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Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2008

Dillinger Four, Pretentiousness Zero

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Punk bands, seemingly by design, are not built to last. And the fact that they are often so ephemeral is probably a good thing. As many music fans have learned, particularly during the reunion craze of the early-21st century, there is nothing worse than watching a band that is well past its prime. “Live Fast, Die Young” may not be the best advice when applied to one’s personal life, but that admittedly nihilistic mantra (thank you, Keith Morris) has given the punk-rock scene a vital sense of urgency. Having so little attention paid to career longevity has given many bands the freedom to embrace chaos and make music that cares little for convention and, on certain occasions, pushes the underground scene in new and exciting directions.

Yet there are punk bands that manage to stick around for the long haul, all the while remaining fresh and relevant. Minneapolis-based Dillinger Four may be the best example of this rare phenomenon. Formed in 1994 (“The Year Punk Broke, Part Two”), the band has weathered the rise of a massmarketed underground culture, the birth of the Internet generation and the growth of a political climate that has little respect for dissenting viewpoints.

Upon first glance, it is a bit difficult to see exactly how the band has managed to stick around for 14 years—a fact not lost on the band members themselves. When asked to explain Dillinger Four’s continued popularity, guitarist Erik Funk simply responds, “We’re not really sure either!” Musically, the band has never claimed to be reinventing the wheel. “We’re not exactly musical virtuosos,” Funk says. “We are good at what we do and we like it, so we’re not really looking to break any new ground.”

Such a direct statement begins to get at why the band has had such staying power. Dillinger Fouris incredibly good at what they do, and one respects their ability to both know their limitations and continue to play the type of music that they like.

Perhaps most importantly, the band, while swimming in the densely populated waters of pop-punk, has understood that the emphasis must remain on the “punk” side of the equation. The songs are catchy as hell, but they also contain elements that are not so easily digested. Whereas many of their contemporaries look to such bands as Green Day, blink- 182, and Lifetime as defining influences, Dillinger Four is smart enough to draw from the likes of such seminal groups as Naked Raygun and The Buzzcocks.

This understanding of the history of punk rock has given the band an incredibly honest and gritty sound, one that has little time for pretension or unnecessary distractions. Yet much of the band’s success must be attributed to their understanding of what can best be described as the ethos of punk rock. In a day and age when bands expect instantaneous, universal recognition, Dillinger Four has followed a path marked by a commitment to regionalism, patience and hard work. While the band does not eschew such technological advancements as the Internet (to Funk, “MySpace is an awesome tool for bands ... I haven’t really found the downside for a band yet”), it has succeeded by first and foremost carving a niche for itself in the vibrant Minneapolis scene.

Rather than packing up and moving to New York or Chicago, the band remains steadfastly dedicated to its hometown: Funk owns the Triple Rock Social Club, a well-respected Twin Cities venue, and numerous band members have helped run Extreme Noise Records, a Minneapolis DIY record store that has remarkably been in business since 1994. With such a strong local support base in place, the band has been able to grow outward on its own terms.

This strategy has allowed the group to construct an identity that, to Funk, “was never really created by marketing. We built in on live shows and a few releases. I think people respond to the fact that we’ve always done things exactly how we’ve wanted, regardless of whether it was ‘smart’ business.” As underground music becomes more about image and the power of the spectacle, one hopes that up-and coming bands heed such practical wisdom.

The Dillinger Four top a packed 6 p.m. bill at the Bay View Legion Post on Saturday, Feb. 2, with openers Weekend Nachos, Brain Handle, Get Rad, In Defense, Protestant, Speed Freaks and Party By The Slice.