Lagwagon Nails the Delicate Art of Aging Gracefully

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Lisa Johnson
Ever wondered what kind of maladies might befall residents of an old folks' home for punk musicians? All you have to do is crank up Lagwagon's "Falling Apart," on which the long-running Santa Barbara, California, band fast-forwards time and imagines what its members will look like when they are decrepit and utterly dilapidated. There are all manner of ailments: baldness, osteoporosis, glaucoma, blown-out knees, liver failure, dementia, muscular atrophy, dental decay, etc.

At the particularly mournful-sounding bridge, vocalist Joey Cape's distinctive, kinda nasal voice wades through despondence: "I'll never be Ozzy/Onstage when I'm 50/I'm gonna look like Elvis/By the time I'm 40/We're already bogus/We're already fading/We'll never be the Rolling Stones/I'm staying home."

And there Lagwagon is: infirm and irrelevant. It's a pointedly tragicomic riff on youth disappearing -- Cape himself sees the tune as more funny than sad.

The song was conceived when Cape and company were in the studio, trying to find words to fit the music of "Falling Apart" -- his silly Christmas-oriented lyrics fell flat -- when someone made light of the band members dealing with physical issues and took them on a comically downbeat spiral.

"But if [the song is] true, I've got a couple of years. I think I said in the song that I wouldn't be onstage when I'm 50," Cape says with a laugh. "I'm not quite there yet."

Still, that number is coming up quick. "Falling Apart" appeared on 2003's Blaze, and Cape, 47, is still with the five-piece, which continues to tour pretty often. That said, a future such as "Falling Apart" is a funhouse-mirror version of what Lagwagon would look like. The group has been around for more than two decades, but members have never really seemed to age -- at least, if you take their records into account.

Lagwagon has long made punk that shines for its vulnerability, sincerity, profundity and wryness, with healthy doses of self-awareness and self-deprecation. Even with the occasional tune about a subject as dumb as beer goggles, Lagwagon has always ridden a steady, stable path of punk musicianship -- never drastically changing its sound, renouncing any ideas or embracing any other. Nothing is ever very dramatic. That's why if any punk group -- especially one connected to skate-punk -- is the spitting image of what it's like to age handsomely, Lagwagon is it.

The band's eighth studio record, the new Hang, is its first full-length in nine years. When it comes to Lagwagon's understated, stealthy, precise sound, not a ton has changed -- which is a good thing. If anything, the instrumentation has grown just slightly more metallic and rough around the edges -- likely a byproduct of Cape writing more complex music with the band after, as he said in a 2012 Dying Scene interview, recently figuring out "that I'm in a band with a bunch of guys who are overqualified for the songs I write."

For the vocalist, writing the more-sociopolitical-than-usual Hang came from a somewhat parental perspective. "I just looked at it as, 'OK, I'm going to write observations of my world that I see that my daughter has to grow up in,"' he says. But even what he jokingly calls his "bitter old man record" really isn't that bitter, especially from a punk lyricist. "The Cog in the Machine," for example, takes shots at deceitful politicians and power brokers and includes the lines "The common must unite/We'll force the giant's hand/Cripple its demand/David and Goliath." Even in his vitriol, Cape speaks with a level-headed voice.

As for whether the group will still be around to hit the ages associated with the afflictions depicted in "Falling Apart," yeah, that'll probably happen. But if the members are careful, their future sure won't resemble what's depicted in the song.

"As long as I enjoy [the band] -- as long as any of us enjoy it -- you still have to realize how lucky you are to do something you care about so much and to be making a go at it," Cape says. "There's really no good reason to stop."

Lagwagon 8 p.m. Tuesday, December 9. The Firebird, 2706 Olive Street. $20 to $22. 314-535-0353.

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