The Ataris - Live in Edinburgh (Cover Artwork)

The Ataris

Live in Edinburgh (2017)

live show

I freely confess that I was a huge Ataris fan back in the day. I saw them live half a dozen times. I had a signed t-shirt – remember the cool lip-pierced Pacman design? – that I wore until it fell apart. I spent hours trying to convince my more indie friends of the Santa Barbara pop-punk band’s brilliance, their interest usually waning once they realised I wasn’t talking about Atari Teenage Riot.

But it’s been almost 14 years since I bought an Ataris record, 16 years since I enjoyed one from start to finish, and at least a decade since I could either name or recognise any member of the band who isn’t Kris Roe – although I’m not sure it matters who else is in the Ataris, provided Kris can avoid throwing instruments at them; for better or worse, it’s always been the Kris Roe show.

So it’s fair to say it was nostalgia that drew me to Sneaky Pete’s in Edinburgh on a chilly Sunday night in January. The gig was sold out – even on the downswing of the Ataris’ career a 100 capacity venue shouldn’t cause any problems – so the club was small, sweaty and rammed, a perfect setting for a punk show. In contrast the crowd, myself included, was all respectable haircuts, office jobs and parenthood. As I noticed two women in front of me comparing baby pics on their phones during the support band, I had a sneaking suspicion that the majority of the crowd were nostalgic for a later, and in my eyes lesser, era of the Ataris than I was.

The atmosphere cranked up a little once the band took the stage, Kris Roe in a Deftones t-shirt and that hat he never seems to take off, flanked by the hired hands that make up the current iteration of the Ataris – who it must be said did a perfectly serviceable job. “In This Diary” opened the set – with “listening to 80s songs” changed to “listening to Replacements songs” in the lyrics for additional indie cred – and set the tone for the evening, a lopsided setlist pulled primarily from 2003’s Gold-certified So Long, Astoria. Two more unremarkable songs from that breakthrough album followed, before the band started to delve further back into their catalogue. This was the clear highlight of the show, with “Your Boyfriend Sucks” (should a 40 year old man really still be singing a song called “Your Boyfriend Sucks”? Whatever, it was fun) leading into “Boxcar”, and followed shortly after by the evergreen “San Dimas High School Football Rules”, still an undeniable pop punk gem. For 15 minutes, it felt like a punk show.

The momentum was destroyed by following “San Dimas” with another Astoria cut, the cloyingly earnest “The Saddest Song” – but the crowd ate it up, so what do I know? To their credit the band threw in a couple of “new” songs – albeit written two decades earlier, predating even their debut Anywhere But Here – from last year’s October In This Railroad Earth e.p. Both “They Live, We Sleep” and “Slacker Rock” sounded good – shorter, faster and more immediate than most of the setlist, with the latter, as Kris acknowledged, wearing its Bob Mould influence very much on its sleeve.

For a tour promising “fan favorites from our albums So Long, Astoria, Blue Skies, Broken Hearts and more!”, a mere two songs from Blue Skies felt like a poor return. I would have liked to hear “1*15*96” and “My Hotel Year” at least, if not some deeper cuts. While inevitably those songs that spoke to me as a perpetually single teenager don’t strike as much of a chord now I’m a happily married mid-30s father-of-two, I think that album has aged pretty well, aside from the cringeworthy “The Last Song I Will Ever Write About A Girl” – hearing a grown man sing “Why do I never seem to learn that love is wrong and girls are fucking evil?” would just be too much. And sadly, there was nothing at all from End Is Forever – my favourite Ataris album, and the perfect middleground between the occasionally juvenile pop punk of Blue Skies and the overly polished radio rock of Astoria.

Predictably, the loudest cheers of the night were reserved for “The Boys Of Summer”, that accidental smash hit. The contrast between the muted reaction to the earlier Jawbreaker cover and the rabid response to Don Henley’s cheese-fest spoke volumes about the majority of the crowd’s preferences.

The band briefly threatened to end with the underwhelming “Eight Of Nine”, before that was revealed as the second of two fake endings/encore breaks and they closed for real with “So, Long Astoria” – far and away the best song on that largely forgettable album. As Kris moved the mic stand onto the floor, encouraging the crowd to grab the mic and sing along, it felt like a punk show again. As we filed out into the cold night air, I reflected on a mixed bag of an evening, my Ataris nostalgia itch scratched for another decade or more.


In This Diary

Unopened Letter To The World

The Hero Dies In This One

Your Boyfriend Sucks


They Live, We Sleep

San Dimas High School Football Rules

The Saddest Song

The Boys Of Summer

Slacker Rock

Summer ‘79

Eight Of Nine

So Long, Astoria