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The audience lines up in the kitchen at the Academy of Gung Fu, waiting for a glass of purified tap water--the only decidedly '90s fixture in the Minneapolis house holding tonight's punk show. Roughly 50 people mill through the aging building, which has hosted free, all-ages basement parties for years. Everyone here seems locked in a kind of punk-rock holding pattern, from the girl with orange dreadlocks who is break-dancing, to the kids jumping off a radiator onto a beanbag chair in the living room. You might wonder if there will ever be an end to these all-ages rituals, if bands like Fugazi will some day cease to be prophets to each new crop of straightedge converts. Or you might just quit thinking about it and jump on the beanbag yourself. This never-never land could last forever.
The local band set to play in the basement, the Misfires, is rumored to be a carbon copy of the Strike, a band that in its day was criticized for being a rip-off of the Jam, a band that in its day was accused of being a rip-off of the Who. And all in attendance know what to expect from the act, as if our response were hardwired into our DNA. The small crowd gathered in the dusty room is growing anxious as the band's singer and resident misanthrope, David Storberg, uses the john upstairs. Finally, he scuttles over and picks up his guitar. The band kicks into a song that sounds exactly like Green Day, a band that was criticized in its day for ripping off Operation Ivy, which was criticized in its day for...well, you know the drill.
The Misfires, on the other hand, seem to have transcended this anxiety of influence. Some listeners may be expecting a series of sugar-freak melodic blurts, and little more. But founding members--Storberg and guitarist Brian Severns--recently discovered a way to sidestep the post-hardcore trap, importing an ace rhythm section from Wisconsin, bassist Pete Biasi and drummer Jonothon Warnberg. Taking up half the playing area with his lanky frame and bass, Biasi breaks out of the rote Ramones routine with the instrumental "Scourge." Here the guitars become more angular, pinging off each other as Warnberg's drumming sends the band into the aggressive yet agile sonic realm of the Gang of Four--or better yet, into a realm of their own.
As the set progresses, one notices that there's something disarming about the Misfires, a kind of straightedge/good-guy vibe that's becoming rare in the local punk scene, not to mention the bar scene. This tone starts with the presence and lyrics of the 20-year-old Storberg, the band's boyishly sensitive and self-righteous mouthpiece. "Most of the lyrics I write have an oblique outlook," he says after the show. "There's no global-scale politics. Most of them are about getting fucked over by people, and there's four or five songs about my parents."
Storberg formed the band two years ago with Severns, releasing a seven-inch with a different lineup. Today, Severns's mod stylings--in both appearance and guitar sound--seem the clearest link to the local basement punk bands he frequently saw as a teenager at the Whole Music Club. Biasi, who remembers buying his first Black Flag tape when his family moved from Texas to Wisconsin's backwoods, seems a bit less comfortable with that punk-rock pedigree. Yet when he and Warnberg joined the band last year, the freshly minted foursome discovered a shared ethic that's most notable in the band's passion for only playing all-ages venues, especially the Homocore shows put on by scene patron Ed Varga.
"Homocore takes all ages one step further," Storberg says. "It's not only open to people of all ages, but to every sexual orientation." Warnberg agrees, adding that you probably won't see the Misfires hitting the bar circuit anytime soon. "You don't have to deal with some fucking elitist club promoter...who's going to treat you like total shit if you're not in some clique," he says.
For now, the band plans to release a 45-rpm, 12-inch album later this year comprising mainly old songs. Yet like any good basement band that's too good to stay in the basement, the Misfires have a newfound rhythmic precision and melodic invention that must be caught live. And the trip to your nearest squatter venue may serve as a chance to see, if only for a moment, punk's recycled past being refashioned for the future.
The Misfires play 8:00 p.m. Thursday, April 29 at the Whole in Coffman Union ; (612) 624-8638.
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