PENNYWISE performing as part of the WARPED TOUR 2001 at Skydome (1 Blue Jays), Saturday (August 11). $29.50-$34.50. 416-870-8000. Rating: NNNNN
punk bands and a damn-the-man attitude go together like beer and frat boys. SoCal punk foursome Pennywise are no exception.Aiming to deliver what they call a positive, transcendental message of self-reliance, the band's newest album, Land Of The Free? (Epitaph), serves up 14 anthems of righteous indignation toward the powers that be.
With songs like F**k Authority and the album's title track, Pennywise make no bones about their mission. Bassist Randy Bradbury explains that their anger at corporate America doesn't preclude the proverbial American dream.
"It's not so much "Fuck capitalism' as "Fuck greed,'" he says from a Warped Tour stop in Pittsburgh. "If you're the guy next door starting your own business and trying to get successful and make a good life for yourself and your family, then more power to you.
"The problem is with the huge corporations and the WTO and the world conglomerates that are just trying to control everything. Basically, you have to let your conscience and your morals set your guidelines."
Critics disparage the band as preachy whiners who do a lot of griping without offering any productive cure for the societal ills they condemn. Bradbury dismisses the dis.
"What we're trying to say is open up your eyes to the world around you. If people say we're not offering any solutions, I'd say that's the solution: open your eyes."
In the wake of original bassist Jason Thirsk's drug- and alcohol-related suicide in 1996, you'd think the band would focus some of their militant crusading on some kind of substance-abuse awareness. Yet Pennywise's public image is as far from straight-edge as you can get.
Stories of the group's indiscretions -- most notably guitarist Fletcher Dragge's pukefest at L.A.'s influential KROQ, which got Pennywise banned from the station -- continue to circulate. But Bradbury claims the band is committed to educating kids on the perils of drugs.
"I don't care if it's not cool to say drugs aren't cool. Drugs are definitely a de-motivator. The guys I looked up to -- the Ramones, the Damned, Iggy Pop -- all looked like junkies, and I figured that they were, that all punk rockers were junkies.
"When you're 17, you think you have to do certain things to be cool. But do you really want to get to a point where you're old and you look back at all the things you didn't do?"
Pennywise has yet to achieve mainstream acceptance on the scale of punk rock peers like Bad Religion or former labelmates Offspring. Hardcore fans slam the Offspring for abandoning their punk ideals in pursuit of fame and fortune. Is it necessary to sacrifice integrity for celebrity? Bradbury laughs nervously.
"Maybe Offspring have figured out how to write songs people want to hear on the radio, and maybe their lyrics say what they want them to say. I don't think you can say it's because we're political. Rage Against the Machine, they're political, and they've gotten huge."
He pauses, choosing his words carefully. "But maybe Offspring have sacrificed a bit of integrity to get themselves out there. I just know that if I had a big hit on the radio and it was called Pretty Fly For A White Guy and it sounded like that, I'd be pretty bummed."
With such a commitment to their punk principles, the Pennywise boys might wonder whether going on the Warped Tour will be viewed as selling out and cashing in.
Bradbury laughs. "How can you get flak for selling out when your song on the radio is called F**k Authority?"