At one time in the not-so-distant past, "punk rock" was an inclusive term. The Modern Lovers, Suicide, Devo, X and the Minutemen were all considered equally punk, despite the fact they sounded nothing like one another. They wrote songs, played shows and released albums that expressed their individual beliefs and creative drives, which was the core of punk philosophy. Everyone had the right to be different and sound different and fight the homogenization of corporate-owned and -operated radio. It was a good time to be a punk.
Today, punk has pretty much become the monster it once fought. It's been codified into a set of rules and regulations: Get this haircut, wear these clothes and play these chords in this order, and you're punk. But it's still a good time to be a punk. A handful of bands out there remember that punk is an idea, not a sound, and cut their own path through the jungle of uniform individuals. The Dillinger Four is one of those bands.
On first listen, their new album, Versus God, is nothing all that new. It has the hooky guitars that are bright and rocky, with tough-sounding lyrics and a driving backbeat. But couched in the familiar three-chord-monte of those punk-rock guitars are some prickly questions delivered with an intelligence and sense of humor that set them apart from their contemporaries. "How Many Punks Does It Take to Change a Lightbulb" and "Music Is None of My Business" are the musical equivalent of Hunter S. Thompson's gonzo journalism. The Dillinger Four call "bullshit" on peers (and fans) who have made it a practice to question everyone but themselves, and they do it not with a sense of righteous anger but with a knowing smirk and a well-timed fart. Not since the Monkees has a band been this seriously subversive about the music they play, themselves and the industry they work for, and that's a compliment to both the Dillingers and the Monkees.
Opening for the Dillingers is Leatherface. The name is misleading, because the only chainsaw in Leatherface is vocalist/guitarist Frankie Stubbs' voice. His rusty croak serves as a nice counterpoint to the blue-collar songs of love and longing that make up their latest, Horsebox. Leatherface plays the sort of roadhouse punk that leads to drinking and shouting by otherwise reasonable individuals. Greet them with a pint in hand when they take the stage, because if they perform their guitar-heavy cover of Nick Cave's "The Ship Song," you'll need something to cry into when it's over.