I owe The Ergs! an apology

I owe The Ergs! an apology

For those of you coming here for health updates, this one will be of little interest to you. In short, on Monday I spent four hours on the phone talking to my insurance company, the hospital I’ve been visiting, the insurance company again, a new hospital in another state that maybe, hopefully will actually want to treat me, and then my insurance company for a third time. It was tedious and boring, so instead of talking about that, I’m going to talk about a little band called The Ergs!, which is appropriate, because I need to apologize to them.

You may be asking why I need to do that, given that I’ve been pretty vocal about my love of The Ergs! for well over a decade now. So, for the sake of brevity, allow this clip from their recent Riot Fest performance to fill you in:

When Mikey said that “The A.V. Club wrote an article that it [“Maybe I’m The New Messiah”] is the worst song on the album, that it ruined the album,” that was an article written by me. But I also wrote about how Dorkrockcorkrod was one of the best pop-punk records of all-time, because I am a complex human full of contradicting emotions and opinions

The Ergs! came up at a time when underground pop-punk was going through a bit of a boom period. Though the genre first hit it big with Green Day’s Dookie in 1994, it had become a watered down, pop-focused endeavor by the end of the decade. It’d carry into the new millennium on the backs of bands like Blink-182, and given how commodified everything became, it was only a matter of time before a new crop of kids attempted to reclaim it as their own.

Enter The Ergs!, three high school friends from New Jersey who, as legend has it, cut their teeth playing as a local cover band. As a result, the three members—Mikey, Joe, and Jeff, who all adopted the Erg surname—got pretty good at their instruments. And while most punk-loving teenagers would turn their nose up at having to play barroom covers, all three Ergs had a love of music that went beyond pop-punk’s limited purview.

In many ways, The Ergs! became pop-punk’s alpha and omega. Where many of their peers were content to mimic the first four Ramones records (just kidding, they also liked the Screeching Weasel and Queers cover albums, too), The Ergs! had a love of everything from The Beatles to Miles Davis to third-rate bands on SST Records. There was nothing they didn’t love, and when you listened to them, you heard all of it come through.

Right before The Ergs! called it a day in 2008, I saw them play for what I thought would be the last time. It was at Riot Fest, back when it still took place in the Congress Theater. But that year, they put a second stage in the entryway, making it so there was no escape from the day-long sonic assault, but also that every band playing that tiny stage sounded like pure ass. When it came time for The Ergs! to play, I made my way to the front of the stage and held on for dear life. I knew that I wanted my last memory of them to be one devoid of sound issues or other minor annoyances. For those thirty minutes, I locked in and sang every word. It was perfect, and I keep the setlist I swiped from the stage with my copy of Dorkrockcorkrod.

While I thought that would be the last chance I’d have to see The Ergs!, that’s not proven true. They’ve reunited a handful of times and, as video evidence shows, somehow started playing their songs even faster than they did during their original run. While many bands of their ilk have fallen out of favor for me, given that pop-punk can not only be musically limiting, but it’s lyrics often portray the worst facets of emotionally stunted males, The Ergs! still hold up. Listening to their records, the songs sound as fresh now as they did then, and that’s a real feat.

Yet, all that said, I still think “Maybe I’m The New Messiah” isn’t too hot of a song—though that side-B of My War version from Riot Fest is, admittedly, more to my taste. So, Ergs, while I owe you an apology, it’s not for what I said about that song. What I need to apologize for is not having the courage to declare Upstairs/Downstairs one of the best pop-punk records ever made when I was given the chance. Sure, Dorkrockcorkrod is full of classic tracks that whizz by with uproarious glee, but the fact remains that Upstairs/Downstairs was always your best work. Like many other young, punk kids back then, I couldn’t immediately see it. And when given the opportunity to stump for it, I went with the fan favorite. That was wrong of me, and I’m sorry. So allow me to set the record straight.

Upstairs/Downstairs is the last great pop-punk record, full stop. It’s adventurous and daring, capable of dipping its toes into the waters of jazz, country, and outright Zappa-worship without making a mess of things. There’s a mastery on display that no other pop-punk band has matched since its release—much less attempted—and it’s unlikely anyone ever will. There’s not a song I’d cut, and even at 18-minutes long, the title track is absolutely worth playing in full.

So, with that, it’s time I own up to it: The Ergs!, I’m sorry. You were always the best at what you did. I really wish I’d have gotten it right the first time.