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Queer Eye for the Punk Guys

The Queers' surf-punk evokes the gods of summer.

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In an imaginary world where men can bear children and Joey Ramone is still alive and having an affair with Brian Wilson, the couple's offspring would be something like New Hampshire-based surf punks the Queers.

Although the ensemble hails from New England, the only thing "East Coast" about their sound is their "Blitzkrieg Bop" peppiness. Upon hearing their latest release, Pleasant Screams, the uninformed listener might assume the band was a bunch of beach brats. Let's just put it this way: If Gidget traveled through time and landed on the steps of Vince Lombardi High School (from the Ramones' movie-musical Rock 'n' Roll High School), this is the kind of music that'd be playing in her headphones. The Queers are pop-punk at its finest, and after a few songs, it's hard not to long for the lazy, booze-guzzling days of summer.

The band has been around in some fashion since 1982, and they've tried their damnedest to stay true to their punk credo by keeping a low profile and refusing to sell out to a major label. Signed to Berkeley-based Lookout! Records, they've seen a few former labelmates make it big -- Green Day, Rancid, the Donnas -- but they've managed to settle comfortably into indie-punk status.

Their early albums, like Love Songs for the Retarded and Beat Off (both released in 1993), had that raw, punk sound that comes from little rehearsal and lousy production highlighted by scene-setting anthems like "Granola Head" ("Whacked-out hippies' brains are scrambled eggs/Ugly chicks with very hairy legs/I think I'd rather be at home/Listening to the Ramones/Or hanging out and getting drunk with a bunch of useless punks").

The band released two full-length albums, a couple of EPs, and a compilation before temporarily abandoning Lookout!. In the late '90s, drummer Hugh O'Neil began having complications from a brain tumor and bassist B-Face left the band to join Lookout!'s the Groovy Ghoulies. Joe King "Queer" told Rock 'n' Roll Juggernaut magazine that Lookout! wasn't treating the band well during that time, so with a new bassist and drummer in tow, the band made a temporary move to another DIY punk label, Hopeless Records. Joe Queer & Co. released two original albums, a live CD, and a few EPs on Hopeless, but their merry, surf-inspired sound was laced with angst and bitterness.

But time heals all wounds, and in 2001, with another new lineup, they rejoined forces with Lookout! to produce Today, a five-song EP that includes a cover of the Beach Boys' "Salt Lake City."

The band's latest full-length album, Pleasant Screams (released in April 2002), presents a slightly more polished version of the Queers. Gone are the cheap equipment and careless production (although the '93 releases and Pleasant Screams were both produced by Screeching Weasel's Ben Weasel), but their stuck-in-junior-high, curse-filled lyrics and classic three-chord guitar prove that they haven't lost their touch. With the ever-present Joe Queer on guitar and vocals, Dangerous Dave on bass, and Matt Drastic on drums, Pleasant Screams is the quintessential "welcome back" album.

Any bitterness left over from the Hopeless Records days has been channeled into songs like "Get a Life and Live It" ("You think that you're perfect/So lovable and cute/But you're just so pathetic that it makes me wanna puke/You stupid little shit/Go suck your mommy's tit").

Most of the songs on Pleasant Screams have a similarly in-your-face theme, but it's clear that it's all in fun this time around. In "Generation of Swine," the band attacks punk sell-outs ("Jock-ass punks are a bore/Those sell-out fucks are all whores"), and "See You Later Fuckface" is the comical ballad of a guy at a punk show who, after witnessing his friends getting beaten up, tries to retaliate by stage-diving on top of the culprits only to find himself face-down on the floor.

And, by the way, the Queers aren't gay, but they're often mistaken for a queercore band. In the CD booklet from A Day Late and a Dollar Short (the 1996 compilation of early songs recorded before signing with Lookout! Records), Joe Queer said they chose their name "to piss off the pathetic local art community." And that's what the Queers are all about: pissing people off and having fun doing it.

In the days of pretentious, manufactured pop-punk boy bands with names that consist of one-syllable words followed by a number (i.e., Blink-182, Sum-41), the Queers offer a refreshing brand of bubblegum punk that, despite its poppy beat, still manages to retain enough lewdness to qualify as real punk rock. With a penchant for cursing and pre-teen antics, they're cruising past the mass-marketed bands with their middle fingers proudly raised.

The Queers

The Hi-Tone Cafe

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December, 1st

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