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Despite its stylistic metamorphosis, Explosion 9 continues to play the metal haven Neiner's regularly. "They don't boo us or anything," Keith says. "They're usually dancing by the end of the 45-minute set. We'll revert back to our heavier songs at the end, to give 'em what they want."
In sticking with that credo, Explosion 9 will offer the Warped Tour crowd a Blink-182-style blend of lowbrow comedy and catchy hooks. "We're total fucking dorks," Keith says. "We joke around between all the songs, insult each other. It comes naturally." Indeed, Caleb (who is pictured on the group's Web site, explosion9.com, donning a shirt that reads "I'm in a band: Show me your hooters") seems to be made to play the snotty punk role. He's also a shameless self-promoter, giving his band's business card to a bemused waitress and urging her to attend the Warped Tour. "There's cool bands there, like 311, Rancid, Less Than Jake," he says, delivering the pitch. "And us, we're cool too." He also makes a plug for a vote on the ernieball.com site; the five bands that receive the most tallies at the tour's end receive loads of free band equipment.
"One more person to vote for us is not going to hurt," he tells Keith after the waitress leaves. "I pimp the band by any means possible." And if pimpin' ain't easy, it's a lot easier in Kansas City than it is in Plattsburg. "You can act like a fool in the big city and no one will notice," marvels Caleb, standing on Broadway and observing the sidewalk traffic. Well, almost no one. Caleb drew a police officer's spotlight after climbing to the top of the group's van in his boxers to encourage passersby to drop into Davey's Uptown to see the band play.
In addition to the attention Caleb's antics attract, Explosion 9 receives unplanned publicity from a feud between its fans and those of the Kearney-based rock group Tytus Layne. A flame war wages on Explosion 9's message board between these factions, despite the fact that the bands have no animosity toward each other and, in fact, recently played a concert together. Still, not one to pass up an opportunity for attention, Caleb reveals his plan to print up shirts that read "Explosion Gay" and "Tytus Lame" and to have the group's members wear them at future double-headlining shows.
Punk purists might consider such strategies, and such gigs as Explosion 9's July 15 stint at a bikini contest at a St. Louis Planet Hollywood, beneath them, but the group's blueprint is clearly established. "Blink-182 played one of those bikini contests," Caleb says, "and there were some label representatives there who were really impressed."
Record company scouts may or may not attend that upcoming showcase, but there should be at least a few along for the Warped Tour ride. (Ernie Ball's press release promises that the winning bands will play in front of "record company and other music industry executives.") These bigwigs, in addition to hearing eight or nine tunes from Explosion 9, will get to see a stage show that stars Keith "smashing stuff and acting like a retard" and bass player Dan "looking like he has springs on his shoes."