Please Plea Me

A primer on the punk-rock tour of the season

Are you one of those punk-rockers always moaning about how good touring bands skip St. Louis? If so, Friday is your lucky day. The Plea for Peace tour will bring four very different, very popular punk bands to town for one evening of laffs -- and it's all for a good cause (proceeds benefit the National Hopeline Network's 1-800-SUICIDE project).

Because all four of these bands come from different places on the genre map and because they all have some history behind them that may not be apparent to newbies, here's a brief guide to the four "headliners" at the show and, by extension, a snapshot of the many and varied guises that punk rock wears these days. (International) Noise Conspiracy
In five words: Swedish hardcore kids go mod!
Members: Vocalist Dennis Lyxzén, keyboardist/guitarist Sara Almgren, Lars Strömberg, Ludwig Dahlberg, Inge Johansson (the band is a "collective" and doesn't generally list its members by instrument).
Previous bands: Lyxzén was the frontman for Refused, a "post-hardcore" band whose electronic metal/jazz noodlings stirred the souls of sensitive but stylish teens everywhere; Almgren was in Doughnuts, perhaps the only all-female straight-edge hardcore band ever.
The story so far: A New Morning, Changing Weather (2001) departs somewhat from the organ-based '60s revivalism of Survival Sickness (2000). Whereas the earlier record was built on freakbeat and garage rock, this newer one also takes cues from the Stooges, James Brown, experimental jazz and post-hardcore rock. The result is a stranger brew, harder to describe and, at times, harder to listen to. "Bigger Cages, Longer Chains" sounds cool, with its choppy funk rhythm and oddball horn riffing, plus a noisy psychedelic coda. The title track and "Up for Sale," among others, provide plenty of rock thrills for anybody who liked Survival Sickness. On the other hand, plodding tracks such as "Last Century Promise" and "Born Into a Mess" ask a lot of the listener and don't give much back. On the whole, it's a solid album but not quite as exciting as this band can be.
Politics:Radically anti-capitalist, in broad philosophical terms; these folks offer no policy analyses or statistical breakdowns. They decry the crushing effects of the profit system on everyday life, on the most intimate relationships between people, on the way we look at each other on the street or in the rock club. The wild abandon of rock & roll has always sat uneasily beside the optimism and conscientiousness of the political activist, but the (I)NC does a better job than most of reconciling the two impulses. You get the feeling that they want the system to change so that they can have more fun -- a pure and universal feeling that few could argue with.
Visual style: Formerly full-on mod, with supersharp '60s-style suits. Now, their look is more varied: camouflage outfits one minute, leather jackets and low-top Chuck Taylors the next. But they always match, and they always look cool.
Choice lyrical quote:"Capitalism stole my virginity."
Stay and watch 'em because: They rock quite well, their politics are never boring and they bring real style to a rock world that sorely needs it.
Head for the bar or bathroom because: They can be musically self-indulgent to a fault sometimes.

Common Rider
In five words: Operation Ivy frontman's studio project.
Members: Singer/guitarist Jesse Michaels, bassist Mass Giorgini, drummer Dan Lumley.
Previous bands: Michaels fronted Operation Ivy, the legendary late-'80s ska-punk band that also spawned Rancid. Giorgini and Lumley are among the many who have played in Chicago pop-punk heroes Screeching Weasel.
The story so far: After recording two albums as a studio-only project, Common Rider is making its first-ever tour, which will mark Michaels' return to the stage after a decade spent finding himself and whatnot. Many of the legions who retroactively adore Op Ivy will have their first-ever glimpse of the man on this tour. Last Wave Rockers (2001) was a catchy set of punk-reggae tunes that could have come from Op Ivy in a mellower mood, complete with rousing choruses and Michaels' warbly/scratchy vocals. Unfortunately, times changed during Michaels' sabbatical. Now, when he lets the Jamaican influence show in his vocals, it's hard to ignore the resemblance between Common Rider and such '90s horrors as Sublime. With Op Ivy, Michaels was mining this field long before any of those pretenders, which makes the resemblance all the more unfortunate. If you can overlook the recent atrocities committed in the name of punk/reggae fusion, Common Rider sounds pretty cool.
Politics: Although he stays away from sloganeering and issues-based songwriting, Michaels is driven by a sentimental vision of the kids united, eating the roots from under the system like termites, unseen until it's too late. Seemingly every song is peopled with beautiful young rebels, smoking cigarettes in lonely alleys at midnight before they shake the city with their united power. This all works well enough in the context of a rock band. It doesn't add up to much on paper, but music isn't played on paper, is it?
Visual style: Not an important element of the band, let's say.
Choice lyrical quote: "Conscious burning, everything's gonna be all right/We're gonna shake this town with a long-forgotten light"
Stay and watch 'em because: Unlike some other bands with former Op Ivy members, this one doesn't taint the memory of the earlier band.
Head for the bar or bathroom because: They sound like a studio project -- the playing is a little polite and bloodless. (Also see the Sublime factor, mentioned above.)

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