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April 29, 2003

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ROCK REVIEW; FOR SENTIMENTAL PUNKERS, AGITATION TAKES A BACK SEAT TO ROMANCE

ASBURY PARK, N.J., April 25 -- Early in his performance Jonah Matranga looked into the crowd and gave his opinion of the concert. ''It's nice to be at a rock show and not to have a bunch of rock stars around,'' he said.

Maybe that sounds like faint praise, but Mr. Matranga meant it as a high compliment. His band, Onelinedrawing, was one of three dozen that came here today for the first day of the third annual Skate and Surf Festival. The bands, on three stages, played for 5,000 fans in the grand, dilapidated Asbury Park Convention Hall, which sits on what remains of this city's boardwalk.

It was an odd site for one of the best music festivals in the region, but no one seemed to mind. When one lead singer after another shouted, ''We've been waiting for this all year,'' you started to believe them.

As punk rock gets older, its adherents are still searching for a believable motivation. Political punk bands stave off irrelevance with a snarl, insisting that righteous agitation never goes out of style. Pop-punk bands greet irrelevance with a grin, insisting only that their sentimental songs are lots of fun.

Today's concert was exciting because it suggested that a different punk-rock attitude was gaining momentum. Most of the best bands mixed sweet sentimentality with anguished agitation, singing love songs that sounded like anthems of protest.

This isn't a new sensibility of course: punk bands have been waxing introspective for years. This sensibility even has a name, emo, even if no one can quite agree what it means. (Upstairs at the Convention Hall, you could buy a button advertising www.thisisnotemo.com, an emo Web site that acknowledges this confusion.) What's new, though, is the possibility that introspection is becoming punk's dominant mode. The Used, one of the night's headliners, summed up this style on a sweatshirt that said ''Heartcore.''

Early in the evening Thrice, from California, roughed up its tight, clean songs with snarling guitar lines. Many audience members wailed and shouted along with Dustin Kensrue, whose lyrics tend toward the impressionistic: ''I hear the waves crash far below/The rocks are leaping for the sky/They're starving for the air.'' By contrast, Mr. Matranga, of Onelinedrawing, sang tuneful, epigrammatic songs like ''14-41,'' an unhappy-birthday lament: ''14 to 41, start out blind, end up dumb/You're 16, you're 23, you're 32, you're 41.'' He also had the smallest band of the night: during parts of his set his rhythm section was an iPod.

Some of the most memorable performances came from New Jersey bands. Armor for Sleep used slower tempos and melancholy melodies to great effect. My Chemical Romance began with a stylish, noisy miniepic called ''Honey, This Mirror Isn't Big Enough for the Two of Us,'' with Gerard Way twitching and twisting his way through a petulant kiss-off: ''We're not working out/And you can't touch my brother/And you can't keep my friends/And we're not working out.'' (Saturday's headliner, an excellent band called Thursday, is also from New Jersey.)

No band does all this better than the Used, from Utah, which juxtaposes stirring choruses with wild, retching tantrums. The lead singer, Bert McCracken, claimed that he was having as much fun onstage as he'd ever had, and he sometimes held his microphone far enough from his mouth so the crowd's singing would be just as loud as his.

No offense to Mr. Matranga, but there was one rock star present: Andrew W. K., the good-natured, long-haired, grubby-T-shirted singer whose songs (''We Want Fun,'' ''Party Hard'') are so simple they're not much more than concepts. Although he wasn't unwelcome, he did seem a bit out of place. He seemed to be searching for what most of the other lead singers had already found: something to sing about.


Published: 04 - 29 - 2003 , Late Edition - Final , Section E , Column 2 , Page 3

PUBLICATION
The New York Times

AUTHOR
KELEFA SANNEH

DIRECT LINK TO ARTICLE
http://http://www.nytimes.com/