Blitzkrieg Pop

Punk has crossed over from underground filth to mainstream fluff, and Vendetta Red suggests that its music is the bridge

Punk rock was once dangerous music. Not dangerous in a political sense -- the collective sedition of Wasted Youth, Dead Kennedys, and the Day Glo Abortions was still not enough to oust Ronald Reagan -- but dangerous in an immediate, physical sense. One wrong step in the pit and you'd be stomped by some white-laced, size-12 Docs. Cops busted up DIY warehouse shows on a regular basis, sometimes with billy clubs and tear gas. And a choppy, bright purple haircut was more than enough to snag yourself a random ass kicking.

Today punk is about as tough as a riled-up kitten. Middle-school kids can get all their glossy punk CDs from the Virgin Megastore in the mall. And all their designer punk clothes from Hot Topic in the mall. And that same choppy, bright purple haircut from Great Clips in the mall -- that is, if their moms don't beat them to it.

Maybe that's why all the new bands that have sprung from the backwash of Blink 182 and Good Charlotte are being pegged with the tag "mall punk." It's definitely not a compliment. Hipsters and punk purists especially despise the stuff. After all, most of them remember (or simply never left) an underground scene where punk rock wasn't something found shrink-wrapped at the bottom of a cereal box. It had to be searched out and -- sometimes literally -- fought for. Elitist? Probably. But who wants to see his subculture co-opted by a bunch of suits and gel-dunked rejects from American Juniors?


Vendetta Red, MxPx, and Brand New open for Dashboard Confessional

Friday, Sept. 26, at 7 p.m.

Tickets are $22


Concourse Exhibition Center, 635 Eighth St. (at Brannan), S.F.

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Zach Davidson of the Seattle quintet Vendetta Red, however, doesn't want to hear about it. "I was an elitist hardcore kid once, too," says the singer, getting a little worked up over the whole line of questioning, "but I can't relate to that mentality anymore. People who can afford to waste their time with that kind of bullshit don't know how to count their blessings. When I was a kid I had to worry about important things: where I was going to sleep and what I was going to eat and how to avoid my fucking stepdad and the cops. If all you have to do with your life is talk shit, then maybe you should be a lawyer."

Davidson has a right to be defensive -- Vendetta Red is gearing up for a nationwide tour with Dashboard Confessional, a package that also includes the mall punk outfits Brand New and MxPx. But unlike their roadmates, Davidson and his crew (bassist Michael Vermillion, drummer Joseph Lee Childres, and guitarists Erik Chapman and Justin Cronk) don't play honey-dipped teeny-bopper fluff. There's sweetness to Vendetta Red's songs, sure, but it's more like an ice cream cone dumped on the sidewalk, with cigarette butts and bugs and bits of gravel stuck all over it.

The group's single "Shatterday," from its new major-label release Between the Never and the Now(Epic), is a prime example: In under three minutes, it wraps the swelling opulence of an arena rock anthem in the ink-scabbed pages of an old diary. "When you bit the bullet, I held the smoking gun," sings Davidson in a lip-quivering croon before screeching headlong into the chorus: "These mescaline memories are morose/ Your kerosene company's comatose."

"We were taking a lot of mescaline and acid when we started the band," he says. "We rented a house with a basement, and everybody would come over and take drugs and flip out and go downstairs and play music. And then we started coming up with really good songs, so we decided to cut down on the drugs and play shows. I think our musical cement is two parts red wine and two parts acid."

Add to that recipe two parts Earl Grey and two parts Drano. The song "Seconds Away" starts out with an elegant, lulling verse lifted straight from the Smiths' "Stretch Out and Wait," while "Caught Like a Cold" is a corrosive assault that melts down raw hunks of Thrice and Radiohead into a crushing alloy.

"We didn't want to be any specific kind of band," Davidson asserts. "We all love so many different kinds of music; I like everything from Tori Amos to the Gipsy Kings to Heroin. So we decided we weren't going to stick to any kind of formulaic beat or groundwork or structure. We just knew we wanted to make good fucking songs.

"I think that's why it's hard for people to define us," he adds. "We're always the sore thumb, and I love it. It's hard for rock radio to play us. It's hard for alternative radio to play us. Top 40 is never going to play us. It's like, 'What do you do with these guys?'"

MTV2 knew what to do with them: Play their video. "Shatterday" has been in moderate rotation on the channel's All Things Rock show since June, and Davidson was even asked to co-host a special called Best of Grunge, a historic look back at that antediluvian era known by archaeologists and really old dudes as "the mid-1990s."

"They only had us on the show because we're from Seattle, because we're so fucking grunge," says Davidson with a laugh. "We just basically made fun of grunge the whole time. But it was a lot of fun. I didn't have to say good things about shit I didn't like. I critiqued music a lot, and I critiqued youth culture, which I like to do. I like to point fingers and laugh at people. Especially scenesters; they make it so fucking easy."

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