it like a little chica-dee that had just hatched from a small emo shell, a tiny little teardrop tattooed on its little eye.
And when I first saw you live, it was a cold day in winter, right after my last final exam. You were playing with the likes of Fuel, and no one came to see you. I saw the frustration in Pete's eyes when his bass spontaneously broke and shattered on the ground after he slammed it in anger. I saw tiny little emo tear drops forming at the corner of Pete's eyeshadow. I remember the tight-knit little crowd, shouting out the lyrics and moshing amongst ourselves. Dammit Fall Out Boy, I remember hanging out with you after the show.
I remember the time when you blew the lid off of the Bottom Lounge (RIP), Joe jumping off walls, Pete hanging from the lights, screaming out the closing verse of Saturday. I remember the first big show you guys played, when you co-headlined and I knew you'd made it. Like I'd always said, huh? So what if the Chicago hardcore scene mocked you for selling out your roots; I knew you guys were having fun and that's really all that matters when it came to music.
I was there when you guys started a riot at Illinois State and the cops had to come to break up the show. I remember the words of the smiling girl as she was wheeled out of the auditorium on a gurney: "Totally f@ckin' worth it."
I remember the release and critical-acclaim of From Under the Cork Tree. You told me the truth, that the album was a musical progression, but for some reason I couldn't shake the feeling that you'd changed.
We saw each other on-and-off over that year, between intense of bouts of pain and joy. Suddenly, Pete started wearing an ungodly amount of eye makeup and hair gel, Joe starting smoking cigarettes, and Patrick changed his last name from "Stumpf" to "Stump." (Oh yes, Patrick, you thought no one noticed, but I assure you they did.) It became painfully clear that, even though you still called Chicago your home, you were slowly beginning the transition that all bands make to the West Coast, that unholiest of places.
Over the next several months, we began seeing less and less of each other. I was even considering making a clean break, but Infinity On High was released. I have to be honest -- I was teetering there for a moment, but you renewed my faith with that album. I still felt slightly unsettled, but at least I knew I wanted us to be together for a little longer at least. But then I became sick of you again. Between Pete's relationship with Ashley Simpson (c'mon buddy, a comatose gorilla has more musical talent) and Patrick's countless guest appearances anywhere and everywhere, I wanted to cover my ears and scream. But I stuck with you because I made a commitment that I wanted...no, needed...to stick to. Why you ask? Maybe it was because I couldn't let go of how you made me feel in the beginning. Maybe it was to prove to myself that I was not a musical snob. Either way, something inside me feels like we've been together for all the wrong reasons.
Are you even listening to me? I thought maybe I was starting to get through to you, but I guess not. I just saw the old-timey graphic for your upcoming Folie a Deux, the accompanying press release, the video announcing the album where you stand at a podium and speak like you're announcing the Nobel Peace Prize, your "Big Brother" marketing campaign, etc. You've either finished another genius album or have put together the most pompous, pretentious collection of songs since...well, since Angels and Airwaves' latest recording. It doesn't matter though, because I'm done with the head games.
I just want you to know that I've found a younger band, a more polished version of your current selves. I'm of course speaking of Forever the Sickest Kids. Don't give me that look; you knew what was going on here. And while you'll still have a special place in my heart, you know that the upbeat tempo and flawless harmonies of "Hey Brittany" are impossible for me to stay away from. We've been seeing each other for about three months now.
You knew this would happen. You're in too deep now guys. Sure, I bet I'll tap my foot and maybe even sing along to the new album, but I want you to know that it will never be the same.
Thnks Fr Th Mmrs,
P.S. Is that Buster from Arrested Development in your video for "Beat It?"
P.P.S. Take off that jacket Pete. It's eighty degrees out and you look ridiculous.
"Stop burning bridges / and drive off of them / so I can forget about you."
- Patrick Stump(f?), "Tell That Mick He Just Made My List of Things to Do Today"
A recent blog post on NOFX's MySpace page reads as follows:"NOFX are headlining the opening of the Democratic National Convention at Red Rocks in Denver, Colorado this Friday, August 22nd. To celebrate Barack "Punk Rock" Obama's nomination, NOFX will perform Punk in Drublic in its entirety and in order.
Side Note: Fat Mike is pretty sure he is on Barack's VP shortlist. Keep yer fingers crossed everybody!"
No, of course not seriously you jackass! As far as I can tell from my research, there appears to be no connection between the DNC and NOFX whatsoever (aside from the fact that both events are taking place in the same city around the same time). What would a bunch of politicos wearing suits want to do with a legion of overage, overweight punk rockers that can't hold a tune or write an original song? Harsh, Mark. I know, I know. But I'm starting to get pretty fed up with some of the bands on the Fat Wreck Chords list that shamelessly exploit their influence in the punk community to promote causes based on specific and personal belief systems. To name a few: Rise Against (former Fat Wreck), Anti-Flag (completely shameless), the Lawrence Arms (that was a given, as Brendan Kelly has always been an outspoken liberal).
Why can't these bands focus their efforts on supporting nice universal charities, like Save Darfur or Jerry's Kids? Why has there got to be an agenda with these bands, the ones that call out religious groups on indoctrinating followers, the ones that criticize conservatives for closed-minded thinking? There's never a thought to the hypocrisy involved here.
IF YOU'RE GOING TO BACK AN INITIATIVE TO GET PEOPLE TO VOTE, LET THE PEOPLE DECIDE FOR THEMSELVES WHO THEY'RE GOING TO VOTE FOR. Don't mask it as an open invite when the subject matter is one-sided.
And, I'm sorry, but I don't understand what blindly backing your party has to do with exercising your individuality. I plan on invoking my personal freedoms by exercising my right to NOT vote this coming election.
Okay, Obama is ballsy enough to discuss options for a peaceful resolution to the Israeli/Palestinian crisis. That doesn't mean that one or more leaders from either side didn't end up laughing in Obama's face because we sent an inexperienced d-bag to a place that he had no business at all visiting. How many great leaders have tried to negotiate a peaceful resolution to exactly that conflict? And in goes Barack, ready to save the world and flaunting his limited foreign policy experience like its something to be proud of.
And, honestly guys, there's no reason to bash McCain on your site. The poor guy doesn't have a clue how to work the internet to defend himself.
Really, why can't you guys stick to unaffiliated punk rock? Can't you just hate the world, rather than specific people?
Exploitation. Indoctrination. Degradation. Could be the title of the next NOFX album.
"Live your life with decision / Live your life, not religion."
- Fat Mike, "Live Your Life"
LAGWAGON. Did I catch you off guard? I bet you haven't heard that name in awhile. Fat Wreck's first officially signed band seems to pop up on my map every few years, but their soon to be released EP, I Think My Older Brother Used to Listen to Lagwagon, has caught me with my pants down and forced a pang of guilt on me, as I've rarely even thought about this band over the past three years. I think the guilt is slightly based on my status as the "Older Brother." Let's take it back about seven years. In 2000, following five full-length albums, Wikipedia has told me that Lagwagon took a hiatus! Umm shit, had no idea. When 2003's Blaze hit shelves, it seemed to me they must have ventured out on a five year tour co-headlining with No Use for a Name. Seriously though, Lagwagon isn't a very forgettable band, but it seemed only natural that a few Fat Wreck nineties punkers were about due to hit the dust. All the bands signed to Fat Wreck seemed far too happy and complacent for it to be a real record label.
When Bad Astronaut came out with its first release, Joey Cape's eternally recognizable vocals had seemed to follow his heart in a musical evolution that only seemed natural at his age. They were too old to be punk rockers anymore...weren't they?
Au contraire. It seems I saw Lagwagon at Warped Tour, shortly before this supposed hiatus, and everyone in the crowd left the stage area with a smile on his or her face. Short of a heroin binge or the development of fatal heart diseases, the band couldn't have done that much to slow themselves down. Blaze and Resolve (2005) appeared to pick up right where the band had left off, blasting out charming, melodic punk anthems at breakneck speed. I picked up both releases, and there was a defiant pleasure in them, but the band failed to do anything noteworthy since these albums.
Lagwagon fans -- rejoice! For it turns out Bad Astronaut was not so badass after all and has not withstood the test of time, and ITMOBUTLTL has been sent to fill the gap in your safety-pin closed hearts. The EP, which drops August 19th, does not disappoint the avid Lagwagon fan. Holding the title of an "Avid Lagwagon Fan," as well as having attained the release before it shall be let loose on the starving masses, I fully endorse this album. It isn't a deviation from their last umpteen albums, but that Lagwagon charm is still intact and churning at full speed.
"I'm old school / I'm played out / osteoporosis, glaucoma and neurosis / the vultures circling above our balding heads."
- Joey Cape, "Falling Apart"
The other night I had the distinct pleasure of witnessing a musical melting-pot of reggae, punk, ska, jam-band and rock turn the restless Metro crowd into an anxious sea of troubled waters. Even though they'd appeared in Chicago on several occasions over the past year, I'd yet to see the reputed glory of the RX Bandits, live and in concert.When I arrived at the show, fashionably late as usual, Portugal. the Man had traveled beyond their warm-up and were moving quickly towards climax. Tight drums, penetrating clean guitar riffs, and a good balance between tame, flowing melodies and crunchy, emotional breakdowns all contributed to a good first impression. In fact, the few songs that I saw made me slightly ashamed that I had only checked these guys out to such a minimal extent -- and not for lack of hearing good things.
The main attraction, the evolving and genre-transcending RX Bandits, took the stage in a fury of jam-addled lead guitar riffs and blurred drumming. I shit you not; Christopher Tsagakis plays his set so fast that he's nothing more than a blur. Matthew Embree's vocals pierced the musical chaos calmingly while Steve Choi's erratic ivory-tickling was certainly a sight (Choi switches often between playing guitar and keyboards mid-song).
The live chemistry this band has was everything it had been built up to for me; they took control of the crowd and rocked us straight through to the encore.
If I could do it again, I would. I would.
"Am I crazy because I want to touch your skin? / Is it ludicrous that I've got nothing to believe in / that was built by human hands or controlled by demand?"
- Matthew Embree, "...And the Battle Begun"
You walk into the pounding sun and take it all in, the jagged rocks littering the hot concrete and the wall of sound hitting you from every side. Each tune that caresses or bombards your ears is unique. It's a land out of storybook lore; it's a legendary collection of all the most influential punk/pop-punk/hardcore bands of the last ten years; it's that time of year, time for the Vans Warped Tour, and it makes me feel like I'm in high school all over again.
This year's Warped Tour lineup was disappointing at first glance. The Chicago lineup boasted only a few bands with experience and industry cred; punk legends like Pennywise, Agent Orange, the Bouncing Souls, Fear, GBH, and the Germs were on other legs of the tour. Faced with a dismal reality, I was considering not attending this year for fear the tour had turned a big commercialized corner.
I decided to go anyway and cut ties for good if I'd been dragged into a big waste of time.
Boy, was I surprised.
I didn't get to the all-day festival until around 2 PM (being Saturday morning and all, I had to watch my cartoons). The schedule worked perfectly for the bands I wanted to see; unfortunately, a couple of notables that had been listed on the website were missing from the gigantic board: Protest the Hero and Forever the Sickest Kids.
The following is an attempt to recreate my day at the 2008 Vans Warped Tour.
2:30 PM: Entered the gates. Proceeded directly to the beer line and ordered a drink. Received massive bucket of beer. Wandered to the big schedule board and planned the afternoon.
2:45 PM: Found the Hurley Stage, where Chicago suburban locals Dr. Manhattan were rocking the early afternoon heat. The guitarist was definitely wearing a pair of over-sized tighty-whities on top of his shorts. Listened to a couple of recognizable songs from their Victory Records debut. Overall: 3 out of 5 stars.
3:00 PM: Made our way to one of the main stages, where Norma Jean had just begun a sonic onslaught of the still energetic throngs of eager hardcore kids. (Two bands later, the hardcore kids were skulking about, drenched in sweat and calling their parents for a ride home. (Just kidding.)). Norma Jean dominated the crowd for half an hour, delivering their own quirky brand of hardcore goodness with the momentum of their coming release, Anti Mother. I am no longer a Norma Jean virgin, and I'm happy to say that it was a pleasant experience for both of us. Overall: 4 out of 5 stars.
3:30 PM: On our way to the Smartpunk Stage to check out Four Year Strong, a familiar ditty hit my eardrums hard. We proceeded to the closest stage, where Protest the Hero was half-way through rocking album-quality renditions from their most recent offering, Fortress, and informing the crowd of the recent beheading in Canada. For all the musical talent on the tiny stage, the energy just wasn't there on that scorching Saturday afternoon. Maybe it was due to the shock of playing on such a small stage or the fact that the sun's rays had a direct avenue to the band. Either way, a disappointing: 3 out of 5 stars.
3:45 PM: We arrived at the Smartpunk Stage, where a riot had apparently broken out. Happy hardcore newcomers Four Year Strong were melting faces everywhere, causing an uproar in the crowd. Between the unparalleled energy the band was exuding on stage, the melodic vocals that were surprisingly flawless, and the ridiculous movement of the crowd, hardcore dancing and moshing their little faces off, the experience was simply incredible. For that, they get: 5 out of 5 stars.
4:00 PM: Stood in line for another beer. Walked back to the Smartpunk Stage and watched a little bit of Evergreen Terrace on the stage next door. I was unimpressed, but I was only half paying attention, so I won't give them an official star rating.
4:30 PM: Set Your Goals took the Smartpunk Stage. The band did not disappoint. Although their partners in happy hardcore had taken the crowd to another level, SYG competed like champions, stirring the crowd to an even boil and bursting the bubbles at all the right places. A whirlwind of speed, melody, and positive thinking, SYG earned their keep. Overall, 4 out of 5 stars.
5:00 PM: We had planned on checking out From First to Last, but ever since they lost Sonny, I've kinda lost interest. Walked by the main stage briefly and confirmed my suspicions. Checked out the tents and saw Norma Jean signing autographs. Got another beer.6:00 PM: The sun was still shining and the beer was flowing and Gym Class Heroes, the quirkiest pick for Warped Tour (honest, they run in music circles that are far outside of their style), had just taken one of the main stages. Patrick Stump's pre-recorded vocals blasted forth beneath the unique lyrical stylings of GCH's Travis McCoy. They made me want to dance on a day dedicated to moshing. GCH don't disappoint, even after seeing them five times. Overall: 4 out of 5 stars.
6:30 PM: There's something comforting about Reel Big Fish's refusal to quit amidst speculation that ska truly is dead. They're probably the reason I even started listening to underground music -- and it was all because they "sold out." I'm of course referring to the band's hit radio single, "Sell Out," because RBF is a band that has done anything but sell out. They've always played the same music, and they've always done it with a strict refusal to change. Between their hilarious, almost scripted, banter, they blasted out ska anthem after ska anthem, leaving this punk with a gracious smile on his face. Oh, they also inspired me to get another beer. Overall: 4 out of 5 stars.
7:00 PM: I had the unfortunate and distinct pleasure of visiting the other main stage for the Angels and Airwaves set. Tom DeLonge's post-Blink attempt at creating something beautiful has fallen horribly, horribly flat amidst the hyped fanfare. There's just something depressing about a 32 year old man shouting "Poo poo!" and "Pee pee!" to an audience of recycled Blink 182 fans, most of whom are pushing 30 themselves, in between some of the most contrived and pretentious songs I've ever heard. Shame on you, Tom DeLonge. Take up a hobby that doesn't require human contact, like crocheting. Overall: 1 and a half out of 5 stars.
7:40 PM: It was finally time for the band I'd been waiting all day to see, the band that has sprouted from the ashes of the pop-punk of olden days, the one, the only, Say Anything. We approached the main stage with the last of our energy and got ready to rock. But as soon as Max Bemis walked briskly out on stage on his own, I knew something was wrong. His scratchy voice explained that he was sick and unable to perform. I was about ready to pack up and head out disappointed, but he informed the crowd that other Warped Tour performing artists would be singing in his stead.
Each song of the set was sung by a different vocalist. It was pretty cool to see, although I would have rather had Max himself. Still, the concept was cool, and what really blew me away was how these singers knew the lyrics without referring to a lyric sheet. It was like watching legends pay tribute to the new bad boy in town. The show still rocked, so: 4 and a half out of 5 stars.
Just a last point before I end. Although Warped Tour has managed to block out most of the bands that were instrumental in forming it in the first place, they still make the shows, the bands, and the experience as accessible to the fans as it used to be (even if a sign at the Angels and Airwaves tent warned "DO NOT ask if the band is signing autographs today. They aren't and we don't know why.").
Bands I missed that I wanted to see: Cobra Starship, Forever the Sickest Kids, All That Remains, Street Dogs, The Academy Is..., Katy Perry (just kidding about that one, even though she was actually somehow on the tour, probably kissing every girl she saw). Oh, and we also saw MC Chris, aka MC Peepants from Aqua Teen Hunger Force. It was weird.
Summer rock. Word.
DISCLAIMER: This is the day how I remember it. Performance times are only as close to accurate as my memory is. Which is not very.
"Wake up, wake up, wake up / This is not a test."
- Underoath, "In Regards to Myself"