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'Time Warped

Gametime saves punk-loving souls from Bad Religion.

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Bad Religion, a 22-year-old band from Southern California with a crossed-out cross as a logo and a stern doctorate-level zoologist as a singer, headlines this year's Warped Tour. Gametime, a group of less-than-22-year-olds from Kansas City with a penchant for rocking out in churches and an impossibly jovial frontman, will share Verizon Amphitheater parking-lot space with the melodic-hardcore heathens on Thursday, June 27. Gametime even has an ally of sorts in MXPX, a onetime church-circuit act turned crossover success story that has been scorned in some circles because of its "We're Christian, we're punk, but don't call us Christian-punk" motto. But the band is far outnumbered on the Warped roster by anti-everything political agitators and playfully profane Blink-182 imitators. Still, bassist and singer Nick Pick (almost his real name; the surname extends to "Pickrell") says he'd rather add good clean fun to a Warped experience than bask in an all-day lovefest with like-minded artists.

"A lot of those bands get comfortable playing to their own people, but there's no ministry involved," Pick says. As an example of true missionary musicians, he points to P.O.D., who brought a brief ray of positivity to the spiritually (and creatively) bankrupt 2000 Ozzfest. "We'd like to play a lot of mainstream venues, to go at it where people don't already know."

Most people don't know much about Gametime, even in its hometown. True, the group drew nearly 300 people to its mid-May farewell show at the New Earth Coffeehouse before embarking on its first West Coast tour, but that venue's community is fairly insular, with little advertising or promotion for its shows in the secular media. As for how a group with a modest following earned a spot on one of the summer's big-deal festivals, well, let's just say Gametime wasn't exactly invited to the party.

"We'll be playing in a booth, which isn't exactly glamorous," Pick says. "But lots of bands just set up and go. We actually got clearance from the organizers, so we'll have backstage passes and everything."

One of Gametime's members, guitarist Kyle Devlin, has big-stage experience, having spent one song as an honorary Green Day member. "We all wet ourselves when he got the chance to go up," Pick says, remembering Devlin's stint in Green Day's trademark ensemble of plucked-from-the-audience players. "[Green Day singer Billie Joe Armstrong] kissed [Devlin] on the mouth after the song was done, and then Kyle got to keep the guitar."

Though Gametime doesn't yet entrust its instruments to random fans, its live show does offer a number of crowd-pleasing elements, including a rather reckless maneuver with a Biblically inspired title. "We'll tell people to line up on two sides, and as soon as we kick it, they slam into each other as hard as they can, and the mosh ensues," Pick says. "We call it the parting of the sea." Drummer Gabe Asterd stands and even jumps while he's playing, and Devlin "actually frolics," Pick reveals. "He skips around on stage. We all make fun of him."

Gametime's debut disc is music to frolic by, a fast-moving blend of barbershop-quartet-caliber harmonies (the group has three capable singers) and complex breakdowns. The band's sound has simplified somewhat since Pick replaced Gametime's previous bassist, a more technically proficient player, and because the album features four songs with each lineup, the evolution is obvious. But even in its latest incarnation, Gametime makes room for some tight stop-and-start transitions and precise countermelodies, eschewing bubblegum punk. "I like the dirtier side of pop," Pick says. But its squeaky-clean "ah, heck" lyrics and amiable stage, er, booth presence stand out in a genre that often uses gratuitous profanity as a lure for rebellious teens.

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