Ever since I heard that first self-titled EP, I’ve been rooting for Dead Bars. They write simple songs that can paint a world in four lines of lyrics; they have big melodies that translate into bigger singalongs. They tap into that communal, we’re-all-in-this-together punk spirit—and seeing them at Fest this last year, I saw for myself how the gospel had spread. And why not? Dead Bars have continued to grow in new and interesting ways while still honoring what they are at their core—a band of big dreamers. They’ve gone from an Off With Their Heads-adjacent, No Idea Records gritty pop-punk band to a loud, hopeful band of rock ‘n roll devotees. Dream Gig was the first step in a peaceful coup, but it’s on Regulars where the dream is realized.
What’s apparent immediately is just how good Regulars sounds. With Jack Endino (Nirvana, Soundgarden, The Afghan Whigs) wearing the production hat, Dead Bars have never sounded better. This is a band that doesn’t pull from a specific sound as much as a specific spirit. Regulars is KISS, Tom Petty, The Clash, Motorhead, The Replacements, and Nirvana, even if they sound like a sort of minimalist Lawrence Arms. The important thing is this: the guitars are loud and distorted, the drums sound like thunder, and the words are true. Dead Bars is the Prometheus of rock ‘n roll, stealing pyrotechnics from the Gods to set the small stage ablaze.
This Ramones-y devotion to the power of music is on immediate display with album opener “Freaks.” Dead Bars are trading in hope and optimism—and it’s clear they hold an earnest belief in the power of music. On “Freaks”, this optimism rears its head as unity, as the chorus rages: “This one’s for the freaks, you’re all sick freaks!” It’s a rallying cry, as gritty as it is catchy, and I’d put a good wager that in a dark club, with a cold beer, it’ll be an anthem for all the like-minded weirdos who still see rock ‘n roll as kin to salvation.
It’s this direction that makes Regulars feel like Dead Bars have reached their own personal enlightenment, as if, release after release, they’ve shed their non-essential parts and now, with their sophomore album, have embraced the truest form of themselves. Which means, they’re songwriting is as great as ever. Minimalist, heart wrenching, with a sly sense of self-deprecating humor.
And with lyrics like, “I’m growin’ up, yeah, I’m growin’ up/ but I just threw up,” “Pink Drink” is about as simple and direct as you can be. Still, this song, with probably about a short verse full of unique lyrics, captures a lifetime. Even the title (which doubles as its chorus) is evocative. We all know what a pink drink is, we’ve seen them in bars, we’ve had friends make fun of us for ordering them. They represent taking your medicine with a spoonful of sugar, they’re a confectious means to an end, and in “Pink Drink” they’re also a sign of world-weariness, of getting older and not having the energy to maintain appearances. The burn of whiskey, the bite of vodka loses its luster—and you look around, and realize no one’s impressed anymore. That’s “Pink Drink.” The trials of growing up have always been at the heart of Dead Bars—but there’s something empowering and defiant in the way they capture that angst and then also stick their flag in it. On “Pink Drink, “No Tattoos,” and others—could’ves and should’ves are confronted head-on, and maybe a pink drink won’t save you, but maybe it will—if only for tonight.
The title track, “I’m a Regular,” is a clear highlight of the album, capturing Dead Bars at their most intimately anxious. Ushered in by ringing feedback, vocalist John Maiello snarls, “I’m a regular here, but nobody knows my name.” It actually highlights one of my favorite things about Dead Bars—the microcosm of their scope. We feel millions of little things a day, flights of fancy and minor frissons of panic, all instantly recognizable and largely left totally unspoken. “I’m a Regular” examines a funny, melancholy intrusive thought with rock ‘n roll gusto, bursting forth into a huge name-dropping chorus (“And it’s way Tom Petty, I’m livin’ like a refugee!”) We may not be living in a Cheers episode, but the internal dilemma (why the fuck not?) roars loud and clear. “I’m a Regular” is a snotty, riotous ode to living under the radar.
C.J. Frederick, original member and lead six-stringer of Dead Bars, is a strong presence on Regulars—where for the first time, Dead Bars truly feels like a ‘guitar band.’ This time around, the songs are distinctively riffy, with big muscular licks opening songs like “Time Takes Away”, “Rain,” and “I Need You.” The propensity for solos is also higher and welcome, bringing the music and lyrical direction into total synchronicity. For a group of guys who worship rock music, what’s more religious than a sick trilling solo? Here, they aren’t just talking the talk, they’re now walking it too, emulating the magic as if they’re the only ones who can keep it alive.
Dead Bars are underdogs, and when they aren’t, well, I’m not sure if they’ll be Dead Bars anymore. Regulars prove the band can put forth a product that is both polished and cohesive, and still be those same scrappy dudes who daydream of killer riffs and big singalongs. Somewhere in between the rock ‘n roll dream and the gutter realism of DIY punk is Dead Bars, and with Regulars, as always, it’s a pleasure to see where the two meet.