Around 7:30 p.m. on Sunday, March 18, a line was growing outside the Philips Arena in Atlanta. Well, it looked like the Philips Arena. It certainly was a building; it certainly was the place where the Atlanta Hawks play their basketball games.
By 8:30, however, unbeknownst to the many patrons of the adjunct CNN Center, the Philips Arena had undergone an internal gutting of a transformation. Bruce Springsteen and his E Street Band were here. They walked on stage and whatever “arena” they were inside instantly became a temple devoted to the highest of all faiths: rock and roll music. Springsteen stood in a shadow at the mic and introduced himself to the crowd in homage to James Brown:
“Good evening Atlanta! Are you ready for star time? Let me introduce to you right now a young man who brought to you such legendary hits as ‘Born to Run’ and ‘Dancing in the Dark,’ I’m talking about the original ‘Hungry Heart.’ Mr. ‘Badlands,’ the Jersey Devil, the future of rock and roll himself! Currently riding the Billboard Charts in the No. 1 position, for FOUR! SOLID! DAYS! He’s sexy and he knows it! Let’s hear it for Bruce Springsteen and the legendary E Street Band!”
Then the antics were over, Springsteen took a step back toward his band, counted off, and launched into the opening notes of Wrecking Ball opener “We Take Care of Our Own.”
It was the first night of the Wrecking Ball Tour, but there was no rustiness for Springsteen or his band of 16 cohorts to shake off. Two pre-tour shows, including a SXSW appearance after The Boss delivered the keynote address, helped make the opening night of what some people are writing might be a 14- to 18-month world tour an errorless enterprise. While playing 10 of the 13 songs from his new album, Springsteen peppered in old go-to tracks for a setlist that the sold-out crowd appeared quite fond of. But in the end, it was very much an evening of moments.
The first moment came after the title track of Springsteen’s 17th studio record, when the Mighty Mighty Max Weinberg, star of late-night television, bumped the crowd into the opening drum booms of “Badlands.” A staple song in Springsteen sets over the last decade, the crowd sang along joyously, perhaps not thinking ahead and realizing what was closely impending – a saxophone solo was coming up. It was a minute away, it was a chorus away, it was a guitar solo away, Springsteen was playing the guitar, everyone was smiling, oh fuck, the saxophone solo was here and nobody was expecting it. As often happens when one is watching Bruce Springsteen perform songs in a live setting, everybody forgot about what was going on. They forgot about whatever they dealt with at work; they forgot about their home lives; they forgot about their term papers; for those first 10 minutes of the concert in Atlanta, they probably forgot Clarence Clemons wasn’t looming in the background. Certainly, Clemons’ recent passing was on the mind of attendees as they drove in their cars, as they paid $20 for their parking spot to the man in the yellow polo shirt, as they waited in the too-long line to get into the show, as they talked casually with a stranger in another line to pay $8 for a bottle of Bud Light, as they waited for the lights to dim in the temple. But for the first 10 minutes, when everybody was just watching Springsteen belt out the words to his two latest singles, they probably forgot that Clemons wasn’t standing near the back of the stage. Wearing a suit. Wearing a suit like he always wore. Wearing that suit and carrying that saxophone he used to wail on and that tambourine he used to shake. But when the saxophone solo crept up on everyone during “Badlands,” they all remembered at the same time.
Springsteen ushered in Clarence’s nephew, Jake Clemons, for his first solo in the big spotlight, and at once, the Philips Temple turned into a deafening cacophony of yelling and cheers. I tried to cheer. I couldn’t. Hearing the saxophone and seeing Clarence’s big-haired nephew play one of his uncle’s most iconic solos was like being punched in the chest by a fist the size of a city transit bus. I had forgotten there was a saxophone solo coming.
Two songs later, during “My City of Ruins,” a dark, gloomy surprise so early in the set, Springsteen began his roll call. Springsteen does a roll call of the E Street Band during every show. It’s the Professor Roy Bittan on the piano; it’s Miami Steve Van Zandt on the guitar; it’s the Mighty Max Weinberg behind the drums; it’s Garry W. Tallent on the bass; are we missing anybody? That’s what he kept repeating. Are we missing anybody? He used to say something different.
“Do I have to say his name?” he would ask.
The crowd would respond, “Clarence!”
“Do I have to say his name?!”
“Clarence!” The Big Man.
Not tonight. Tonight it was, “Are we missing anybody?” followed by the cries of “Clarence!” Over and over and over again. And not just for Clarence – but for the late Phantom Danny Federici as well. And at the end of the first of many tributes, Springsteen said, “All I can guarantee is that if you’re here…and we’re here…then they’re here.” And all at once it was everybody wanting to yell but everybody wanting to make sure the water welling up in their eyes didn’t turn into tears on their face spilling over. Because that’s what Sunday was – it was a night of moments. It was the most emotional performance I’ve ever witnessed.
Springsteen blitzed through a barrage of new songs and old hits, with the new songs getting mixed reactions and the old ones garnering expected euphoria from the diehard crowd. “Death To My Hometown,” “Shackled and Drawn” and “We Are Alive” from Wrecking Ball all sounded fantastic. The latter two don’t seem like they’d be great live songs, but if there’s one thing Springsteen does better than anyone (there are actually multiple such things), it’s transforming a piece of music for the live stage. Meanwhile, “Jack Of All Trades” and “Easy Money” probably could have been left off the list in favor of some “Backstreets” or “Rosalita,” but there’s no use pondering in what-could-have-beens. “Rocky Ground” was another of the iffy new songs, although it was very cool to see Michelle Moore perform her rap verse live.
There were some gems in the older performances. The band came together for a rousing rendition of “The E Street Shuffle,” one of The Boss’ very best songs, and “The Promised Land” elicited an expected roar from the crowd. There’s still nothing quite like watching Springsteen hammer out the lyrics, “There’s gonna be a twister that’ll blow everything down / That ain’t got the faith to stand its ground / Blow away the dreams that tear you apart / Blow away the dreams that break your heart / Blow away the lies that leave you nothing but lost and brokenhearted.”
“Lonesome Day” leading into “The Rising” was a well thought-out transition, as the bellowing climax in the former might have been when the band was at its most energetic all night. Nils Lofgren played that slidey thing he plays so well on his guitar while Weinberg went nuts on the kit – Weinberg may well have stolen the show from the rest of the band, as the 60-year-old showed no signs of age at all, ripping it on the drums all night.
But alas, it was a night of moments. Moments like when, during a cover of Wilson Pickett’s “634-5789,” Springsteen decided to venture out into the middle of the general admission standing area and then crowd surf back to the stage. The Boss is the youngest 62-year-old to ever crowd surf, as it was reported earlier today. Moments like when, during “Waitin’ On A Sunny Day,” while Springsteen was navigating his way into the lower-level seats near the side of the stage, he saw a little girl, maybe 5 years old, holding a sign asking for the song he was playing. And he held out the microphone to her during the chorus, and she knew the words, and I thought, ‘Man, I wasn’t that cool when I was five.’ Moments like when, many songs later in the middle of the encore during “Dancing In the Dark,” everyone had a flashback to the first time they ever saw Courtney Cox when Springsteen brought a maybe-10-year-old girl on stage to dance to the monster 1985 pop hit with him.
And that’s the thing about a Bruce Springsteen set, isn’t it, that he can play only one song from his most commercially successful record over the course of two and a half hours. That he can leave out songs like “Born In the U.S.A.” and “Jungleland” and “Darkness On the Edge of Town” and “It’s Hard To Be A Saint In the City” and “Lost In the Flood” and “The River” and “Atlantic City,” because I guess in 40 years he still hasn't figured out how to play all his songs in one night yet, but oh my god it was my seventeen-hundredth time seeing him and was that the best set list of all time? Was it the best ever?
It doesn’t matter what he plays. Everyone leaves the temple happier than they were when they got there; and even though everyone agrees that the economy is shitty, no one complains about the price of the tickets because what just happened?, for once in our lives, the price of something was actually worth it and it was Bruce Springsteen’s fault.
Not all the moments were about dancing and small girls showcasing their singing skills. There was the moment during the last song before the encore, a particularly tear-jerking rendition of “Thunder Road,” when Jake Clemons again stood tall and delivered an iconic saxophone solo. But it was perhaps like no other solo Jake had ever played before because, seemingly, the world stopped turning for 40 seconds and he was dominating the outro of the song, and maybe even the E Street Band got a little blinded by the light because everybody on the stage was just staring at Jake that whole time. The same thing happened again during the encore, with the house lights on in typical Springsteen fashion, for a thunderous performance of “Born To Run.” Two of the best songs in rock and roll’s history and everyone was just watching Jake Clemons play the saxophone as if nothing else ever mattered.
After playing the Celtic-inspired “American Land” came the final song to round out the evening – a song no one thought was coming. Springsteen has closed most of his shows during the Magic and Working On A Dream tours with “American Land,” and I think most people thought this show would end that way too. But the four- or five-piece horn section, I can’t remember how many of them there were on stage, started playing the intro to “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out,” and everybody knew Springsteen had one more left in him, and despite the E Street Band’s promise to send everyone home with their “feet hurting, voices hurting, and sexual organs stimulated,” everybody knew they had one more left in them as well. And in the middle of the song, with the lyric that, this time, everybody was aware of and waiting for, looming close, Springsteen reminded the crowd, “This is the important part, now!” And he sung, “The change was made uptown / And the Big Man joined the band.” Then everything stopped one last time. And the crowd cheered.
On and on they cheered, clapping, yelling, pounding their feet, shaking their hands in the air, and just stood there, Springsteen did, his arms outstretched, waiting expectantly for more. The temple kept giving. And I’ve only been privy to so many occasions in life where that many people have had such a good excuse to cheer, so I compared it to the one thing I could think to compare it to – it was as though the Florida Gators had scored a game-winning touchdown in the closing minutes of the biggest football game of the year. But it wasn't a roar of joy so much as it was an avalanche of nearly tangible emotion; it was like that for two minutes. Literally, two full minutes. Of just cheering, and yelling, and stomping, and the world’s biggest tribute to the Big Man happened in that temple that night.
Call it the biggest “fuck-you” to a moment of silence ever.
Company of Thieves, Motion City Soundtrack, Jack’s Mannequin at the House of Blues in Orlando, Fla., on October 16, 2011.
Well, this was a Sunday show and it started pretty early. Too early, actually. I showed up just as Company of Thieves was beginning the last song of its set, and while I feel like I got the gist of their sound, and while I did attempt to ask around to gauge whether people enjoyed them, Id rather reserve comment on the band.
Motion City Soundtrack came up next, in a rare supporting slot for them. Since releasing their fourth record, the phenomenal My Dinosaur Life, last year, the band has obviously done mainly headlining tours. Seeing them support had its pros and cons – while they played with a relaxed and fun vibe, 12 songs is just not enough for a band with four LPs to its name. It’s not enough for a band this good, especially a band that consistently delivers a killer performance.
Opening with “Everything Is Alright” was definitely a power play; the crowd got into the set right off the bat, and Justin Pierre’s slightly crazy demeanor is one that always draws in everybody in the club from the first song. “A Lifeless Ordinary” was a pleasant surprise in the second slot, one of the more underrated songs from My Dinosaur Life, in my opinion. About midway through the set, the crowd got a double-shot of I Am the Movie tracks, with the essential “My Favorite Accident” followed by a request from a Twitter follower, “Perfect Teeth.” The highlight of the set came right after with another request in “The Weakends,” the closing song on My Dinosaur Life. It transitioned very well into the live set, and I consider it to be one of the group’s best songs ever, so it was a treat to hear. “Better Open the Door” and “This Is For Real” were other standouts, with the closing “The Future Freaks Me Out” being a jam as always.
All in all, I thought Motion City Soundtrack made good use of its supporting slot, as taking those Twitter requests was a cool move on a tour where they can only play a dozen songs. In the end, I’d much rather see these guys when they headline; they aren’t one of my very favorite bands per se, but I do know nearly all of their songs and it’s just better when they play for over an hour. No “Make Out Kids” – no “When ‘You’re’ Around” – no “Disappear” or “Pulp Fiction” – in the end, these guys just need more time.
Jack’s Mannequin took the stage to great applause. This was my first time seeing them since they opened for Panic! At the Disco on an arena tour – I was in the ninth grade and now I’m in the 15th grade – so I was pretty excited for their set. Andrew McMahon is as charismatic as frontmen come, blending the perfect amount of raw talent with crowd-pleasing antics. Jack’s played a seemingly ideal blend of Everything In Transit, The Glass Passenger and their latest release, People & Things. They played 19 songs overall, although it felt like more. It was really a long set, and McMahon never shied away from giving us personal stories before quite a few songs. It’s obvious that he’s influenced by the storytelling greats like Springsteen, and that really comes out in a live show.
The Everything In Transit songs were predictably the most crowd-pleasing, but the five or six new songs McMahon played were probably the most compelling. On-stage antics gave the crowd a lot to cheer about, highlighted by McMahon jumping on top of his piano and dancing around before jumping off. He’s a pretty limber fellow. And although I wasn’t as fond of The Glass Passenger as I am about Jack’s Mannequin’s other two outputs, McMahon’s solo performance of “Caves” as the first song in the encore was as haunting as anything I’ve seen.
Overall it was a really fun show, but nothing that will go be particularly remembered. While Jack’s Mannequin sounded great live, they lacked a bit of the “oomph” necessary to make you remember their set forever; McMahon is the only one who fully brings it as a musician and a performer, and dancing on the piano isn’t going to cut it as a moment I’ll remember for my whole life. However, one thing I can say is that he’s clearly doing it all correctly – selling nearly 30,000 units of People & Things in its debut week is a fantastic achievement, and it might be the best record he’s ever written. So while I might criticize his live show…I’ll still see him every time he comes through.
Frank Turner, Andrew Jackson Jihad and Into It. Over It. played at Double Down Live in Gainesville, Fla., on September 28, 2011.
I got to the show late, naturally, because it started at 9 p.m. and I was eating spaghetti and trying to figure out where I could buy Pokemon Snap for N64 for five hours before, so I missed about 3.5 songs of Into It. Over It.’s (hereby referred to as Evan Weiss so I don’t keep seeing the green squiggly line on MS Word) set. However, the 4.5 songs that I did see only confirmed my suspicions that Evan is one of the premier songwriters of the younger, up-and-coming generation of musicians. His songs transition really well live, even when he takes a normal jammer like the Stay Ahead of the Weather song I saw him play (cannot remember which, but I want to say it was “Impressions and Impressing People”) and turns it into a one-man show. However, and I’m sure he’ll hear a lot of this throughout the next few months, Evan recently released Proper, which is a righteous head-banger of a full-band record. He’s going to have to figure out a way to tour with a full band, be it SAOTW or helping hands from other friends, because that record is probably going to get too popular to ignore the demand. He made some pretty funny stage banter, and kept it so nothing was awkward at all, despite being a one-man show on a fairly large stage in front of probably a good 400 people. Although this was my first time seeing Into It. Over It. live, it’s been a long-overdue appointment and I’m sure I’ll be going out of my way to see him the next time he’s around.
This show wasn’t the first time I heard Andrew Jackson Jihad, but it was the first time I paid significant attention to them. They are two dudes, one with a guitar who sings, and one with a badass upright bass, and they play witty acoustic, folky stuff. In short: the set was awesome. Purely entertaining, mixing awesome banter with fun songs, they managed to keep my attention despite me not knowing a single word. I enjoyed them enough to listen to them all week on Spotify, for whatever that’s worth. I definitely recommend checking out these Arizona natives if you get the chance to – it will probably get you into them quicker than listening to one of their records.
Finally it was time for Frank Turner, and his band, dubbed the Sleeping Souls, to take the stage. This was my fourth time seeing Turner, twice by himself and this was my second time seeing him with a full band. First things first – he is much better with a band. While Turner is 100 percent the main attraction on the stage, the Sleeping Souls kick everything into a higher gear and it makes the show a much more intense experience. Turner played the best set I’ve seen him, taking most of the first half of the set to play several songs from this year’s phenomenal England, Keep My Bones. He must have played at least 8 songs from that record – a great surprise because I think it’s his best. He also mixed in a solid helping of Poetry of the Deed and Love Ire & Song. “I Knew Prufock Before He Got Famous” was, as always, a highlight, and “Substitute” and “Love Ire & Song” were both fan favorites.
Turner’s backing band was fantastic the whole night, with the electric guitars providing an amped up feeling to the set and overall, giving the set a very rock-and-roll feel. The more intense portions made me think of Turner’s stated intention to write more punk music in 2012 – something that now seems like an even better idea. Overall, it was probably one of the most impressive performances I’ve seen since watching The Gaslight Anthem about 10 months ago, and Turner comes off as one of my most highly recommended live acts due to the fact that he is based in the UK. He definitely made the most of this set of US dates, and fed the Gainesville crowd with a lot of chatter about the city’s history. A nearly flawless performance.
On April 23, I had the privilege of getting to attend the Rise Against/Bad Religion/Four Year Strong show at Sunset Cove Amphitheater in Boca Raton, Fla. My friends and I unfortunately got there after Four Year Strong's set had ended, something I was really upset about because I love seeing that band play live and I thought, given the fact that only three bands were performing, that 7 p.m. was an early start time. But that's aside from the point.
Bad Religion put on a set that easily showed their marked veteran nature. More than once, the band recalled stories of when Rise Against opened for them about eight years ago, saying that this tour was to celebrate "the rise of Rise Against," which is really something true - Rise Against has blossomed into one of the largest rock bands in the world. I'm not too familiar with Bad Religion's catalog, so I really can't comment on whether they played a good setlist or not. But I've been on a huge 90s pop-punk kick lately, and after hearing the band's passionate, been-there-done-that sound, I'll surely be checking out their past releases. I do know they played a few songs off their latest release, The Dissent of Man, and something that really stuck out to me was how consistent it sounded with the older songs they played.
The opposite can't be stressed enough for Rise Against. When the Chicago punkers took the stage just before darkness fell completely at Sunset Cove Amphitheater, they opened with "Chamber the Cartridge," the first track from Sufferer and the Witness. But that wasn't an accurate portrayal of what would come during the remainder of the set, as the band focused on a lot of material from their last two records, Appeal to Reason and this year's Endgame. That pattern pleased the masses but was of great disappointment to pockets of older fans. It was amazing to see how many knew the words to "Satellite" and "September's Children" from the band's latest release, but were left standing around during "Blood-Red, White & Blue," the only song we got off Revolutions Per Minute.
Probably one-third of the set came by way of Appeal to Reason, which was something of a mixed bag for me. I liked that record much more than Endgame, but the band chose to play cuts like "Re-Education (Through Labor)," "Long-Forgotten Sons" and "Entertainment." I was pleased at the inclusion of the forever-catchy "The Dirt Whispered" and "Savior," but would have traded some of those other cuts for older material. Frontman Tim McIlrath of course slowed things down during the middle of the set to perform acoustic renditions of "Swing Life Away" and "Hero Of War," and that duo will probably remain part of this band's set for its entire career.
"Ready to Fall," "Under the Knife" and "The Good Left Undone" from Sufferer were what saved the set for me, along with the title track from that record. But aside from "Swing Life Away," the only other song off of Siren Song of the Counter Culture was the last song of the night, "Give It All." In total, only three pre-Sufferer songs were performed all night, and of the four times I've seen this band, I've never been more disappointed by their setlist.
"Blood-Red, White & Blue" was easily the highlight of the night for the older fans in the crowd, and it left me to wonder why McIlrath chose not to bring out tracks like "Heaven Knows" or "Like the Angel." What about fan favorites from Siren Song like "Life Less Frightening" or "Paper Wings," "Blood to Bleed" or "Dancing for Rain?" What happened during this band's rise to super-stardom that made them abandon the early material that made them an adored staple in the punk scene? Now what we get is radio-ready heavy rock anthems that wouldn't sound out of place if Hinder and Crossfade were on the bill instead of Four Year Strong and Bad Religion. As a friend of mine put it, "The punk in me still loves Rise Against but the hipster in me wants to hate them."
I'm not saying that McIlrath & Co. should release new records then ignore them when it comes time to play a show. McIlrath has a wife and he's a father. "Re-Education (Through Labor)" and "September's Children" are probably what pay for his house and food. But, as much as artists like to please the people that buy their new, more mainstream music, it would be good to throw a few more bones to the fans that have been around for more than a few years.
The Dirty Work Tour - April 1, 2011 in Orlando, Fla. All Time Low/Yellowcard/Hey Monday/The Summer Set
All Time Low was headlining the April Fool's Day show of the Dirty Work tour. The band had the longest set time, the most stage decorations and the most fans at Orlando's House of Blues. But for some in the crowd, the real attraction was one of the openers.
Yellowcard, fresh off the release of its first record in almost four years, took the third spot on the tour package, playing their first full American tour since returning from their hiatus. By eavesdropping on the conversations those were having around me, I realized that my sister and I weren't the only persons of legal age in attendance who were anticipating Yellowcard's set the most.
Before the Jacksonville natives could take the stage for their de-facto "hometown" show of the tour, there were two opening acts to kick things off. The Summer Set got things going with their very poppy brand of pop rock, appealing to many of the high school-aged, All Time Low merch-clad fans in attendance. However the band had a less than stellar stage presence, really only taking control of the crowd in spurts. On top of that, the band's sound wasn't extremely enthralling. Typical watered down pop rock, buoyed by the unique awesomeness of a girl drummer who was actually a badass behind the kit. But really, aside from the cool chance to watch an awesome girl drummer, this band was a boring fill-in of 25 minutes.
Hey Monday was next, and the simple thing to say is that they were better than the band before them. Cassadee Pope is a confident and foxy lead singer who will one day develop into a charming and formidable frontwoman. The band weaved through a set of pop rock songs that was somewhat inconsistent. The most popular songs were obvious by the amount of crowd interaction, and those songs were the clear standouts. Aside from those few, we were subjected to a good amount of run-of-the-mill pop rock, really only made worthwhile by Pope's vocals.
Before Yellowcard's set began was when the electricity in the building finally started to build up. As the individual band members took the stage to some fittingly ominous music, the cheers in the crowd came from the decidedly older demographic. And when Ryan Key addressed the crowd for the first time, deafening roars poured in from a pit area which hadn't seen a Yellowcard show since I was a sophomore in high school. The band kicked off their set with "Lights and Sounds," the familiar track sending the crowd into a frenzy. They proceeded to work through a 40-minute set of more or less their "greatest hits," taking the bulk of their performance from Ocean Avenue. As a long-time fan, I was happy to hear "Breathing" and "Way Away" early in the set. They also thankfully pulled out "Believe," something I was grateful for as the opening violin notes to that song never fail to send shivers down my spine.
The crowd rose up for "Only One," and seeing that song live reminded me why I thought throughout all of high school that the chorus in that track was the best chorus ever written. The band didn't stay in older territory the whole night, taking "Lights Up the Sky" from Paper Walls and taking two songs from their latest record, When You're Through Thinking, Say Yes. It was a real treat to see "For You, And Your Denial," as that song might have been when the band seemed the tightest and most coherent. "Hang You Up" was a cool breather for the fans, and of course they closed with a memorable performance of "Ocean Avenue."
Key promised the crowd that Yellowcard would be back for headlining shows in the area "sooner than you could ever possibly imagine," something that was backed up when the band announced a June 24th return to Orlando. Yellowcard's set was marked by a been-there-done-that attitude from the pop punk veterans, working a phenomenal stage presence that made the two previous bands just look silly. At the same time, there was a look in the eyes of the band members, most noticeably Key and violinist Sean Mackin, that showed a hunger and an excitement that was as obvious as it was refreshing. It's clear that playing shows is what this band wants to do, what they were born to do, and it's clear that they're excited for the chance to be welcomed back into the hearts of fans.
While this tour was important for Yellowcard to sort of re-entrench themselves in the minds of a scene filled with short attention spans, it was painfully obvious that this group isn't meant for an opening slot. While every song they played was awesome and the crowd was really into it, the band doesn't deserve a 9-song set...but closer to the 20-song performance that All Time Low put on after them. Luckily, we'll soon be able to see them pull out all the stops; digging deeper into their catalog to pull out gems like "Empty Apartment," "Keeper," "Sure Thing Falling," "Afraid" and old material like "October Nights." We'll get to see them rip through their new record like those songs were meant to be ripped through. So even though attendees of the Dirty WorkTour probably didn't see Yellowcard exactly how they would have liked to see them, they did get an energetic and nostalgic show that only points toward an extremely bright and exciting future for this band.
Moving on to the rest of the night, it was clear how polar opposite the two main attractions were. All Time Low is at the point in their careers now where Yellowcard were years ago - somewhere right before or right after the release of Lights and Sounds. All Time Low used the headlining spot to its full advantage, busting out a ridiculous light show to accompany a long set filled with mostly newer material. I can't say I've listened to Nothing Personal very often since forming my opinion of the record, and it's safe to say that hearing almost the entire album performed live didn't change my opinion of it. The difference in crowds was obvious from the very onset of All Time Low's performance. High-pitched shrieks of unbridled joy echoed the House of Blues, coming from a demographic that probably felt a rush of hormonal rebellion when they decided to throw their underwear on stage. Not ones to disappoint, All Time Low decided to hang up every single bra they received (I counted upwards of 20) on guitarist Jack Barakat's microphone stand.
While I'm a fan of the guys in All Time Low and I can't deny enjoying So Wrong, It's Right and the Put Up Or Shut Up EP, it's never been more painfully obvious that this band has strayed far, far away from its pop punk roots and has slowly turned into a dance-y pop rock sort of band that successfully provides a magnet for the undergarments of underage girls. The sex jokes and witty banter were aplenty during the seemingly way-too-long set, as frontman Alex Gaskarth actually surprised me with his ability to command the audience.
Gaskarth the his bandmates clearly know what they're doing - they're talented and have proven time and time again that they can write a good hook. But with their major label debut approaching, I can't see them going back to what they were, and I can't ever see them appealing to an older demographic like they were probably hoping this tour would help them do. Having Yellowcard on the bill certainly drew in older (and more testosterone-filled) concert-goers into the sold-out House of Blues Friday night, but seeing the band play "Break Your Little Heart" and "Damned If I Do Ya (Damned If I Don't)" probably didn't convert any fans. If "Lost In Stereo," "Hello, Brooklyn" or "Sick Little Games" didn't drive out the older crowd, then "Therapy" or "Stella" probably would have done the job.
I'm not meaning to bash on the band. They released a record which I listened to endlessly during junior year of high school, and if they're going to gravitate to a dance-pop sound that makes them appeal to a younger demographic than even the one that I was a part of when I heard So Wrong, It's Right, then that's absolutely fine by me. They can do whatever they want and take their talents to amphitheatres and eventually arenas. But the thing that sort of bums me out is that kids are growing up regarding this band as their favorite pop punk band. All Time Low takes its name from a New Found Glory song - a band that most of that audience has probably never seen live. The girls who threw their bras on stage for Alex and Jack and Rian probably won't ever throw their underwear on stage for Mark and Tom and Travis.
So when I go to a show and see All Time Low's best songs ("Coffee Shop Soundtrack," "Dear Maria," etc.) and realize that they aren't even close to paralleling Yellowcard's deep cuts that I didn't get to hear, it's easy for me to take home a grumpy old man attitude and be mad at the general teenage population of Orlando. But having about an ounce of rationale in me, I didn't leave the show upset at all. All Time Low will go off and do whatever they do to conquer the world, and they'll probably do it in fairly remarkable fashion. It's fantastic to see a band rise up from the pop punk scene and go on to dominate hordes of underage minions, and it truly makes me happy for the guys. But on the other side of the bill, Yellowcard has the chance to go on to form something even better than they left in 2008. The scene is brimming with young pop punk talent that never would have gotten the chance to tour with Yellowcard when they were on Capitol Records, but being on Hopeless is something that not only benefits the band, but benefits the scene as a whole. Looking to the future, potential touring with bigger, veteran bands like New Found Glory, Bayside or Set Your Goals is something that should get any fan of the genre excited. The possibility of Yellowcard taking out bands like The Wonder Years, Man Overboard, The Swellers, Fireworks....there is a long list of bands that people who grew up on Yellowcard are probably stoked on now. And Yellowcard could be a band that really helps those smaller groups appeal to a larger audience. Every band needs help to cross over - for Yellowcard, early tours with Less Than Jake and Rise Against were the beginning of a meteoric rise. Maybe Yellowcard can now be the group that helps deserving young bands make a run of their own.
So at the end of this long-winded review which only a handful of people will ever fully read, I guess the point I'd like to leave is that the scene has something remarkable on its hands. Yellowcard being back is something that means much more than another hook-laden pop punk record to add to your iTunes library; it's the beginning of a new chapter in the life of one of the most important bands of the genre. And after seeing that unforgettable look of excitement in the band's eyes on Friday, it's a hope of mine that people will take notice of this reunion and welcome Yellowcard back with open arms.
The third and final day of The Fest 9 was by far the best for me. After another long night, I woke up late and missed the No Idea Records BBQ and record sale, something that I vow to attend in full force next year. I need me some more punk vinyl.
Fake Problems was the first band to play The Venue on Sunday. I'm extremely excited that I finally got to catch their live show after missing them once while they were on tour with The Gaslight Anthem. They played a few songs off of their latest record, Real Ghosts Caught On Tape, and also mixed in a cover of blink-182's "Dammit". Kids went nuts for this and crowd surfed more than any set I had seen so far.
Go Rydell Instead of waiting half an hour for The Copyrights, I decided to head to Rum Runners for Go Rydell. I figure this was a good idea because Go Rydell had a through-the-roof set that was almost too much for the limited space in Rum Runners. While the crowd wasn't large by any means, it was very lively and had just as many circle pits as the bigger acts commanded. It was good to see the Orlando group have a solid crowd at their set.
Lemuria I was pretty excited to see this band at The Venue, as I really enjoyed their live show when I saw them with The Wonder Years and New Found Glory. I saw three songs before checking my Twitter and seeing that 1982 Bar was at capacity. I panicked because I really wanted to see Make Do and Mend there, so I reluctantly ditched the Lemuria set and trekked over to 1982 Bar. But from what I did see, Lemuria has a stage presence that is greater than the sum of its parts. With only a female vocalist/guitarist, a bassist, and a drummer, Lemuria sure got loud and had the crowd going crazy. I wasn't expecting to see such a big crowd, but kids were crowd surfing and having a great time throughout the beginning of the set.
Pianos Become the Teeth/Make Do and Mend Seeing these bands back to back was one of my Fest highlights. Both groups were extremely passionate and played with a fervor that was impressive to behold. They managed to stick out at a festival where every single band brought every ounce of what they had to the table, and that is impressive. Of the two, I enjoyed Make Do and Mend more. Their brand of post-hardcore is the kind of music that is meant to be played live, loud and reckless. While Pianos Become the Teeth had a larger crowd, it could be argued that Make Do and Mend's crowd was rowdier. They played the closing track on their latest record, End Measured Mile, which was a cool treat. I got to meet vocalist/bassist James Carroll and he was a very humble and interesting guy. I back this band as hard as any other band right now, and everyone should go out and pick up their latest album.
The Menzingers/Broadway Calls I raced back to The Venue to catch The Menzingers and found them halfway through "Who's Your Partner", the opener of their most recent record. They put on an impressive live performance and Chamberlain Waits will most certainly see an increase in my iTunes plays. Broadway Calls was after them, and they probably put on the most fun set all weekend. There was high amounts of crowd surfing, bro hug-laced gang vocals, and awesome costumes. The group was dressed as Winnie the Pooh, Piglet, and Tigger and bassist Adam Willis had his costume petted on multiple occasions. Broadway Calls basically lead a 40-minute long party, and their set will go down as one of the more enjoyable memories I'll have from The Fest.
Moe's/Aficionado I was super hungry so I ate a burrito at Moe's. This was an essential thing to include because I was again plagued by major tiredness, at one point micro-sleeping while standing waiting for Broadway Calls to start. After my delicious burrito, I saw the end Aficionado's set and for the first time experienced their unique indie punk. Their female backup vocalist also played a flute, which added an interesting aspect to their sound. Definitely a band that could be on the rise on No Sleep Records' roster.
Frank Turner Frank Turner ended The Fest 9. He was the last act to play at 8 Seconds and his was the set I anticipated most throughout the entire weekend. The Englishman lived up to my expectations and then some, giving the crowd all it could handle. 8 Seconds was packed, and Turner might have commanded the biggest crowd of the entire weekend. With just an acoustic guitar and a huge punk attitude, Turner weaved through a set of songs from Love Ire & Song and Poetry of the Deed. The crowd sang along more unanimously than any other act that I saw at The Fest, and Turner proved to be the perfect person to close things out. He even debuted two new songs, one of which he had never played before, an anti-God ballad called "Glory, Hallelujah". The crowd especially enjoyed that number. His other new song was called "I Still Believe" and was a song about how he believes in rock and roll more than anything else. After exceeding his stage time, Turner decided to continue the party and he played some more songs in the parking lot. In his third song, a cover of - you guessed it - blink-182's "Dammit", the police came and broke everything up. Turner received a lot of pats on the back and handshakes and left the crowd happy.
All in all, it's plain for me to say that this weekend was one of the most memorable of my life. Watching bands, hanging out, and partying is basically what The Fest stands for. It's truly the Mecca of the punk universe, as all eyes turn to Gainesville for one glorious three-day weekend. If you, the reader, have the funds and opportunity to make the pilgrimage, I'd say it's worth it beyond any reasonable doubt.
After six hours of hanging out and partying and five hours of sleep, I embarked on day two of The Fest. Day two proved to be the least enjoyable for me, mainly just because of my own personal preferences. I will say that the second day had the most sense of community as I met dozens of people and struck up perfectly enjoyable conversations with perfect strangers.
Touche Amore/La Dispute
This is a sad story. I got to The Atlantic late for this show, about ten minutes after Touche Amore began. La Dispute was playing right after them so I was ready for an insane hour or so. However when I got to the venue, there were about 300 people in a snaking line and the venue was already fairly full. Here's where the sad part kicks in. Not knowing that my cool yellow press band actually allowed me to skip lines at this point, I just left and went to go find another band. So I missed what probably would have been the best part of Saturday mostly because I'm an idiot. Oh well, it happens. I heard that La Dispute basically tore the place down.
Annabel/Algernon Cadwallader The good part of my stupidity is that I got to see Annabel at Common Grounds. I was there waiting for Algernon Cadwallader to go on and Annabel was the band on before them. They had an awesome stage presence and an extremely talented bassist to go along with enjoyable vocals. Almost no one knew the words to any of their songs, but the crowd was into it and gave a good cheer at the end of their set. Common Grounds filled up quickly with people anticipating Algernon, and for good reason. The trio put on the best set that I saw on Saturday, filled with quality jokes, intense crowd participation, and of course, Algernon's signature sound of indie punk. They even played a couple of new songs and I think their guitarist got better, if that's even possible.
Defiance, Ohio is a band that quite a few of my friends are into. I've never really gotten into them so I decided to check them out while I had the chance. They really impressed me with their stage presence and the crowd at 8 Seconds was one of the largest that I saw all Fest. It was cool seeing the stand-up bass and the violin being played aggressively on stage. Defiance was definitely one of the more eclectic bands to grace the Fest this, and one of the most enjoyable.
Banner Pilot/The Flatliners/Teenage Bottlerocket I saw each of these bands at The Venue during the second half of the Florida-Georgia game. Banner Pilot was really cool and the game was still at halftime during their set so they received my undivided attention. I barely listen to these guys but I certainly will listen more after being blown away by their energy and the passion the crowd showed. The Gators struggled on a few drives, let Georgia back in the game, then The Flatliners came on. I discovered that I am dumb for not owning any of their records, so I bought one. As was the norm, the group pulled out all the stops for their Fest set and played with a lot of energy in front of a raucous audience. The Gators let Georgia tie the game, scored to go ahead by a touchdown, then let Georgia tie it again. The game went into overtime and Teenage Bottlerocket started. But by then there was a huge crowd of UF punk kids in front of the TV and I had made awesome friends so I watched Will Hill intercept the Georgia quarterback and our punter-turned-kicker make a game-winning field goal. Then I turned my attention to the last twenty minutes of Teenage Bottlerocket's set. They played a driving set of Green Day-esque pop punk songs. Very enjoyable, especially after a much-needed Gator victory.
By this point, it was only 9 p.m. or so but I was feeling the after-effects of my lack of sleep. I got a gyro to raise my energy level and went to Common Grounds around 9:30 to catch Tim Barry. The line was another long and winding one so I elected to cut my day two of the Fest much shorter than I had normally planned.
The day was more enjoyable than I thought it would be considering that I didn't really know most of the bands. After a bit of relaxation, night two saw a Make Do and Mend/Touche Amore/La Dispute/Paint It Black/awesome house show that was again way too far to walk to. Next year I will buy a bicycle specifically for this event.
The Fest is every bearded punk's favorite holiday. This year, I'm experiencing my first full-scale Fest after only seeing one set at last year's event. By all reasonable accounts, it has so far lived up to every expectation and every bit of hype that preceded it. Tony Weinbender of No Idea Records is the mastermind behind The Fest, and as the event is in its ninth year, it's safe to say that Weinbender has found his niche in the punk universe. Gainesville has always been known for a great punk scene, and The Fest has become the cornerstone of it.
Here's my recap of the first day of The Fest 9.
The Swellers I started my day off at The Venue to see The Swellers at 6:40. The doors opened late so the band got a late start, but they came out in Wayne's World costumes and had a lot of energy to kick off The Fest. As more and more people filtered in, the set got more and more energetic, climaxing when the band played "Fire Away" and "2009". The crowd also got a treat from the band when they dug deep into their back catalog and played "Tunnel Vision". Despite some issues with the venue, The Swellers were able to start The Fest in solid fashion.
Right after The Swellers finished, Defeater went on in a side room at The Venue. I meandered my way to the side stage to find a way too small room with way too many beardy people in it. Defeater was loud and basically incited a riot in The Venue's side room. By the end of the night, the ceiling of that room was considerably damaged and I'm sure Defeater played a part in it.
Carpenter I left Defeater's set early to walk a few blocks to Jeff's Deli to watch Carpenter. I've never even seen Jeff's Deli, let alone been inside, but it was basically a restaurant with the tables pushed to the side and a very small stage. Carpenter went out and flat-out put on one of the best live shows I've ever experienced. There was a large sense of community in the room and vocalist Dan Sioui brought a lot of energy to the tiny venue. I kept drawing comparisons between Sioui's stage mannerisms and those of Rise Against vocalist Tim McIlrath, with a passion and fervor that I've barely seen in a live set. Carpenter brought an amount of emotion into their show that reminded me of the emotion you feel when you're seeing your favorite band live. But they made the entire room feel like that, and by the end of the set, Sioui was crowd surfing playing his guitar and the crowd was on the way-too-packed stage leading the gang vocals. Farmcore for life!
The Riverwinds I ended up walking across essentially all of the downtown area to catch The Riverwinds at Rum Runners. They put on a real enjoyable set that I was able to watch while keeping track of the Heat game on TV. The group played a couple new songs that are slated to be on their upcoming album, which they said they were heading in to record in the near future.
Bars of Gold I made the mistake of leaving The Riverwinds' set too late in an effort to see Such Gold at The Venue. The line was ridiculously long so I ended up walking to 1982 Bar to see Bars of Gold. These guys are incredibly passionate live, and despite the fact that 1982 Bar was about 100 degrees they got the crowd moving. That place needs to get central air or open a door or something. You could tell that the crowd was impressed with the performance and the end result was a long line of people at a tiny merch table.
Earlier in the day I saw fliers and heard through random conversations that Hostage Calm and Transit were playing a side show at a place right near The Venue. The place was some pub/laser tag joint that I had never ever noticed before in my almost two years of being at school five minutes away. It was about the size of an average living room, but it was crowded to well over capacity for this Fest side show. A band with an unknown name opened and while they weren't very good, the crowd was at least hyped for the next part of the show. When I saw Hostage Calm's set and the reaction it elicited from the crowd, I simply wondered why I haven't listened to their latest record more. Although the vocals were basically inaudible, the entire crowd of about 50-75 kids crowded the band and sung for them. Transit came on afterwards at 11:30 p.m., a full five hours after the night had begun. They killed it live as they always do and the crowd was even more into their set. Highlights of "Please Head North" and "Stay Home" were immensely enjoyable as the entire pub was packed in tight.
Transit's set ended at midnight, and exhausted as I was, I opted to call it a day instead of waiting a half hour in line to see the Suicide Machines reunion show. However, Anto from The Swellers told me at a later point in the night that the group vowed to not be at the Fest 10, so be sure to catch them on tour if they go near you in the next year.
As I learned Friday, the Fest certainly doesn't end after the shows finish. Algernon Cadwallader played a house show with Aficionado and Grown Ups at a location that was way too far to walk, but I ended up having an enjoyable night hanging out with good friends. It culminated with me overpaying for food at Checkers and wishing everyone a happy Fest.
As I said earlier, this is an event that is worth all of the hype and press that it commands. If you've ever thought about making the trek to Gainesville for this and have been on the fence about it, I urge you to do it next year. It's the sort of thing that a fan of this kind of music cannot go his entire life without experiencing.
I'm off to catch Touche Amore and La Dispute kick off day two in half an hour. A summary of Saturday will be up tomorrow afternoon. Happy Fest, kids!