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Punk plus
Piebald and Avoid One Thing mature beyond the mosh pit

Itís a recent weeknight at the Middle East, and the four guys from Piebald are grabbing a bite to eat in the clubís bustling corner room. The Andover-based alterna-rockers are enjoying a rare night out in the region where they cut their teeth: theyíve spent much of the past two years living either on the road or in a shared apartment in LA. Theyíre in town for the May 18 release of All Ears, All Eyes, All the Time, their first CD on the Hollywood punk label Side One Dummy. They performed at Newbury Comics on Newbury Street the day it came out, and theyíre at Avalon this Sunday. After that, they say goodbye to Boston once again, heading out on a six-week North American tour.

Piebaldís alliance with Side One Dummy, who just received their first gold certification for the double-disc compilation Vans Warped Tour 2003, is a good break for a band whoíve had their share of ups and downs over the years. Burnt out after a long stretch of touring in support of their acclaimed Big Wheel Recreation debut, Venetian Blinds, they went on a year-long hiatus in 2000. They made a triumphant comeback with the Boston Music AwardĖwinning We Are the Only Friends We Have, only to have their momentum stalled when BWR fell into disarray. When they came to Boston at the end of last year to track All Ears with platinum producer Paul Kolderie, who also worked on Friends, they were without a label.

After coming close to a deal with one major-affiliated suitor, Piebald hooked up with Side One Dummy following a whirlwind courtship. "They flew us out there and bought us burritos," frontman Travis Shettel remembers. "They talked to us for two hours, and they seemed like a very collected label. They knew what they were doing, and they knew what we were doing."

Given their recent business troubles, itís no wonder the band are steering clear of the majors. "By signing to an indie, I feel like we dodged a bullet," bassist Andy Bonner says. "A lot of bands sign to a major label that doesnít care about them, doesnít push the record, and then leaves them on the side of the road." Drummer Luke Garro adds, "I canít think of any friends we have that are in a good situation on a major label."

"Except for New Found Glory," guitarist Aaron Stuart interjects. "We arenít really tight with them, but we used to be. Theyíre the only band I can think of that itís worked out for."

Piebald are about to release a video for "Havenít Tried It," which takes the fun approach of their previous clips and "turns it up to 11," Shettel quips. "Itís silent-movie-style," Stuart adds. "Black and white, shot on 16-millimeter film, and the filmís all scratched up to give it that jumpy old style. Itís a prison motif that takes place in the 1930s, with a chain-gang-type feel."

"We wore the same uniforms Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence wore in Life," Garro contributes. "We did it in Andover, at this really cool barn."

"Havenít Tried It" is a bold choice for the first single from All Ears. Friends hinted at the bandís affection for the classic pop of the Beatles and the Beach Boys, but the lead track, "Just a Simple Plan," bore more than a trace of their punk roots. "Havenít Tried It," on the other hand, is a piano-led romp that juxtaposes mirthful melodies with a barbed refrain: "I havenít tried it/But I think Iíve quite decided/I-I-I-I/Wonít wake you when youíre dead." Shettelís piano also drives the breezy "Part of Your Body Is Made Out of Rock" and the poignant "Put Your Slippers on Instead." Throw in introspective rockers like "The Benefits of Ice Cream" and "All Senses Lost" and youíve got a disc thatís equal parts sophisticated and aggressive.

"We try to make music we havenít heard yet," Shettel says. "I saw the new Three Days Grace video today, and I was like, ĎIt seems like they didnít put that much effort into making that song.í " Bonner adds, "Itís just kind of bland. Itís something youíve heard 10 different times from different-looking people." Shettel concludes, "I donít know if weíre doing anything different, but at least weíre trying."

"It might be the end of us, but weíre going to try to stay smart," Stuart cracks.

The band think too many of their alterna-rock peers are preoccupied with, as Bonner puts it, "writing parts for kids to pogo to." Garro points out, "Weíre not scared to make music for people our age. Even though people our age donít buy records like 15-year-olds do, weíre not worrying about selling 60 percent more if we were going to play for 15-year-olds all the time."

A batch of Friends-era dates opening for emo heartthrobs Dashboard Confessional put the awkwardness of playing to teenage crowds in sharp relief for Piebald. On the raucous "Get Old or Die Trying," they approach the issue with the kind of humor theyíve been known for since day one. The title is a play on the blockbuster 50 Cent CD Get Rich or Die Trying (Interscope), and the song addresses the phenomenon of "mid-20s depression or a quarterlife crisis," as Shettel puts it. "I saw the cover of this book, and it was called Quarterlife Crisis. I thought that was pretty funny. A lot of the songs are about aging, finding yourself to be one of the oldest people in a room and figuring out what to do with that. Or why youíre still there."

SINCE AVOID ONE THING frontman Joe Gittleman has about a decade of experience on Shettel, he knows as much as anyone what itís like to be on the far side of the alterna-rock generational divide. And the veteran Mighty Mighty Bosstones bassist isnít about to slow down: Chopstick Bridge, the second release from his latest band, hits retail this month. The discís pedigree is very similar to that of All Ears: itís on Side One Dummy, who also put out the most recent Bosstones CD, and itís produced by Kolderie. (For his part, Kolderie has a history with both Gittleman and the label: back in the mid 1990s, he produced the Bosstonesí Mercury smash Letís Face It as well as the major-label debut from Wax, who were fronted by Side One Dummy honcho Joe Sib.) Avoid One Thing threw an album-release party of their own on May 8 at Axis, and theyíre opening for Piebald Sunday at Avalon.

The first single from Chopstick Bridge is the title track, a riveting exercise in punk nostalgia. The details of life on the road come fast and furious: the name of the song is an allusion to a makeshift part on a "beat-up guitar," and the bridge is an ode to a sentimental moment at a luncheon with "naugehyde booths." The final chorus is a frenzied shout-out to a semi-obscure club on the southern coast of Rhode Island: "Twenty-five drunks on the guest list/Just another show at the Ocean Mist/Fuck this!" Guitarist Amy Griffin is Gittlemanís trusty foil, supplying both cooing harmony vocals and instrumental flash. In the video, the band rock out on a rooftop with a scenic view of downtown Boston.

"Chopstick Bridge" is an excellent calling card for a disc that builds on the heartfelt punk potential of the bandís 2002 debut, Avoid One Thing. Local alterna-rockers are well acquainted with the groupís story, which starts with their origins as Gittlemanís all-star, ska-free diversion from his main gig. When original drummer Dave Karcich died suddenly the week the first album came out, the band soldiered on with replacement John Lynch, hitting the road to positive reviews whenever the Bosstones took a break. Their dynamic changed again when, in quick succession, the Bosstones went on hiatus, guitarist Paul Delano left, and Griffin started playing a bigger role in the songwriting process.

With Avoid One Thing now Gittlemanís primary focus, itís no surprise that Chopstick Bridge is an improvement over its predecessor in terms of both cohesion and diversity. Singing lead for the first time on three tracks, Griffin unveils a sneering, unhinged vocal style as well as a quirky lyrical perspective. She and Gittleman share the microphone on her catchiest contribution, "All That Youíve Heard." Her "Capital Letters" channels Iron Maiden, and she slips into a hillbilly groove on the humorous 30-second reverie "The Airplane."

Gittleman isnít afraid to think outside the box either. On "A Lot like This," he gets a little misty-eyed ("I never slept quite so soundly/As I did, your arms around me/I had a dream, a dream that seemed/A lot like this") over unplugged, Social DistortionĖgrade roots punk. Built on a haunting vocal counterpoint between Gittleman and Griffin, "Next Stop Is the Last Stop" works up a trance-like crescendo, and the riotous "Fillmore East" beats the tough-guy hecklers who inspired it at their own game. Gittlemanís other band went out with a bang on 2002ís A Jackknife to a Swan, and Avoid One Thing are doing a fine job of carrying on the Bosstones legacy.

Piebald and Avoid One Thing perform this Sunday, May 23, at Avalon, 15 Lansdowne Street in Boston; call (617) 262-2424.

Issue Date: May 21 - 27, 2004
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