Passion is an overspent, devalued commodity. Ever since Johnny Rotten poked a cynical finger through the hippie protest singer's gauzy sincerity with a howl of "We mean it, maaaaan!," the Serious Young Men of pop turned their anguish up to 11 so we'd stop checking if those wounds weren't really just Hollywood makeup. Whether it's the butchly "sensitive" post-Vedder hollerers, or collegiate emo-boys wearing broken hearts on the straps of their backpacks, they ply their messages with a narcissistic, self-serving ire that only makes their essential hollowness echo all the louder. Worst of all are those slavishly tracing the humble footsteps of the Boss.

Funny how these shallow clones of Springsteen's blue-collar profundity (I'm thinking chiefly Marah here) treat rock 'n' roll like the kind of uninspiring factory job Bruce picked up a guitar to escape. Springsteen gets bandied about often in reference to the Constantines, but they're a breed apart from the rest. Indeed, the Bruce comparisons fall a little flat when set next to their latest album, Tournament of Hearts. The fist-clenched anthemicism of 2003's Shine a Light, best evidenced on the song "Young Lions," is muted in favor of a brooding, bubbling tension that explodes in hails of hollers and serrated guitar; the album's darker flavor is well-served by this economy of dynamics.

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Live, they're a study in the slow build, pitched somewhere between the flammable hope of Wattstax and the electrifying courage of Fugazi protesting before the Washington Monument. Performing with a spartan flair, they pass noisemakers and tambourines to the audience so they can feel a part of it all, their songs call-and-response gospels, breaking down into sudden dramatic silence, exploding with crescendos and sweat-beaded climaxes. Bry Webb's strangled tones tear through the choked air, ringing heroic in the chaos, straining to save the melody from its painful meaning. Sure, this is drama, this is passion, and yes, they mean it, maaaan.

Passion in the hands of a band this fervently focused, this soulfully possessed, is still powerful, profound, and precious. Sincerity itself is worthless, really. A bleeding heart put to such effective use can be a glorious thing.

editor@thestranger.com

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