Band mixes music, politics

By Shelby Landeck, Collegian Correspondent

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During a time filled with decisions about the future of our country, Chad Stokes, former lead singer of the band Dispatch, performs with his politically charged trio State Radio this Friday at the Pearl Street Night Club.

State Radio’s music provides upfront social commentary through its own mixture of aggressive punk and reggae. With their unique sound, the Boston-based trio has managed to gain a cult following without the help of radio exposure or a major record label.

Following the disbanding of Dispatch, Stokes recruited guitarist Pete Halby, bassist Chuck Fay and drummer Mike Greenfield to complete State Radio’s lineup. They recorded their first EP “Flag of the Shiners” in 2002. After a short break in 2003 to allow Stokes to recover from throat surgery, the band got back to work in 2004 as a trio and released their second EP, “Simmer Kane.” Their full-length debut, “Us Against the Crown,” followed in February 2006. “Year of the Crow,” the band’s newest release, was recorded in 2007 at Peter Gabriel’s Real World studios in Wiltshire, England and was produced by Tchad Blake (Gabriel, Pearl Jam, Soul Coughing, the Bad Plus.)

State Radio’s political ideology and Stokes experience living in Zimbabwe for a year at the age of 18, is what defines the band. “Guantanamo,” off of the latest album, takes aim at the current administration, “All hail the line of crooked white chiefs/Whose father stole the bones from an Indian grave.” In “Sudan,” Stokes shows his feelings of hopelessness for his inability to make a difference, as he sings, “But if I had an arsenal and if it was 10 feet tall/Then I would put an end to it all.”

Despite a strong following, the band’s last two albums lack real musical focus. “Black Cab Motorcade,” off of the band’s first full-length album, calls for comparisons to Sublime. The slightly more aggressive follow up, “Year of the Crow” (2007) is more reminiscent of Rage Against the Machine. Both disks switch between hard, in your face attempts at displaying their political angst and more melodic jam-band apathy. Songs like “Guantanamo” and “Gang of Thieves” pull their inspiration from the world of fast punk, while more Dispatch-influenced attempts such as “Fight no More,” display apathy that doesn’t match the rest of the call to arms of “Year of the Crow.”

The band’s show in Northampton tonight is just one of the over 40 stops it they make between now and July. Pearl Street Night Club may be a relatively small venue, but State Radio is no stranger to large audiences. On March 8, they head to the Langerado Music Festival in Big Cypress, Florida. In July, they will perform at the popular Bonnaroo Music and Art Festival.

Fans looking to relive their love for Dispatch may be disappointed. Strokes new project is purely political, and includes none of the relaxing feel-good melodies that Dispatch became popular for. However, if you are looking for some inspiration in dealing with the politics and election coverage that is sure to bombard you in the coming months, State Radio’s show tonight may be just what you’re looking for.

Doors open at 8:30 p.m. and tickets for the show are $15 in advance, $18 at the door.

Shelby Landeck can be reached at [email protected]