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Fun is a crucial component of any kind of solidarity. Take local pop-punks Dillinger Four. When I reached singer-guitarist Erik Funk by phone, he was scheduling a secret gig on a boat coasting around Boom Island where the Mississippi traverses Northeast Minneapolis. The stunt is an homage to the Sex Pistols' 1977 Silver Jubilee "concert" on the Thames, at which the band celebrated the 75th birthday of its sovereign biddy with an infamously invidious version of "God Save the Queen." Twenty-one years later the voyage is the perfect D4 detour--plotting a steady course between retro punk and good-natured prank.
"I've tried to explain to the boat company what we're going to do," Funk says, less worried than amused by the possible ramifications of D4's show. "But I don't think they really understand. I keep telling them it's going to be really loud rock, but they just say, 'Yeah, no problem.'"
The average age among the Dillinger Four is probably 25, and by all accounts they drink like sailors. Yet the band's collective spirit is reminiscent of Ian MacKaye's classic Minor Threat maxim, "I might be an adult but I'm a minor at heart." They obviously care about the scene that made them--the nonclub punk underground that many of their peers ditch as soon as they turn 21--and the band seems to have put a lot of thought into why their basement-based scene is valuable and unique. The D's scruffy pop-core appeals to fans of Green Day and Avail alike, and their ripping live show has won over a large sector of the Cities' compartmentalized punk scene.
The foursome's just-released debut album, Midwestern Songs for the Americas (Hopeless), places their trademark scratchy guitars and vocals in a plush, pop-savvy context. Recorded earlier this year in what sounds like a crowded sewer tunnel, the appealing racket is thick rather than slick, the lyrics thoughtful rather than ranting. But no amount of seriousness deters the band from adding drum-machine programs to end a tune called "Dick Butkus," or from sampling both Otis Redding and apocalypse-giddy TV preacher Jack Van Impe, or giving a sober song about drinking the title "Honey, I Shit the Hot Tub." After all, this kind of whimsy can only be expected from musicians who dye their pubic hairs.
In the lads' Minneapolis practice space, the Dillingers are surprisingly polite and witty for a band of reputed streakers and "beer punks." Funk wears a nose stud and a T-shirt bearing the name of the local punk outfit the Quincy Punx, while bassist and co-vocalist "St. Patrick" Costello has sideburns and dons a blue work jacket. Across the room sits subdued guitarist and vocalist Billy Morrisette. (It's a "vocal practice" tonight, so skin-smacker Lane Pederson, a.k.a. Monkey Hustle, isn't here.)
When I ask the band to compare the few clubs they've played to the basement scene that spawned them, they all agree that home is where the house is. "Our ideal type of shows are illegal, actually," says Funk. "Like some place that's rented or broken into. In that type of situation, the band and the audience's freedoms aren't restricted by anything."
In fact, the band's first show took place at Costello's workplace in the Warehouse District back in the spring of 1994. "Everyone had to get there at midnight," recalls Funk. "And they all had to meet at a cafe nearby, because no one knew exactly where it was gonna be--sort of like a rave." Costello and Funk, who hail from Chicago, assembled the emergent Dillinger Four out of various other Minneapolis bands. A period of incestuous commingling followed, with overlapping acts including Scooby Don't, Man Afraid, Creepers, and, most recently, a band formed with acclaimed fanzine author Aaron Cometbus called Cleveland Bound Death Sentence. "For a while, there were like eight of us who had 12 bands," says Costello, laughing.
While this extended band network was supportive, the fragmentation of the wider punk scene meant that playing shows with other groups in different subcategories (say, the "thousand-mile-an-hour hardcore" genre) proved difficult. "We once played one of those houses where everyone there knew most of the bands already," says Funk. Costello jumps in, saying, "It was an emo[core] show and people were drifting off to other parts of the house. And we said, 'Ah, the hell with it,' and we just made it a free-for-all. Not in any violent way, but just by jumping on each other and making stupid jokes. That's when people started coming back."
"Our drummer stood up on his drum stool," Funk remembers. "He turned around, and he had these little briefs on that he hiked up Sumo-style, and he started pouring beer on his ass and slapping it. You could see all these reserved kids going out to the other room saying, 'You've gotta see what's going on there.' Beer was flying everywhere, and you could kind of tell that this was not a house where beer flies everywhere."
The band's predilection for public nudity got them in trouble with First Avenue, where they haven't played since a particularly wild 7th Street Entry gig two years ago. But the Ave. just booked them for an all-ages show this July 12, and with the club's apparently renewed commitment to booking hardcore/punk shows, more may follow.
"We've had a very touchy relationship with established rock clubs over the past few years," says Funk, emphasizing the way clubs dominate the scene, regardless of the numbers of fans attending nonclub venues. "That's the way this town works: The underground exists, but when a band from that world plays one of the clubs, they're sort of 'validated.' My point is, houses are just as valid as any club."
As pop-punkers who, in their words, try to handle themselves like a DIY hardcore band, the D4 are quick to boost some of the peers they love--Lifter Puller, Code 13, Stray Bullets, the Strike, and Irish pub-strummers the Tim Malloys. And they're going to stick to their all-ages agenda. They even extend the inclusive spirit to your faithful columnist by coaxing me behind the drum kit for a cover of the Sex Pistols' ferryboat anthem "God Save the Queen." In an era when most tight and charismatic bands bed down with corporations two minutes after leaving the garage, Dillinger Four are keepin' it rotten.
Dillinger Four play a record-release concert at the Whole Music Club, 7 p.m. Thursday, June 25. Discount and Dreadnought open. Call 624-8638 for information.