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Record Review: Lagwagon

This story was published February 17, 2005 in The Cavalier Daily, U.Va.’s student newspaper.

Season changes stress me out. The transition from one type of weather to another forces me to reorganize my closet and puts unnecessary strain on my sinus cavities. My eyes are watering for other reasons, because I believe CDs are seasonal, too. I wouldn’t think of listening to breezy O.A.R. in the dead of winter or sullen Rainer Maria at the beach.

Having said that, Lagwagon’s new album, Live in a Dive, is the perfect CD to get you through the layover.

I was excited to review the live album of this old-school punk band and gushed endlessly to my friends until I realized none of them had heard of Lagwagon. Assuming you are equally unaware, let the mists of time reveal a few pertinent facts.

In 1990, when flannel was still cool, Lagwagon singer Joey Cape met NOFX’s Fat Mike at a bar. Some months later, Lagwagon was the second band to sign with Fat Wreck Chords, the largest independent recording label of the ’90s. The Fat Wreck line-up grew to incorporate favorites like Less Than Jake, No Use for a Name, Screeching Weasel and Propagandhi.

Lagwagon hasn’t produced any new music since 2003, so the live album is a real breath of fresh air.

The production on Live in a Dive is excellent. It tightens the sound without losing the spontaneity and raw effects of a live show. Live in a Dive was recorded at the House of Blues in Hollywood in May and June of 2003. The set list includes a track from every Lagwagon album, spanning more than 10 years. This CD also has two brand-new songs: “Mister Bap” and “The Chemist.”

“We actually wanted to have a song on the live record that was only on the live record,” singer Joey Cape explains before “The Chemist.” The song is a definite throwback to the early days, with fiery guitar riffs and quick cut-offs. The band lures the listener in with chill reggae beats and then smacks them in the forehead with a smokin’ guitar riff straight from an ’80s hair band.

Fans can tell that Lagwagon rode the front of the “So-Cal punk” wave because they have a harder edge not found in the pop-punk bands of today, such as A Simple Plan. Lagwagon still embodies the founding characteristics of punk style, such as witty lyrics, blazing guitars and rolling drum beats. On tracks like “Burn” and “Alien 8,” Dave Raun’s drumsticks move faster than a hummingbird’s wings, never dragging the tempo or skipping a beat.

Squealing guitar solos go down smoothly in songs like “Falling Apart,” from the 2003 release, Blaze, and the audience goes into a frenzy on the opening chords of “Sick,” a track from Lagwagon’s most popular CD, Hoss. The song chugs happily along until the bottom drops out as the band pauses, letting the audience members sing a few bars by themselves. Who says punks don’t do a cappella?

Another Hoss track, “Razor Burn,” tells the true story of how Joey’s wife left him for a “Don Juan in Italy.” Joey dedicated the song to “all the people that just quit shaving,” and the lyrics follow, saying, “She has a new man/I have a new moustache/She found out I was lame/So I grew a beard of shame.”

Lagwagon’s album doesn’t redefine its music, but I would recommend Live in a Dive for fans unfamiliar with the lesser known side of punk — i.e. not Blink 182. If you’re looking for something to tide you over until you can safely listen to summer music, try a taste of Lagwagon; the feverish, fun pace of their songs offers a light, breezy listening experience without quite breaking out the SPF 30.

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