Tuesday, June 28, 2005

The Undead Rise in Philly

Here's another concert review I did for my local paper, The Bucks County Courier Times. This time it's those ghoulish good guys from The Alkaline Trio, who brought their bloody, cirrhosis corroded songs to Philly's TLA.

On Monday, The Alkaline Trio brought their horrorshow theatrics to The Theatre of Living Arts for the second night of two sold out shows with supporting cast Thieves Like Us and Rufio.

As the crowd awaited the Trio’s emergence, Derek Grant’s drum set lurked ominously in the background, its cover rustling like autumn leaves. Darkness finally prevailed, as the piano intro to their latest single, “Time to Waste,” pulsated out from the stage and cheers rose as the strobe bursts revealed the boys in black cutting into their instruments. Like a ghoulish mortician, Matt Skiba, lead singer and guitarist, sang eyes up-turned, “You had time to waste and I’m not sorry/ Such a basket case, hide the cutlery.”

The Alkaline Trio are touring upon their latest effort, Crimson, a 13-song descent into a noirish netherworld you would find in the pages of Anne Rice. The Trio are the bad boys of the pop-punk scene, reveling in a Miltonesque ethic of “It’s better to reign in hell, than serve in hell,” that is counter to an increasingly powerful Christian cultural conservatism. During the 2004 election, the Trio signed up for the PunkVoter tour in an effort to help unseat President Bush.

Other signs of the Alkaline Trio’s new found activism came during “Prevent This Tragedy,” a plea to free of the West Memphis Three, whose story has been popularized by the Paradise Lost documentaries. Again, Skiba, channeling John Milton, sang, “The flames of hell, they give me hope I drown,” as the crowd’s raised arms pumped rhythmically to the beat.

Despite their recent political turn, the Trio’s ability to establish a hardcore underground following over the last eight years can be chalked up to their morbid, blackly comedic, alcohol soaked take on relationships. As Skiba began plucking the opening notes to the anti-love song, “Radio,” the stage went red as the crowd unleashed a scream in approval. Skiba leaned into the mic for the chorus, “I wish you, would take my radio to bathe with you/ plugged in and ready to fall.” Or “Crawl” from 2001’s From Here to Infirmary, with bassist/vocalist Dan Andriano belting out the Trio’s macabre wit, “Never had a drink that I didn’t like/ Got a taste of you, threw up all night.”

Other highlights of the show included the dark, “Settle for Satin,” from Crimson, with Andriano’s voice tinged in despair, “That there is a comfort in a world where darkness is the only thing we see,” preceded by Skiba intoning, “I guess we only settle in to what we know.”

Where there is dark, there is always light though, with Skiba telling the second show’s crowd, “Thanks Philadelphia…tonight smokes last night.” As the night wrapped up, Skiba told the crowd there was one song left and that they should sing along. It was a “Happy Birthday” salute to Andriano, who blew out the candles of a birthday cake to the applause and yelps of the crowd.

While Andriano’s age went undisclosed, apparently, the undead keep count.