"All we ever wanted was a cool, dry place to rest our bones / Not to drift along with this current forever, not to have to sink alone."
Not only were the above lyrics, taken from A Loss For Words' "Wrightsville Beach," the most enthusiastically chanted singalong at the Warped Tour's Acoustic Basement at the Comcast Theatre in Hartford, CT on July 22, but the stage also gave the words new meaning. The Warped Tour was founded on in-your-face punk rock, but sometimes it's nice to take a break from the loud music, blistering sun and throngs of people. Of course, you'll still want to enjoy music with like-minded individuals, so the Acoustic Basement the perfect getaway.
The stage, the brainchild of Brain Marquis, is a brand new addition to the Warped Tour. There are other sponsored tents that feature sporadic acoustic performances, but this is the first one dedicated solely to regularly scheduled artists. The stage is actually two large tents - it had to be expanded, as one wasn't enough - with a small platform for performers. Some of them are on the tour as solo acts, while others are taking on double duty with full band electric sets on other stages as well.
Typical for Warped, the Acoustic Basement changes locations each and every day. On this particular day, it was situated a bit too close to one of the main stages, and the noise could be heard during quiet moments. Thankfully, the tent is equipped with a good P.A. system to drown out the external sound. Refreshingly fast paced, each musician performed for about 20-30 minutes, with only 10-15 minutes in between each.
Geoff Rickly was a late addition to the tour and took the stage early, but he brought a handful of dedicated fans. (Unfortunately, some passersby didn't know who he was; I actually heard someone look at their schedule and say, "This is Gee-off Ricky.") Since putting Thursday to rest late last year, the frontman has been focusing on solo material as a creative outlet. He is happily independent, stating that he has no need for a label or management. Instead, he has a mailing list and will free music to anyone who signs up. The independence seemed to invigorate Rickly, and the new songs - including one that began as a United Nations track - sounded great. He also threw in covers, such as Buzzcocks' "Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn't've)," and a couple of Thursday cuts, ending the set with an acoustic rendition of the band's "Turnpike Divides."
Owen Plant brought a distinctly different vibe to the stage. One half of The Sunshine Brothers, Plant uses his Jamaican ancestry to infuse reggae into his brand of folk. He made good use of two microphones, layering one with delay effects. I'm not familiar with his songs, but the music and the atmosphere created by it were chill.
Acoustic Basement mastermind Brian Marquis took the stage next. Combining elements of acoustic, folk, blues and country, his solo material is quite a departure from his work in Therefore I Am - but it's equally impressive. He played a mix of original material and eclectic covers, ranging from Bruce Springsteen's "Terry's Song" to Ryan Adams' "To Be Young (Is To Be Sad, Is To Be High)," which can be found on his new EP, Beneath the Cover is Earth.
Chuck Ragan's foot-stomping performance hardly left time for him to breathe between songs. As far as acoustic material goes, it was positively rambunctious. His gruff vocals and guitar were joined by Jon Gaunt on fiddle and Joe Ginsberg on upright bass, giving his performance a fuller sound. I was hoping for a Hot Water Music song or two, but Ragan didn't so much as mention his recently reunited band. (He did, however, play "Cursing Concrete" from his folk side project Rumbleseat.) Regardless, the original material sounded great.
Make Do and Mend were excited to be back in their homestate. Frontman James Carroll and guitarist Mike O'Toole's all-too-short performance largely consisted of material from last year's acoustic EP, Part and Parcel. The release seemed to go under the radar, but I think it's excellent. The acoustic songs translated well live, including their cover of Touche Amore's "Home Away From Here," a unique take on a great song. The set concluded with a rendition of "Night's the Only Time of Day," featuring a brief interlude with the chorus of Carly Rae Jepsen's "Call Me Maybe."
Koji is perhaps the most humble person in the music industry today. His authenticity oozes from the stage. In addition to his usual material, such as his rousing cover of the Bob Dylan/Old Crow Medicine Show tune "Wagon Wheel," he showcased some new songs from his forthcoming album. He didn't play his typical closer, "Spring Song," opting instead end with one of the new songs. Not only does it not have a title yet, but Koji stated, "I barely know the words, but I understand its meaning." That goes to show you how genuine he really is.
The largest crowds of the day came for the stage's final three acts, beginning with Transit. As with their electric set, singer Joe Boynton and guitarists/vocalists Tim Landers and Torre Cioffi gave it their all. They may not have hit every note perfectly, but they more than made up for it with passion - plus they had a large audience singing along. They played five songs from their latest album, Listen & Forgive, before closing with an older track, "Outbound."
Bayside frontman Anthony Raneri brought the biggest crowd, which spilled out from the pair of tents. He began the set by professing his love for Connecticut and revealing that he was there with the rest of the band just before Warped started to record something (although he would not say what). He then went on to play "Don't Call Me Peanut," the first of a few Bayside favorites. He also performed one of his solo songs, "Sandra Partial," and his cover of Smoking Popes' "Megan," which tops the original.
A Loss for Words was the stage's final act. As a local band, I have seen them many times over the years, and they never disappoint. I am constantly impressed by Matty Arsenault's voice; I rank it among the best in pop punk, even after having already performed with the full band earlier. He puts those pipes to good use during these acoustic performances and maintains his stage presence as well. Accompanied by guitarist Marc Dangora, the pair played a half an hour's worth of crowd pleasures, including the aforementioned "Wrightsville Beach," the fan-requested "Face to Face" and their covers of Acceptance's "So Contagious" and The Temptations' "My Girl."
Not only did the Acoustic Basement provide refuge for lucky music fans, it also showcased genuine talent from real humans. There were no rock star attitudes, no gimmicks, no egos, no auto-tune. Everyone was there because they wanted to be, and the performers all took the time to express their honor to be a part of the stage. It was great to see all of Marquis and company's hard work pay off. As an added bonus, the stage was done at 6, so even after having spent the entire day there, I had a few hours left to catch other acts (although I gladly would have stayed for more).
Warped Tour founder Kevin Lyman would be crazy not to bring back the Acoustic Basement next and every year. In addition to those artists highlighted above, performers such as John Nolan of Taking Back Sunday, Mike Herrera of MxPx, Kristopher Roe of The Ataris, Vinnie Caruana of The Movielife/I Am the Avalance, Man Overboard, Into It. Over It. and more have graced the stage on other dates. I hope this is the first of many successful years for the Acoustic Basement, as it has the potential to become a crowd-drawing staple of the Warped Tour.