Defining "emo" has become a scene parlor game not unlike trying to pin down when punk rock began: Everyone's got a different answer, and most people are right in some respect. The earliest bands to wear the tag played an intense brand of non-commercial hardcore; through the '90s, bands like I Hate Myself carried the banner. Emo began to take on other meanings: The term described melodic indie and math rock, and eventually pop punk and even heartfelt acoustic music -- basically anything with an "alternative" aesthetic and not-too-macho lyrical themes.
The Early November, which released its first record in 2002 on pop-punk and emo label Drive-Thru, bridged some of the gaps in the emo spectrum. Math-y breakdowns color the band's songs; they're upbeat at times, but never carefree. Lead man Ace Enders' vocals weren't gruff by any means, but neither were they quite as annoying as those of many of his emo contemporaries. The band's recording techniques were often a bit more advanced than those of its peers.
In 2006, Early November hit the peak of its popularity -- The Mother, the Mechanic and the Path debuted at no. 31 on the Billboard charts -- then quickly disintegrated. The members decided to take a break, and Enders pursued his solo project, I Can Make a Mess Like Nobody's Business.
Earlier this year, though, the New Jersey band reunited for a show in Philadelphia -- then, as happens, decided perhaps it'd be OK to keep going. Four more dates were scheduled in late fall and early winter, including a show Dec. 28 at Altar Bar. The band plans to release a new studio album on Rise Records in early 2012.
Surely there'll be more touring then, but for now, Pittsburgh is one of only a handful of cities with a chance to see The Early November for the first time in five years. If you care about emo -- no matter how you define it -- that's probably good news.
THE EARLY NOVEMBER with MAN OVERBOARD, HOSTAGE CALM. 7:30 p.m. Wed., Dec. 28. Altar Bar, 1620 Penn Ave., Strip District. $20-22. All ages. 412-263-2877 or www.thealtarbar.com