Joe King -- the frontman better known as Joe Queer -- has been at it for almost 20 years, and the only thing that's really changed in that time is the amount of beer he ingests each night (currently leveled off at, uh, none) and who he's playing with this week. For years, the lineup was fairly solid, with King, bassist B-Face, drummer Hugh O'Neill (who passed away in January), as well as various second guitarists. King, on the other hand, was not as stable, drinking entire bars full of people under the table and pissing most of them off in the process. But in the past few years, every album and tour seems to involve a new backing band, another rhythm section for King to hire and fire and rehire, depending on his mood. Darlington drummer Steve Visneau is one of many who have drifted through the group recently, playing on last year's Punk Rock Confidential and several tours before leaving earlier this year. And King is now almost annoyingly sober, reinstating Prohibition where his band is concerned, reportedly not letting them sneak a swig even when his back is turned. At least King is consistent: He's an asshole whether he's drinking or not.
None of which has much to do with The Queers' mixture of pop and punk, which has only gotten better over the years. That is, if you don't count this year's contract-killer Later Days and Better Lays, a collection of alternate versions, rarities, and outtakes that were never released for a reason, and only surface now so that The Queers could wriggle out of their deal with Lookout! Records. A better place to start is 1996's Don't Back Down, when the group eased off its Ramones fetish -- if only slightly -- and began writing pop songs that didn't necessarily need to be played fast and loud. Punk Rock Confidential continued the trend, with more jangly guitars and ba-ba-backup vocals working their way into songs with titles that King won't be embarrassed by some day (see: most of The Queers' first five or so albums.) Live, however, nothing much has changed. The amount of songs King and his rotating band play still equals the length of time they're onstage, as they race through their back catalog so fast that quantity sometimes overshadows quality. Which would be more accurate if you replace "sometimes" with "usually," and "overshadows" with "obliterates".
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