Mohawk-sporting shout-along punk rockers The Casualties aren't so much a nostalgia act as a throwback. It's the difference between visiting and living there. The Big Apple quartet has remained true to its old-school, street-punk style for close to two decades, crisscrossing this country an untold number of times to share a riotous, high-energy show to the people like the Paul Reveres of Oi!
While most musical fads " be they skinny-tied, synth-plinking New Wavers; flannel-clad, complaint rockers; or bad-haired, rap-metal mooks " recede faster than a middle-age hairline, The Casualties' brand of punk rock has stood resolute through many years and iterations, in part, said guitarist Jake Kolatis, because of its underlying spirit.
"More and more, as our society gets pigeonholed into the 'Eat, live, sleep and die here' kind of thing, the whole 'You don't need to, this is already done for you,' I feel like punk rock needs to exist. There has to be the other thing, like 'What's the alternative to whatever this is,'" Kolatis said. "Punk will always be the outlet for people who feel, 'This isn't me.' There's this powerful sense of coming together when you meet those like-minded individuals."
That attitude has sustained The Casualties through more than a dozen full-length and EP releases since forming in 1990, and has seen the members through the lean years as the band slowly gathered steam. Hitting the road like a boxer working over a heavy bag, the group has cultivated a fan base from the roots up, and won word-of-mouth converts from bristling live shows. Mostly, The Casualties have endured, collecting adherents like a bucket in the rain.
"That's what's cool about punk: You can sort of age like wine," Kolatis said. "You don't have to be in the spotlight on the covers of magazines. You can be a band that just steadily draws people."
POPULIST PUNK STYLE
The band's populist punk style is driven by a grimy, basement sound; four chords slammed to the floor; beastly machine-gun drumbeats; and anthemic shouted choruses about injustice, alienation and seizing the moment. It's not complicated, but there's undeniable energy and vigor. The music's matured, growing crisper, heartier, and a little less breakneck over the years, but the attitude's never changed.
Whether admonishing to "think for yourself" on "Destruction & Hate," acknowledging "we are the enemies, of this society" on "Social Outcast," or simply inciting a "Riot," there's such a strong sense of camaraderie and shared purpose in The Casualties' music, fists fly into the air automatically. The Mohawks are peacock feathers " a symbol of rebellion visible for blocks ("I like the still frowned-upon look of it"), and their music is a clarion call to the dispossessed.
The Casualties have just finished recording its seventh studio album, "We Are All We Have," due Aug. 25. It was recorded, like 2006's "Under Attack," with Bill Stevenson of Descendents, Kolatis said, because "I feel like no one else will ever kind of get us." Kolatis said the new album may be their best to date and it's definitely the first one the band was still interested in listening to after recording wrapped. Part of that may be the wide-open attitude of the sessions, producing their most eclectic batch of songs.
"There's a reggae song. There's even a dub song. It's weird, but it's done in our style. You really have to hear it because you'll be like, 'Whoa, what are these dudes up to?' But it actually fits well. Then you do a 180 from that and we do a thrash song. And then you have the Casualties' standard sing-along punk rock," he said. "It's like we fucked around on this one and it turned out really good."
The Casualties have come a long way from punkers for whom music was as much an excuse to drink and drug, to the band's position as hardcore heroes who refuse to surrender to time or trends.
"You get a little older and the nihilistic thing kind of goes to the wayside," Kolatis said. "The music becomes more important, like, 'Wow, the band is doing well and there can be light at the end of the tunnel."
The Casualties with Leftover Crack, Trash Talk and BurnItDown perform at 7 p.m. Sunday at The Conservatory, 8911 N. Western. "Chris Parker