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Hit and Run

Last we checked on Fall Out Boy, the post-punk, pop-culture-infused poster children from the Chicago suburbs, the band was cruising the metaphorical fast lane. Its critically acclaimed 2004 debut, Take This to Your Grave, was paid for by Island Records and released on the Fueled by Ramen label to maintain indie cred. The barely out-of-high-schoolers were established as masters of acerbically witty teen angst and catchy pop-punk. All paths pointed to fame and fortune. The literal road to success, though, was giving them trouble.

On the way to New York City for a February '04 video shoot, the band's ride slid off a Pennsylvania interstate and into the woods, demolishing both van and trailer and leaving the quartet with minor abrasions and a number of canceled shows.

Now, slightly more than a year and a half later, the success of the FOB's second album, the Island-released From Under the Cork Tree, makes 2004 look like a test drive. With a plentiful batch of überclever song titles like "A Little Less Sixteen Candles, A Little More 'Touch Me'" and "Our Lawyer Made Us Change the Name of This Song So We Wouldn't Get Sued," Cork has splashed into Billboard's Top Ten and garnered gold record sales. The band itself has become the darling of cable acronyms, picking up a viewers' choice VMA from MTV while its video for "Sugar, We're Going Down" hit number one on TRL (bet on "I'm just a notch in your bedpost/But you're just a line in a song" being the most incessantly scribbled lyric in homeroom notebooks this fall).

For FOB's third major tour of 2005, the van has been replaced by a fully loaded bus (there's even a recording studio in back), and sold-out shows stretch from coast to coast. So on the surface -- a black-ice-encrusted layer of Keystone State asphalt, say -- all appears silky smooth. But look a little closer and you might just find a pothole or two remaining.

Until just last week, the band's website (www.falloutboyrock.com) had this cryptic missive posted on its home page: "We have cancelled our Japan tour in order for me to focus on getting better. This was a very difficult decision we made in order to keep things going and avoid the total implosion of Fall Out Boy."

Total implosion? Damn -- that sounds serious. But who wrote the puzzling post? And what exactly does it mean?

"Uh, it's me," says chief lyricist, bassist, and head Boy Pete Wentz from his parents' home in Willamette, Illinois. "We're a little bit like a train wreck. Every day I wake up, I'm like, 'Maybe I should quit this band. Maybe I should stop this band. Maybe I should break this band up.' And I think that's something that is probably attractive to some people, but at the same time, there are other people that just want to keep the machine running. And at some point, like, your personal health is what's more important."

Not to pry into personal health issues, but considering FOB's 500 tour dates over the past two years, the band must be as beat as a pumpkin in November.

"Yeah, [we're] definitely tired," Wentz says. "I mean, I think that I thrive off of a half-hour on stage a night, but at the same time, when you play tours like Warped Tour, it's grueling, so of course you get tired." So the relatively young band insisted on a relatively short September hiatus, which is the longest break it's had since forming.

"I think that when you spend all of your time focusing on what everybody else wants and what everybody else needs and what is good for the band, sometimes you neglect what's the best for you," Wentz says. "And I think that for probably a year or so, things were done to just keep my head and other members of the band's heads just above water just to keep us swimming and just to keep us moving.

"And at some point, you decide that you are going to do something that's detrimental or you are going to be someone who's detrimental not only to yourself but to the future of the thing that you're trying to keep going, and it's better to just go out and clean out the skeletons in your closet rather than to keep going and doing that."

Sure, but after two albums, FOB isn't quite at the end of the road. So let's try this one more time: Why was the Japan tour canceled?

"That's just a decision that I made and some friends of mine thought was a good idea and some people within the band thought was a good idea," Wentz says. "That's why Japan was canceled."

So with tour dates planned into the holidays and beyond, can Fall Out Boy manage to put its collective pedal to the pop-punk metal, or will the rigors of the road wreck them yet again?

"Fall Out Boy is very healthy right now," Wentz insists. "All the members are very healthy. I mean, these are the three other people on the planet that understand my life more than anyone else. Everybody's excited to get back on the horse and go out and do what we need to do." Now if they can only keep that horse on the highway...

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Rob Trucks