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3 ‘real’ punk groups bringing sound to S.L.

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Once upon a time, punk-rock bands actually believed in their anti-establishment credo. But that was before mass acceptance and MTV helped turn punk into a fashion statement.

Unbeknown to the majority of Blink 182 and Offspring fans, there are still a few examples of "real" punk rock left, as demonstrated by these new albums from Avail, Dillinger Four and Leatherface — all scheduled to perform Thursday, Aug. 17, at Bricks Club, 579 W. 200 South:

AVAIL; "One Wrench" (Fat Wreck Chords). ** 1/2

The very model of consistency, this Virginia "emo-core" act has been due for a letdown. Fortunately, Avail's version of a "letdown" is better than many bands on their best days.

"One Wrench," the group's sixth full-length and fifth studio album, seems a little lacking in character — it leans a little too heavily toward hard-core stylings — and Tim Barry's songwriting has become a bit formulaic.

But he's still capable of evocative, passionate wordplay, as witnessed by the anti-development screed "Fast One" (forceful enough to make you believe in what he's singing), as well as the push-comes-to-shove anthem "Taken."

On the disappointing side, there are no brushes with bluegrass or folk here (Barry is country and bluegrass devotee), though the rhythm section (bass guitarist Gwomper and new drummer Ed Trask) has jelled nicely.

DILLINGER FOUR; "Versus God" (Hopeless Records). *** 1/2

Probably the best punk-based musical act to emerge from Minneapolis since the Husker Du/Replacements/Soul Asylum glory days, this quartet seems to get better with each release.

The band's smugly titled "Versus God" is leaps beyond the band's strong debut, "Midwestern Songs of the Americas," and has more than enough punch and hooks to make you believe the name isn't meant to be taken lightly.

Having three songwriters and singers in the band (high-pitched guitarist Erik Funk, mid-ranged guitarist Billy Morrisette and shouting bass-guitarist Patrick Costello) adds much-needed variety to the music.

And though songs like "Let Them Eat Thomas Paine," "shiny things is good" and "Music is None of My Business" have nothing to do with their titles, they're irresistibly catchy and actually have something to say. Go figure.

LEATHERFACE; "Horsebox" (BYO Records). **

Before breaking up in 1994, this British punk outfit was thought to be one of Britain's brightest. But if the group's "comeback" effort is what we have to look forward to in the future, this reunion may not last long.

While guitarist/songwriter Frankie Stubbs has lost none of his snarl in that time, his lyrics have lost their bite and "Horsebox" is filled with toothless and often tuneless songs that don't further the Leatherface legacy.

For instance, "Sour Grapes" comes off as exactly that, and despite its title, "Kill DJs" is not an attack on radio personalities but an even-more-tiresome diatribe about dance hall tune-spinners.

Still, all is not lost. "Soundbites" is a noble attempt at poetic metaphor, and a cover of Nick Cave's "Ship Song" at least shows that Stubbs and his bandmates have good taste in music.

E-mail: jeff@desnews.com