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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.)

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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