Today’s post was supposed to be the chaser to last week’s take on ‘Alcohol,’ in which I continued to defend Hutz qua lyricist by tossing the starving English major inside me a bone. Well - it’s coming. But my gypsy punk heroes are in Pittsburgh tonight - and I intend to learn how their (terrific) new tunes work on stage before I ruin them with lit analysis.
But speaking of punks in Pittsburgh (sorry to belabor the point like, say, identity-obsessed Chance The Rapper - “I’m from Pittsburgh! I’M FROM PITTSBURGH!”), we proudly claim a band you should know about - and almost certainly don’t: Anti-Flag.
That’s a shame for two reason. One, for a stretch of five-and-a-half studio albums Anti-Flag was a very good Punk Rock Band - and should be understood as among the last ripples of America’s Second Wave: three (sometimes four!) chord pop melodies lacking formal innovation subsumed by brash vocals, a fuckall attitude, and bad leather jackets with studs. For another, you’ve probably heard and enjoyed their music. As partnered advocates for Greenpeace, Amnesty International, Occupy and its many tributaries, their songs - about a dozen - set the theme for the latest propaganda thinkprogress has forced upon you. And for you bargain shoppers out there: they’re as anthologized as Faulkner: Rock Against Bush, Punk Rock Christmas, Plea for Peace, Hardcore Breakout, etc. You get it.
I know exactly what you’re thinking - that hometown allegiance blinds me from the likely truth that Anti-Flag hasn’t earned aural or quality distinction from Rise Against, the Bad Brains, Pennywise, Social Distorition, the Circle Jerks, Fugazi, Screeching Weasel, the Dead Kennedies, Bad Religion, Against Me, NOFX, Strike Anywhere, Flogging Molly, the Dropkick Murphies, Operation Ivy, Rancid, Lagwagon, the Unseen, MxPx, or, hell, even the neo-AOR Offspring.
Roughly a decade of sustained proliferation and two crucial personnel changes along the way produced - by accident - a singular kind of punk rock canon: these guys put on their Burton suits in hyper-slow motion. The debut: co-written by streetsmart PhD Justin Sane and his crust punk coconspirator Andy Flag (yeah - they all have great stage names) could have emphasised a certain tension between the former’s treehugger’s wit and the latter’s aimless ideology of hate - but Go Kart Records puppeteer and permenant revoluationary Joe West clearly didn’t have use for anything short of fury. What we get is a very good record, which should’ve been great - if only pop were on the menu.
A followup almost no one - even roadies - talks about gives us much of the same, but with worse tunes. Then drugs or intellectual shortcomings or whatever, it’s not clear, got to Flag - and Sane made the canniest (sanest?) move of his career in replacing him with the pop-minded and ultimately egotistical bassist Chris #2 (a name he took in deference to guitar-weilding Chris Head). A New Kind of Army assembles from this new party - and presages the synthesis we’d eventually enjoy later with their London Calling - THE TERROR STATE.