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Erudition by any other name

The Erudites: Less imprudent than they look.

The Erudites: Less imprudent than they look.

The dictionary definition in Merriam Webster's of the word erudite is "having or showing knowledge that is gained by studying." However, the word's roots in Latin and Middle English are decidedly closer to backhanded compliment territory: a combination of the prefix e- and the adjective rudis (source of the current "rude") which roughly equals "to instruct" (e-) the uncouth, uncivilized, uninformed and unrefined into a respectable pillar of European classist society.

Which brings us to The Erudites, a local punk band who have been kicking around for several years, playing dive bars or multi-band "punk" nights at spots like the Rialto, where they're third or fourth on a five-act bill where the average age of the performers is between 35 and 50. The Erudites have been firmly in the lineage of dick-joke punk, like NOFX without the social conscience or petty political concerns. They play a hybrid of Social Distortion's trad-rock heartland punk and anonymous, faceless late-'80s and early-'90s hardcore. They don't temper this formula with the street-tough bully caricatures of Agnostic Front or the Cro-Mags. They don't bother with bleached-out ska, the prog intricacies of early emo, or the common evolution to extreme metal. They sometimes back Tucson punk figurehead Mark Beef in his Pop Gestapo project. They write one dimensional and somewhat tuneless songs called "I Want a New Drug" and "The Heart of Rock and Roll" that are not Huey Lewis covers, but do illustrate the limits of their wit. In short, The Erudites are uncouth, uncivilized, uninformed and uncivilized.

While this might be starting to read like a Rolling Stone magazine expose on punk rock, circa 1977, written by such guardians of taste like Stephen Stills, there is a plot twist and a happy ending: The Erudites were all these things. They're not anymore. In the span of one minute and 48 seconds, the trio have reinvented their entire existence with stunning vision and purpose. Compared with their previous material, it's not quite the artistic leap from Give 'Em Enough Rope to London Calling, or even from The Modern World to All Mod Cons, but it's at least the difference between Let's Go and ... And Out Come the Wolves. The Erudites are actually, gulp, turning into a great rock and roll band.

The band's dizzying rebirth comes in the form of one new track, "I Really Did a Number on Myself Last Night," and an upcoming full-length the song is poached from. In this blazing statement of purpose, The Erudites seem to have simultaneously discovered melody, hooks, brevity, cohesion and a reason to exist. The performance—singing and playing—is far and away their finest, and lyrically, the length of the journey from "I Want a New Drug" to a song about the true life consequences of alcohol abuse, delivered in a non-judgmental, plainspoken and completely relatable manner, is one that can't be overstated.

Even The Erudites distinctive visual image has gained speed and relevance, jumping from fairly middling ripoffs of '90s Tucson garage rockers The Fells to a multidimensional, stylized image of mushroom clouds and other loaded markers that adorn "Number on Myself"'s sleeve art and indicate that this band has discovered, and is now exploring, the concept of consequences, which is far more interesting and full of possibilities than personifying dick jokes, certainly. They've even left a ReverbNation site behind for Bandcamp, which could be the single greatest example of their growth.


More by Joshua Levine

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