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The Get Up Kids begin to mature

The last time the Get Up Kids came out with a new album, emo was on the cusp of a commercial breakthrough, and they were one of its most promising young practitioners. The band made good on that promise with the í99 disc Something To Write Home About (Vagrant), a winning combination of rock thrills, pop hooks, and lyrical sincerity that helped define emo for a new generation. The firestorm of guitar noise and cymbal crashes that kicked off the albumís first track, "Holiday," meant they were there to get the kids jumping; the pretty guitar embellishments and harmony-rich chorus that followed proved they could tug heartstrings with the best of íem. Two years after its release, the album was still selling, and the band suddenly found themselves opening arenas for Weezer.

Now that Jimmy Eat World are burning up Top 40 radio and emo is a genuine mainstream phenomenon, the Get Up Kids are back with their long-awaited third disc, On a Wire (Vagrant), and a headlining tour that will hit the Palladium in Worcester on July 6. One listen to the albumís opening track and first single, "Overdue," is all it takes to realize theyíve become a less hyper, more mature band. Thereís no "Holiday"-style call to arms here, just singer Matthew Pryorís forlorn vocal, a lazy acoustic guitar strum, and some wayward maracas. When the band kick in, they slip into an easygoing country-rock backbeat thatís more Jayhawks than Weezer. Pryorís lyrics address parental disillusionment from a young adultís point of view: "Youíre a few years overdue/I spent them waiting here for you"; "Do hope I wonít learn to make the same mistakes"; "My only hope is letting go." The tuneís downbeat mood is no departure for the band, but its subdued musical framework aligns them with the Promise Ring and Saves the Day in emoís curious new soft-rock division.

"We accomplished everything that we had set out to accomplish with the last record, so now we just wanted to make a record that we dug playing," says Pryor over the phone from the bandís native Kansas. "We werenít concerned if anybody liked it or not, because we have that freedom not to care. Weíre playing the whole record live, though, and some of the songs are coming across more rock. It flows better with the old material."

Sporting a five-piece line-up that has always been more open to classic-rock forms than your average emo band, the Get Up Kids are a particularly energetic live act. Pryor and Jim Suptic both sing and play guitar, and keyboard player/multi-instrumentalist James Dewees, who also plays in Coalesce and Reggie and the Full Effect, is the groupís spastic on-stage focal point. Even though their amps are turned down on On a Wire, the band sound looser and more assured than on any of their previous releases. According to Pryor, that has a lot to do with big-name producer Scott Litt (R.E.M., Incubus), who holed up with them in Connecticutís decidedly unglam Tarquin Studios for most of January and February.

"Scott accidentally got our demos from his manager, who also represented another producer we were contacting. He actually contacted us because he liked them so much. We recorded the album in a house in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Scott knew the engineer there, Peter [Katis], from playing hockey, and Peter had some good gear. We lived there while we were recording, so there were no distractions, which is what we really wanted. Scott helped us strip everything down and let the songs be what they are."

The most surprising thing about On a Wire is that it finds the band following in the shambling roots-rock footsteps of fellow Midwestern indie giants the Replacements and Uncle Tupelo. Even the discís most upbeat rocker, "Stay Gone," has more twang than crunch, and "Wish You Were Here" subconsciously evokes both of producer Littís aforementioned star clients. Dewees pumps out psychedelic organ licks on the Beatles homage "All That I Know" (sung by Suptic) and the sinister garage rocker "The Worst Idea," both of which break new ground for the band. The most enduring element of their sound is Pryorís voice. When the group first hit the scene, he was often compared favorably to Sunny Day Real Estate wailer Jeremy Enigk. These days, he keeps his cool most of the time, but fans will be psyched to hear him go for broke on standout tracks like "Let the Reigns [sic] Go Loose" and "Walking on a Wire."

Growing up and moving on is a common theme for the Get Up Kids ó one that pertains to their music more than ever these days, and one they revisit on the discís tender closing track, "Hannah Hold On." "Itís just about questioning if what you do with your life is really what you wanna do with your life," says Pryor. "And the answer is yes."

The Get Up Kids perform on Saturday July 6 at the Palladium in Worcester. Call (800) 477-6849.

Issue Date: May 30 - June 6, 2002
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