Thursday, 10 November 2016

Gig Review: The Fest 15 Day Two 29/10/16

It was time for day two of Fest 15 and I was thinking about the problems that I'd experienced from the first day. The main ones were that I hadn't eaten or drunk enough throughout the day because I'd been too busy running round wanting to check out all of the bands. I decided a good way to help fix this problem would be to eat as much as I possibly could before heading to Fest. After having breakfast reasonably late I headed to the local Circle K to stock up. In the Circle K I bought a massive turkey and ham salad (which also had cheese in it as - all American food seems to have cheese on it) and a huge can of Pepsi - twice the size of the ones that we get at home in the UK. Before leaving for Fest, I ate it all down and we made our way downtown for day two of The Fest!

(Emma's sections are in italic)

Our day started off at Bo Diddley Plaza to see San Francisco's Dead To Me. Featuring former members of One Man Army, Western Addiction and Enemy You, Dead To Me are somewhat of a punk supergroup and are a much loved part of the punk rock scene. Opening up the second day of the festival is arguably a harder job than opening the first day. I imagine there were a lot more sore heads on the second day of the festival. This didn't deter the band, who are currently performing as a four piece, from putting on a great show. Bass player, Chicken, in particular stood out on stage, looking permanantly angry as he stalked and snarled around the stage. Highlights for me was old classic Don't Lie and new tune I Wanna Die In Los Angeles.

Next up was a special Off With Their Heads acoustic set in Loosey's. We left Dead To Me a little early knowing that this would be a very popular set and not one we wanted to miss out on. Unfortunately when we arrived at Loosey's there was already a fairly sizable queue so we weren't sure if we'd get in at all. We decided to stick it out until Iron Chic's set at Bo Diddley was due to start, if we were still in the queue then we'd call it quits and go and watch that. Happily we made it in and managed to catch what we thought was half of Off With Their Heads set. We later found out, thanks to the wonders of YouTube, that the opening ten minutes or so of the set had been spent with Ryan Young officiating a Fest wedding which meant we only ended up missing a couple of songs - though one was Clear The Air, so that sucked. What we did hear and get to shout along with was a real treat. This was a big departure from OWTH's normal, full speed ahead, as loud and as angry as possible approach to punk rock and not something I'd expect to ever see again so I was happy to see some of it even if we didn't get to see it all.

After Off With Their Heads we decided to go and watch the rest of Iron Chic's set at Bo Diddley Plaza. They were halfway through their set when we arrived and there was a huge crowd so we watched from towards the back of the crowd. Looking at the stage I noticed that Iron Chic had a special guest with them in the form of Mattie Jo Camino of RVIVR, Latterman and Tender Defender on backing vocals. Mattie Jo must have been one of the busiest performers over the entire Fest weekend! If you've experienced Iron Chic live before, you know what to expect. Big fist in the air sing-a-longs to the best melodic punk band in the world. Even with only catching half of their set, I could feel my throat getting sore from shouting along with front man Jason Lubrano at the top of my voice. Highlights of the set included a cover of my favourite Ramones song Bonzo Goes To Bitburg and the band being joined by another member of RVIVR, Erica Freas, to sing her part on the track Don't Drive Angry.

When Iron Chic finished, we went off to a place named Boca Fiesta to check out a band neither of us were that familiar with - Chicago's The Brokedowns. All I knew of The Brokedowns was a 2010 released album named Species Bender but nothing after that and Emma knew nothing at all besides hearing the odd song on a Fest playlist. Hopefully we were in for a great surprise. We made our way to Boca Fiesta, getting a little confused at how you get in to discover the stage was actually set outside in the bar's beer garden. What a good setting for some punk rock in the Florida sunshine. Taking to the stage and making some jokes about how early it was in the day to be playing a set, The Brokedowns did in fact surprise me by just how much I enjoyed their set. It was some hard hitting mid-western punk rock in a similar vein to Dillinger Four, just with much more shouting. The Brokedowns are a band that loves to have fun and it's apparent throughout their set, smiling throughout their songs and making plenty of jokes in-between. They are a band I've been listening to lots since I got home.

After spending most of day two thus far in the blazing Florida sunshine, I was quite happy to return to the coolness of High Dive to see Tender Defender. Being a fan of the members of Tender Defender’s other bands – RVIVR, Iron Chic and Latterman – I knew that Tender Defender were a must see. With only one 5-track EP behind them, they are a relatively new band but that didn’t stop them from drawing a large crowd. Being relatively new probably also means that many people won’t have had a chance to see them yet – us included, as Tender Defender were in London while we were up north for Manchester Punk Festival – so there was much excitement. Their set consisted of tracks from their self-titled EP and they closed with an excellent cover of Bruce Springsteen’s Dancing In The Dark, which got a big thumbs up from me. It was a lively and fun set that finished all too quickly – one of my favourites from the weekend.

Leaving High Dive, we headed back out into the sunshine and made our way to a new venue – The Midnight. We arrived at what we thought was going to be another indoor bar show to the sound of saxophone and trombone being played around the corner. We followed the music and found London’s Ghouls playing the last song of their stripped back but not quite acoustic set (electric guitar plus the aforementioned horns) in a sunny courtyard area. As they finished up their set we settled down on one of the benches ready to see Dan Allen of Ducking Punches, one of the only UK artists we’d be seeing at Fest, play a solo acoustic set. If you don’t follow the band then you probably won’t know that Dan broke his leg a couple of months ago filming a music video, because of this he still had his leg strapped up but thankfully he was able to walk around. Unfortunately, as we soon found out, he’d also lost his voice so wasn’t sure how good a performance he’d be able to do. His reasonably short set consisted of only the most singalong-able Ducking Punches songs so that everyone watching – and there was quite a gathering of people – could help him with the words. It was excellent. With The Midnight’s courtyard singing louder than Dan himself I had a proper sense of ‘This is what makes The Fest special.’

We stuck around at The Midnight after Dan’s set to watch one of my favourites Lincoln Le Fevre, again. I knew we’d be leaving his set early to get back over to Bo Diddley Plaza for The Menzingers main stage set, but I was more than happy to watch a few Lincoln songs again. There’s something really captivating about his music – vocals with an Australian twang and his charming storytelling ability – that means I could happily watch him day after day. He expressed that he was feeling a little worse for wear after the first day of Fest but that didn’t stop him from putting on another flawless performance. A highlight of the set was his song Hope & Crown which, when played live, features a lot of harmonica, additional experimental guitar riffs and extra lyrics – very reminiscent of blues music and something that can only really be pulled off live.

After hanging out at The Midnight, Emma and I made our way back to Bo Diddley Plaza for The Menzingers. Emma and I are big fans of the Philly foursome and had already seen them in London earlier in October (plus Emma saw their secret set the day before at Fest) so we pretty much knew what to expect from the show. But that didn't stop them being absolutely brilliant. Playing a set that was strikingly similar to their London show, we sang from the opening of Lookers to the end of In Remission, I even kept singing along to Casey whilst I was in line for the toilet with a friendly Fest punk. The only time we weren't singing was when they played brand new song Bad Catholics from upcoming new album After The Party - I'm sure next time we see them we'll sing-a-long with that one as well. The Menzingers are Fest Legends and Fest 15 was their tenth consecutive year playing the festival. To celebrate this fact Fest leader Tony Weinbender came on stage with a cake to help commemorate the special occasion. It really is quite the achievement for the band who have grown along with The Fest. If The Fest goes for another twenty years I imagine that The Menzingers will be playing it.

When I initially looked at The Fest 15 schedule I noticed that Cheap Girls would clash with The Menzingers. I’d seen Cheap Girls before and, although I really do like them, figured that I probably wouldn’t skip one of my absolute favourite bands for them. However, we did end up being able to catch a few Cheap Girls songs at the end of their set. Cheap Girls were playing in a venue called Cowboys and this was our first and only time that we’d be going there. Given the name of the venue, you can probably imagine that when not being used as a Fest venue Cowboys is a western-themed night club – not the kind of place that us punks would typically go to (nor probably be allowed into). There’s been a lot of reports of the Cowboys staff treating Fest goers badly over the weekend which is not cool but there’s no denying that a venue the size of Cowboys is greatly beneficial to Fest. And the nightclub was packed out with people watching the Michigan band. As I said, we didn’t get to hear many songs from Cheap Girls but they did play Her And Cigarettes, Slow Nod and Pure Hate in the latter half of their set. Their style of music is right up my street so I'm keen to see them again, properly, soon.

We split up again and I went along to High Dive to see one of my favourite discoveries of the year - Western Settings. The band, from San Diego, had just finished a European tour (though they didn't come to the UK, boo!) landing back in America a few days before Fest 15 began so I was expecting them to be tour tight during their performance. By golly they were! Western Settings, with Problem Daughter's Regan Ashton filling in on guitar, played a fantastic set of melodic pop punk. Featuring gruff, raspy vocals that allow for some great fist in the air, scream as loud as you possibly can moments. There are a few new bands emerging as the next wave of awesome punk bands and Western Settings are leading the charge.

After Cheap Girls, we left Cowboys and returned to Bo Diddley for a brief time to grab some food from the kiosks within the plaza. Feeling suitably nourished it was time for Colin and I to part ways again as he wanted to see Western Settings and I didn’t want to miss Joe McMahon. I had to queue for a little while when I arrived at Rockey’s Piano Bar – clearly there were lots of people as keen to see the Smoke Or Fire frontman as I was – but I made it inside while Joe and his band were still soundchecking. Another Life, Joe McMahon’s debut solo album released a few months ago, is one of my favourite albums of 2016 so I was very happy to find that he and his band would be playing the album in full… at least, I assume they played it in full as I left after track 9, Black Socks Set Sail, as it was time for Not Half Bad. It was great to hear the songs played live and Neon Lights in particular was a highlight. Joe explained how although the song was first recorded for a Smoke Or Fire album it was always meant to be a solo track and the version on Another Life is how it should have sounded from the beginning. I love those little insights into songs that you only get from hearing an artist talk about them.

After meeting back up with Emma we headed to Durty Nelly's to see Not Half Bad, a band we were both very excited to see for the first time. After finding our way in (the door was out the back - very confusing) we made our way to the stage for the start of the Texan's set. Looking around Durty Nelly's I really liked what I saw. It was pretty small and just felt like a great place to watch great punk bands. As the band (who had two members of California's Moonraker helping them out today) started with the song Van Forever, I noticed that the crowd was a little small - definitely the smallest I had seen so far at Fest. This probably had something to do with Dillinger Four playing Bo Diddley Plaza at the same time. Despite the smallness of the crowd at Durty Nelly's it was probably the most passionate set of fans at any set I saw at Fest. They sung along with every word and got really sweaty, up close and personal with the band. All the years I've been watching Fest videos on the YouTube, this was the closest to the chaotic and fun times I've seen. Their performance really felt like a real old school Fest set and made me smile from start to finish. It was fantastic to hear one of my favourite Not Half Bad songs, Daybeers, live and Emma got a enjoyed hearing Van Forever. There was also a nice moment where they slipped in a section of the D4 song Gainesville into a song, as well as playing a Moonraker song as a thanks to the boys for helping out.

Following Not Half Bad's awesome set we left for the Market Street Pub. I was already on a major high after Not Half Bad and was now incredibly excited to see Pkew Pkew Pkew. The Canadian pop punks have released one of my favourite albums of the year and I couldn't wait to see them live. Turns out a lot of people felt the same way as Market Street Pub was packed. After picking up the band's debut album on vinyl ,we found a good spot towards the side of the stage and settled in for what was sure to be a wild time. Starting out with the song The Prime Minister Of Defence the crowd's PBRs immediately began to spill all over the place. Pkew Pkew Pkew are in their perfect environment with a Fest Crowd, a group of people who love getting drunk and having a lot of fun. I have to admit I hadn't realised just how popular Pkew Pkew Pkew are in America but the entire room was singing along with every single word. This felt like one of those live sets that could be a milestone in the career of a band that helps propel them to the next level.

After Pkew Pkew Pkew's brilliant set we headed back to the High Dive planning on completing our night with three more pop punk bands. First up was Oregon's Broadway Calls. The first and only time I've seen Broadway calls was back in 2013 at the Camden Underworld with a stellar line up including Great Cynics, Gnarwolves and a little known band at the time called Moose Blood. I was really impressed with Broadway Calls that night and I was expecting more of the same in Gainesville. Last time I saw them I remember thinking how different they sound on record compared to a live show. On record everything is really slickly produced and sounds very polished. Live they are still very slick but there is much more of a raw punk feeling to their sound. This is what I prefer and I don't think that I'm alone in this as the crowd at the High Dive went nuts for the three piece. Every song was a sing-a-long and there were plenty of people getting on stage for crowd surfs. Highlights of this set were Be All That You Can Be, Back To Oregon and the awesome Save Our Ships.

Following Broadway Calls we had some pop punk royalty in the form of Chixdiggit! The Toronto based band have been together for twenty five years but this was my first time seeing them. It's safe to say that I was quite excited. And with good reason as this turned into one of the funniest and most entertaining sets of music that I've ever seen. Most Chixdiggit songs contain a lot of humour but it also turns out that frontman KJ Jansen is also a very funny man between songs. Throughout the entire set he would shout to the crowd "Let's hear it for Chixdiggit!" The more he did this the funnier it became. It wasn't just about being funny though, Chixdiggit delivered a set list (made up of mostly requests from the crowd) that showed just what a great band they are. Every song they played was met with dancing, sing-a-longs and big smiles. Playing the "hits" from a pretty extensive back catalogue, not a single person was left disappointed by these legends. They even played new song written for The Copyrights, who were up next that went something like "The Copyrights, they're alright" (that might be completely wrong - it was a long day). Chixdiggit really managed to perk Emma up, who by this point was struggling to stay awake and she particularly enjoyed the song Miso Ramen. Spanish Fever was a highlight for me as well as anything they played from Pink Razors - one of my all time favourite pop punk albums. Chixdiggit were amazing. Let's hear it for Chixdiggit!

After Chixdiggit, we decided to make our way back to the hotel. Poor Emma was exhausted and under the weather, plus The Copyrights were playing another set the next day. We decided it would be good to rest now and live to Fest another day tomorrow!

For those wondering how the t-shirt game is going the scores after day two were:

Masked Intruder (Colin): 10
PUP (Emma): 18