LIVE: The Ataris at Underworld, London [12/04/2013]

By Chris Marshman

It’s been four years since Indiana pop-punks, The Ataris, in one guise or another, were over in the UK. It was way back in 2009, when frontman Kris Roe took to the road with a rented car and an acoustic guitar to play Britain’s toilet circuit. Not able to sell out even these small shows and putting out shout-outs for a settee to crash on, it seemed a sad fall from grace for someone behind some of the best pop-punk records of the late Nineties and early Noughties. This time, Roe is back with full band in tow and selling out venues slightly more reminiscent of those played in the band’s heyday.

I’m loathed to refer to the group as The Ataris, with the oldest serving of the remaining members having played in the outfit since 2008 and the most recent addition joining just last year after Roe’s now infamous onstage outburst at previous drummer Rob Felicetti in October. Though well-known for the ever-changing line-up under chief Roe, everyone has their own idea of who The Ataris should be, and I, like many, look back fondly on those that recorded 1999’s breakthrough ‘Blue Skies, Broken Hearts… Next 12 Exits’ and its follow-up ‘End is Forever’ in 2001. Manning the merch stand before tonight’s show at the Underworld in Camden, Roe assures that the set will mainly consist of old favourites, but due to the band not knowing all five previous full-length records, it would mainly comprise of ‘Blue Skies…’ and tracks from 2003’s ‘So Long Astoria’.

To give them their due, the band (comprising of guitarist Thomas Holst, bassist Bryan Nelson and drummer Erik Perkins) do put in a solid effort, and the songs they do know are played with skin-tight precision. It just seems a shame that ‘End is Forever’ hits such as ‘Summer Wind Was Always Our Song’ and ‘Giving Up on Love’ are noticeably absent.

Decked out in weathered trilby and vintage Replacements shirt, Roe sounds as good as ever, and from set-opener ‘In This Diary’ he rasps his way through hit after sentimental hit in his signature gravelly style. It’s funny to think a band that ten years ago were derided for their schmaltzy, misty-eyed lyrics and song titles such as ‘IOU One Galaxy,’ and ‘ Your Boyfriend Sucks’ (both on show tonight) would now be considered thoroughly raw and gruff compared to today’s pop-punk offerings.

An arguably difficult frontman to work with if the line-up changes are anything to go by, it’s hard to dislike Roe on stage. He gives it his all, and seems to still revel in playing decade-old tunes. True to his word, the set is mainly split between ‘Blue Skies’ and ‘So Long Astoria’ and it’s a relief that nothing from 2007’s woefully received indie experiment ‘Welcome the Night’ makes an appearance.

Roe apologises that it’s been so long since the band were last over here and assures us that they’ll be back soon. It’s the call of a man that deems himself still relevant, but in reality, tonight’s crowd are here to bathe in the nostalgia so present in Roe’s writing. The “Eighties songs” of ‘In This Diary’ are Ataris songs for the mid-twenties audience, a group brought up on Kung-Fu and Fat Wreck that are probably old enough to now know better.

There’s no sign of new material from the long-awaited upcoming album ‘The Graveyard of the Atlantic’ – the ‘Chinese Democracy’ of punk – which is perhaps a shame as early demos proved promising, but there are no complaints from the youth-chasing crowd. The band keep proceedings fresh with a cover of ‘Can’t Hardly Wait’ by The Replacements thrown in, and a cameo from support act Mike Herrera (himself a trip down pop-punk’s memory lane, being the frontman for MxPx), the hour-long performance never really slows enough to lose anyone’s attention.

Predictably closing with ‘San Dimas High School Football Rules,’ Roe invites former longtime bass player Mike Davenport to join him on stage. Last heard on ‘So Long Astoria,’ it’s heartwarming to see the two playing off each other again. Looking a little bewildered by a crowd so pleased to see him, you have to hand it to 6ft 4, fortysomething Davenport as he stage dives at the song’s climax.

The cynical among us may say such ‘greatest hits’, comeback shows are an easy way for bands to make a quick buck. But if you take tonight’s show on face value, they’re a great excuse to unashamedly sing along to a few old favourites and remind ourselves that being grown up isn’t half as fun as growing up.