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CONCERT REVIEW

Punk Rock Goes Pop

Energy and Enthusiasm Make for Exciting ‘Punk Rawk Show’

By Xian Ke

Simple Plan, MxPx, with Sugarcult and Jersey

Avalon

Feb. 7, 5:45 p.m.

The sold-out crowd that packed into the popular Lansdowne Street club, Avalon, Saturday night enjoyed an energetic rock show that was certainly worth every penny of the price of admission.

Among the bill of performers for the night, Simple Plan has gained the most recent popularity. The Canadian quintet’s first release, “No Pads, No Helmets... Just Balls” (2002) is still on Billboard’s list of top-selling albums thanks to heavy rotation on MTV and radio for the hit singles, “I’d Do Anything,” “Addicted,” and “Perfect.” MxPx co-headlined the tour and was the last band to play on this particular night. MxPx’s latest album, “Before Everything and After” (2003), has not nearly achieved Simple Plan’s $3 million in album sales. But what the trio lacks in recent airplay, they make up for with a wealth of experience and an extensive catalog that consists of over ten albums of material in the past 12 years.

The show started relatively early for a concert, with doors opening at 5 p.m. From the line that had formed outside the club, it appeared that many of the ticket-holders had to scrounge together their allowance money to attend the event. An all-ages show, the average concert-goer was in high school and female. A handful of parents skewed the youthful demographic.

Jersey opened the show promptly with a half-hour performance of solid, fast-paced rock songs. The quartet was a last minute replacement for Motion City Soundtrack, the group originally advertised on the bill. The audience was unfamiliar with songs Jersey played, and understandably so since the band’s first album has so far only been released in their native Canada. Unfortunately for Jersey, the band’s name has not particularly aided in their rise in popularity. Note to self: when choosing band names, pick something that potential fans can easily find through Google and that preferably is not reminiscent of the “armpit of America.”

Sugarcult followed up with a set of power-punk songs that garnered a far more enthusiastic reception from the audience. Much of the audience had already been familiar with the Southern California quartet, perhaps because of the band’s embrace of the Internet to make available tracks for download. “Stuck In America” and “Bouncing Off The Walls” particularly got the crowd jumping, not to mention moshing and surfing. In addition, Sugarcult played several new songs from their yet-to-be-released second album that followed their catchy, melodic style. The new album is scheduled to be available Mar. 23, and the group will appear on the Warped Tour this coming summer.

By the time the headliners appeared, the crowd’s adrenaline had been pumped. The decibel level increased precipitously as the Simple Plan banner unfurled on the stage. The Avalon ballroom darkened, and then lit up dramatically as lead singer Pierre Bouvier entered the stage to begin a rousing rendition of “You Don’t Mean Anything.” The crowd responded by surging to the classic themes of indifference and rebellion.

Simple Plan proceeded in the next hour to perform almost all of the tracks from their debut album while lead singer Bouvier bounced about the stage like an Energizer bunny on springs. The performances were consistent and the singing deviated little from the studio recording, a testament to the authenticity and touring experience of the boys. The catchy but juvenile “Addicted” got one of the strongest receptions of the evening, with the band ceding the singing to the crowd for the bridge: “How long will I be waiting? / Until the end of time / I don’t know why I’m still waiting / I can’t make you mine.”

The extraterrestrial dedication “My Alien” was the only notable omission from the set list lineup, and the band managed to avoid a live steroid-enhanced version of a music player’s shuffle function by performing additional tracks, “Crash and Burn” and “Grow Up,” as well as several covers. The punkified versions of the Turtles’ “Happy Together” and the Black-Eyed Peas’ “Where Is The Love?” were refreshing and well-executed, with Bouvier surprisingly adept at becoming a Canadian version of Eminem or Justin Timberlake.

Simple Plan ended their set with their hit ballad, “Perfect.” In the ultimate display of crowd cohesiveness, the audience sung in unison for the first verse while encouraged by the band to wave the twenty-first century equivalent of lighters, their cell phones.

The crowd shifted as MxPx prepared to cap the show. It was evident that many of those fans who enjoyed Sugarcult and MxPx avidly disdained Simple Plan. Taunts of “Simple Plan, you suck” and “Please don’t play another song” were occasionally heard from fans awaiting the appearance of MxPx. In an interview before the show, MxPx drummer Yuri Ruley spoke about their changing fan base in the dozen years since they first began as a high school band in Bremerton, WA. “Even as some of our older fans move on to other artists, we are constantly gaining new fans,” said Ruley. “The fan base now seems to be 15-year-old girls ... and boys.”

MxPx started off their set with “Play It Loud,” a track from their latest album that reveals, “We don't need fortune and we don't need fame / We don't need bright lights to spell our name / All we ever wanted was to play.” The band showcased their deep reservoir of songs, performing only three more tracks from their latest offering: the diet Pepsi commercial theme “Well-Adjusted,” the catchy sing-along “It’s Allright,” and the acoustic ballad “Quit Your Life,” which lead singer Mike Herrera wrote for his wife and dedicated to the girls in the audience. These songs were interspersed with more “old-school” tracks, including “Responsibility” and “Chick Magnet.” In addition, guitarist Tom Wisniewski led the vocals for “Should I Stay Or Should I Go” by The Clash, and the band performed a punkified version of “Summer of ‘69” by Bryan Adams that made a far better impression live than the rather irritating version on the 1995 release, “On the Cover.”

As opposed to the irrelevant banter of Simple Plan, who would get sidetracked and called themselves “retarded” multiple times during their set, MxPx displayed energy and presence despite a less intense on-stage exercise routine. At one point, Herrera and Wisniewski executed some on-stage guitar acrobatics, tossing their respective instruments to each other from across the stage. With excellent sound acoustics, spirited drumming, and strong deliveries from Herrera, MxPx’s talent and extensive experience as a touring band shone through in their set.

At around 9:30 p.m., MxPx appropriately ended the concert with their anthem, “Punk Rawk Show,” with much of the contented crowd singing along to every word: “There's no use in TV shows, radio, or rodeo / Wanna get into the crowd / Wanna hear it played real loud / Ain't got no money to pay / We'll get in anyway / Doesn't matter I don’t care / If we do we should share / We're going to the punk rawk show. Oooohh!! Ooohh!!”