Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Gig Review: The Fest 15 Day One 28/10/16

I'm not going to tell you what The Fest is again. Chances are that if you are reading this blog then you are well aware of exactly what The Fest is. If you don't know then go back and read one of my four Fest previews. I've been banging on about going for years and the day had finally come where myself and Emma were going. Excitement wasn't the word to describe just how we were feeling about the day!

(Emma's sections are in italic)

After hearing there was already a queue forming outside the official Fest hotel, The Holiday Inn, for registration we decided to head there early. When we got there the queue was already pretty long but we, and those around us, were in very good spirits. Eventually the queue began to move along and there were plenty of opportunities to high five fellow Fest goers – these people would be your new best friends over the weekend. In a marquee at the end of the queue, The Fest Flea market was open with masses of records on various stalls along with lots of other goodies. I picked up Less Than Jake's Hello Rockview record and Emma got Joe McMahon's Another Life. We were both very pleased with our finds. After the flea market we registered, picked up our official merch, as well as a program and map of the fest area, before getting our photo taken at the Fest photo booth. Traditionally after registration the legendary pool party happens but Emma and I decided to skip that in favour of getting some food to fuel us for the day ahead. Whilst in the queue we also decided to play a game and have a competition to see which band we would see the most t-shirts for during Fest. Emma picked PUP and I went for Masked Intruder.

After having some delicious pizza, we made our way to Mother's Pub for the first bands of the day. First up was a band named Smoke Break formed of members of Fest veteran bands Sundials, Springtime and Hold Tight. Despite the sound not being amazing in Mother's Pub, I was really impressed with Smoke Break and thought they performed incredibly well. The music was fast pop punk music with great shout along vocals. Straight away at Fest I was discovering a new favourite band and we were only one band in!

Next up in Mother's Pub was a three piece from Southern California named Melted. Melted had been on a West Coast tour with Mean Jeans whilst on their way to Fest. When they originally began their set I wasn't sure I was going to enjoy it but as it went on it really grew on me. Playing a fun fusion of pop punk and garage rock they write songs with some fantastic hooks. I especially enjoyed the performance of frontman Justin. Playing like a man possessed it was impossible to take your eyes off of him as he stormed through their set.

Leaving Mother’s Pub behind, we headed over to The Fest’s main outdoor and largest stage, the Bo Diddley Community Plaza. We’d taken a sneaky look at the location of the plaza the day before and approved it as an excellent addition to the more traditional punk bars and pubs. I know for Fest 14 they weren’t able to use Bo Diddley so I’m sure a lot of regular Festers were keen to have it back. Tasked with the job of opening the first day of The Fest 15, at least in terms of the main stage, were Off With Their Heads. For many fans of OWTH, Colin and myself included, it was their first time seeing the band… well, in daylight – frontman Ryan himself commented on this with his standard dry humour. With typically dark lyrical content, Ryan and co are certainly more suited to playing in a darkened room but that didn’t stop them opening The Fest in style. It was a proper singalong affair and there was crowdsurfing aplenty – Ryan did a spot of crowdsurfing himself during the last song of the band’s set, Clear The Air. Off With Their Heads had a tricky job of being the first band on the Bo Diddley stage this year but I think my fellow Fest goers will agree that they pulled it off – and set the bar high for ensuing acts as well.

Fest has become known for some big reunions over the years and this year would be no exception. One of the reunions I was most excited for was Latterman. I have to admit I wasn't aware of Latterman when they were an active band between 2000 and 2006 but I have come to discoverer them through listening to RVIVR and Iron Chic, two bands I consider amongst my favourites. A lot of people were clearly very excited to see the four piece as the crowd at Bo Diddley Plaza was huge, especially considering that The Menzingers were playing On The Impossible Pass in full at The Wooly. Hearing Mattie-Jo Camino and Phil Douglas sing together was a pretty exciting moment. Almost as exciting as it was seeing so much of the crowd really lose their minds as the band played through an impressive back catalogue. Latterman are an important band in the history of punk music and when you look back at different eras of the music you will see the band at the forefront of this current movement in the genre.

On Thursday, the day before The Fest, The Menzingers were announced as being one of the ‘mystery bands’ to play an additional set on the Friday. As one of my favourite bands I was initially very excited about this, until I decided I should probably go and watch some new bands instead. This was the decision I had made right up until watching Off With Their Heads. I tried my best to sing along to OWTH but I just don’t know all the words – unlike The Menzingers – so, during their set I changed my mind. Colin stayed to watch Latterman and I went off to join the round-the-block queue at The Wooly for The Menzingers. Having never been to The Wooly before, I had no idea what size a venue it was so I really didn’t know if I’d actually get in. The doors eventually opened and the queue got shorter but I was still outside when the band kicked off their set – with Good Things. Everyone in the queue, myself included, was singing along and I could tell how excited everyone was. As the band burst into Burn After Writing (whilst I was still outside), I realised they must be playing On The Impossible Past in full – one of my favourite albums ever! I finally made it inside The Wooly – pleasantly surprised to find it was a large space with a reasonably high up stage (short people problems) – at the end of The Obituaries and resumed singing my heart out. They tore through the album and before playing the final song they explained that Freedom Bridge had never been played live before – pretty special. As a show closer, Roger Harvey joined the band on stage to play a cover of The Bouncing Souls’ Manthem which was a neat change from their usual Kate Is Great cover.

While Emma was watching The Menzingers, I left Latterman a little early to go and catch one of my favourite new bands, Chicago's Tens. I made my way to Market Street Pub and found what would become one of my favourite venues at The Fest. It's doesn't have a massive floor space right in front of the stage but there is plenty of space around the side of the stage on raised platforms for people not wanting to get involved in a rowdy pit. When Tens took to the stage and began their set I knew that this would be a set that I will love. The energy coming from the band was incredible and they really got the crowd going with plenty of fists-in-the-air singing with the band. The band's bass player in particular really took my attention, running all over the stage between singing his lines. Playing a set comprised of their debut self-titled album, it's pretty clear Tens will be Fest favourites for many years to come.

After Tens finished what was one of my favourite sets of the whole weekend, I made my way back to Bo Diddley Plaza to meet up with Emma to see another reunion. This time it was New Jersey pop punk heroes The Ergs! The Ergs were hugely popular in the punk scene back in the early 2000s and fans have been wanting another reunion show. Happily The Fest delivered. Having never had the opportunity to see The Ergs before I wasn't completely sure what to expect from their set but what I got was a really fun time listening to what in many years to come will go down as some classic pop punk. I was a little concerned before the set if the energy of the band would be slightly deminished as the band's lead singer is Mikey Erg, who is also their drummer. In the past when I've seen bands who have a drummer as their lead singer I've found the energy from the rest of the band isn't so high. Thankfully this wasn't the case with The Ergs. Even if you hadn't ever heard any of these songs before, you couldn't help but get swept up in the joy of it all. My favourite Ergs album, like most people I suspect, is the album Dorkrodcorkrod so of course it was a big buzz to hear those songs. It was great to see The Ergs play live. Never thought I'd get the chance. Well worth the trip halfway around the world!

Returning to The Wooly, we joined the growing crowd to see Elway. Now, first things first, I hadn’t properly listened to Elway’s back catalogue prior to seeing them at Fest 15. Sure, I’d heard songs on shuffle on my Fest playlist and the song Arial features on my energetic / gym playlist as well, but I hadn’t actually taken the time to listen to an album front to back. I can happily say that that has now changed, as Elway impressed me like no other band at Fest – I absolutely loved them. Elway took to the stage and Tim, vocalist and guitarist, stated that we were all idiots for going to see them rather than Propagandhi or Red City Radio (personally, we aren’t fans of Propagandhi and we’ve both see RCR before in the UK). Of course he was only joking and the band were in fact very grateful that we’d chosen to go and see them, so much so that they decided to play an almost full set of audience requests. Even though I didn’t know all the songs particularly well, it really impressed me that the band could just play any song shouted at them without any hesitation. Elway appeared to be both comfortable on stage and genuinely super happy to be there, plus their fans – although perhaps not filling out the whole room – certainly had one hell of a time too.

After Elway's awesome set we stuck around to see Arms Aloft. The Wisconsin four piece are a band that I've been aware of for a little while but have never got properly into. That was until I heard this year's new album, What A Time To Be Barely Alive. That album is fantastic and made them a must see for Fest. These guys are clearly Fest favourites as a nice sized crowd came to see them despite Propagandhi playing a headline set at Bo Diddley Plaza at the time. It was a passionate and energetic set filled with big sing-a-longs. Much like every other band playing the festival, Arms Aloft put everything they had into their performance. I guess playing Fest is the equivalent of a football team playing in the FA Cup final or an American football team playing in the Superbowl. It's the big finale at the end of season so you have to put all you have into it.

After Arms Aloft it was time for Emma and I to split up again to go and see a pair of bands from New York State. Emma was heading to Rockey's Piano Bar to see Broadcaster whilst I headed back to Market Street Pub to see MakeWar. I was beyond excited for MakeWar. I've been wanting and waiting to see them live for almost a year after missing them at Book Yer Ane Fest IX in Dundee due to a delayed bus. After travelling halfway around the world there was no way that I was going to miss them again. A few weeks before Fest MakeWar released their second full length Developing A Theory Of Integrity and the set was very heavy with songs from that new album. I hadn't listened to it a whole lot yet as I'd been waiting to pick up the vinyl, which sadly isn't available yet, so I couldn't get properly involved in the big sing-a-longs that would happen throughout the set. I'm always amazed at how quickly people can remember lyrics from recently released albums – I'm rubbish at it. Despite not being able to sing along but really wishing I could, I fell in love with MakeWar even more during this fantastic set. These three New Yorkers are an incredibly tight band who are just going to get better and better.

Leaving the Wooly behind, Colin and I went our separate ways to each see bands that we were very excited about. Colin went to see MakeWar, a band who ordinarily I would have liked to have seen as well, while I went to see the Long Island three-piece Broadcaster. Prior to Colin creating a Spotify playlist of all the bands playing Fest 15 I had not listened to Broadcaster, but they soon became one of the bands I was most looking forward to see at Fest. Broadcaster were playing at Rockey’s Piano Bar, a fairly large space with a long bar area with the stage set up at one end. The stage was positioned in a corner with plenty of room, for those that wanted to, to stand right at the front. Broadcaster did no disappoint with their performance. I recognised songs from the album A Million Hours, as well as last year’s EP, Spin. They’re one of those bands that just has a sound that resonates with me – sort of fuzzy-sounding with a slight hint of Americana – and it’s safe to say that they were even better live. I hope I get to see them again!

After MakeWar and Broadcaster, Emma and I met up again and headed to the High Dive to complete our first day of Fest. After grabbing some food, and putting Emma's heavy bag (loaded with records) in the useful bag check place, we got in just in time to see the end of The Unlovables set. I have to admit I was a little disappointed not to catch a bit more of their set as I was a big fan of their album Crush Boyfriend Heartbreak, so would have liked to hear some of that live. Sadly we did only catch the final two songs but it seemed as if the crowd who saw the entirety of the set really loved it.

As day one of Fest was nearing its close, we joined the crowd at High Dive for Boston band Big D & The Kids Table. I was feeling pretty damn tired by this point but what better way to wake up than with a lively ska punk band. They opened their set with LAX, a song about being in a band for the love of playing music and not to become famous or make lots of money, which seemed very appropriate for Fest. The band have played Fest before (possibly multiple times but I’m not 100% sure!) and with 20+ years of being a band behind them, they certainly knew just how to bring the party to The Fest. There was dancing, stagediving, crowdsurfing and plenty of balloons being thrown around. We didn’t stay for the whole of Big D’s set, as I had another artist that I wanted to see, but we did hear them them play Bender before that – another song that could be considered appropriate for Fest with all the PBRs that are drunk over the weekend.

As much as we could have happily stayed and partied with Big D & The Kids Table, I really wanted to go and see Australian artist Lincoln Le Fevre at Whiskey House. Lincoln was another artist who I only discovered after he’d been announced as playing Fest 15. Lincoln Le Fevre and his band, The Insiders, have just finished recording a new album although it was only Lincoln who travelled to the other side of the world to play solo in Gainesville. He mostly played tracks from his 2013 album, Resonation, which was absolutely fine by me as it is full of songs I’ve quickly grown to love. He made a lot of jokes that he wasn’t sure would translate to an American audience but they were at least understood by my British mind. Jokes aside, Lincoln was clearly happy to be playing at Fest and we were happy to have him – I noticed a bunch of people singing along loudly. This was an example of a artist that, not only I probably wouldn’t have got the chance to see otherwise but, America generally doesn’t get to see. That’s one of the many wonderful things about The Fest!

When Emma and I returned to the High Dive after popping out for Lincoln Le Fevre, Mustard Plug were in full swing. I've been a Mustard Plug fan for almost as long as I've loved ska punk and they are another band that I had assumed that I would never get a chance to see again, as they're pretty much a part time band now. When we walked back into the room, Mustard Plug were playing Hit Me! Hit Me! and a huge smile appeared on my face. Despite the late hour, it was gone midnight at this point and the first band had been on ten hours earlier, there were plenty of people going crazy in the pit skanking away with joy in their hearts. Mustard Plug are of the most legendary ska punk bands from the third wave that happened in the 90s and after finally seeing them live it's clear why that is. You can't help but want to dance, sing and most importantly smile. Pretty much every song they played was a highlight for me but I especially loved hearing the tracks from Evildoers Beware (a record I finally got on vinyl at The Fest). Songs such as You and set closer Beer (Song) are absolute classics and hearing them were goosebump moments. What a fantastic way to finish the first day of Fest 15.

That was the first time either Emma or myself have experienced anything Fest. We made our way back to our hotel absolutely shattered but on the biggest high. This was just the first day and it already was one of the best days ever. There was still two more days of fantastic punk rock from all over the world. If heaven is a thing for me it is in Gainesville during Fest weekend. Fest is the best.

For those wanting to know how the t-shirt game went after the first day, the scores were as follows:

Masked Intruder (Colin): 7
PUP (Emma): 12