Sunday, February 19, 2006

State Radio 2.18.06 Bowery Ballroom

by Charlotte Deaver

In some ways, State Radio is hard to describe: leftist headbangers meet ska-frats? Surfer dudes meet vanilla hip hop? One Love meets Move On? At the same time, although several musical and other styles do collide, the band has a clear, even simple agenda: rock out and speak out.

Like other political artists such as Billy Bragg and Steve Earle, this band mixes their music with their message. Unlike Billy and Steve, though, every single song is political. Ranging from war crimes to the plight of a waitress, each song is a battle-cry against some infringement upon democracy at home and abroad.

Although State Radio's lyrics play to a working class culture and an ethics of dissent, their fans at the Bowery Ballroom on Saturday night resembled nothing of the sort. Rather, they evoked middle America’s frightening and deceptive normalcy, the very status quo from which I recoil. These suburban teenagers, not old enough to wear wristbands, instead wore their baseball caps on backwards and chanted what sounded like R.O.T.C. mantras. For a second we thought we were at a high school football game.

If I seem to be dwelling on the crowd, it’s only because they helped set the tone for the night: while the politics and music were well-intentioned, something about the squeaky-clean, adolescent whiteness of the audience matched perfectly with the supposedly anti-establishment music and messages. As sweet and earnest as lead singer and guitarist Chad Urmston is, he’s not very articulate or inspiring, which severely undercuts his desire for dialogue, education, and challenge to the status quo. Were he more biting and edgy, or a real threat to America's wayward ways, the parents of his fans would probably be less likely to have let their kids out of the suburbs for a night!

The evening did offer some great moments, all of which were musical. I especially loved it when the band's crunchy metal riffs chugged along with its thick-bassed reggae rhythms. That convergence of acid guitars and rock-solid beats is what State Radio does best. I could have done without the orchestrated sing-alongs and Pavlovian, fist-pumping call-and-responses, but maybe I should be grateful that these kids are getting drawn into something, perhaps witlessly, larger than they anticipated. And if all they get out of it is a rockin’ night away from mom and dad, they're still doing alright.

Camilo, a song about a U.S. soldier who left Iraq as a conscientious objector and was court-martialed and imprisoned upon his return, is playing to your right. As ever, please support the band by purchasing their music.


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