Powered by Google
Editors' Picks
Arts + Books
Rec Room
- - - - - - - - - - - -
Adult Personals
Adult Classifieds
- - - - - - - - - - - -
FNX Radio
Band Guide
MassWeb Printing
- - - - - - - - - - - -
About Us
Contact Us
Advertise With Us
Work For Us
RSS Feeds
- - - - - - - - - - - -

sponsored links
- - - - - - - - - - - - -
Sex Toys - Adult  DVDs - Sexy  Lingerie

  E-Mail This Article to a Friend

Punk gets political, again
Anti-Flag, Rise Against, and Against Me! hit the road with a message

When the war in Iraq began last March, American punk-rockers started turning to politics with a passion that hadn’t been evident since the Reagan administration. The inimitable NOFX are leading the charge with a new album on their own Fat Wreck Chords called The War on Errorism, the cover of which shows a caricature of President Bush’s face in clown make-up against an American-flag backdrop. Punk veterans like the Bouncing Souls and the Suicide Machines are also taking cues from Michael Moore these days, but NOFX’s Fat Wreck Chords understudies are the ones making the loudest noise. This month, the label is sending its best and brightest — Anti-Flag, Rise Against, Against Me!, and None More Black — across the East Coast and Canada on the two-week "Death of a Nation Tour"; it hits Avalon in Boston this Monday.

Although politics have always been an important part of the NOFX equation, it’s safe to say they weren’t the band’s primary focus on classic albums like 1994’s Punk in Drublic (Epitaph). Pittsburgh’s Anti-Flag, however, have been fighting the good fight since 1997, when they released their incendiary debut, Die for the Government (New Red Archives). Three discs later, the band are going mainstream with their blue-collar, anti-corporate message: their current The Terror State hit #91 on the Billboard 200 album chart when it came out last fall, and the video for "Turncoat" has even been showing up on commercial television.

When I get Anti-Flag bassist Chris #2 on the phone from Pittsburgh, he’s psyched about the band’s increasing popularity. But he sounds even more excited about his recent trip to the Iowa presidential caucuses with punkvoter.com, a Fat Wreck Chords–affiliated organization that seeks to "educate, register, and mobilize progressive voters." "I met with each of the candidates and did a press conference with the governor of Iowa. What we’re basically saying is, ‘You can’t ignore us any longer, because we’ve got our shit together.’ It’s an exciting time to be involved in politics and be involved in punk rock. I think punk rock today is far more organized than it ever was."

In the video for "Turncoat," Anti-Flag’s punk fashion sense rivals that of Good Charlotte and Rancid: all four band members wear all black, and #2 and frontman Justin Sane both have mohawks. The same two groups come to mind when the song’s infectious chorus kicks in, but the comparisons end with the vicious attacks on Bush and the mainstream American media. "Turncoat! Killer! Liar! Thief!/Criminal with protection of the law" is the big sing-along, punctuated by cries of "We’re tired of lies, we want the truth!" The Terror State is the group’s best-sounding album to date, thanks to executive producer Tom Morello and star engineer Nick Didia, who’ve been working together since the 1996 Rage Against the Machine disc Evil Empire (Epic). Anti-Flag got to know Morello when Rage took them on tour in 1999, and the two camps have been friendly ever since.

"We would call on each other when we needed something from each other’s posts," #2 explains, "i.e., the Mumia [Abu-Jamal] hearing in Philadelphia. Rage were unavailable to go, being from LA, so they called us up. They were like, ‘Do you want to go sit in the courtroom in the Mumia hearing and lend some celebrity to the cause?’ I don’t know what they were thinking, because they lend a whole lot more celebrity than we do, but it was a great opportunity. So we stayed in touch in that capacity."

Although Morello is an avowed Clash fanatic, the hard-rock guitar hero is an odd choice to produce a punk album — especially since he’s not a producer. Anti-Flag left the hands-on studio work to Didia, using Morello as a sounding board for their ideas. "It was pretty cool to have him two-way paging Rick Rubin to find out the best way for us to make demos," #2 laughs. "Tom is the best musician I know, and he’s one of the smartest people I know, being a Harvard grad. So when he said, ‘Play that chorus two times instead of four,’ we listened. But at the same time, he did not rule us with an iron fist. He realizes that he came from a different musical background. I think he gave the band the best push we’ve ever had."

Like Dropkick Murphys, Anti-Flag recently got a call from Woody Guthrie’s daughter Nora about writing new music to some of the folk legend’s unpublished lyrics — which meant it was their turn to be impressed by the sheer overkill of the Woody Guthrie Archives in Manhattan. "I couldn’t believe how many songs that guy wrote," #2 marvels. "He had thousands that we’ve never heard. He’s got some pretty raunchy stuff, too. It’s great to see him talk so candidly about sex. Toward the end of his life, he was going in different directions — it definitely wasn’t ‘This Land Is Your Land.’"

The band settled on "Post-War Breakout," a bitter war veteran’s lament that remains distressingly relevant: "I’ve got no pocketbook, no dough/Just a post-war shock job/Whoa-oh-oh." "We came across the song right after the US had declared that the war was over," #2 recalls, "and then I read that there are more US soldiers dying post-war than there were during the war. I thought, as long as we have this arms race where we are the world’s largest manufacturer and distributor of weaponry, there’s not really going to be a post-war. Also, talking about soldiers coming home from war just seemed so fitting. It’s actually my favorite track on the record."

Anti-Flag address all kinds of hot-button issues on The Terror State: workers’ rights ("Rank-n-File"), free trade ("Mind the G.A.T.T."), free speech ("You Can Kill the Protester, But You Can’t Kill the Protest"). "Death of a Nation" is a brutal takedown of ex-hippie sellouts; "Operation Iraqi Liberation (O.I.L.)" softens its biting sarcasm ("To save you we may have to kill you") with a sugar-coated chorus. Anti-Flag aren’t a pop band, but they have focused on melody since day one, and their hooks have been getting sharper ever since their 2001 Fat Wreck Chords debut, Underground Network. One of their closest antecedents has to be Sham 69, to whom they pay explicit tribute on the closing "One People, One Struggle": "The people united will never be defeated!"

During his trip to the Iowa caucuses, Anti-Flag’s #2 was accompanied by Tim McIlrath, the shaggy frontman for the Chicago melodic-hardcore outfit Rise Against. Descended from 1990s punks 88 Fingers Louie, Rise Against are on the road in support of last year’s Revolutions Per Minute, their second album for Fat Wreck Chords. It’s also their last — thanks to the deal they just signed with DreamWorks, the band are about to join like-minded punks AFI and Thrice in the big leagues. They already have some mainstream exposure under their belts with the video for "Heaven Knows," a galloping screamo anthem from their current disc.

By major-label standards, Rise Against are a gamble: for every Thrice, there’s a Boy Sets Fire, whose current Wind-Up debut is melodic hardcore at its finest but hasn’t really gone anywhere on the charts. Produced by Descendents’ Bill Stevenson, Revolutions Per Minute is a hard-hitting album with more than its share of catchy tunes, but it pulls up just short of radio-friendly. McIlrath is a dynamic frontman who isn’t afraid to get political on tracks like "Black Masks & Gasoline" and "Blood-Red, White & Blue." On the road-warrior rager "Last Chance Blueprint" and the tender love song "Amber Changing," he’s more personal and more tuneful. The disc ends with an unlisted cover of Journey’s "Any Way You Want It," which is fortified with a steel throat and a straight face that will serve the band well on their next release.

Two years ago, Gainesville’s Against Me! rose to the top of the DIY punk scene with an album (Reinventing Axl Rose, on No Idea) and a song ("Pints of Guinness Make You Strong") that were bound to win fans on their respective titles alone. When the song turned out to be a tragic story about frontman Tom Gabel’s grandparents — delivered at full pub sing-along volume over a delirious hillbilly-thrash shuffle — it was hard not to believe the hype. Fat Wreck Chords scooped the band up right away, and now they’re back with a second full-length, As the Eternal Cowboy.

On the new disc’s catchiest track, "Cliché Guevara," Against Me! protest the war with a sardonic wit that does Anti-Flag proud. "So can your pop sensibilities sing me the end of the world," sneers Gabel at a nation of emo kids, at the same time leading them on with sparkly new-wave guitars and fervent vocal harmonies. Elsewhere, the band’s folk punk gets both mellow ("Sink, Florida, Sink") and furious ("You Look like I Need a Drink"). As the Eternal Cowboy is as dark as it is unhinged, and it’s proof that one of punk’s most intriguing new groups is here to stay.

Anti-Flag, Rise Against, and Against Me! perform this Monday, January 26, at Avalon, 15 Lansdowne Street in Boston; call (617) 262-2424.

Issue Date: January 23 - 29, 2004
Back to the Music table of contents
  E-Mail This Article to a Friend

about the phoenix |  advertising info |  Webmaster |  work for us
Copyright © 2005 Phoenix Media/Communications Group