Ten years ago I was a self-righteous and overly emotional senior class president at a small catholic school in central Nebraska. At the time, I ran for the position because I wanted to give the student speech at high school graduation. And that is all I did with my term as president. My only real responsibility was to book the DJ at prom and I didn’t even do that. I was too busy arguing about artistic integrity and chasing unrequited love to be bothered by anything as pedestrian as booking a DJ. I was a cross between a poor man’s Ferris Bueller and Herbert Hoover.
My senior year coincided with the release of The Ataris’ SO LONG ASTORIA. For a brief moment it felt like a turning point. The hokiness of “Teen Age Riot” was replaced by the wistfulness of “Looking Back on Today.” The album felt more mature and so did I. Granted both were emotionally stunted, but still… It seemed like the band was coming of age as I was.
A decade is a long time, but not long enough to feel like a long time ago. It has been ten years since I crammed into the front of a Warped Tour mosh pit hoping frontman Kris Roe would pull me up to play “San Dimas High School Football Rules” but in my mind it just happened a couple of summers ago, laying in the middle distance of my memory. As The Ataris took the stage on Saturday night it quickly dawned on me how much time had passed. Kris Roe’s swooping blonde locks were replaced with a shaved head and flat fedora. Looking like an overweight Tom Waits, if Roe attempted to start a teenage riot now he would be charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Even though the years hadn’t been especially kind to Roe, he paled in comparison to bassist Mike Davenport’s mid-life crisis dad look of long blonde hair and too tight Ed Hardy shirt. I immediately thought it might have been better to have left them frozen in my teenage memory.
Billed as the “So Long, Astoria Reunion” tour, The Ataris stuck to playing all the songs from the album in order. This approach is becoming a popular trend for nostalgia acts and it may seem uninspired, but it’s better than seeing Kris Roe attempt to play Cursive style indie rock. It was clear early on that they were playing it safe and the audience seemed to respond in-kind. The sweaty mosh pit had been replaced by nodding heads. Oddly enough it was “Unopened Letter to the World” that finally got the crowd moving. This was followed by the sappy “Saddest Song” that brought the energy back down to shoulder swaying levels. During the show Roe’s lyrics seemed to take on new meaning in the context of a reunion, “We’ve got a lot of catching up to do” and “You only get so many second chances.” It’s fitting, though, considering SO LONG, ASTORIA is full of vague nostalgia. As they played “Stay Who You Are,” I realized that these songs are like works of young adult fiction. The message is usually be true to yourself or things are hard now, but it will be worth it in the end. The Ataris are more Judy Blume than Rolling Stones.
After playing all thirteen songs in order, Kris Roe came out for the encore alone with an acoustic guitar and began to play the chords that every pop-punk kid who ever tried to woo a girl knows, “San Dimas High School Football Rules.” It was a relief to see him not try to recapture the past by grabbing someone from the crowd to play with the band. It would have been like hanging out with a buddy from college that tries to force you to do beer bongs in the afternoon. Roe threw the fans a bone while trying to age better than his nautical star tattoos.
As the show ended, I wasn’t filled with the same sense of fulfillment I had crawling out of a sweaty mosh pit ten years earlier. I couldn’t recapture the past. I could never feel 17 years old again, but I did feel a little nostalgic. Not the kind of vague nostalgia for something I hadn’t truly experienced yet. I was nostalgic for a time when this band spoke to me, a time when I had long swoopy bangs and believed in fate, back before I realized how trite the lyrics were, but I was still happy they played. It was fun to be reminded of that time in my life. Roe said it best, being grown up isn’t half as fun as growing up. But it’s nice to get together and reminisce at the reunion.