“They’re pushing you out in the name of progress and selling your memories to the tourists,” Jeff Rosenstock hollers on “Wave Goodnight to Me.” It’s just one of several songs on his new album, Worry., which deals with gentrification. In an age when every arts district in America looks like it’s in a race to see who can transform themselves into a luxury condo enclave first, it packs a powerful punch.
While lyrics like “The city don’t care if you live or die / It’s just gonna grow and it doesn’t care why” drip with bitterness, it isn’t reflected in the sound of Rosenstock’s music. The pop-punk and third-wave ska veteran has built up his songwriting and frontman bona fides working with groups like Bomb the Music Industry!, The Arrogant Sons of Bitches, and Kudrow. You can hear his years of experience in Worry. and We Cool? They’re anthemic, enthusiastic records, brimming with passion. He sings his songs as though you already know all the lyrics and he’s just trying to match your volume as you sing them back to him.
The anti-gentrification themes on Worry. are particularly resonant for Phoenix listeners, considering both downtown’s transformation into a Luxury Good Eats District and Rosenstock’s history with the Valley. It’s hard not to think of Roosevelt Row when Rosenstock sings about landlords cashing in on booms. A Long Island native, Rosenstock’s been stopping in Arizona for over a decade. A regular face at the old Trunk Space location, he performed there with Bomb the Music Industry! and toured alongside hometown heroes AJJ.
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It isn’t surprising that Rosenstock chooses to work so closely with DIY spaces, considering his ethical stance on touring and record releases. He comes from a long underground tradition of keeping music cheap and accessible — in the vein of Fugazi’s $5 shows or The Minutemen’s goal of being as self-contained a unit as possible when they booked and performed shows.
Ska and pop-punk has traditionally been a young man’s game, but Rosenstock has managed to stay relevant by talking about the anxieties of growing older while playing music that still has plenty of youthful piss and vinegar.
In an interview with Vanyaland, Rosenstock reflected on what it’s like being an older punk: “It’s a lot harder when you get older to stay in touch, I think, because a lot of the people you know from scenes like that and the people in those worlds only last for a couple of years until, like, all their good intentions have run out or something bad happened and they’re like ‘Oh fuck, I have to get a job and deal with reality.’”
It’s hard to imagine Jeff Rosenstock running out of good intentions anytime soon. Which is to our benefit.
Jeff Rosenstock is scheduled to play on Saturday, July 29, at The Rebel Lounge. Tickets are $15 through the Rebel Lounge website.