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Love punk
MXPX show their romantic side on Before Everything & After
BY SEAN RICHARDSON

The first big mainstream punk package tour of the new year is upon us, and the headliners ó Montrealís Simple Plan and Seattleís MXPX ó have been cleverly chosen to unite different coasts and different eras, all in the name of rock. Along with Good Charlotte, Simple Plan were the voice of punk on Top 40 radio and in the media last year. Their winsome debut, No Pads, No Helmets . . . Just Balls (Atlantic), is platinum and still on the charts, and they kept it real by playing the Warped Tour last summer. MXPX have yet to achieve the over-the-top success of their tourmates, but theyíve been a big live draw ever since emerging alongside Blink-182 in the major-label punk sweepstakes of the late 1990s. Sponsored by Fuse and Alternative Press, the tour hits Avalon in Boston next Saturday.

MXPX are on the road in support of Before Everything & After, their sixth studio album overall and third on A&M. The first single, "Everything Sucks (When Youíre Gone)," hasnít really taken off on the charts, but itís a fitting introduction to a colorful collection of songs about falling in love and growing up on the road. "All I ever needed was to eat popcorn with you/Come on over, watch the Late Show, stay up talking until 2," coos frontman Mike at the beginning of the track. In the video, he can barely stand to be without his sweetie long enough for her to make a grocery run. The bandís after-school pop is not as hyper as it can be, but itís tuneful as ever.

When I get him on the phone the day before the tour starts, Mike is in the bandís home town of Bremerton, a small city on the other side of Puget Sound from Seattle. "Weíve always had people think we write a lot of love songs," he admits, "but on our past records, thereís really been like four out of 16. This record was a little bit heavier on that side. I had so many songs, and those seemed to be the ones that had the catchiest melodies. Thatís not all I was writing at the time, it just seems like it. I wrote a lot of harder songs about serious issues, but they just werenít as strong."

MXPX have never had a smash single, but extensive touring earned them a gold album for their 1998 major-label debut, Slowly Going the Way of the Buffalo. And the role they played in laying the groundwork for todayís mainstream-punk explosion should not be underestimated. When their first disc came out on Tooth & Nail, in 1995, scene forefathers Green Day were at the height of their commercial success. With their three indie full-lengths, MXPX became poster boys for the burgeoning Christian-punk underground and eventually found themselves on MTV. Two years ago, the band contributed the rampaging new single "My Mistake" to Ten Years and Running, a stellar greatest-hits compilation released on Tooth & Nail. Through it all, the three 27-year-old high-school buddies ó singer/bassist Mike, guitarist Tom, and drummer Yuri ó have stuck together without a single line-up change.

Before Everything & After was produced by alterna-rock heavyweight Dave Jerden, whoís also responsible for memorable albums by the Offspring and Social Distortion. Mike gives him credit for nurturing the bandís new-found love for experimentation in the studio. "Daveís a guy who really gets rock and roll, and he puts that attitude into the songs and into the way he works. What weíve done a lot in the past is just go through our songs and record them over and over again. This time, we actually went off on tangents ó we would sit down and completely change songs around. Sometimes it wouldnít work, sometimes it would be great. Itís not something we necessarily want to do all the time, but weíre at a point where we want to try new things, especially doing the style of music we do. Weíre always going to be a fairly basic band, but it was nice to get a little bit away from that."

The disc also features a pretty impressive array of back-up singers, including Good Charlotteís Benji Madden, New Found Gloryís Jordan Pundik, and the Atarisí Kris Roe. "We wanted to do that so people could get something else out of a song rather than me, since Iím doing all the back-ups on most of the songs. I had gone in and sung back-ups on a song for the new Ataris record, so I was like, ĎIf Iím going to do this, youíve got to do me a favor,í and Kris is like, ĎYeah, any time.í Itís just having friends come in. Itís not like, ĎLetís hook up and do a business thing.í "

The probable next single from Before Everything & After is "Well Adjusted," a wistful sing-along with monster guitars and neurotic lyrics that recall classic Green Day: "The doctors say that Iíll be getting out real soon/The doctors say that Iíve been making big breakthroughs." If thereís a major theme running through the album, itís just-married Mikeís struggle to reconcile his love for touring the world in a rock band with his dreams of domestic bliss. The disc opens with the band mission statement/career overview "Play It Loud," a rollicking sugar rush with Tooth & Nail punkettes Halo Friendlies on back-ups. "Kings of Hollywood" is another bouncy ode to good times and good music: "Left Coast punk rawk, thatís our scene/Rock and roll/Weíre living a dream."

On the other hand, the love songs on the new MXPX album are about as mature as pop punk gets. "More Everything" puts the discís sharpest harmonies behind a poignant laundry list of what an unsatisfied lover tells Mike she really needs: "More laughter, more tears/More praises, more cheers/More kissing in the car/More staring at the stars." Most emo boys would be hard pressed to paint themselves in such an unflattering light, but then again, most emo boys arenít too concerned with making up at the end of the song the way Mike does here. "You have these new experiences in your life. In high school, you meet a girl, she breaks your heart, and you do the same thing over and over again. Thereís still some of that in there, but I wanted to touch on different ideas with the love-song thing."

The albumís unlikely centerpiece is "Quit Your Life," an unplugged ballad complete with piano, strings, and a chorus that sounds more like something a prospective lover would say to a rock star than the other way around: "So quit your life and stay with me/Weíll order in and watch TV." Itís also got a verse straight out of the latter-day Def Leppard hit "Two Steps Behind," though late-1990s Green Day and Goo Goo Dolls might be a more appropriate comparison. Either way, the track seems like prime Top 40 crossover material, and itís making its live debut on this tour. "It really does change the dynamic of a show. When music is fast and loud ó even if itís melodic, sing-along stuff ó it gets kind of old. You canít really sit there for two hours and watch it like you could Bruce Springsteen. So itís nice to have those ups and downs to add a little bit of drama to the show, almost like itís a play or a movie."

THE SUPPORTING ACT for the Simple Plan/MXPX tour is SoCal popsters Sugarcult, who are preparing for the release of their second album on Ultimatum. At press time, there are only three bands on the Boston bill because the scheduled openers, Minneapolis natives and Get Up Kids fans Motion City Soundtrack, bailed to go to Europe with Blink-182. On the second leg of the tour, the opening slot will be filled by Billy Talent, a fiery not-quite-screamo band from the outskirts of Toronto who recently scored a minor rock hit with "Try Honesty."

Borrowing their name from a character in the Canadian cult book/movie Hard Core Logo, Billy Talent kicked around for years before signing a recording contract with Atlantic and landing a spot on last summerís Lollapalooza. Their current debut, Billy Talent, was produced by Gavin Brown, who also worked on the recent smash "I Hate Everything About You" by fellow Canadians Three Days Grace (think Nickelback, not Simple Plan). On "Try Honesty," Billy Talent are after something a little more esoteric: the bandís urgent vocal tradeoffs and resident guitar hero Ian DíSaís angular blare are indebted to post-hardcore demigods At the Drive-In. But thereís more than enough personality ó heaving grungeadelic bridge, wacky tremolo-guitar hook ó in the song to get you to accept them on their own terms.

The glossy hard-rock mag Revolver just named Billy Talent one of the 10 best albums of 2003, and itís easy to hear why. The new single "The Ex" ó "Well I heard sheís great, and her new boyfriendís lame/She can go to hell, Iíll never be the same" ó might be the dumbest song on the disc, but frontman Benjamin Kowalewicz does his best to keep his tongue in cheek, and DíSaís intricate noodling is no joke. Like kindred spirits Vendetta Red ó and At the Drive-In themselves, for that matter ó Billy Talent have been miscast as an emo band: Kowalewicz is at his best playing characters, like the prostitute in the sludgy "Standing in the Rain" and the suicidal teen in the harrowing power ballad "Nothing To Lose." Fans of adventurous modern rock should keep an eye out for the next time these guys play Boston.

Simple Plan, MXPX, and Sugarcult perform this Saturday, February 7, at Avalon, 15 Lansdowne Street in Boston; call (617) 262-2424.

 


Issue Date: February 6 - 12, 2004
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