Surveying the view from a portable stage at the Riverport Amphitheatre (now the UMB Bank Pavilion), AFI's Hunter Burgan wondered, "How did I get here?" The year was 1997, and Burgan, who officially joined AFI earlier that year, was playing something other than a punk club for the first time in a career that included nearly a dozen previous stints in other Bay Area bands. This St. Louis appearance, which seemed so intimidating at the time, foreshadowed a future that even the most optimistic AFI enthusiasts and there weren't many, given that this has always been a gloomy group never envisioned. These days, AFI would command the main stage, on the other side of the venue's verdant hill.
AFI's musical metamorphosis from somewhat generic, galloping-steed pop-punk to progressive, genre-spanning melancholia began in 1998, when guitarist Jade Puget replaced founding member Mark Stopholese and immediately became the quartet's primary songwriter. It's an awkward-sounding scenario, a newcomer commandeering a relatively successful group's sound, but Burgan says there was no resentment.
"We were on course to be an entirely new band anyway, with Jade and I joining, so we decided to move forward," he says. "You grow up playing punk because it has all this youthful energy that is consistent with what you're feeling but as you get older, your tastes become more sophisticated, and you become better at playing your instrument.
"With the old songs," Burgan continues, "I was playing this identical rhythm in every song, jumping from chord to chord. At the time it was challenging, but now it seems like the simplest thing in the world. I'm playing less now, but the specific rhythms and notes are quite complex. It's much more fulfilling as an artist to play at the peak of my interest and my ability, trying to be the best at what I do."
For years, Burgan was the best at flinging his bass with seemingly suicidal abandon. Playing even rudimentary bass lines while his instrument remained in constant violent motion upped the degree of difficulty to a level even virtuosic opening act Dillinger Escape Plan couldn't approach. But there were real risks to this reckless approach.
"I've burned all the skin off my forearm," Burgan says. "I've fractured my leg, chipped a tooth, cut myself in the head several times, cut [singer] Davey [Havok] in the head several times, fallen off the stage. Once I landed in a hole, scraping the entire back side of my leg on the way down, that tender area behind my knee."
Burgan remained relatively sane during AFI's July 5 gig in Kansas City, one of the band's first headlining shows since its latest album, Decemberunderground, debuted atop the Billboard charts. Most of the material came from 2003's Sing the Sorrow and Underground, uptempo albums with downbeat lyrics, new-wave guitar lines and group-hug choruses. Known for a grating, kicked-in-the-crotch delivery during AFI's early years, Havok has harnessed his voice, bringing it down a few octaves and ditching the squealy aftertaste. He also took Warped Tour mate NOFX's advice and called "whoa on the whoas": Newer anthems "Miss Murder" and "Girl's Not Grey" earned singalong participation from the crowd instead of pandering.
"We think about crowd interaction when we're writing, because when we're playing shows, it's so inspiring," Burgan says. "It gives us energy when we're weary."
Fatigue hits hardest on Warped Tour, but owing to scheduling fortune (AFI plays Warped immediately before and two days after its St. Louis show), local fans get to see the group play a full-size set indoors. Not only does the ostensibly goth-identified group now don all-white outfits, but the drum kit, microphone stands and even cables flash with pearly-white polish.
"We hate being stereotyped," he explains. "We don't want people to get comfortable expecting one thing or the other from us."
Burgan once boasted that he owned "so many black T-shirts that Fruit of the Loom bought me a private jet," and his closets have yet to undergo a complete ebony-to-ivory transfusion. However, he won't wear favorites like his threadbare Clash design because they fill him with existential dread: "I start to see that they could die soon, and I don't want to wear them into the grave." Andrew Miller 7 p.m. Sunday, July 30. The Pageant, 6161 Delmar Boulevard. $21. 314-726-6161.
Cuts Like a Knife
There are few things in life B-Sides enjoys more than obsessing over prolific alt-country troubadour Ryan Adams. In honor of his return to St. Louis, we hacked into his instant-message account and discovered this gem of a recent conversation.
summer69: Ryan, this is Bryan Adams. I got your screen name from our mutual, uh, friend LL. The perceived animosity between us has bugged me for a few years now. This rivalry, it cuts like a knife, but it feels so...wrong.
bedhead: oh slag off you canadian dickball busy writing new album in its entirety
summer69: Hey, don't get your flannel in a bind. I just thought it'd be nice to clear the air, don'cha know? How's the album coming, by the way?
bedhead: wrote two instant classics in the 30 seconds your pockmarked nose has been in my business now lemme alone
summer69: I just it's not really my fault that our names are so similar. I mean, why did you feel you had to kick that guy out of a Nashville show those couple of years ago when he heckled you by calling my name? And it's not my fault that the same woman has at one time found both of us unbearably attractive. Even though with me and Lindsay Lohan, it was all innocent, I swear. No hard feelings, yah?
bedhead: don't give a flying f how many times you mountie-d her i know you were bumping uglies with robin hood for a year to get your crap song in that crap movie
bedhead: my feet just wrote a song on their own
bedhead: ooh did i hurt your feelings your more of a little girl than jack white
summer69: Look, you little hipster sleaze: It's not quantity that matters in the realm of songcrafting, it's quality. Hang around the East Village as much as you like; it's not going to make you Dylan.
summer69: This is obviously going nowhere. I think this exchange has determined who the bigger man is.
bedhead: your moms the bigger man fade back into the '80s you contemporary craprock hack
summer69: Whatever. Fall off a barstool and get a concussion, you Gram Parsons wannabe. Julie Seabaugh
8 p.m. Wednesday, August 2. The Pageant, 6161 Delmar Boulevard. $20. 314-726-6161.
Because not every song can be a chart-topper, there's Little Hits, an MP3 blog lovingly packed with (mostly) vinyl obscurities from the 1960s through the 1990s. Founded by Jon Harrison, who works at Love Garden Records in Lawrence, Kansas, the site shines the blog-light on forgotten power-pop bands, lost new-wave artists and sub-Nuggets garage rockers who might have otherwise fallen by the wayside. But the site's contributors often also give new, informative insights into seminal bands as seen on this spring's lovely tribute to the Go-Betweens' late Grant McLennan. Visit www.littlehits.com.