Not Your Average Angst

What sets Greg Graffin, the leader of punk survivors Bad Religion, apart from many of his contemporaries is his impeccable knack for knowing just when to spew. Words, that is. Even though for the past 20 years he and his band have been railing about how human beings are basically unfeeling, ecologically challenged dweebs on the march toward extinction, Graffin often saves his most vitriolic blasts for his peers. Asked to deliver the keynote address at last year's CMJ Music Festival, he did his very best to piss off (and piss on) the suits in the front rows by warning of mediocrity, comparing Alanis Morissette to a monkey then dismissing Matchbox Twenty as, well, mediocre.

His stance against mediocrity is explored in "A World Without Melody," a tune from the band's latest disc, The New America, in which Graffin urges musicians, and the rest of us, not to stay in a comfortable niche. Graffin's edgy take on the world has been the force behind the band's longevity, but as he has aged he has tweaked his message to match his moods and experiences while maintaining a sense of urgency. As such, he has avoided sounding like an old coot (e.g., Mick Jagger) or a hypocrite (e.g., Johnny Lydon), and has managed to stay relevant, while learning to poke fun at himself along the way (as he did so deliciously in "Punk Rock Song" from The Gray Race in 1996). Indeed, the ton of pseudopunk popsters who have emerged during the past five years have been able to duplicate Bad Religion's three-chord, twin-guitar attack and jack-hammer drumming, but they just can't think beyond the boy-girl thing, let alone conjure up multisyllabic words that rhyme with "sustainability."

Bad Religion bassist Jay Bentley once said that one of the first signs of the apocalypse was the invention of the cash register on which young fast-food workers could just touch a little picture of a hamburger to place an order. In other words, it's another example of technology giving kids one less reason to think. We can only hope today's teenagers are ready for Graffin at his cynical, insightful best, as on the new song "I Love My Computer," a rather unsettling take on the lonely existence of guys who grip their joysticks tight and surf cybersex Web sites. Too bad you'll never hear that evocative tune on the Buzz, where concert headliners Blink-182 have found, as Graffin might describe it, a cushy little niche. -- Greg Barr

Bad Religion, Blink-182 and Fenix TX perform Wednesday, May 17, at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion. Tickets are $25. For more information, call (713)629-3700.PC Cowboys -- If there's such a thing as putting the "honky" in honky-tonk, the PC Cowboys are just the pasty vaqueros to do it. Anything but rugged John Wayne types, these guys look like a bunch of prickly accountants in bandannas and wide-brims. And though their songs sound like pure country, their lyrics range from sixth-grade scatology to sarcastically pun-filled political correctness.

That is what the PC in their name stands for -- Politically Correct Cowboys, a lofty oxymoron to live up to. Hamshire Fannett (stage-named after a rural Texas consolidated school district), Toomey Starks and Arthur Dekko, who seem happy to be measured as men by the number of Lone Stars they can chug, are hardly reverent or "correct" about anything.

Cheeky tunes such as "Spawning Time," from the outfit's latest album, Bright Lights, Bridge City, could be about efforts to rejuvenate the population of Pacific salmon in the northwestern United States. It could be, that is, if lines like "Gonna score with every salmon in this town" were constructive propaganda for preservationists.

Other songs seem to have no real political or social value at all, unless, of course, butt cracks, cat boxes, overweight wives and phone sex are on the agenda. In fact, "Idaho," a seemingly innocuous track off the band's crackly first album, Get Over It, actually translates as "I'd a ho, but I lost her." This unrequited streetwalking love ends happily, though, for the narrator moves in with her sister.

There's something disgustingly appealing about the poop references, insensitivity to obesity, trailer-trash talk and general pan of redneck culture. Bright Lights, Bridge City has recently been retooled and rereleased, and is good for a chuckle or two over a big bucket of fried chicken. Both are sinful, greasy and entirely overindulgent. PC Cowboys perform Saturday, May 13, at Sidecar Pub, 11202 Huffmeister. For more information, call (281)807-4040. (Jennifer Freytag)

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Greg Barr
Contact: Greg Barr