SEATTLE Halfway through Rancid's scalding set of old-school punk at DV8 on Thursday, guitarist and singer Lars Frederiksen stepped to the mic and began strumming out clarion notes.
Suddenly, moshers noticed, the rest of the band had left the stage. What was that song Lars was playing?
It was actually the opening lines to folk-rock singer/songwriter Billy Bragg's 1986 rally "There Is Power in a Union." Of course the quote was appropriate for the Bragg reference in Rancid's impassioned "The War's End," which Frederiksen proceeded to play solo. But more pointedly, the Bragg reference called subtle notice to the riots that tore this city apart a year ago to the day, during protests of the World Trade Organization, as well as to an ongoing, much-publicized strike by workers at Seattle's daily newspapers.
That sly nod was the most overt political statement of the hour-long, 24-song show, which found the band romping through its catalog and focusing
on the familiar but enduring theme of punk community.
Since forming in 1991 from the ashes of the San Francisco Bay Area ska-punk outfit Operation Ivy, Rancid have released 101 songs on five albums, ensuring that any show that aims to hit all the discs will have to be choosy.
According to recent setlists, Rancid have been mixing up their shows night to night, as if they were the Grateful Dead. During Thursday's gig, the band focused most heavily on 1995's ... And Out Come the Wolves ("Ruby Soho," "Time Bomb," "Lock, Step & Gone") and '94's Let's Go ("Nihilism," "Radio," "Salvation"), but still worked in about five songs from its most recent release, Rancid (not to be confused with its self-titled, 1993 debut album).
On the new disc, Rancid step back sharply from the experimentation that marked Wolves and Life Won't Wait (1998), jackhammering their songs till there's nothing left but adrenaline.
But that didn't stop
bandleader, singer and guitarist Tim Armstrong from coloring them with emotion onstage. "It's Quite Alright" has the potential to link Armstrong with that other "alright"-user and chronicler of dirty losers, Lou Reed. But Armstrong's song, about the inability to dictate the ways of the universe, is more hopeful than Reed's work.
At the sold-out DV8, Armstrong sang the piece with his arm raised high, as if he were witnessing to the punk faithful. The whole set, cranked out warmly and sincerely, served as an affirmation of the bonds struck by the music. Armstrong carried on under a thick, studded leather jacket the whole night, as if removing it would signal betrayal.
He coughed out Wolves' "Avenues & Alleyways" wide-eyed and earnest. And during the opening to "Journey to the End of the East Bay," he concentrated on his strumming, as if he wanted to get this story which is literally his story, but with lines such as "There wasn't always a place to go, but
there was always an urgent need to belong," his fans' as well exactly right.
Rancid spent less time on the more broad sounds of Life Won't Wait, though the songs they did tackle included the delicate addiction story "Hoover Street." The album's ska-soaked title song became a straight-shooting punk chugger, with Frederiksen commanding the toasts handled on record by Buju Banton.
Paul Ramirez, 19, who drove three-and-a-half hours from Portland, Oregon, to catch the show, said he likes the simple approach of the new album.
"Even though there's no ska-influenced songs on the self-titled record, I like the fact that they drew away from what they were trying to let go out with Op Ivy," he said. "It changes a lot of mind-sets with individuals today. It's punk rock, period exclamation point!"