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AFI sets fire to the road

Jade Puget has heard all the labels. Goth. Straight edge. Sell out. Those tags have all been thrown at his Berkeley, Calif.,-based punk band, AFI (A Fire Inside). Now, with their major label debut "Sing the Song of Sorrow," write-ups in almost ev...

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Jade Puget has heard all the labels. Goth. Straight edge. Sell out.

Those tags have all been thrown at his Berkeley, Calif.,-based punk band, AFI (A Fire Inside).

Now, with their major label debut "Sing the Song of Sorrow," write-ups in almost every music and teen magazine and a Video Music Award under the band's belt, those labels have confounded the guitarist.

"I think we've just given up," Puget says when asked if he has coined an apt description for the band. "We never came up with a suitable moniker, so I don't think it's going to happen."

Even without an easy-to-apply tag, the quartet keeps making noise. Friday night's show at Playmakers in Fargo is expected to sell out, as have seven of the last 12 shows on this leg of the tour.

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"We thought it would do well, but didn't expect it to do that well," says Bret "T-Bone" Amundson, programming director at 104.7 The Dam.

"It's a testament to their popularity that they can sell out a show with very little radio support," Amundson says, adding that "Girl's Not Grey" and "The Leaving Song, Pt. 2" are in The Dam's rotation.

Despite a growing fan base since the March release of "Sing the Sorrow" on Dreamworks, much of the press attention focuses on the band's appearance and lifestyle.

Lead singer Davey Havok makes quite a target for the media glare. He talks openly in interviews about refraining from drugs and alcohol (but doesn't mention the third tenet, sex).

"We're actually not a straight-edge band, it's more like a personal choice," Puget clarifies.

On stage, Havok (born David Marchand) accentuates his pasty complexion with white foundation, mascara and jet black hair. His ghoulish appearance and appreciation of the 1980s art rock band Bauhaus has attracted goth comparisons.

"That's just the way it is," Puget says about being as well known for appearance as performance. "There's more importance on image over substance, so we always try to redirect the focus back to our music."

The music, in particular some lyrics, may not dissuade the goth connection. "Sing the Sorrow" opens with the bleak "Miseria Cantare -- The Beginning" and lines: "Recognize one silent call as we all form one dark flame/Incinerate/Love your hate/Your faith lost/You are now one of us."

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As gloomy as the lyrics sound, pumped up by a bouncing bass, driving drums and chugging guitars, AFI scored a hit with "Girl's Not Grey." The song landed a moon man for the MTV2 award at August's Video Music Awards.

"That was pretty surreal. We were sitting up front, right next to Madonna," Puget recalls. "Justin Timberlake invited us to his party the night before. We probably won't be experiencing that again."

What the band will be experiencing is the road. After a tour of Europe, the group took a brief break before hitting the states.

A road veteran on the European punk circuit, Puget says the major label support and distribution helped the band succeed where they previously hadn't been heard.

"If people can't get your music, there's no use in touring there," the guitarist says.

But for a traveling band and crew of vegetarians and vegans -- 12 total -- not all European countries taste equal.

"Germany was the worst." Puget says. "They've got weird meats you've never seen before. But England has lots of good curries and Indian food."

What can a road-worn punk band of vegetarians recommend for meat-free meals on the road?

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"Nothing good," Puget sighs. "A lot of peanuts and potato chips. Nothing you should be eating."

While not necessarily on a heart healthy diet, Puget does have one safety recommendation for punk fans -- stay away from crowd surfing.

"Stage diving has been around since the early days of punk. Crowd surfing seems like a product of the MTV generation," he says. "Crowd surfing is a super wimpy cousin to stage diving. It's lame."

Readers can reach Forum reporter John Lamb at (701) 241-5533

If you go

-What: AFI, Hot Water Music and Bleeding Through

-When: 6:30 p.m. Friday

-Where: Playmakers, Fargo

-Info: (701) 235-7171

For 20 years John Lamb has covered art, entertainment and lifestyle stories in the area for The Forum.
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