Sunny Day Real Estate was tagged with the "emo" label early in the band's career, and the stink of that particular slur is strong enough that the SDRE press kit never uses it, despite mentioning every personal and personnel problem the band has weathered. You know emo is bad when PR flacks will mention born-again Christianity but shy away from the term commonly used to describe the brand of rock Sunny Day Real Estate excels at writing and playing.
Emo started as a reaction to the beetle-browed, fashionably political punk of the early '80s, focusing instead on the emotional core of life. Songs about love, confusion and betrayal replaced hardcore rants about supply-side economics and glorified street-life ditties, and a line was clearly drawn in the punk world. Real punks snarled defiance and busted heads; emos wrote sad poetry and moped around coffeehouses. Cro-Mag or Embrace? The answer to that question defined whether you were an unfeeling true punk or a sensitive emo-rocker.
And therein lies the proof of emo's toughness. Not feeling is a form of surrender; it ducks the pain and replaces it with numbness. Feeling takes guts. The members of SDRE feel things. If that makes them emo, more power to them.
Their new album, The Rising Tide (Time Bomb), is a passion play of guitar-driven melodies, keyboard textures and Jeremy Enigk's soaring voice. Enigk and guitarist Dan Hoerner write lyrics that lack the bumper-sticker cleverness of the Offspring's best efforts, relying instead on emotional honesty to get their point across, without falling prey to the maudlin tendencies that sometimes plague their contemporaries (Lou Barlow, that shot's for you). Enigk delivers these lyrics with a conviction that draws its strength from genuine feeling, not an overdeveloped sense of (melo)drama. It's the difference between acting tough and being tough, and SDRE are collectively man enough to admit that being tough isn't all it's cracked up to be. How punk is that?
SDRE's tender core and musical toughness are going to be buttressed by the blasting concepts of Five Deadly Venoms. If you haven't seen the Venoms live, do yourself a favor and get there early. Their Slammies showcase at the Hi-Pointe was loud, smart and ferociously good. The Venoms know a thing or two about being sensitive, and they share their knowledge at about 97 decibels of skull-punching fury. They've been playing new songs that aren't on their Shapeshift album (Thick Records), so even if you've seen 'em before, chances are they're going to surprise you.