Please Plea Me

A primer on the punk-rock tour of the season

Anti-Flag
In five words: In the dictionary under "punk."
Members: Singer/guitarist Justin Sane, drummer Pat Thetic, guitarist Chris Head, bassist Chris #2
Previous bands: None to speak of, although Justin Sane released a solo album earlier this year.
The story so far: They'd been around for quite a while, toiling in the relative anonymity of the Pittsburgh streetpunk scene. Then, in the space of a couple of years, Anti-Flag emerged from a crowded field to suddenly become one of the biggest draws on the punk-rock circuit. (They played in this writer's basement in 1995.) They've always kept their outspoken politics front and center, and Justin Sane has introduced the anarchist punk agenda to countless high-school kids everywhere. Musically, they've refined their sound without really changing it much, relying on basic midtempo guitar punk with loads of vocal harmonies and decent dynamics. They do tend to go in one ear and out the other, though, much like the other Warped Tour punk bands. Their one shred of musical personality seems to be an unexpected affinity for Mission of Burma.
Politics: Full-on punk-rock sloganeering, dealing with both global issues and punk-scene bickering. This band is not afraid to write songs with titles such as "The Panama Deception," "Fuck Police Brutality" and "Stars and Stripes." Even with the band's evident sense of humor, the politics-by-numbers gets pretty tiresome. They're on firmer ground when it comes to intrascene squabbling: "I've been told emo songs are deep/which translates into really weak!" None of their lyrics will provoke thought in most adults, but this sort of thing has its place in the world.
Visual style:Grownup punk. A liberty spike here, a studded leather jacket there, but mostly pretty straightforward: cuffed jeans, denim jackets, athletic shoes.
Choice lyrical quote: "They use the flag to control us/brainwash us to be their patriotic slaves."
Stay and watch 'em because: Every punk has to start somewhere.
Head for the bar or bathroom because:Many of the lyrical miniessays are grating and superficial.

Promise Ring
In five words: They hate being called "emo."
Members: Singer/guitarist Davey VonBohlen, guitarist Jason Gnewikow, bassist Ryan Weber, keyboardist William Seidel and drummer Dan Didier.
Previous bands: VonBohlen was a member of Cap'n Jazz, another emo stalwart.
The story so far: Perhaps the flagship band of the emo diaspora, wherein the sensitive and self-centered plaints of "artistic" suburban kids became a bona fide mainstream pop category. Unbelievably, this genre originally had something to do with hardcore punk: Emo grandfathers Rites of Spring grew out of the '80s hardcore scene in Washington, D.C., and sent vocalist Guy Picciotto on to Fugazi, who took the style to new commercial and artistic heights. Cast your ears over the Promise Ring's collected works and you won't hear much of this punk heritage, but you will hear some pretty decent tunes that can win over anyone with an ear for guitar pop. Recently they seem to be making a big grab for stardom: Wood/Water (2002) tones down the noise and replaces a couple of band members with thinner, younger recruits. The sheer straight-faced "ain't I sensitive" sincerity of it all will be a problem for those who need some aggro along with their melodies. If you like raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, you'll like the Promise Ring, too.
Politics: None in clear evidence.
Visual style:None in clear evidence, beyond a thrift-store T-shirt or two.
Choice lyrical quote: "Clouds are brightening, because heaven has overflowed/Mexican chocolate leaves dimples long with gushes/So when the moon disappears, heaven is over."
Stay and watch 'em because: They write well-crafted songs.
Head for the bar or bathroom because: They're emo whether they like it or not -- check out those lyrics!

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