The Ataris - live in Philadelphia (Cover Artwork)

The Ataris

live in Philadelphia (2009)

live show

The Ataris were one of those bands in heavy rotation during my high school years. Their first three albums regularly tested the limits of the speakers in my mom's station wagon, and one of their songs always managed to make it on my mixes right between Millencolin and the Bouncing Souls. Despite my (dare I say it?) rabid fandom, however, I never managed to see the band live in my teenage days, and by the time So Long, Astoria dropped I was too busy cultivating my indie-rock-snob swagger to even care. So when I saw the Ataris would be playing at a bar as small as the place your friend's band plays once a month, I figured I'd see just how the aging pop-punkers were holding up. And, if the room packed full of 20-somethings was any indicator, I wasn't alone on my nostalgia trip.

The band opened with "Summer Wind Was Always Our Song" and "1*15*96" and if it wasn't for the beer in my hand and Kris Roe's growing bald spot, I would have sworn I was back in high school. The energy levels were high and Roe's voice was dead on. The only sign that the band's last release, 2007's over-indulgent, seven-piece-backed mess, Welcome the Night, was ever even produced was Roe's use of an atmosphere-adding delay pedal. In fact, no songs from the band's most-recent album, or their upcoming one, surfaced over the course of the set. Instead, the short performance consisted almost exclusively of cuts from Blue Skies, Broken Hearts...Next 12 Exits, and the band's shark-jumping, major-label debut, So Long, Astoria. It was the end of the show that yielded the most surprising set choices though.

After working their way through songs like "So Long Astoria," "Unopened Letter to the World," "In This Diary," "The Boys of Summer," "Your Boyfriend Sucks" and obligatory closer "San Dimas High School Football Rules," Kris Roe put down his guitar and put on his best Danzig as the group soldiered through four Misfits covers. Yes, you read that right. Roe informed the audience the band wanted to "practice" part of their upcoming Hoodwink Festival cover set, so we were treated to slightly-sloppy versions of "20 Eyes," "Skulls," "I Turned Into a Martian" and "Last Caress." Interesting? Yes. Show-closing material? Not really. To make things even more surreal, the lone hardcore kid in the crowd busted out some kung-fu moves in the pit. Kung-fu the an Ataris show... Wow.

Despite the strange ending, and the predominance of material from So Long, Astoria, my high school self was certainly fulfilled. Nostalgia does not always pay off (my encounter with a four-piece Saves the Day touring in support of In Reverie serves as a reminder), but the Ataris succeeded by keeping things simple and fan favorite-oriented.