Face to Face play the State Theatre in St. Petersburg Sun., May 29, with Blitzkid and Strung Out; tickets are $19.
The characteristics of punk rock have changed drastically since semi-legendary California outfit Face to Face released their last full-length of original material back in 2002; hell, the characteristics of punk rock were changing even before then, as the group's comparatively experimental '99 album Ignorance Is Bliss ably documents. But Laugh Now, Laugh Later sounds like these guys have been locked in a basement somewhere trying to write the perfect follow-up to their eponymous 1996 high-water mark, not playing in stylistically varied bands, sharing the Warped Tour stage with eclectic and evolving artists and going on a nine-year recording hiatus.
This back-from-beyond release (on frontman Trever Keith's own Antagonist Records) finds the quartet largely returning to the stripped-down and hook-laden sound of Face To Face: The Early Years, and aping their own populist style with renewed energy and enthusiasm. The disc opens with the anthemic two-chord verse riff of "Should Anything Go Wrong," and doesn't let up until the relatively restrained — but still faster than mid-tempo — seventh track, "I Don't Mind and You Don't Matter." From there, the foursome barrels through a swaggering "Stopgap" before cranking the BPMs and overdriven pop hooks back up for "All For Nothing" and, basically, the rest of the tracklist. Keith's instantly recognizable semi-hollered vocal style is thankfully still around, as is the sense that these tunes were written with the stage firmly in mind. It's a fine return to form for a band that's been making great rock 'n' roll, off and on, for two decades now. 3 1/2 stars