IN TERMS OF MUSICAL genres, emo-core is either the most wide-ranging or the most poorly defined. A jaded critic will tell you that it's mope rock for post-teens. An aficionado will go into minute detail about guitar structures and soul-boiling lyricism. About the only definite thing you can say about emo is that it is earnest guitar music.

Arlie Carstens of opening band Juno waxes philosophical: "It's human nature to define things. There's emotion in all music." Carstens recalls, "This morning on KCMU, Cheryl Waters and John in the Morning finish playing a Promise Ring song. And as Cheryl runs down the list of songs, she says, 'That was a song by the Promise Ring, an emo-core band from the Midwest. Emo-core is basically a bunch of young white guys who haven't had much go wrong in their lives sing about how wrong their lives are.'"

Although the Promise Ring are the genre's current sensation and Burning Airlines' Jay Robbins (of Jawbox fame) is described by some as the movement's figurehead, neither of these bands make a compelling case to be called "emo." The Promise Ring's straightforward pop has a lot more in common with Superchunk than Minor Threat. Their latest album, Very Emergency, is threatening to propel the band from the indie ghetto to popularity -- a prospect that many longtime fans find unimaginable.

Burning Airlines, on the other hand, specializes in melody-rich mini-epics that recall the vaudeville swagger of Shudder to Think. Singer Jay Robbins' experience and craft are evident on Burning Airlines' Mission Control -- an LP filled to bursting with layers of silvery guitars and neatly scripted action. Joined by the dense and enigmatic Juno, this lineup of bands will be offering a fascinating procession of modes and lyrical ideas -- but is it emo? Categorizing them together to promote some fantasy of unity seems rash.

One thing that is certain, however, is that this show is an opportunity to trade in the tired bar mystique for some jacked up, adolescent excitement. And, emo or no emo, isn't that what punk is supposed to be about?

Emo-Core Bands Get Touchy