Punk rarely rewards longevity. Many influential bands' entire careers — Operation Ivy, Minor Threat, and Rites of Spring, for example — can be condensed to one disc. It's not uncommon for a punk band to release one revered album, and for each subsequent release to be greeted with backlash from longtime fans demanding the purity of the early stuff.
Chicago's Alkaline Trio is no exception. The Trio's 1998 debut, Goddamnit, released on indie label Asian Man, is a lasting favorite, built on youthful (need we say, "punk?") abandon, clever songwriting, and a general bitterness that bridges the maturity gap with anti-cop rants ("Cop"), heavy crushes ("Clavicle"), and heavier drinking ("San Francisco"). Suffice it to say, it's the type of record people grew up to — the type of record that inspires kids to start bands, helps them deal with heartbreaks, and enhances the nursing of hangovers.
The same can't really be said of the Trio's latest, last year's Epic Records debut, Agony and Irony. Nor could it really be said that the latest is a departure for the band, whose particular brand of clever, dark pop-punk has grown ever smoother over the past decade.
Through a three-album stint on Vagrant Records, the band's focus shifted from rough-and-ready drunken pop-punk to a tighter, more melodically refined act newly obsessed with mortality. The blood-and-guts imagery that ran through the earliest songs stayed mostly intact, but was less blackout drunk messes and more Misfits-y murder and mayhem. With Crimson, the Trio's final indie-label LP, the band took an even denser approach to its arrangements, adding keys and strings for texture and donning a suit-and-tie aesthetic like fashion-forward undertakers. By all accounts the band was ready for its close-up.
The Alkaline Trio on tour now is a polished rock band with sharp hooks and a refined sensibility to its approach. Indeed, this is major-label rock, tight and bouncy, not unlike Green Day — another underground pop-punk band turned marquee act, thanks to embracing a bigger, more approachable sound. So maybe Alkaline Trio will be that rare once-punk band to last beyond the genre's built-in sell-by date.
Alkaline Trio plays with Saves the Day and Nightmare of You on Fri. May 8 at the Music Farm (32 Ann St., 843-577-6989). Doors open at 7 p.m. Admission is $21 ($18 in advance). See www.musicfarm.com and www.alkalinetrio.com for more.