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Just before sundown on a hot summer evening, the mini-golf course at the Walker Art Center is packed. A line of people fidget impatiently as they wait their turn to play the next elaborate, artist-rendered putt-putt hole, but my companions, the five members of pop-punk group Action Versus Action, take advantage of the delays to fill in some details on their upcoming album release and talk about their unique performance style.
Anyone who has ever seen Action Versus Action perform live can attest that it's a memorable experience. Aside from pumping out high-octane, harmonic pop music, the band employs a few shticks—bassist Bairnt Dittler wears a helmet with the visor pulled down, bright spotlights flood the stage and cast giant shadows, and lead singer Ben Krueger wields a giant stick that he strums and swings like a guitar.
That's right, a stick. A dowel rod, actually, a crossbar that Krueger mined from a closet in the band's first practice space.
ACTION VERSUS ACTION
"I just started using it for fun in the practice space," explains Krueger, who doesn't play guitar but wanted to find a way to interact with the music as he sang. When it came time to play their first show, the stick came with. "I don't have the sexy Mick Jagger thing, I don't have the tough, hardcore singer thing, so I was like, I'm going to do something a little different."
"People get annoyed with it, I think especially people who have really worked hard at guitar," he laughs. "They're like, what the hell is this guy doing?"
Krueger's bandmates are quick to defend the virtue of the stick. "That's his instrument," says drummer Steve Hahn. "It's a stick, but he uses that in emoting onstage. It's really part of how we perform."
And Dittler explains that his helmet serves a practical purpose—he uses it for ear protection. "I was born without a left ear," explains Dittler, "so I can't protect it with normal ear plugs." He says he has since found an alternate way to protect his ears but can't part with the helmet. "Now I just wear it because it's awesome," he laughs.
"I've hit it, though, with the stick," adds Krueger.
"I've had my guitar hit it, too," says guitarist Mark Harrington.
"I should probably be wearing it now," says Dittler, as his bandmates pick up their golf clubs and mime flailing instruments.
Antics aside, the main thread that unites Action Versus Action fans (dubbed "Action Heroes") is a love for the band's precisely executed, layered pop songs. To say that Action Versus Action songs are catchy is an understatement; the choruses are so hook-laden that they are immediately familiar, making it easy to hum the melodies after only one listen. When the band's debut full-length, Sentimental City, is released on Saturday, Action Heroes will have a chance to bring home the songs that the band have been playing live for several years, making it even easier to sing along with fists pumping and pints of beer raised.
Produced by Darren Jackson (another power-pop hero whose band, the Hopefuls, will headline Action Versus Action's CD-release party), the album showcases all the best elements of the Action Versus Action sound: Krueger's buoyant, high-range vocals; chugging, post-grunge power chords; fat bass lines; and layered harmonies. Songs are distilled to their most basic parts and finished off with a clean pop sheen, producing a sound that falls somewhere between early Weezer, Foo Fighters, and Motion City Soundtrack.
And Action Heroes new and old can rely on the fact that Action Versus Action will continue to develop their live show. The band members promise a few new additions to their setup at the CD-release show, as a surprise for fans, in addition to their old shticks and sticks. "We want everybody to have a good time," says Krueger, grinning. "To put on a show that's high-energy and try to keep it different, so we're not just standing there."
ACTION VERSUS ACTION play a CD-release show with the Hopefuls and the Invincible Kids on SATURDAY, JULY 12, at the TRIPLE ROCK SOCIAL CLUB; 612.333.7499