Kris Roe

Lead singer with The Ataris goes acoustic for solo European tour

It’s amazing the way music has the power to take you back years, regardless of the type of music or the simplicity of a song. If someone had told me back when I was 15 that the music I listened to then would resonate with me nine years later, I wouldn’t have believed them. 

But Kris Roe’s solo acoustic performance on Friday, March 13 at Lavery’s Bar in Belfast resonates with the majority of the audience, most of whom are in their mid-20s. Taking time off from his band, The Ataris', Roe has been touring Europe, performing solo and playing the songs that remind us all of being young. 

His set has more to offer, however, than Ataris songs. Roe is a magnificent singer and a prolific songwriter. He plays his guitar upside down, retunes his guitar for virtually every song, and reaches notes without using falsetto that the majority of us would struggle to reach at all. Watching him, you begin to think that perhaps playing in a pop-punk band with distorted guitars was the wrong road to take.

He opens with ‘Losing Streak’, a favourite with Ataris fans and the opening track on their seminal LP, Blue Skies, going on to play the second song from that album, ‘1*15*96’. He is clearly a performer who engages with and respects his audience, encouraging the sparse crowd to come up to the front of the stage and make it more intimate. 

Requests aren’t greeted with the same enthusiasm that I have seen from other performers, but it’s safe to say that Roe knew what the audience had in mind when he picked his set list. Songs like ‘Your Boyfriend Sucks’ and ‘My Hotel Year’ have a lyrical, nostalgic quality to them, and Roe performs them both with passion and gusto. 

There are perhaps a few songs that diehard fans might like to have heard, such as ‘Between You And Me’ and ‘My So Called Life’, but the former being a song he refused to play due to the memories it would invoke, and the latter being a song dedicated to the actress Claire Danes, you forgive Roe for passing them up. 

Roe isn’t a performer who can’t wait to get through the set and head to the bar. He lives and breaths every chord progression, every modulation into the minor key, every poignant lyric. It is a testament to his songwriting ability that such emotional songs led to The Ataris being signed to Fat Wreck Chords a decade ago, at a time when the punk label was considerably less forgiving and more hardcore and political than it currently is.

One of Roe's last songs - probably the most well known among those who aren’t fans of his band - the Bill & Ted influenced ‘San Dimas High School Football Rules’ is greeted with a sea of mobile phones - or should I say a stream, a trickle. 

The size of the crowd is the one thing that disappoints me about the gig. I had watched Frank Turner playing a week ago to a packed out Auntie Annie’s, but on this occasion Roe clearly struggles to pull in the punters. He doesn’t seem bothered, however, and genuinely thanks everyone numerous times for coming out. 

After the gig I manage to get a few words with Roe as he signs my sister’s Ataris album. He tells me that he's finishing off the tour in Dublin before heading home to complete the new Ataris band, and that Belfast had been a great end to the tour. It looks like Roe's not about to stop writing music for the Ataris any time soon, but after seeing his solo stuff, I don’t think I would be too worried if he did. 

Anyone interested in finding out more about The Ataris should get their hands on a copy of Blue Skies album, on Kung Fu records, or the band's Fat Wreck Chords EP, Look Forward To Failure. 

Iain Todd