Explosion 9 hopes to leave lasting aftershocks after its Warped Tour showcase.

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Explosion 9 hopes to leave lasting aftershocks after its Warped Tour showcase.

A multistage all-day behemoth renowned for exposing unknown talent, the Vans Warped Tour, which comes to Sandstone on Tuesday, July 10, includes many little-known acts in its lineup. In true punk kill-rock-stars fashion, the groups take the stage in rotating order, meaning that in past years arena-fillers such as No Doubt and Green Day have played hours before obscure bands such as 22 Jacks or Dilated Peoples. And in keeping with that line of thinking, the groups selected to play the Ernie Ball Stage -- four local bands at each stop -- actually get a prime-time audience, instead of the some-great-reward early time slot most battle of the bands winners face. Nebraska-based groups The Fonzarellies and Blacklight Sunshine join Ruskabank and Plattsburg, Missouri's Explosion 9 as the tour's Midwest representatives, with the latter getting a cushy 4:45 to 5:15 p.m. set time. It's a scenario that most up-and-coming groups would kill for, and it has many better-known area outfits kicking themselves for not taking advantage of this opportunity -- and wondering how Explosion 9, a fixture on the Neiner's marquee, got a date to this punk-rock prom.

"I'm always surfing the guitar Web sites," guitarist/singer Caleb explains. "I heard you can get free strings from some of them, and we go through strings like cigarettes." (Both he and guitarist Keith chain-smoke as Caleb speaks.) "I found this Ernie Ball Battle of the Bands contest on their site, filled out the registration and then didn't hear anything for two months. Finally, they called and said we'd be playing Sandstone. I was like, 'You're fucking kidding me.'"

Now Caleb, who has never even attended a concert at Sandstone, is about a week away from playing there, albeit on a portable stage erected in the parking lot. Still, it's a pretty huge jump after months of hosting house parties or just letting people sit in on practices. "We started locking the door after a while," Caleb reports. "We weren't getting anything done."

Most of Explosion 9's friends and family will be shut out again for the Warped Tour -- at least all but two. "They told us that we have two tickets, and I asked, 'Two per band member?'" Caleb recalls. "'No,' they said, 'two for the band.' So a lot of people are really anxious to find out who will get the tickets."

It's safe to assume Caleb's mother won't be one of the lucky recipients -- his disputes with her served as fertile subject matter for Explosion 9's early, heavier material. "She's been really cool lately," Caleb says. "Dude, she had a restraining order against you," Keith retorts.

Even if Caleb and his mom have made nice, there's no shortage of feminine targets onto which the group can unleash its lyrical rage. "Our songs are mostly about teenage heartbreak," Caleb offers. "Dumb bitches," Keith translates into shorthand. "We'll never have a problem writing songs about girls because Caleb has an uncanny knack for dating whores."

Explosion 9 composed its latest contribution to this stockpile of similarly themed tunes at practice the night before this interview. Titled "Two Weeks Before," it details Caleb's most recent romantic misadventure. "The girl I was seeing, she told me, 'I'm in love with you,' then she went and did her thing with someone else. Then she called me and told me about twenty minutes after she got done."

Though its lyrical focus might not have changed much in the three-plus years Caleb has been part of Explosion 9 (the group formed more than a year earlier with another singer), the band's music has changed significantly, evolving from heavy grunge to melodic pop-punk. The band gives much of the credit for this transformation to its seventeen-year-old drummer, Jesse. "Our old drummer was really into metal," Keith explains, and when he adds, "He looked like he took a face-dive into a tackle box," it becomes clear that his meaning is literal as well as musical. Unlike his well-pierced predecessor, Jesse, whose grandmother, a jazz drummer, bought him his first set before he turned ten, prefers punk and ska.

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