Nostalgic pop-punkers light up Hoboken
On a warm Sunday night in October, Anderson, Indiana’s pop-punk quartet, The Ataris, played to a half-full, mostly reserved crowd at Hoboken’s Maxwell’s. The respite from this month’s wintery weather seemed fitting: The Ataris are a band that thrives on the carefree, youthful, nostalgic associations of summer.
Fittingly, the group opened with “Summer Wind Was Always Our Song,” as lead singer Kris Roe’s throaty vocals plead, “I’m not hanging up the phone until I hear you say, ‘I love you. I need you here.'” Warm applause bled into “My Reply,” the first song from the band’s most renowned, and arguably their best, record, “So Long, Astoria.”
During “My Reply,” microphone issues muffled Roe’s voice, occasionally beyond comprehension. These issues lingered throughout much of the opening half of the set, which was disappointing, although the group’s tight instrumentals and palpable energy worthily compensated.
Much of the set list included songs from “So Long, Astoria,” with the obligatory single, “In this Diary,” and deeper cuts like “Takeoffs and Landings” and “The Hero Dies in this One.” Roe dedicated the latter to his grandmother, playing the poignant song with a recognizable emphasis.
The night’s highlights occurred during the other “Astoria” cuts. Unsurprisingly, the titular track was a rousing experience. Its inspiring mantra, “life is only as good as the memories we make,” becomes epiphanic live, while the song’s passionate ending had much of the room screaming along.
Unexpectedly, though, the group slowed the show’s momentum on “Eight of Nine.” Here Roe’s voice sounded clearest, while the band’s extended conclusion of the song built dramatically towards its crescendo. The foursome’s addition to the mournful track surpassed the album’s version, sonically capturing the tensions within the song’s lyrics.
Unfortunately, Maxwell’s seemed merely at half-capacity for the group, who usually plays the venue to a fanatical crowd. Despite the smaller amount of attendees, the crowd was still mired with its usual group of suspects: most notoriously, a pair of flannel-laden, fauxhawked hipsters, hoisting their Pabst beers (no comment) and drunkenly shouting out song requests.
Ever the diplomat, Roe promised to play the request, and he did – even after the hipsters were kicked out. Roe implored the crowd to update their Twitters about “how awesome” his performance of the request was, a revenge that the crowd lavished in together. Karma seemed to exist for one fleeting moment.
The one hour set passed quickly, as the group played methodically and saved the banter for after the show. Walking back to my car, I kept thinking about how these songs have defined my youth — and my adolescence, for better or for worse — and how they still sound so real, so heartfelt.
As Roe memorably sings in “In this Diary,” “the only thing that matters is just following your heart and eventually you’ll finally get it right.” The group never strayed from its own advice; even if their best songs are years behind them, The Ataris still play with equal earnestness and ardor. Ataris, you got it right.
Kevin Stevens can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.