THE BOUNCING SOULS with FLOGGING MOLLY, ONE MAN ARMY and MADCAP at the Opera House (735 Queen East), Friday (October 19). $15. 416-466-0313. Rating: NNNNN
when you think about punk music, certain themes come to mind: three-chord-powered polemic, righteous indignation, classic anti-establishment DIY rock, right? Or maybe punk suggests the spirit of today's scatologically-minded brat-rockers, as in the "I wanna girl" whinings of Blink-182.
What you don't think of is love songs laced with un-ironically heartfelt lyrics or earnest tributes to 80s teen movies.
Meet Jersey punks the Bouncing Souls, who serve up upbeat anthems with a positive twist, like a mature Sum 41 -- post-zits, mid-terms and fake IDs. Their newest album, How I Spent My Summer Vacation (Epitaph), features a song called Streetlight Serenade, for chrissakes. Granted, the ballad is dedicated to a BMX bike.
Don't take that to mean the Souls are a bunch of pussies. The inked, pierced quartet of singer Greg Attonito, bassist Bryan Kienlen, guitarist "The Pete" Steinkopf and drummer Michael McDermott still have an edge.
On the phone from his home in Cali, Attonito accepts my hypothetical how-punk-are-you challenge without a second's hesitation.
"A celebrity death match between the Bouncing Souls and Blink-182? We'd definitely win! There are four of us and three of them."
What about a match between Sid Vicious and Joey Ramone in punk-rock heaven? Attonito thinks about it.
"Joey'd probably win," he finally offers. "Sid was a total mess pretty much all the time. And Joey's from New York."
The Bouncing Souls were born in 1989, when Attonito, Kienlen, Steinkopf and founding drummer Shal Khichi hooked up in their New Brunswick, New Jersey, high school. After over a decade in the band, Khichi left last year -- not entirely amicably, it seems.
The remaining Souls are closed-mouthed on the topic. Attonito is diplomatic when I ask if the former drummer's absence is a liberating factor.
"Music has to be fun for me, and the band had lost all its fun. Creatively, nobody was on the same page, so (the split) had to happen."
The punks have their paradoxes. Never will fans view Bouncing Souls vids on MTV's Total Request Live. The boys shy away from interviews with the station and refuse to air their clips on the channel. And, in true DIY fashion, they whipped up a bunch of T-shirts emblazoned with anti-MTV logos for their merch table.
Yet the band wrote the theme song for Fox's Survivor-meets-90210 reality show American High (now airing on PBS). They're also vets of the Warped Tour, a corporate niche festival sponsored by Vans, albeit one with street cred.
"We made the decision to boycott MTV pretty early on," he admits. "We didn't have to deny them much access, since they weren't exactly begging to play our stuff, but we felt that MTV wasn't representing what was actually going on. Now, though, we're realizing that it's not entirely black and white. I mean, allowing our songs on commercial radio isn't all that different.
"With the Warped Tour, even though it's corporate, they're doing it for all the right reasons. It represents a whole range of different bands, from massive acts on major labels and smaller punk bands to the tiny little groups nobody knows about.
"And there's no hierarchy. In California, this tiny little band played one show and had such a great time that they asked (organizer) Kevin Lyman if they could keep playing with the tour. They packed up their station wagon and came along for the ride. It rocked. That's what Warped is all about."