I don’t know where I read it or when I read it, but I remember Adam Lazzara alluding to wanting to go alt-country/roots-folk on his upcoming solo effort. He cited Ryan Adams’ albums as inspiration and said he wanted to keep it in that vein. I waited with baiting breath and then last week, it hit the Interweb. “Because it Works” is an absolute scorcher from start to finish. The harmonica is a solid touch, his vocals are first-rate and everything about the song works, and works quite well. Being that Lazzara is a native North Carolinian, there's a good chance he knows the genre better than one might think. While he is not the first pop-punker to take on alt-country, judging by the polish and presence of “Because it Works,” it just might be the best yet.
As Warped Tour wraps up, I thought I'd give a quick ten cents on my visit to the Orlando Warped Tour stop and my thoughts on those bands that I saw.
Hostage Calm: These Connecticut upstarts are definitely on the precipice of something big. Signed to venerable Boston label Run For Cover Records, the group performs taut, guitar-driven pop-punk that is heads and shoulders above its contemporaries. Vocalist Christopher Martin is a born frontman and has all the charisma and swagger that is needed to vault a live set to the forefront. Additionally, the songs deliver a message and hit home. Rather than wax rhapsodic about the vagaries of love, Martin and Co. ruminate on same-sex marriage, growing up in a broken home and the fear of commitment. They are in a few words: refreshing, honest and undeniably engaging. A new album with J. Robbins is in the works. Holy smokes, that's going to be something.
Stepdad: Buzzy, bristling and hyper-caffeinated, this electro-pop quartet is nothing short of stunning. Though they probably belong at SXSW or the CMJ Music Marathon, it was a real treat to see such a cohesive, and well-anchored band at Warped Tour. Songs "Jungles," "Pick and Choose," "My Leather, My Fur, My Nails," and "Starfriends on Earth," were incredibly catchy, surefire singles, and nothing short of ear candy. To put it simply, this band has a big future. Woah. To quote Blogciritcs.com, "If Passion Pit and The Postal Service got drunk one night and had a kid out of wedlock, the result would be Stepdad."
Transit: Though I'd seen them before, I was impressed with how much better they had gotten in just a few short months. Realizing that Warped Tour was a big stage, the band stepped it up and did so in a big way. Joe Boyton's vocals were spot-on, the rhythm section didn't miss a step and the guitars were urgent, kinetic and memorable. As an added perk, the group did an acoustic set in the Acoustic Basement, but lost a lot of steam during the set. Though its probably too foolhardy to call them the future radio darlings of pop-punk, it's also not out of the realm of possibility. This band is something special.
Taking Back Sunday: Okay, I did it. I finally saw them. I finally put my personal prejudices aside and decided to check it out. Holy hell am I glad I did. This band knows how to perform. Lazzarra is the consummate frontman and the sound was polished, air-tight and without flaw. They also catered to their fans and performed many of their biggest hits. It was to put it succinctly, a clinic in how to perform live on a big stage. Literally every band on Warped Tour could take a cue from TBS and apply the lessons learned to up their game. It was without a doubt the day's peak moment.
We the Kings: Travis Clark needs to stop yelling. He writes caffeinated, bubble gum pop and yet he wails to the crowd as if it was a screamo show. Relax dude. Its just harmless pop music. That being written, he was back home in Florida and was one of the headliners, so I suppose his bleats made sense, but oh man, did it get tiring. All that being written, the set was fine. T. Mills joined him for "Party on the Radio," and other sugary cuts like "Say You Like Me," and "Check Yes Juliet," were performed with precision. The band even earned props for performing a cover of Jimmy Eat World's "The Middle," which Clark cited as "my all time favorite song."
Twin Atlantic: Only caught the last two songs of the set but they were easily a highlight. Their sound was in a word: controlled. There was nothing superfluous, nothing too loud, it was just clean, neat and absolutely engaging. There's a reason this band is so well-respected and praised, they most definitely deserve it. Awesome stuff from an up-and-coming British band.
Lostprophets: They were trying to be metal, dense and edgy and they achieved it. The set was abrasive, meaty and relentless. Vocally they could have sounded better but I'm not sure that's what they were trying to achieve. Bear in mind I only caught three songs, but the entire thing was too concussive and over the top for me to stick around. I also bolted so I could see Chuck Ragan.
Chuck Ragan: Do yourself a favor and see him live. His gravelly vocals and homespun Americana anthems are bordering on legendary. Buttressed by a violin and an upright bass, the songs were earthy, warm and truly something special. The only regret about Ragan is that he didn't pursue this American project sooner. Easily one of the highlights of the afternoon. A consummate professional and the very definition of a troubadour.
Palmer Reed: I understand he's young, inexperienced and doesn't have a lot of range, but this may have been one of the most disappointing sets all afternoon. Reed has miles to go before he's even considered to be in the conversation as something worth remembering. This was coffeehouse karaoke at best.
Miss May I: Man, they whipped it with a belt. Anyone who reads my columns knows metal/hardcore is the farthest from what I dig, but I was impressed by how much this band put into their set. Surely it got tiring hear how "metal," the band was, but the band also deserved credit for their "marathon pit," and their unrelenting slice of hard rock. All you can ever ask for in a live band is that they don't mail it in, that they leave everything on stage and give it their all, as if it was their last night on earth. Miss May I did exactly that and that's why they've earned the respect of this writer.
All Time Low: I saw them in 2001 and was unbelievably impressed. They were young, cocky and comical. They also put on a whale of a show. 11 years later and they're still doing it. Cocky, comical and pretty proficient at what they do. Though I only caught two songs, I was nonetheless floored. Here's to them for that.