Down with authority, indeed
Popular music long has been a way to address political and social issues. From the early political folk music of Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger to the rap of Public Enemy and the rock of Bruce Springsteen, political commentary is certainly no stranger to popular music.
The obvious danger is that popular music’s political voice often seems, at best, like so much preaching to the choir and, at worst, like a random and unsupported diatribe. Punk rock at times seems like a particularly problematic political voice, given the mosh-or-die aggression and the raised-fist and chant aspects of its culture. It doesn’t take a particularly intelligent listener to wonder what exactly the substance is behind the antigovernment, antiauthority, anti-everything ranting. The constant down-with-Bush, down-with-capitalism, down-with-fast-food blathering often seems like the shallow, unsupported whining of teenagers, angry because Mom wouldn’t let them borrow the car on Friday night. Down with authority, indeed.
Nonetheless, there are bands who, occasionally, attempt to approach political punk with something of an intellectual edge. Case in point: Pipedown, a band that played on a relatively historic bill last weekend at The Boardwalk with 7Seconds, the Groovie Ghoulies and Hanover Saints. Yes, Pipedown did the obligatory “take back our country” quips between songs, and, on the whole, its lyrical content was, at least onstage, pretty much indecipherable. Nonetheless, poking around on the band’s Web site (www.pipedown.net) will uncover that Pipedown is approaching the same tired political ranting from a more-intelligent direction. The site includes a “manifesto” that outlines the band’s particular political agenda, and, though it’s too brief to be entirely clear, it is at least something to chew on. Furthermore, the band’s latest CD, Mental Weaponry, features liner-note quotes from the likes of Henry David Thoreau and John Locke. Pretentious? Perhaps, but maybe it will turn some punk kid on to some truly groundbreaking reading material. Political ranting in itself can be hollow and absurd, but political education is something entirely different.
Furthermore, Pipedown is, simply put, an excellent punk-rock band. During the band’s set at The Boardwalk last weekend, it pummeled the crowd into a frothing mass of teen angst and aggression—essentially the cornerstones of any good punk-rock show. Vocalist Ean Elliot provided a steady mix of Henry Rollins-style screamo vocals with some nice melodic moments reminiscent of more-contemporary punk bands. The end result was musical while still maintaining a punk-rock edge. The audience reacted by opening a huge mosh pit manned by the usual half-dozen sweaty and enthusiastic teenage boys.
Of course, the real stars of the evening were local hardcore legends 7Seconds. Any questions about the band’s median age (somewhere around 40) were shattered by a blistering performance. Even lead singer Kevin Seconds’ momentary statement “Man, I am so out of breath right now” was instantly erased by nearly an hour of ultra-fast, crowd-pleasing hardcore punk. Tour plans extending into the next two years are fast on the horizon. Check www.7seconds.com for details.