One of these things is not like the others. But which is it? The multiplatinum pop-punk band that's been around longer than any of the bazillion younger groups currently frolicking in its wake? Or the younger multiplatinum pop-punk band that's introduced a bazillion prepubescent boys to their first dick jokes? Or is it the emo outfit that's been around for a while but has just sold more than half a million copies of its latest album, which features no dick jokes and not that much frolicking? If anything, Thursday's bill--the Pop Disaster Tour, according to the posters, though I could've sworn that was Dashboard Confessional's trip--is instructive in its illustration of how far pop-punk has come from its beginnings and how far it's willing to go back.
The guys in Green Day, of course, are old enough to not even know where they stand: International Superhits!, the Berkeley trio's recent greatest-hits set, packs more junior high thrills than a can of spray paint, but now all those later slow songs sound way better than you remember them from high school; it's actually pretty cool how lean they've kept their sound, even as they've added horn sections and violin players--check out the hooks while the DJ doesn't revolve it. No such old-school asceticism for the overgrown boys in blink-182 (though look out for guitarist Tom DeLonge and drummer Travis Barker's new side project Box Car Racer for a blast of surprisingly severe pseudo-hardcore), but these class clowns are getting better at making Papa Roach's broken-home indignation work with Buzzcocks guitars--listen closely to "Stay Together for the Kids" and "Adam's Song" as they start to mean it.
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Still, they're not as sincere as the members of JEW, who definitely mean everything they sing on their self-titled DreamWorks debut, a record that was called Bleed American before September 11 and was called unreleasable before that, when Capitol let the band go after two albums failed to seduce those Green Day fans who hadn't yet realized the later slow songs were pretty good. JEW's songs are pretty good, too, even when they're not slow--you don't even have to listen closely to "A Praise Chorus" to hear the cute pop-culture lifts that locate the song in the distinct post-MTV2 territory the band's new fans call home. That's also where they're living it up in their video for "The Middle," which features lots of good-looking teen-agers dancing around in their underwear, just in case you thought these guys couldn't get with pop-punk's past. Next phase, new wave, dance craze--anyway, it's still rock and roll to some.