Category Archives: Live Reviews

Pouzza Fest 9, Montreal, Q.C., 5/17/19-5/19/19 By Will Malkus

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I’ve often heard Montreal’s Pouzza Fest referred to as “Fest spring training,” but now in its ninth year of operation it’s pretty clear to see that Pouzza Fest is in the process of developing its own identity, out from under the shadow of its larger and older fellow. It’s no secret that Pouzza Fest was heavily inspired by The Fest in Gainesville, Fla., but like so many of us did when we first discovered punk music, the smaller festival is now starting to see which parts of its identity it wants to keep and which parts it wants to change. This year especially the changes were readily on display, not just in the presentation but also in the lineup the organizers chose to book and the other wholly unique activities and events that are part of the Pouzza experience. I look forward to seeing Pouzza Fest continue to grow and mature but this year had its own highlights, which I had the opportunity to write about.

All the best parts of Pouzza Fest are still there of course; the fact that all of the shows at the main stage beer garden are free and open to the public, for example, or the presence of the food that the festival is named after (pizza with poutine as a topping), but the most valuable part of Pouzza Fest by far is the ongoing dialog about diversity in music and working hard as a community to make sure everyone at the festival is safe that the organizers encourage to not only take place, but evolve and expand throughout the weekend. Over the course of the three-day festival Lorien Lamarr and I covered twenty-seven bands, two panels, and one baseball tournament. I saw old friends, made some new ones, and explored parts of Montreal I’ve never gotten to see before. Obviously that makes for a lot of content, so I’ll try to keep this brief. Hopefully the following reviews will introduce you to a new band or musician, or help start a conversation about safety and representation, but please also feel free to check out the full lineup at their website. Amusez-vous bien!

POUZZA FEST DAY ONE, 5/17/19

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Women in the Scene Panel: at The Beer Garden, Pouzza Fest, 5/17/19
It’s telling that Pouzza Fest decided to hold a Q&A panel focusing on women in punk, and even more telling that it was the very first event on the entire festival schedule. The panel, which featured a combination of musicians (Anlin Fan, Jenni Cotterill, Jordan Joyes, Valerie Knox), bookers (Nancy Ross), journalists (Liz Imperiale), and PR agents (Melanie Kaye), was moderated by Turbo Haüs co-owner and music industry veteran Michelle Ayoub. The topics covered ranged broadly, as the issues and experiences of being a woman in punk are no more universal and interchangeable than those of any human being, but of course there were some common threads. A lot of time was given to addressing and debunking the prevailing myth that “female-fronted” constitutes its own genre, and also to discussing strategies and tips for achieving success in whatever niche aspect of punk the hypothetical audience chooses to focus on. I would love to see more of these panels happen not only at Pouzza but also at other festivals in the future, because as the panel members pointed out, this was not only about addressing the struggles of being a woman in the scene but also presenting a valuable educational resource for people of any identity to benefit from.

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Anti-Harassment Seminar and Q&A with Shawna from War On Women: at The Beer Garden, Pouzza Fest, 5/17/19
I won’t spend too much time focusing on Shawna Potter’s brief introduction to anti-harassment because it’s all covered (and in much more depth than I could ever get into with just this brief paragraph) in her new book Making Spaces Safer: A Guide to Giving Harassment the Boot Wherever You Work, Play, and Gather, recently published by AK Press. It’s a great read and if you haven’t had the chance yet I highly suggest checking it out, but the main focus of her seminar was the Five D’s of Bystander Intervention, the five steps to be taken in the event that someone is being harassed in front of you: Direct, Distract, Delegate, Delay, and Document (the last one to be used as a last resort if one or more of the others have failed). Being from Baltimore I’ve had the opportunity to hear Shawna speak on this topic several times, but I can’t stress enough how worthwhile these strategies and techniques are. Big ups to Pouzza Fest for kicking off their festival by giving attendees tools to use throughout the weekend to help keep each other safe.

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Cold Wrecks: at Foufs Garage, Pouzza Fest, 5/17/19
Pouzza veterans Cold Wrecks played the first set of the fest, but even if they hadn’t, I still would have gone out of my way to catch them. The four-piece band released their second LP This Could Be Okay just a few months ago and you could feel the hype in a packed Foufs Garage. Even with a fill-in lead guitarist and the fate of their beloved van (RIP Van Michael Vancent) uncertain and weighing on their minds, Cold Wrecks was able to bring the pop punk energy which set the pace for the rest of the weekend. Very few bands do jump-worthy, high-energy songs about the anxieties and frustrations of life in the 2010s as well as these four. They rounded out their set by playing ”Montreal,” furthering their successful efforts to make themselves mainstays of all the best festivals by writing songs about their host cities.

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Sarchasm: at Foufs Garage, Pouzza Fest, 5/17/19
Hot on the heels of Cold Wrecks was the East Bay’s Sarchasm serving up their specific brand of “intersectional bummer punk pop.” True to form, their most recent album on Asian Man Records was called Beach Blanket Bummer Pop, and in all honesty I struggle to find a better description for their sound. These are upbeat summer jams about dark topics, like being scared for your life at a protest or contemplating suicide, a musical dichotomy that I might have been skeptical about prior to hearing them absolutely nail it. Sarchasm seems to feel their music in every fiber of their being; stumbling, jumping, and writhing around every inch of the tiny Foufs Garage stage with reckless abandon whether they’re belting out their own powerful lyrics or absolutely slaying a cover of Talking Heads’ “Psycho Killer.”

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Choked Up: at Foufounes Électriques, Pouzza Fest, 5/17/19
Brooklyn-based four-piece Choked Up was in the middle of their sound check when we got to the main stage at Foufs, but it was hard to tell because the band was so in synch they were playing what sounded like full songs already. As a warm-up it was impressive, but not nearly as impressive as their full set. There are clearly miles and miles of meaning behind Choked Up’s songs, which shouldn’t come as a surprise since they’re fronted by the prolific graphic novelist and illustrator Cristy Road. There’s a cohesion to Choked Up that’s hard to find in bands that have been around three times as long and the crowd was very clearly there for the understated shredding, the gritty edge of Road’s vocals, and the lyrical content that backs up Choked Up’s mission statement of, “Queer POC to the front! It’s okay if you feel awkward. If you got into punk rock and you don’t feel awkward, maybe rethink your choices!”

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Bad Cop/Bad Cop: at The Beer Garden, Pouzza Fest, 5/17/19
For the first of many times over the course of Pouzza Fest weekend, the main stage in downtown Montreal came alive for the powerful trademark harmonies of Bad Cop/Bad Cop. These West Coast punks have been on the rise for the last few years and it’s easy to see why. Between the aforementioned harmonies, the syncopated no-frills guitar, and a message that has never been more prescient, Bad Cop/Bad Cop playing “Womanarchist” was easily one of the stand-out performances of the entire festival. And speaking of “Womanarchist,” their flagship song felt especially relevant in the wake of the Alabama abortion ban passed just days before Pouzza Fest, and as they launched into it the field in front of the stage became only a mass of bodies jumping and beer cups raised high as the words “it’s my right to choose!” echoed across the entire city of Montreal.

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Early Riser: at Foufounes Électriques, Pouzza Fest, 5/17/19
Between Brooklyn mainstays Heidi Vanderlee and Kiri Oliver’s dual vocals and cello/guitar respectively, Mikey Erg of every band ever on drums, and proper.’s Natasha Johnson filling in on bass, I think it’s safe to say that Early Riser has officially achieved NYC supergroup status with their Pouzza 9 set. I most often hear Early Riser categorized as a folk punk band, but I don’t think that moniker really does justice to their legitimately beautiful songs. In a scene filled with people screaming into microphones and pounding on their instruments, it’s so nice to occasionally just sit back and hear some happy songs accompanied by warm cello music and soft harmonies. It was the only time all weekend I got to see how the acoustics in Foufs did with anything other than punk vocals and they did not disappoint.

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Save Ends: at Foufs Garage, Pouzza Fest, 5/17/19
We were a little late getting into Save Ends’ set in the smaller half of Foufs, but that didn’t diminish my excitement at the opportunity to see them again. Day one of Pouzza was proving to be full of atypical punk acts and Save Ends was no exception. On top of guitar riffs and baselines that range from pop punk to emo to truly heavy, the real power behind the Boston five-piece is the interplay of vocal accompaniment between their co-vocalists: guitarist Christina Atturio and keyboardist Brendan Cahill. Both have wholly unique voices in the world of punk, and together they elevate Save Ends into a whole different weight class. This was the first set of the weekend where I saw people singing all the words to the songs back at the band, and judging from expressions, I saw I’m sure more people will be joining in the next time Save Ends plays Pouzza Fest.

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Abertooth Lincoln: at Turbo Haüs, Pouzza Fest, 5/17/19
Stepping into Turbo Haüs is kind of like stepping into another world. After passing through an entirely nondescript and unsuspecting bar, I entered through a door into a room completely bathed in red light and full of drunken punks all speaking rapid-fire French, where a band that looked like the crew of a cruise ship was tuning up on stage. From the side of the stage entered a person wearing a wetsuit, and they took a microphone in hand as the rest of the band launched into some of the hardest metalcore I’ve ever heard, complimented by 8-bit interstitials from a lone keyboard player. The band in question was Abertooth Lincoln from Dayton, Ohio, though during this particular set they identified themselves as Space Force, after the eponymous anti-nationalism single they released just a few months ago (and also a flash game of the same name they made to go along with it). Words cannot do it justice but safe to say everyone in attendance was entirely floored by the sheer energy and powerful voice of frontperson Ashley Pooler and the brutality of the rest of the band, myself not the least among them.

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Dead Bars: at Katacombes, Pouzza Fest, 5/17/19
If a group of your thirty-something friends listened to an Iron Chic record and decided to start a band with a vocalist doing his best Lawrence Arms impression, then invited you over for a band practice where they were absolutely hammered, you’d have a pretty good sense of what seeing Dead Bars live is like. They are a no-holds-barred, true-to-form pop punk band out here singing love songs about sharing earplugs and I could not have enjoyed their set more if I tried. From the balcony of Katacombes I had a front row seat to watching the front rows rip themselves into a frenzy over a repeated chorus of la-la-las and the stumbling antics of vocalist John Maiello that threatened to consume the whole crowd. It was already 11:00 PM by the time they went on but no one was holding anything back on night one, least of all Dead Bars.

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Arms Aloft: at Katacombes, Pouzza Fest, 5/17/19
Where to begin with Arms Aloft? I could write about them for pages, so it’s hard to try to isolate this down to just the bare minimum. I’d be hard pressed to try to think of a band that inspires me more with the things they say, not just through their music but through their staunch anti-capitalism, anti-fascism, anti-shitty-people platform as well. Sonically, Arms Aloft is Midwestern punk at its best: raw, fast, and honest, completely lacking any guile whatsoever. Seth Giles’ gruff voice was in rare form on night one, especially while crooning the title track and my personal favorite from their last album What a Time to Be Barely Alive. Arms Aloft ended their set with an impressive display of Midwestern manners; lots of compliments and gratitude for Pouzza Fest itself. Just because you’re punk doesn’t mean you have to be an asshole, and no band exemplifies that ideal better than Arms Aloft.

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Spanish Love Songs: at Katacombes, Pouzza Fest, 5/17/19
This wasn’t my first Pouzza Fest so I knew to pack extra clothes because there is one universal truth to surviving in Montreal venues: no matter what the temperature is outside the inside will be very, very warm. Couple that with the fact that we were closing out the night with the undisputed champions of heartfelt party jams Spanish Love Songs and I knew not a single one of us would be making it out of Katacombes with our clothes dry. Spanish Love Songs absolutely destroyed the crowd in the best possible way and I can only imagine what we must have looked like from their perspective: a constantly shifting sea of sweaty faces screaming their songs, fists raised high into the air, with people practically hanging off the balcony to point their fingers back at them. Their mid-set rendition of new single “Losers” was a Pouzza Fest highlight for me and a perfect end to the night.

POUZZA FEST DAY TWO, 5/18/19

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Grand Slam 4 Baseball Tournament: at Lafontaine Park, Pouzza Fest, 5/18/19
Day two of Pouzza Fest started with a long search for what might be the most unique aspect of the whole festival: the Saturday morning baseball tournament. Punk and baseball have a long history of intersection but Pouzza Fest takes the relationship a step further and lets bands, sponsors, and partners form teams to compete against one another in a bracketed tournament, complete with hot dogs and beer for sale, a live announcer, and (naturally) loud punk music blasted from giant speakers just to complete the authenticity of the experience. I got the impression that this is one of the better kept secrets of Pouzza Fest but I genuinely hope to see it grow in the future as it was a very relaxing way to pass a sunny morning in Montreal before the music started.

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The Anti-Queens: at The Beer Garden, Pouzza Fest, 5/18/19
The Anti-Queens used to bill themselves as “four tits and a dick” but these days they’ve swapped the dick out to realize their final form: “eight tits and some instruments.” I caught The Anti-Queens last year at Pouzza Fest but this year they took the main stage by storm first thing on day two, immediately winning over the audience by dedicating a song to “anyone here who’s on their period right now!” Even though it was obvious that a lot of the crowd were battling hangovers and just starting their days, the Toronto band still brought the energy and rallied the assemblage with thirty minutes of blistering garage punk fit for any early ’90s college basement show. The open-air venue allowed the three-part harmonies of the band to really shine where last year they were a bit overshadowed by a smaller space, which is way more of a testament to how hard they wail on their instruments then it is a criticism of their voices or the acoustics at other Pouzza venues. With this fest under their belts The Anti-Queens may have fully graduated to headliner status, and I hope to see their name at the top of more lineup announcements soon.

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Alex Brown And The Hepcats: at The Beer Garden, Pouzza Fest, 5/18/19
I’m a big fan of diversity in my lineups so I was happy to see that Pouzza Fest continues to go out of their way to book acts that I would probably never seek out on my own. While rockabilly certainly isn’t for everyone (I can’t say I’m the biggest fan myself), Alex Brown And The Hepcats were a welcome surprise before a full day of running from punk show to punk show. It takes a lot of charisma to pull off the rockabilly aesthetic in 2019 but charisma is something that Alex Brown has in spades, blending a little punk energy into the genre of a different rebellious age while still twisting, shouting, and shaking like Elvis Presley himself. Once you hear him you might not be surprised to learn that he was a quarter-finalist on the Canadian version of The Voice, and that vocal prowess coupled with some excellent twangy guitar and good old-fashioned charm had people legitimately swing dancing by the second or third song of the set.

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Walt Hamburger: at Théâtre Sainte-Catherine, Pouzza Fest, 5/18/19
Walt Hamburger was probably my favorite surprise discovery out of all of Pouzza Fest. Lorien Lamarr (Aretesophist Photography) asked that we cover him, and when I remarked that I had no idea what he sounded like, she replied simply “good.” Dashing over from the Beer Garden to the tiniest Pouzza venue Théâtre Sainte-Catherine meant that his set had already started, but walking into that crowded room mid-song was probably the best introduction I could have gotten. Soulful ballads with heart-wrenching lyrics weren’t really what I expected to hear from a guy called Walt Hamburger, but it’s always nice to be surprised in the oft-predictable punk world. Walt plays some of the best acoustipunk I’ve heard in a very long time and has almost two decades of experience as a musician under his belt, but nothing could have prepared me for the whistling. This may seem like a strange statement, but the man can whistle like nobody’s business and it adds a whimsical counterpoint to what are some of my new favorite “rainy day” songs.

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Direct Hit!: at The Beer Garden, Pouzza Fest, 5/18/19
Direct Hit! writes pop punk concept albums about the nuclear apocalypse and experimental drug use à la Hunter S. Thompson, and even though the thoughtful approach to minimalist storytelling through well-crafted lyrics seems at odds with their “get drunk and party” punk rock approach to music, it has cemented their status as one of the greatest contemporary pop punk bands. I always seem to catch them headlining festivals these days, which isn’t a bad thing by any means, but it does mean that some of the party atmosphere they bring to the table is lost in translation. At the risk of sounding anti-success, I have to say that I vastly prefer the Direct Hit! shows I’ve seen in packed venues, where there’s no barrier and you’re constantly at risk of a stagediver landing on top of you. I don’t even like stagedivers but some bands just call for it in order to get the full experience and Direct Hit! is absolutely one of those bands. That’s not to say they didn’t deliver a quality performance full of energy across an eclectic, discography-spanning setlist (because that would be a lie) but punks have a tendency to get greedy about their favorite bands from time to time and I’m afraid I’m no exception.

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Invaluable: at Katacombes, Pouzza Fest, 5/18/19
Taking a break from the plentiful pop punk of the weekend to catch the much heavier Invaluable from Virginia Beach turned out to be a great decision. As much as I’d been enjoying all of the other bands we’d seen, there was something missing that I found in Invaluable’s shred-heavy, slightly sludge-y melodic punk sound. Once again Pouzza had me covered in terms of variety, and the three-man band’s killer gang vocals complemented their stylized thrashing perfectly and left me feeling satisfied on the metalcore front… for at least a little while.

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Big D And The Kids Table: at The Beer Garden, Pouzza Fest, 5/18/19
As a lifelong ska fan, I have to admit that I was unapologetically excited to see Big D And The Kids Table open up the pit just as it started to get dark in Montreal. 2007’s Strictly Rude was actually one of the first albums I bought with my own money after discovering them on the Asian Man Records’ Ska Is Dead comp, so getting to throw down and skank to “Noise Complaint” along with such a huge crowd took me on a nostalgia trip right back to high school (in the best way, if there is such a thing). Pouzza Fest has always been kind to ska when setting their lineup and this year was no exception. Of course Canadian punk has a long, proud ska history itself and I have to admit that I am consistently impressed at just how diehard their diehard fans are. In terms of performance, Big D And The Kids Table have been at this for so long they’re total professionals these days, and I don’t know if they could put on a bad show if they tried.

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Bike Tuff: at Katacombes, Pouzza Fest, 5/18/19 (by Lorien Lamarr)
Will caught whatever stomach bug was going around and had to skip a set, so I’m filling in. Kamea was one of my favorite records of 2016, but even if you’ve never heard a single Bike Tuff song, you’d feel like an old friend returning home at any Bike Tuff set. I haven’t been to the Midwest since I was fifteen, but I feel like an honorary member of the Midwest scene at a Bike Tuff show. The crowd is the enthusiastic fifth member of the band. When you have a hundred voices screaming “Did you forget about me?”—that really takes gang vocals to a new level. I think it’s the hopeful mood of the surface-level bitter-sad songs that keeps everyone coming back. If that desire to retain your grip on hope feels familiar, you belong at a Bike Tuff set, but honestly, if you show up you belong and that’s goddamn beautiful.

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Sincere Engineer: at Foufounes Électriques, Pouzza Fest, 5/18/19
Let me preface this by saying that I have never, ever seen a crowd go as hard for Sincere Engineer as the packed room in front of the Foufs main stage did at Pouzza Fest 9. Last year frontwoman Deanna Belos played by herself, but it would seem the days of Sincere Engineer solo sets are gone as the four-piece have the Rhombithian setlist pretty much down to a science now. Having been on the Sincere Engineer hype train from pretty early on it’s impressive how much their fanbase has grown in just a few short years. They have always defied easy classification into any of the major punk genres but it’s been incredible watching Belos develop as both a performer and a lyricist/vocalist/guitarist. The band even premiered a brand new track at the end of the set, clearly Alkaline Trio-inspired and full of trademark Red Scare gruffness but still wholly unique. If the rest of the album sounds that good, we all need to start preparing now.

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Bong
Mountain: at Katacombes, Pouzza Fest, 5/18/19
If I’d gone into their set blind I never would’ve suspected Bong Mountain hailed from the frozen land of Grand Rapids, Mich. and not somewhere warm and sunny. I can easily imagine listening to their debut album on repeat during a weekend beach trip, but they exist just slightly outside the pop punk spectrum with guitars just a little too noodley and their song structures just a little too varied to be nearly pigeonholed into that box. Still, the crowd at Katacombes had clearly come specifically to see Bong Mountain, as people were doing backflips (sometimes successfully, sometimes not) off of the stage and into the crowd almost immediately. The area right in front of the stage resembled nothing so much as an impromptu human pyramid as waves and waves of punks leaped and clambered over each other in an effort to sing right into the faces of the band members themselves. We’d all been playing it cool and conserving energy in preparation for our evening’s must-sees, and almost universally it seemed we all decided that now was the time to let it all out for Bong Mountain.

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Ramoms: at Café Cléopâtre, Pouzza Fest, 5/18/19
Are the Ramoms a gimmick band? Yes, of course they are, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have all the stage presence and musical ability of the band they’re named after and then some. Let’s face it, The Ramones were never considered one of the greatest punk bands of all time because of how well they could sing or play their instruments, and in this category at least, The Ramoms have them beaten in my opinion. Still, they say imitation is the highest form of flattery, so adaptation must be up there as well. The Ramoms were the last stop of my night, and as far as closers are concerned it would be hard to top hearing some of the songs that first got me into punk but with fresh twists on them; for example how the four moms transformed the Ramones classic “Judi Is a Punk” into “Gritty Is a Punk,” a love song to the giant orange nonbinary icon, avowed antifa member, and current Philadelphia Flyers’ mascot Gritty.

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The Dopamines: at Katacombes, Pouzza Fest, 5/18/19 (by Lorien Lamarr)
Will was once again down with the sickness, but luckily for me, with the exception of gluten, I have an iron stomach impervious to any illness. I say “luckily,” but I suppose that’s a matter of perspective. I love The Dopamines, but a Dopamines show is uncannily like giving your fun uncle who gets mean when he’s drunk a microphone… except there’s four of him. It’s like being consensually verbally abused in a quid pro quo exchange for earwormy punk. For an added twist, although their lyrics are often still angry, they are also introspective and honest, which always makes me wonder, “How much of this stage behavior is bravado or do they really live that stark of a dichotomy everyday?” True to form, The Dopamines brought three beers a piece on stage with them and greeted the audience with, “Why aren’t you all at Iron Reagan, you posers. We’re The Dopamines from Ohio. Fuck you,” and launched into a set heavy in tracks from Tales of Interest. The audience, myself included, cheered. Two songs in, when we were still there, one of those beers was spat directly at us, almost like a dare to stay. Not only did we stay, that was when the pit opened up. Punk don’t back down from a dare.

POUZZA FEST DAY THREE, 5/19/19


Rayner: at Foufs Garage, Pouzza Fest, 5/19/19

Rayner from Las Vegas has been on the periphery of my awareness for awhile now, but Pouzza Fest was the first opportunity I got to see them play live and I’ll be honest: over the course of a twenty-ish minute set I completely fell in love. Their specific brand of pop punk isn’t the frenetic high-energy speedway that’s come to be defined by the genre, instead their songs invite the listener to slow down and consider the world around them. This is particularly true of my favorite track off of their 2017 release Disasters, the cleverly named “Blurred Limes” which challenges our modern day notion of success and offers an alternative: “live your life like it’s one big show.” Unendingly humble and grateful to Pouzza Fest for having them all the way out from Las Vegas, Rayner closed their set with a hilarious tongue-in-cheek cover of Jimmy Buffett’s “Margaritaville” that was still an absolute bop and caught the crowd up with its infectious energy.

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Guerilla Poubelle: at The Beer Garden, Pouzza Fest, 5/19/19
It’s never easy to write about a band that sings in a language you don’t speak, but French anarcho punks Guerilla Poubelle have crafted such a clear thesis statement between their music and message that even a casual listener can grasp the gist of what they’re trying to say: namely to wake up, see the world around you, and acknowledge the way it and the people who live in it are being treated by those in power. It was a message that Pouzza Festers were more than willing to listen to, as hundreds gathered in the pouring rain to bask in the group’s gravel-mouthed vocals and driving guitars. It was the first time in my life I’ve ever seen a mosh pit full of umbrellas, which struck me as very fitting for a band that deals in existential philosophy as much as Guerilla Poubelle does.

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Andrew W.K.: The Beer Garden, Pouzza Fest, 5/19/19
When I saw the full lineup announcement for Pouzza Fest I was excited for a lot of reasons, but I was only surprised for one: Andrew W.K.’s name at the top of the headliner list. Pouzza has always managed to grab one or two headliners that completely defy expectations, but seeing Andrew W.K. play an outdoor beer garden in the middle of downtown Montreal was an experience I knew I wanted to be a part of. Looking back on it now, I’m happy to report that it did not disappoint in the slightest. With a thunderous sound setup, a professionally-designed and coordinated light show, and no less than four guitarists all shredding at one time, what other set could compare to the sheer party energy that Andrew W.K. brings everywhere he goes? When we talk about punk, I think it’s important to remember that sometimes we have to throw our heads back and scream, and there’s no one Pouzza Fest could have gotten to better remind us of that than Andrew W.K.

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The Penske File: at Foufounes Électriques, Pouzza Fest, 5/19/19
Just hours before their Pouzza Fest set, The Penske File discovered that their van (along with all of their gear and personal belongings) had been stolen from where they were parked behind Foufs. The call went out, with images of the missing van and all of their gear quickly spreading all over social media in the hopes that anything would turn up. Despite these tremendous setbacks, The Penske File would not be deterred. They borrowed gear from other bands, took the stage as expected, and delivered one of the most incredible sets of pure, undiluted pop punk I have ever seen. Seemingly channeling all of their frustrations and anxieties inwards, all three members, jumped, lunged, and roared with a passion that I’ve never seen from them before. I have said before that The Penske File is the only presently touring punk band that is entirely made up of frontmen, and nowhere was that more on display than on Foufs’ main stage on the third night of Pouzza Fest.

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Kill Lincoln: at Café Cléopâtre, Pouzza Fest, 5/19/19
Any time hometown ska heroes Kill Lincoln from Washington, D.C. play I do my damndest to be there front and center, and I wasn’t about to let Pouzza Fest be the exception to that rule. Even with some of their regular lineup missing in action, Kill Lincoln still treated the late-night Café Cléopâtre to a full set of good old-fashioned East Coast ska punk. If you’ve ever wondered what Less Than Jake would sound like if they’d had a hardcore phase, you should absolutely check out Kill Lincoln. They are one of the most innovative and hard-working ska punk bands out there now, and in a world where ska is mostly treated as a punch line, they’re worth defending. Ska MVP award for Pouzza Fest goes to trombone player Yasutaka Umemoto, who dominated the stage with some of the most impressive vertical jumps I’ve ever seen.

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MakeWar: at Katacombes, Pouzza Fest, 5/19/19
And finally, after three days of an absolutely unreal Pouzza Fest experience, I was fully ready to close out the weekend with some MakeWar singalongs. The NYC three-piece was more than ready to acquiesce, launching into their set with little preamble (“We decided not to get drunk before our set and I think we did a pretty good job. We didn’t succeed, but we did a pretty good job.”) but plenty of energy. It seemed like they’d been storing it all up over the course of the fest, and now it was ready to be unleashed upon the Katacombes crowd in one furious assault of fast guitar, heavy bass, and pounding drums all almost drowned out by the strength of Jose and Edwin’s dual vocal prowess. For the last time of the weekend I watched the crowd go wild for an absolutely incredible band, and the longer the set went on the more we all collectively fought against its inevitable conclusion, perfectly willing to live in this moment as long as we could.

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Will Malkus is a writer, librarian, and concert photographer based out of Baltimore, Md. You can check out his photography and writing portfolios at charmcorephoto.com/.

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BAND REVIEW SUMMARY

FRIDAY, MAY 17
Women in the Scene Panel @ The Beer Garden
Anti-Harassment Seminar and Q&A with Shawna from War On Women @ The Beer Garden
Cold Wrecks @ Foufs Garage
Sarchasm @ Foufs Garage
Choked Up @ Foufounes Électriques
Bad Cop/Bad Cop @ The Beer Garden
Early Riser @ Foufounes Électriques
Save Ends @ Foufs Garage
Abertooth Lincoln @ Turbo Haüs
Dead Bars @ Katacombes
Arms Aloft @ Katacombes
Spanish Love Songs @ Katacombes

SATURDAY, MAY 18
Grand Slam 4 Baseball Tournament @ Lafontaine Park
The Anti-Queens @ The Beer Garden
Alex Brown and the Hepcats @ The Beer Garden
Walt Hamburger @ Théâtre Sainte-Catherine
Direct Hit! @ The Beer Garden
Invaluable @ Katacombes
Big D and the Kids Table @ The Beer Garden
Bike Tuff @ Katacombes (by Lorien Lamarr)
Sincere Engineer @ Foufounes Électriques
Bong Mountain @ Katacombes
Ramoms @ Café Cléopâtre
The Dopamines @ Katacombes (by Lorien Lamarr)

SUNDAY, MAY 19
Rayner @ Foufs Garage
Guerilla Poubelle @ The Beer Garden
Andrew W.K. @ The Beer Garden
The Penske File @ Foufounes Électriques
Kill Lincoln @ Café Cléopâtre
MakeWar @ Katacombes

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Breakin’ Even Fest 2019, April 26-28, 2019 at The Pie Shop, Washington, DC by Will Malkus

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All photos by Lorien Lamarr

In terms of size, Breakin’ Even Fest occupies the space somewhere between the three-day festival that you’re willing to drive across a few states to get to and the show your music booker friend puts on for their birthday every year, but in terms of atmosphere and ethics Breakin’ Even is one of the best fests out there. Period. Full stop. As the name implies, Breakin’ Even Presents (the bookers who put on the fest) refuse to make a profit off of the event: 100% of the proceeds from ticket and raffle sales go to the bands performing, and all profits from festival merch go to Girls Rock DC, a nonprofit aimed at creating creative and safe spaces for girls, nonbinary, and trans youths through music education. After taking 2018 off, Breakin’ Even Fest found a new home this year at the Pie Shop venue above Dangerously Delicious Pies and expanded from a two-night fest to three full nights of local and touring bands.

Despite only being around for three years, Breakin’ Even has the presentation and organization of a much larger and more established festival; all three nights ran smoothly and stayed on schedule, the raffle prizes were well worth it (hefty mystery packs of vinyl from labels like Wiretap and Snubbed Records), and individualized backgrounds projected behind each of the acts. On top of that, Breakin’ Even had more women, POC, and queer representation in their lineup than lots of festivals two or three (or four or five) times their size, which I’m including not to praise the fest for doing what should be obvious in 2019 punk but more to comment on all the bookers out there who say it’s “too hard” or that audiences aren’t interested in more diverse shows. Meanwhile, Breakin’ Even Fest was seven tickets short of a complete weekend sellout, proving the audiences aren’t the uninterested ones.

Before their hiatus I’d missed the first two Breakin’ Even Fests, so I was excited to have the opportunity to cover their comeback and it did not disappoint.

Breakin’ Even Fest Night One, 4/26/19

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Kicking off the whole fest with a twenty-ish minute set of blistering garage punk, Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb hit the crowd with the perfect injection of energy to set the pace of the weekend. The DC/Baltimore four-piece blends a variety of old school punk sound into something just different enough to get your blood pumping, and I especially loved the interplay of Mike L’s Joe Strummer vocals with Sal Go’s riot grrrl growl. I have a soft spot for any punk band that can make a live show sound like you’re hearing it on lo-fi vinyl, and any band that can write a song like “The Last Skinjob” (a rumination on conformity contextualized as a Blade Runner reference) instantly has my heart.

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After SWALTB we had a few brief moments to cool down before the organizers of Breakin’ Even Fest themselves, American Television, took the stage. Ever-humble, they launched into their set with no preamble and they came hard with some of the best timing and smiles of the fest. If there’s one thing you can say about American Television it’s that they really come alive while playing these shows together, and it’s always nice to see how genuinely excited they are up on stage. I’m always happy to hear personal favorite of mine, “The Creek,” an upbeat autobiographical jam that frontman Steven Rovery was able to dedicate to his son Milo in the audience.

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Next up was DC’s own HOMOSUPERIOR, one of the most important contemporary queercore bands in the canon and instigators of the first Breakin’ Even Fest 2019 mosh pit. I love seeing hardcore bands made up of more than just white men; so much of the hardcore scene sounds so similar that just changing one or two of those elements can breathe new life into an entire canon. HOMOSUPERIOR blew the crowd away both literally and figuratively with an assault of heavy guitars and dark riffs that should feel wholly at odds with frontperson Donna’s high-pitched vocals, yet the middle ground where the two meet is all the more interesting sonically for the discord. If you ever get the chance to see HOMOSUPERIOR live I’d advise you not to sleep on it, you won’t regret it.

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Night one ended with a typical Kali Masi set, which is to say some of the most groundbreaking and complex math-y punk to ever come out of the prolific Midwestern scene, accompanied by Sam Porter’s trademark raspy yells. As alarming as it was to see Sam and Wes both freshly shorn, this Kali Masi set was one of my most anticipated of the whole fest and I was not disappointed. The self-described “angular punk” band from Chicago perfectly rounded out a night of local talent all informed by the Dischord sound to one degree or another with some stylistic diversity. The energy in the room was palpable as, for the first (but not the last) time that weekend, the whole floor shook and felt like it might give out. As night one came to a close The Pie Shop was still standing, issuing a silent challenge to the bands playing the next two nights that they’d better bring their A-game.

Breakin’ Even Fest Night Two, 4/27/19

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On Saturday Lorien Lamarr (Aretesophist Photography) and I made our way back to The Pie Shop for the second (SOLD OUT!) night of Breakin’ Even Fest 2019, where Baltimore’s own Subtastics were getting ready to unleash the first high-energy power punk songs of the fest. Their straightforward and fast guitar-bass-drums-plus-harmonies formula was exactly the caffeine boost I needed to recharge from the night before. Subtastics would sound at home on any Lookout! Records comp, but like most Baltimore bands they don’t take themselves too seriously. Guitarist Jeremy Parmentier suffered through an entire set wearing a sweater of what appeared to be a muscular torso in a pepperoni pizza crop top which he explained to the crowd he had received for Christmas and been told he would never wear, so what better place to prove the haters wrong than on stage at a sold-out punk festival?

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Around this time on Saturday we started entering the “dark horse” phase of Breakin’ Even Fest, as I called it, so named because I had never heard of the next two bands that played but I fell in love with both of them almost immediately. Night Surf from NYC played first and kept the high we were all experiencing after Subtastics going strong with their more polished but no less energetic brand of whoa-oh pop punk. Despite their longest song being just over two minutes and their set clocking in at barely fifteen minutes, the crowd was clearly enamored with the four-piece (though that could have something to do with them distributing a bag full of beloved local trash beer National Bohemian to every single member of the crowd). Night Surf graduated from the same school of grittier pop punk as The Menzingers and The Wonder Years, and I would not have blinked twice if I’d heard their song “Enemies” on my local punk radio station in the late 2000s.

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I really struggle to try to describe the next band in the Breakin’ Even Fest lineup, other than to say that if you’re familiar with Philadelphia, Pa.’s DIY scene this band sounds like Philly DIY. Trash Boy is a group of incredibly proficient musicians making twinkly, twangy, weird-as-fuck music with no-holds-barred social commentary and fuzzed-out guitars. Within the first five minutes of their set they had the crowd dancing and singing along to their ridiculously catchy choruses, and I can personally attest that I have had their song “Lizard People” stuck in my head for a solid week at this point. Trash Boy provided a welcome change of pace to the lineup the audience clearly appreciated, and I was informed after the fact that they sometimes do a cover of PUP’s “DVP” that I now desperately want to hear, which should tell you how highly I regard this band’s musical abilities.

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Proper. (née Great Wight) were another band that I was going to Breakin’ Even Fest already excited to see. I’ve spent a fair amount of time listening to them after hearing about their performances repeatedly from Lorien Lamarr, and I’m happy to report that their performance absolutely lived up to her descriptions. Proper.’s music doesn’t neatly fit into any one genre—but that only makes it all the more interesting to listen to. If you like emo-tinged indie pop then you’ll probably like Proper., but even that description doesn’t do justice to their unique Brooklyn-born sound. Couple that je ne sais quoi with lyrics that are unflinchingly honest, poetic, and often conversational and you have a pretty good sense of the intimate experience that Proper. brings to their shows. I have rarely seen a band put so much vulnerability into their music and still make a sold-out show feel like you’re watching them play in someone’s living room. I am already counting down the days until I can see Proper. again later this month at Pouzza Fest in Montreal.

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There have been a bunch of new and exciting punk acts coming out of Pittsburgh, Pa. recently, but perhaps the one that is generating the most buzz, and confusion, is World’s Scariest Police Chases. Armed with three members named Dan, album titles like Nofx…and Out Come the Wolves Dookie and Ablum 3, and an incredibly earnest hardcore sound, it’s impossible to get a read on World’s Scariest Police Chases or what they’re all about. Are they asshole punks out to offend as many people as possible, or are they gifted satirists subtly criticizing the former? At the end of the day it didn’t seem to matter to the late night Breakin’ Even Fest crowd, who lost their minds almost as soon as the band kicked off their set and were slamming and hanging from the chandeliers within moments. Sometimes after a long day of drinking and music you just want to jump around alongside all of your fellow punks, and it was clear that we had reached that point in the night. Kudos to Breakin’ Even Presents for seeing that one coming.

Breakin’ Even Fest Night Three, 4/28/19

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As far as I can tell, Fail Sons, the adamantly Takoma Park (“NOT DC!”) band that kicked off the final night of Breakin’ Even Fest, have only been together since December of 2018, which really surprised me given their chemistry on stage. They played a solid set of good old-fashioned, high-octane punk with exceptionally tight two-guitar-one-bass riffs, Bay-Area vocals provided by lead singer James Berbert, and one of the hardest working drummers of the entire fest in Mark Jubert. As of right now all I could find from them online was a demo tape, but I’m definitely looking forward to hearing more from them in the future.

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As we approach the home stretch of Breakin’ Even Fest it gets tricky, because the organizers saved three of the best bands for an incredibly strong finish. Taking us into the beginning of the end was DoubleMotorcycle from Frederick, Md., a three-piece act that definitely could be described as a band but also just as easily as a performance art collective. They sound a little like if Smashing Pumpkins had invented the dreampop genre a decade early, but their songs (all of which are genuinely good, by the way) are often punctuated by moments like lead singer and guitarist Joe Jalette kicking off one shoe onto his pedal board or drummer Colin McGuire walking out into the crowd and high-fiving willing participants mid-song. The ultimate moment of high art, however, came during the five-plus-minute climax of their final song, when McGuire abandoned his kit once more to place one of his cymbals into the crowd and relegate the duty of keeping time on it to an audience member. The set ended just as suddenly as it had begun, leaving most of us trying to process what we had just been a part of—a sure sign of good art.

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Coming in hot right at the end was one of the bands I suspect most people had come to see—Charlotte, N.C.’s endlessly energetic party band singing about remarkably sad topics: Dollar Signs. This was easily the wildest set of Breakin’ Even Fest 2019; the Pie Shop was packed wall-to-wall, everyone was jumping so hard I thought for sure the floor would give out, and at least one crowd surfer went flying right by my head. Dollar Signs describes their shows as “…group therapy for weekend warriors who have to work jobs that they hate,” and at the end of the day isn’t that what brings us all together at shows like Breakin’ Even Fest in the first place? Whenever Dollar Signs plays, the sense of community in the room and pure joy radiating from the crowd are palpable. I don’t know who was smiling harder; us or the members of the “Student Loan-core” band themselves. If you’ve had a rough day and dance-y basement pop with horns is your thing, Dollar Signs has you covered.

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And finally, twelve bands later, we were almost at the end of Breakin’ Even Fest 2019. There was only one band left to follow Dollar Signs, and it was arguably the only band that could: Worriers. This was a really smart move on the part of the fest organizers, because Lauren Denitzio’s haunting vocals and the band’s heavier rhythms were an excellent cool-down after all the exercise we’d just gotten. It’s always a pleasure to see Worriers live and the current lineup plays so well together that this might have been the best set I’ve seen from them so far. Lauren acknowledged that the crowd was skipping Game of Thrones to see them play and thanked us for making the sacrifice, adding that if they had to pick a character to be from the show it would be, “Brienne of Tarth. Tall and androgynous, go figure.” It was an extremely comforting and peaceful end to Breakin’ Even Fest 2019, and besides; if you didn’t see Mikey Erg at the fest then were you really even at a fest at all?

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Will Malkus is a writer, librarian, and concert photographer based out of Baltimore, Md. You can check out his photography and writing portfolios at charmcorephoto.com/.

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Schwach Tour Diary of Colombia and Ecuador by Martin Stich

schwach tour report

When a friend of ours, who was traveling Europe last year, invited us to tour in Colombia, we didn’t give the proposal much credit. Many promises are made when you’re far from home and someone just gave you a couch to crash on. And, anyways, who the hell would care for a German-singing hardcore band in the tropics?

schwach tour reportDuring the following months, however, we realized that our guy Fello was serious and eventually we had an entire tour booked, starting March 30 in Bogotá, where we arrive one day in advance. We’re picked up at El Dorado International Airport by local punks Camilo Amenazas and Maria-Paula who, apart from putting up shows, run a vegan burger joint in the country’s capitol. The air in Bogotá is pretty thin and after we already lost our sense of time somewhere across the Atlantic, the nocturnal ride to our sleeping place is somewhat surreal. Not the least because we’re being dropped off in the midst of what seems to be the city’s financial center: a lot of shiny glass, no buildings with less than ten floors and a doorman who lets us in so we can squeeze into an elevator that shoots us skywards.

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Once welcomed by our host, we situate ourselves between cats, lentil burgers, and a bunch of Bogotanos preparing for a night out. Even though someone has made an effort running down the place, punk posters and missing toilet paper as well as soap cannot hide the fact, that this is a pretty solid apartment. Crust friends who had already toured this neck of the woods had told me about stabbings at shows and blood-splattered hostels, causing a certain paranoia about my chances of survival. Tranquillized by the thought it might not be that bad in the end, I fall asleep.

After we spend the following day looking for a place to print a tour cover for our 12”—an impossible undertaking in Catholic Colombia on what turns out to be Good Friday—we head to the venue of our first show where we also meet Ximena of the Rattrap collective who had screen-printed and sewn a bunch of shirts for us.

schwach tour report
As with most of the events of the following two weeks, this one’s located in a private club. While those lack the fucked-up, rancid feel of the squats we’re used to, the kids that turn up usually see to the right atmosphere. There’s probably no better way of being welcomed than to see total strangers go nuts during your set. Ironically enough, it’s also here where our cultural differences become most apparent: besides the fact that punk seems to be more vibrant on this continent, it’s also more open to violence. On several occasions, half the people attending would have been kicked out of an average German punk venue before the end of the first song. This was most notable in Medellín and Cali, where we had to cut the set after a brawl broke out. (Although, that happened because our singer knocked a kid over who he thought had kicked him in the crotch.) The problem, however, was that we play a type of music many people like to go berserk to. Although, we as a band, distance ourselves from that notion and try to appeal to people who love tough music but find tough guys annoying. Which, of course, no one knew and didn’t make much sense to a scene where stomping each other’s heads in seems to be the default mode.

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That is not to say that all the locals approved of violent dancing. On several occasions tensions arose within the crowds, as was the case in Quito, Ecuador where we played our last show. The whole thing this time around was somehow connected to straight edge, with edge kids being the culprits. Mistaking us for a straight edge band, we were blamed for the violence and also had to cut this set.

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Apart from that incident and the band Raw Brigade from Bogotá, straight edge, for the greater part of our stay, is conspicuous mostly by its absence. Drug use, especially that of cocaine, seems to be more accepted, and in any case more affordable, than in Europe. Still, we are a little disturbed when we play in Caicedonia, a very small town next to Armenia, the capitol of Colombia’s coffee growing region. The place is easily the most beautiful we’re going to be at. After days spent in either metropolis or bus, being able to look for miles with only occasional trees blocking one’s view of some distant hills is a relief.

On our arrival in the morning we’re being offered some sort of home-brewed liquor that seems to blind everyone within smelling distance. Later we learn that the rural youths have also taken to mixing ethanol with some sort of flavored powder and drinking this blend—that actually does cause blindness—on top of all kinds of other drugs. Naturally, the kids don’t drink this crap because they want to lose their sight (at least that’s what we hope—a few individuals seem already pretty far on the path of self-destruction) but because it’s way cheaper than less poisonous alcohol. This doesn’t harm the overall vibe of the evening, though. The show is pretty cool.

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The way the riches of this country are distributed within the population is, in general, very striking. I have never been to a place where the wealth in resources is so evident. And I’m only talking about what one can see with the naked eye. That is to say: food. The amount of fruit and vegetables alone growing alongside the roads is so great that it seems ridiculous anyone should go hungry or have malnutrition. Still, it looks like the average diet consists of chips and soda. At any rate, that’s what we live off most of the time, with some occasional fried nuts pepping up the menu.

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While this might very well be due to the fact that we live in buses or bus stations and also don’t want to eat stuffed pork that can be purchased on every corner by the slice, we do learn that the Colombian economy is dominated by a few families with close ties to the United States. Many of the goods growing here are meant for export, which also explains why it’s virtually impossible to get a decent cup of coffee in one of the world’s top three coffee exporting countries. On top of that, Colombia’s main corporations also own a few of the more important media outlets. One day inside a taxi we listen to a report on Caracol Radio praising palm oil, that had recently been chosen to boost the Colombian GDP. Wondering how that might affect the country’s rainforests I look outside the driver’s window, just in time to catch a glimpse of a neon sign advertising a super market by the name of Caracol.

Taxi rides were part of the security protocol recommended by our respective hosts, who either accompanied us while walking around or took care that we arrived safe and sound as scheduled by promoters ever worried about us being on time. Well-advised, we mostly stay away from sketchy areas and don’t encounter any problem whatsoever. In fact, the only time our lives seem to be at risk is when we—pressured by yet another promoter and in spite of being warned against doing so—book seats in what apparently is Colombia’s most fucked up bus company, Rapido Tolima.

The bus driver does his best to live up to his company’s nickname Rapido Suicida and some forty-five minutes into the twelve-hour ride, we’re standing in the middle of nowhere with mosquitoes eating us up, while the man in charge tries to fix a broken engine with swamp water. We wait for two hours in complete darkness, with occasional trucks thundering past us until the impossible seems finally achieved: he drums everybody up, mounts his seat, puts the key in the ignition, turns it… and calls the company to send a replacement bus. After another hour we are back on the road and arrive in Medellín just in time to kill an entire day before the show starts. We’re later told that drivers aren’t paid by the hour but by accomplished rides, which changes our feelings towards that guy.

However, us being spared doesn’t mean that the region we’re traveling through can, in the narrower sense, be considered safe. For decades, part of the Colombian population engaged in a fight against big capital whose influence is increasingly limiting the access to the country’s vast resources. Confronted with governmental repressions and paramilitary violence, groups like the FARC, for their part, also took to guns which created a situation that has kept the country in gridlock for the better part of the last half century. The government’s reply to proposed peace talks in the ’90s was more violence against both rebels and the rural populace. Facing the consequent diminishing support within their base, the FARC recognized that armed struggle would be unrewarding and finally agreed to a process of “legalization”—i.e. disarmament, which includes their transformation into a political party—a procedure that is by no means uncontested as we learn on our sojourn. Right-wing activists try to prevent leftist positions from entering the legal stage of politics. This endeavor has reached another level since the election of Colombia’s now president Duque in August.

schwach tour report
Not the least because of these dynamics there’s also discord within the FARC movement; while large parts of the former guerrilleros proceed with their rehabilitation, some refuse to give in. Deprived of both a negotiation base and legal means of income, some draw on nontaxable branches such as drug trafficking and ransom. While we’re pretending to be punk adventurers, a team of journalists from Ecuador investigating these activities is kidnapped in the Colombian-Ecuadorian border region and executed only a few days later.

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The only reason we’re not in that precise area when this goes down is because we’re stuck at the border crossing with about eight hundred Venezuelans who leave the neighboring country in the thousands. Already in Bogotá, we’re surprised to hear our punk friends expressing their disdain towards a bunch of people who turn out to be Venezuelans trying to get anything in exchange for bundles of their worthless cash. While we’re waiting to pass the Ecuadorian health check (three nurses and a thermometer) we get into conversation with some of them who tell us about the $2 wages they’re turning their backs on. Afraid to already know the answer, we ask if it’s $2 an hour or a day. But it’s neither one. Not sure how anyone might live with a sum that little during a whole month, we climb into the bus that gets us to our last two shows.

Substantially smaller than its neighbor, there seems to be a lot more money in Ecuador. The bus terminal of an average city looks like a European airport—still no toilet paper though—and the overall feel is that the wealth of this country somehow trickles down easier to the average person. In any case, it had reached most of the people we stayed with.

Interestingly enough, it’s only here where we’re not getting any cash from the promoters. Anyhow, after ten shows and countless hours and miles on curvy roads without guardrails, we fly back to Berlin, reassured there are other places where punk and hardcore still have meaning.

Should you read this, a big-chimba-thank you to: Fello and the Cali posse, Camilo, Maria-Paula, Verde, Jhon Noworries, Juan Mendez, Diego Noentiendo, Frank Mir, Desarraigo, Manicomio S.A. y todxs que nos montaron un concierto o nos ayudaron en cualquier modo. Go!

We are called Schwach and play hardcore punk with German lyrics covering mostly leftist politics that are critical of the neo-liberal society that we find ourselves living in more and more in Europe. After having crossed the Atlantic Ocean last year to play in Colombia, we’re currently organizing a tour on the U.S. West Coast and Mexico set for July 16 through August 4.

7/16: tba, 7/17: tba, 7/18: Olympia, 7/19: Portland, 7/20: Eugene, 7/21: Sacramento, 7/22: St. Davis, 7/23: Fresno, 7/24: tba, 7/25 Fullerton, 7/26: tba, 7/27: tba, 7/28: Tijuana  7/29: tba, 7/30: tba, 7/31 – 8/4: Mexico with Nunca Es Tarde (Panama)

https://schwach.bandcamp.com/

 

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FEST 17 Review – 69 bands by Kayla Greet

Fest 17 Kayla Greet

FEST 17 Review – 69 bands by Kayla Greet

I flew out on a redeye to Tampa on the Monday before. While trying to get shut eye on a plane is not the most ideal situation, for those of us on a budget it certainly beats spending money on a place to stay for the night. As I was walking to my terminal in Seattle, who should I pass by other than Russ Van Cleave! The Sea-Tac airport isn’t massive like O’hare, but it’s definitely not small either. The fact that we were synced up on our FEST travels and didn’t even realized it was a good omen for the days to come. We popped over to the food court and chatted over some nachos while we waited to board our flights.

Somehow I managed to put together about four hours of sleep in the air. This was a good precursor training for the long nights to come for the rest of this trip. Once I landed in Tampa, I managed to get myself good and lost in the airport. Somehow I had taken a series of shuttles and ended in the rental car parking lot that exited on to a remote service road quite a ways from the airport. What can I say? It’s a gift!

From there I got a lift to the Tampa art museum to check out the Yayoi Kusama installation they had. Viewers were limited to only two minutes in the room, but it was a magical time. I was immersed in one of her infinity rooms that was covered in mirrors and rife with neon inflatable tentacles covered in polka dots. All the while you’re hearing Kusama recite a love poem she wrote in Japanese. The entire thing was beautiful. Then I looked at the museum’s impressive collection of Grecian and Roman artifacts.

I still had a couple of hours to kill before I could check into my Airbnb, so I stopped into Tequilia’s for some empanadas and a bit of a calm before the storm. The place I was staying was a comfortable fifteen minute walk from the main festivities. Once I was able to check in, I met the host’s cockatiel named Khloe and settled into the room.

Later I met up with the Seattle crew for drag queen bingo and freezy drinks in the heart of Ybor City. For those non-drinkers, I have to say the virgin piña coladas are wonderful. On Pre-FEST eve I basically barhopped with my friends and sipped on ginger ales while they indulged in spirits. And I even filled my karma bank that night by letting a Fester crash at my Airbnb because his friend bailed on him last minute for a place to stay. As far as complete strangers go, Mike was a delight and I was happy to help!

DAY 1

Guerilla Poubelle
Campdogzz
Dollar Signs
Sandspur City
Wolf-Face
Nightmarathons
Lone Wolf
RVIVR
Dead Bars
World’s Scariest Police Chases
Cursive

Okay, now on to day one which is my day two, but who’s counting? Pre-FEST begins! But not till 6:20 PM! Mike and I hung around the Airbnb till my friend Aaron, who I was sharing the room with, arrived. Once everyone was settled and unpacked, we walked over to registration where I ended up chatting to some folks from Pittsburgh for a while. Our timing was great and I managed to get a FEST photo booth picture both with my Seattle buds, and with my FEST roommate. Bonus!

From here Mike offered to buy us lunch for letting him crash at the Air Bnb. FEST people are the nicest people! We went to Hamburger Mary’s where I indulged in a mac ‘n’ cheese Beyond burger that was one of the best things I’ve eaten in a while. I did have a minor panic attack a couple of weeks later when I learned that this LBGTQ bar/restaurant was shut down due to both an employee with Hep A working in the kitchen, and live rodents and cockroaches found by the health department. I’m happy to say that none of us got sick.

The first band I saw was Guerilla Poubelle from France who was playing their 999th show as a band! That is quite a feat. After checking them out for the second time this year (they played an incredible show with Arms Aloft in Seattle over the summer), we sauntered over to the Orpheum for the end of Campdogzz and all of Dollar Signs’ set. Pre-FEST this year was considerably smaller and only employed three venues total, one of which was only doing afternoon acoustic bands. So really it was a fifty-fifty toss up between Crowbar and Orpheum. This made scheduling conflicts almost non-existent.

After a high energy set from those North Carolina boys, and getting a chance to catch up with Lou Hanman outside of Orpheum, I caught some of Sandspur City followed by Wolf-Face. For those who are unaware, these guys dress up as Michael J. Fox from Teen Wolf and play some poppy, driving punk jams in basketball uniforms and wolf masks. As far as gimmicks go, theirs is pretty good. Nightmarathons from Pittsburgh were next and my buddy Tim is their drummer. They played a tight and very enjoyable set that I was happy to be a part of.

From here I was about to flip a coin between Dikembe who I know people enjoy though I don’t know their tunes, and Lone Wolf from The Netherlands who I knew zero things about. As I came out of the bathroom at Crowbar I figured I’d stay for a song or two of the Dutch group and then walk over to the Orpheum.

The problem was that their first song was an absolute ripper so I stayed for a second one. That song was even better! Dead Bars’ CJ Frederick came over to me and was like, “Holy smokes this band is great! And their gear is so nice!” Before long I was committed to staying for their whole set and didn’t want them to ever stop playing. Every time they finished a song I felt less like I was clapping and more like I was high fiving myself for making the best choice of the night. They’re a mix of Big Eyes, Marked Men, and Sugar Stems with these insanely catchy numbers and I was in love. After their set I ran over to the merch table and grabbed a copy of their latest CD. I considered the flexi and/or an LP but didn’t want to carry/ruin either while traveling. Please come back to the States soon Lone Wolf! They were the best band of FEST!

And then I was caught in a conundrum. RVIVR and Dead Bars were playing within ten minutes of each other and while it’s only a six or seven minute walk between venues, I had to figure out how to best split my time. Now, I’ve seen both bands countless times over the years in the Northwest, but that doesn’t change the fact that they’re both some of my favorites to watch. I started at the Orpheum as RVIVR started first. Then I stayed for most of their set and popped back to the Crowbar in time to see Dead Bars’ last three songs. It was the first time in a long while that I’d seen them with CJ who is a delightful human being who I miss very much.

My Pre-FEST roomie Aaron and I reconnected and wandered over to watch Cursive for the end of our first day. Bad Cop/Bad Cop was officially closing out the night, but neither of us had it in us to keep walking around till 2 AM. Cursive played a very tight set and sprinkled in plenty of stuff from Ugly Organ as well as new stuff. Just before their last song, Tim Kasher went on an impassioned political rant about the importance of getting out the vote for midterms, as well as not allowing the right to divide us. That was the first of many “go vote” pep talks I heard shouted from stage this weekend, but it was one of the more impactful ones in my opinion. With a bit more pep in our step, we walked the twenty minutes back to our bed and finally truly rested.

DAY 2

Bad Cop/Bad Cop acoustic
Headlines
War On Women
PEARS
Night Birds
Tiltwheel
Dead To Me
The Tim Version
Lemuria
Tim Barry
Radioactivity

One of the nice things about FEST is that nothing starts at crazy o’clock. You’ve generally got until the early afternoon to chill out and recoup from the day before. Now I don’t drink anymore so I’m not having to shake off the fog of too many PBRs and whiskeys in the AM, though I will say that standing on concrete and pinballing between venues all day will certainly wipe you out. Always be sitting whenever possible and drink water like you’re an opposite camel that will never have a reserve of liquid of any kind. Follow these simple steps and you’re well on your way to surviving the festivities.

Aaron and I showered up and propelled ourselves back into the mild Florida heat. While it was still warmer than I preferred, there was often a breeze which kept the temps from hitting the eighties. Totally tolerable. I outfitted myself with a tropical print fanny pack (aka waist wallet) containing an emergency power pack, charger, notebook, and cash money. And I also clipped my gigantic water bottle with a carabiner so I didn’t have to hold it all day. Last year I made the mistake of bringing a shoulder bag and felt like the world’s biggest asshole for bumping into people at every gig.

We arrived at The Bricks about an hour before Bad Cop/Bad Cop’s acoustic set so we could cram some caffeine and vittles into ourselves. By the way, the food here is fantastic! While we were eating I got a message from our Airbnb host asking what time we planned on checking out today. In my head I’m like, “Umm… tomorrow morning?” Turns out I fucked up when selecting dates for the room and there was another couple coming in to rent the spot that night.

So I shot a few quick texts to friends saying we might need an emergency floor to sleep on tonight, and then frantically looked for reasonably priced Air Bnbs last minute. I found a $40 room only three miles north in a fairly sketchy and cluttered house, but it was better than nothing. Finally Aaron and I could breathe and relax a bit. There was no immediate rush to move out so we were still able to see some of the bigger bands on our early afternoon schedule.

Fest 17 Kayla Greet
After settling up with the wait staff, we meandered to the back patio of The Bricks for a super duper intimate set with BC/BC. There were two fans blowing full blast onto the stage, though it still wasn’t quite enough. Halfway through they got the third fan turned on which made hearing them much harder. But holy hell these gals have range. I’ve seen BC/BC electric many times in all sizes of venues. I’ve seen them play shows smaller than this sweet acoustic gig. But I’d never seen them just absolutely slay like this. From the very start Stacey said they wouldn’t be using the vocal mic provided for them, and I was very impressed with how much they projected, especially over the sound of three industrial fans. One of the best sets I saw that weekend for sure.

Ever since Headlines dropped their demo on bandcamp in early 2018, it’s been an obsessive earworm for me. Especially that “Teething” song. Holy crap is that a jam! So moving house could wait till after their set ’cause I was jazzed about catching them. For whatever reason I decided to stand on the side stage for their set. Maybe I subconsciously placed myself closest to the door so we could bolt as soon as they finished? Anyways, the sound was not great as I was behind the speakers and basically hearing it through the monitors. Not at all a fault of the band or the Crowbar. I’m just a dummy for standing where I did. Anyways, they were great and I was very pleased to have seen them. That Marissa has a helluva voice.

I bee-lined to collect Aaron for our eviction shuffle and passed my friend Tim on the way. He gave a quick hello, finished his conversation, and then came over to chat. Unfortunately it was a short one wherein I explained how much of an idiot I am and that we had to go move. In the interest of time we began a series of three Lyfts—one to the old place, one to the new place, and one back to Crowbar. The whole ordeal took around forty-five minutes and we were back in time for me to catch War On Women. Phew!

This was my first time seeing WOW and they really do put on an impressive show. Shawna Potter is a force to be reckoned with, totally taking control of the stage as well as captivating the audience. Between WOW and Radon, as well as “Two Minutes To Late Night” for which WOW were the backing band, guitarist Jenarchy played eight sets that weekend. She fucking rocked the three sets I saw her do, and I’m sure the others were even better.

After this set I took a lengthy outside break and chatted with Zach and Brian from PEARS for a bit. I’ve said it before, but one of the magical things about FEST is just shooting the shit with some of the best bands around. Out on the High Dive patio there were members of Bad Cop/Bad Cop, WOW, Night Birds, and more. Once it was time for PEARS to hit the stage I jumped back inside.

They played their signature high energy set with a medley of covers ranging from Santana ft. Rob Thomas to Green Day. At one point Shawna Potter joined them on stage for a song. Another one of those awesome things of FEST is seeing these spur of the moment collaborations. I stuck around Crowbar for a triple dose of PEARS, Night Birds, and Tiltwheel, then wandered over to Orpheum for Dead To Me. The venue was packed for DTM so I took a better vantage point by watching from upstairs. While there, I stood next to a girl who couldn’t be bothered to look up from pictures of dogs on her phone to catch even a second of DTM. That’s fine I guess. Sometimes you just gotta recoup and look at puppies, though I chose to summon my energy reserve in order to do some dancing and singing with Jack and crew. This was the first time I’d seen their new songs live and they put on a hell of a show.

Fest 17 Kayla Greet
Then I bounced back to Crowbar for a dose of The Tim Version, peppered in some Lemuria at Orpheum, and boomeranged back to spend the last of my night bouncing around to Radioactivity. Those Denton dudes always pack a punch as they tightly weave through their power pop jams. This was the first band so far that I staked out a spot right up front and it was so worth it. Finishing up sharply at midnight meant I had time to wind down, wipe the sweat from my brow, and catch a ride with Aaron to our Air Bnb. He had me in tears talking about how the Piebald set drove him to drink and called them a bunch of hair farmers. I nearly fell over laughing at such a ridiculous phrase while we waited for our Lyft. Even our driver was cracking up at his late night rant about washed-up nostalgia. Fantastic way to end the night!

DAY THREE—The Road to Gainesville

Cold Wrecks
Goddamnit
Sports Reference
Reconciler
Radon
Bad Cop/Bad Cop
The Eradicator
Tsunami Bomb
Such Gold
Audio Karate
Arms Aloft as Jimmy Eat World
Ramona as Beastie Boys
Riverboat Gamblers
Crusades

Having slept maybe five hours because we were too busy talking about the events of the past two days and singing Samiam songs to each other, Aaron and I packed up and headed to the FEST Porkchop Express pick up. The email confirmation we all got said to meet at the Hilton Gardens at 10:30 for an 11AM departure. I don’t think we actually got on the road till almost noon. Aaron and I were there fifteen minutes early and sucked down some free coffee from the hotel lobby.

I bumped into some Seattle friends Raymond and Kelsie who’d just flown in the night before and were taking the charter bus with us. Unless you’re close enough to have driven yourself to Pre-FEST, the Porkchop Express is the way to go. It’s only $50 for a one way trip, and you get an exclusive T-shirt! At 11:15 we’d been waiting for a full hour and nothing was happening. The bus was there. The driver was there. But all the rest of us were queued up in front of the hotel with our luggage.

Finally I took charge and decided to see what the deal was. I walked up to the driver who introduced himself as “Keith, but my friends call me the Ragin’ Cajun.” I asked what our ETA was and he responded with, “two hours.” “No,” I said, “Not how long till Gainesville, how long till we get on your bus and on the road?” He replied that he was just waiting on us and once the shock of that washed over me, I yelled to the crowd of folks to get on the bus.

Everyone rushed towards the bus, some threw their gear in the compartments underneath, and then I realized I’d made a grave mistake. There still needed to be someone to check us in and distribute these exclusive tees. So I asked everyone to hold up a minute while I asked the front desk what was going on. They had no idea so I went back to the bus passengers and asked if anyone in line knew any FEST organizers or volunteers. Again I was empty handed.

Ragin’ Cajun told me that he had a manifest of fifty-seven riders so I did a head count. We came up seven people over. There was a second bus that was picking up at the other hotel, so I asked everyone to double check their confirmation email and make sure they were in the right place. Even though I didn’t know what was going on, I did my best to keep everyone as informed as I was, and used the opportunity to get to know our driver better. He said he’s from Louisiana originally and loves AC/DC and Metallica. We were going to get on just fine. Then he asked me what kind of festival we were all going to and I replied, “Well, there’s wrestling, comedy, and oh a shit ton of punk bands.” I’d considered informing him it was a circus convention, though burying the lead seemed funnier.

Eventually the other bus swung by with the FEST volunteer who had the detailed charter manifest and we got all squared away. The shirt this year was a picture of Large Marge that said, “Tell ’em Pre-FEST sent ya!” Our driver informed us that our in-drive entertainment was Leprechaun in the Hood and Child’s Play. I connected with a new friend from Los Angeles and settled in with my Northwest buds after asking the bus to give a round of applause to our driver, Ragin’ Cajun. I made it through maybe half of Ice T battling a scorned leprechaun before laying on Aaron’s shoulder for a nap. I woke up to the cringe-worthy rap at the end of Leprechaun and rolled into chats with friends while Chucky was possessed by a killer on the run.

Having skipped breakfast in lieu of our charter bus schedule, I was starving by the time we rolled in to Gainesville. I got dropped at the Holiday Inn, checked into my room with my friends (Alithea, Nichole, and Jake) who were already there, and set out to get food. Nichole joined me for lunch at Reggae Shack where I ordered way too much food and cried on the inside that I couldn’t finish their dulce de leche festivals.

Razorcake’s own Craven Rock met up with us at Reggae Shack and accompanied me to the non-FEST sanctioned impromptu(?) Radon show at Leonardo’s Pizzeria. There were three bands on this free bill and I caught half of the first one, as well as most of Radon. I reconnected with Aaron there who thankfully helped me finish the delicious 32oz smoothie I got from Reggae Shack. I bumped into my buddy Fedge from Oakland there and it started to feel like FEST was truly upon us. With a few songs left to go, I had to sneak back to my room at the Holiday Inn to lie down before the day really started.

Once I’d digested more of my gigantic lunch, I surprised The Bollweevils by stopping in where they were having lunch. Always nice to reconnect with some old friends and even better when they’re not expecting it. They finished up their drinks and we all headed to 8 Seconds to catch Bad Cop/Bad Cop. On our walk I overheard some kids saying they didn’t know how to get to 8 Seconds so I roped them in with our caravan. “We’re headed there now. Come with us!”

We got our first wristband of the day and headed to the landing on the side of the stage for one of the best views in my least favorite venue. There we ran into Rev of Success who was playing with Western Settings. I always love seeing hometown homies outside of Seattle.

I dipped out right before the end of BC/BC’s set so I’d get to the High Dive early for Tsunami Bomb. In doing so I caught the tail end of The Eradicator who was still up to his masked Squash antics. When they finished up, I snagged a spot up front, stage right and was situated just in front of my buddy Dominic who is the bassist.

Now this was about the twentieth time I’ve seen Tsunami Bomb, but only the second since they reformed with their new singer. They played so many of my old standbys, as well as mixing in their two brand new jammers. Of those twenty times seeing TB, this was also only my second with original keyboardist Oobliette. It was everything I wanted it to be. Though because FEST is a well oiled machine, their set was cut abruptly only a few bass lines into the crowd favorite “Lemonade.” Turns out they went on just a few minutes late and couldn’t squeeze anymore lemons into that set.

Afterwards I reconnected with Dominic who’s been a friend of mine since I started following the band sixteen years ago. Not only does he play in one of my favorite bands, but he hosts two podcasts (3 Gigs, Monster Candy), helps run Alternative Tentacles, and draws awesome comics. He rules and it’s always a blast to see him.

I stuck around High Dive for a while longer since one of my favorite people in the whole world was there. My buddy Tommy from Chicago was at FEST helping sling merch for Red Scare and luckily I met up with him before his weekend got real busy. We hung out through Such Gold and Audio Karate’s set, just catching up on the patio before I ran off to Loosey’s to catch some cover sets.

Snagging a slice of Five Star pizza on my way, I jumped in line with Seattle buddies Greg (Bobby’s Oar), his partner Stephanie, Skyler from Heck Yes, and Kendra from the Bad Copy. This might have been the first line I had to wait in all weekend. If you’ve got to kill some time at FEST, I can’t imagine a better group of folks to do it with. Plus Kendra had Bad Copy Mad Libs with her wherein I was allowed to make fun of The Menzingers from the safety of a fictional story.

Fest 17 Kayla Greet
What we were all queuing up for was Arms Aloft’s Jimmy Eat World set. Now I’m happy to admit that before crossing that threshold to Loosey’s I’d consider myself a very casual JEW fan who maybe would remember one or two songs. Number one I wanted to watch Arms Aloft pretend to be another band, and two I wanted to be there early for Ramona’s Beastie Boys set. When that half hour was done I realized I knew way more than a couple JEW songs, and that I really enjoyed hearing them live. Maybe it’s that FEST magic of seeing a crowded room lose their shit about a great band playing someone else’s songs. Either way it was far better than I had anticipated.

In between sets I took a seat on Loosey’s patio. To my left was a table full of Germans and I’m still on level one of verb tenses with Doulingo so I decided not to practice my amateur Deutsche. To my right was a trio of dudes, one of who continued to punctuate his stories with gesticulating and consistently jabbing me by accident. After a couple of jolts to the shoulders and ribs I decided to let on that I was eavesdropping. It was Jeff Matika from Banner Pilot / The Longshot / Green Day. He was super apologetic about bumping me. I chatted with him about how much fun the two Longshot shows I saw in the Northwest were and how I bonded with their guitarist Kevin for being an extra in Star Trek.

Ramona doesn’t fuck around. They took the stage wearing matching (Grand) royal blue jumpsuits with their band name on the back, as well as shades, and various accessories such as backwards hats and large metallic jewelry. Here’s the thing, they weren’t doing karaoke to beats without the rhymes. They’d recorded themselves playing the hooks on a keyboard, as well as had a guitarist filling in other melodies, and Shannon on drums for an added oomph. There was also a live keyboardist for a few songs. I don’t remember much within the whirlwind of amazement besides them nailing “Sure Shot” and Abbey crushing “Girls.” One of the most fun sets of the day for sure (shot).

Worried I’d miss one of the gnarliest bands of FEST, I cut Ramona’s set a bit short and ran over to see the Riverboat Gamblers. If anyone is breaking a bone this weekend, it’s Mike Wiebe and it’s here. What an absolute fucking mad man. The fear receptor in his brain must be malfunctioning because he’ll do anything for a shocking effect. Scale the ten feet tall speaker stacks as an already six foot something tall man and then leap into the crowd of people who think they’re ready for it? When I wanted to tell Ragin’ Cajun we were all going to a circus convention, this is our ring master.

My pro-tip or whatever about FEST is this: don’t go to 8 Seconds for any reason whatsoever. The staff is on the medium to totally bogus scale, the sound is not great, and the indoor smoking I just can not get over. I personally smoke and think it’s disgusting to trap up tons of people in a smoky bar/venue, not to mention the potential of getting burned? No fucking thank you.

So guess what? I peaced out early from that set too. Originally I planned on being there till the end of their set with a whole twenty minutes to spare before the first of the last Crusades sets. But fuck all that. I didn’t want to trigger a migraine before seeing these Satanic Canadians! This gave me time for yet another slice of Five Star on the way to High Dive and then I high fived my friend Lukas at the front of the stage, eagerly awaiting Crusades.

Fest 17 Kayla Greet
I don’t know how to convey it to you. They were simply just so fucking good. Dave Williams is absolute precision in a Kate Bush shirt. Jordy hits hard in all the right places. Skottie and Emmanuel harmonize like angels, if they believed in them. They brought up this amazing woman to sing my favorite Jay Reatard song, “My Shadow,” with them. That’s like winning the lottery. When a band you love dearly covers another band you love, but also picks THE best song? Fantastic.

Afterwards I hung around the merch table to say hi to Dave in person. He and I have communicated a bit over the years and I’ve interviewed him in the past, but both of our respective nations have kept us from congregating in the flesh. He graciously gave me a Crusades shirt depicting a saintly figure hugging a goat. With that and a few hugs goodbye, I strolled back to the Holiday Inn for the night.

DAY FOUR

Night Birds
PEARS – Go To Prison
Banner Pilot
Lemuria
RVIVR
MakeWar
Adult Magic
Ceramicats
The Flatliners
The Copyrights – North Sentinel Island
Katie Ellen
Spells
The Creeps
Nightmarathons as Samiam
Dead Bars as Bouncing Souls
Crusades

For a number of beneficial reasons, I quit drinking just a couple of days after last year’s FEST. So this would be my first major music festival (sponsored by PBR) where I wouldn’t be partaking in booze. Because of that I designed a distraction for myself and organized a Punks is Sober meet up to better reach other folks who may be struggling with substance abuse. One of the FEST Friends mods also had something like this set up as she wasn’t drinking anymore due to a pregnancy. It made sense to merge events and so we carved out a couple hours on the patio of Pop-A-Top to commiserate and meet.

Honestly I was pretty disappointed with the turnout. Maybe eight or nine people out of several thousand showed up. And one of the people there openly admitted he was a drinker who was just there for moral support. That’s so totally fine. Good on you for supporting your friends. I was anticipating basically an AA meeting for punks, which is what I’ve been searching for at home for the last year.

I got a decent start on the day and was en route to Pop-A-Top when I got a text from Tommy saying he was heading downstairs at the Holiday Inn for a smoke. So I turned heel and walked back to meet him for a quick hang. One of our mutual friends had lost their wallet the night before so we discussed the logistics of finding it or getting them home without an ID. Everything worked out in the end, which is great!

Fest 17 Kayla Greet
Showing up about twenty minutes late to the sober meet up, I quickly grabbed a coffee as well as a cucumber soda and a vegan breakfast burrito. There I met up with a woman from Paris whose sober date was only two days behind mine, and a guy who people in my Atheist Agnostic AA meetings at home had suggested I meet as we had lots in common. A couple more folks showed up a little later and the core of us sat abreast of Night Birds’ raucous set at the Atlantic while talking about recovery, sobriety, subculture, and music. It was small but it fucking ruled. I’d way rather sit and connect with people at that moment than see Night Birds again. Plus we could hear it really well anyways!

The next band at the Atlantic was a mystery set consisting of PEARS playing their first record start to finish. I sat with my new friends for a bit longer and eventually popped into the Atlantic for the second half of the B Side. It’s always an interesting thing when a band plays an album all the way through because I’d hazard to guess that some of those songs haven’t been played since they were recorded. As per usual, those New Orleans dudes packed a punch and put on a great set.

With some time to kill I walked over to Bo Diddley Plaza planning on checking in on my buddy Tommy slinging merch over there. But Banner Pilot was playing and it just reaffirmed my aversion towards that band. So I bowed out and headed to the Wooly for Lemuria’s mystery set. Shout out to the bartenders at the Wooly for being totally happy to fill my giant water bottle and throw a bunch of ice in it as well. The room was pretty packed and I found a spot off to the side, halfway facing the stage and half the open doorway filled with radiating Florida sun. The difference in lighting was so drastic that I wore my sunglasses which was beneficial since I was also feeling emotional.

There’d been rumors flying around that Lemuria was calling it quits, so I was happy to have this mystery set to catch them at for the second time this weekend. About four or five songs into their very Get Better-heavy set, Sheena relieved everyone by saying the rumors were false and Lemuria would carry on! Awesome.

On my way to the High Dive to catch MakeWar, the sounds of RVIVR filled my head from Bo Diddley. While I mostly avoided the huge outdoor venue, as I’d rather watch medium- to small-sized bands in more intimate venues, I definitely appreciate the sound quality and how much those PAs carry throughout downtown Gainesville.

MakeWar. One of the brightest highlights of FEST 17. I definitely let my fatigued body and mind take over for a bit and got straight up lost on the way to the High Dive even though it’s basically my base camp for FEST. Several times throughout the weekend friends would text me asking where I was. One hundred percent of the time the answer was High Dive. So I came around the back through the parking lot which meant no bonus slice of Five Star, but as I passed all the out-of-state license plates, I noticed the dudes from MakeWar blowing up a few large Orca whale pool floats—much like the cover of their first record.

Before the set started, I got to reconnect with my friends John and Drew who I met at last year’s FEST because I asked if I could charge my phone next to them. It was so good to see these dudes again and it made me reinvigorated about how amazing FEST can be. Soon as we heard the first notes of MakeWar, we all wandered in and sort of spread out. Maybe three songs in the pool floats came out. There were three huge Orca whales and one pink doughnut.

Within seconds of the floats being released, a stage diver grabbed one on either side of the fins and hopped on. He managed to survive a few seconds of literal surfing the crowd before being swallowed up by the chaos. In the midst of these inflatables floating around the pit, one of the sound proofing panels, which were held on by hooks and eyelets from the ceiling, came crashing down. Fortunately only most of the panel came unattached and it sort of swung at a ninety degree angle, narrowly missing several people. When I looked up from ducking the panel, I saw Drew and two others holding onto the soundproofing so it didn’t crush those underneath it.

The floats were still flying everywhere and more had been added while I was distracted by the ceiling guillotine. A few floppy inflated skeletons were cruising around also. At one point a beached whale landed right in front of me. Instinct kicked in and I tried to fling it back into the air with my foot. I momentarily forgot that I was wearing slip-on shoes and that right foot took off with the Orca, causing my sock to land into a major PBR puddle. Thank you to the one pit angel who helped me relocate my shoe so I didn’t develop FEST foot and have to have it amputated. Absolutely one of the best sets of the whole weekend.

From here I met back up with Aaron and we watched Adult Magic at Boca Fiesta. This band features Mike from Dead Broke Rekerds and it was cool to have a chance to see him play some tunes. We sat and chatted for a bit while a band played inside at Palamino’s, and then headed over to the Hardback Cafe to check out Ceramicats. These guys and Radon were the only local bands I checked out, and quite honestly they weren’t even on my radar. But Aaron used to live in Gainesville and I trust his recommendations. After a half hour of piercing, twinkly, mathy leads and somewhat sleepy indie, I spotted Replay Dave in the crowd. He surprised me by saying, “I don’t want to sound like a dick, but what the hell are you doing at a Ceramicats set? Only locals come to see them.” Well when you’re friends with an ex-local, you get tipped off to the good stuff!

We both had a couple of hours before anything we really wanted to see was happening. Aaron caught up with his Florida friends and I hit up the arcade. I hung out there getting replays on their pinball machines until Aaron came by. He was winning most of our matches and I decided that it maybe wasn’t my day for competitive pinball. So we popped outside for a cigarette and bumped into Brendan Kelly. I asked him if he hangs out at Logan’s Arcade in Chicago and he responded that he was only there because they don’t have whiskey backstage at Bo Diddley and he was bored as fuck.

Seeing that we all had some time to kill, we hung out while Brendan and Aaron argued about who had the worst American Steel tattoo. Brendan told us about how he and Ryan from American Steel got each other’s bands tattooed on a whim in the basement of the American Legion Hall in San Francisco. He said there was little to no sanitation, and the guy who inked them had to do five shots in a row just to settle the shakes in his hands. All of a sudden Aaron’s thirty dollar tattoo didn’t look so bad.

From this point on Aaron and I were inseparable. We were now officially doing FEST together. I’ll say that there is some amazing freedom in FESTing alone but it gets lonely pretty quickly. It was awesome to have a partner who likes the same bands, and is willing to show each other new ones. We hung in the back of the Wooly, holding hands and watching Katie Ellen. Even more fantastic was their gorgeous cover of Sixpence None The Richer’s “Kiss Me.” Seeing Katie Ellen is akin to what I imagine attending church does for theist people. It’s a gorgeous set of music.

Then it was off to the High Dive for Spells! I admit I attended most of their set from the patio, resting my legs. Two different people from the bus incident in Tampa came by to thank me for taking charge. One of them said we’d probably still be there if I hadn’t spoken up! He insisted on buying me a drink for my efforts so I acquiesced with a Shirley Temple. While we were sitting on the patio, Aaron’s friend Jeff tumbled in like a bull in a china shop. He told me he was so worried that they wouldn’t let him in because he was so drunk, but that if he had to miss The Creeps he was just going to slit his wrists in some abandoned alleyway. I mean I really love The Creeps, but he LOVES them. Then he revealed to us that he’d developed three different dance moves for their set that were based off of Jazzercise.

Their set was absolutely incredible and everything I ever wanted. Though each second was transformative for me, there was a point I was taken aback when I realized that I was surrounded by tall men. Do only tall men and I like The Creeps? I felt like I was trapped in a crop circle so I shimmied a bit closer to the stage, and even closer still when they played “Cancer.” This was another set I got a bit misty-eyed at. Skottie has the most incredible voice and I’m so happy to have finally seen them live.

Could things possibly surpass this zenith?!? Did my soul have any more room to be tantalized? Turns out it did. Jeff and his Jazzercise moves followed us to Nightmarathons’s Samiam cover set at the Atlantic. Their drummer Tim had told me their set list the day before but that didn’t totally prepare me for how much fun this was. I think by the time they played “Factory” or “Sunshine” the mic no longer belonged to the band. It started to become overwhelming for me and I stepped back from the crowd, only to be treated like a wrestler on the ropes when I was bounced back in by Jeff. “Where do you think you’re going? No girl, we’re SINGIN’,” he shouted in my ear. And just like that I was catapulted a couple of inches from the mic with my arms pinned to my side as forty other people mobbed the mic to close out the set with “Dull.” What made the entire experience that much more memorable was Jeff intermittently shouting, “Play something off Soar!” “Do you know anything from Soar?”

I ran outside soon as they finished to stave off a panic attack and catch my breath. That was the first time I’d been right at the mic while people climbed on top of each other to get to it. Guess I leave that sort of thing for the hardcore kids. Next was Dead Bars doing Bouncing Souls and I’m so glad I gave myself a reset before that. Before the first song, I tried to take a drink from my water bottle, but my timing was awful because a crowd of dudes chanting “Ole ole ole ole, oleeee, ole” shoved their way forward, smashing the bottle to my face in the process. It’s not really a Jersey band doing another Jersey band unless someone is bleeding from the mouth, right? They ran through all the hits and the crowd absolutely lost their minds.

Between Creeps, Samiam, and Souls, Aaron and I had lost our voices. I don’t think either of us packed a reserve tank of energy, so we sat through the very last Crusades show ever instead of trying to power through. This is one of my regrets, but sometimes you just can’t push your body to or past its limits. Not quite ready mentally to call it a night, we walked around Gainesville till around 4 AM. During our walk we passed by the No Idea house and the most unsettling car accident. As we rounded the corner, Abba’s “Dancing Queen” was blaring and a soft red light filled the scene. A car had probably hit this palm tree at around 50 MPH and I couldn’t tell which end was the front anymore. There was a cop on scene but all we could hear was full volume disco. It felt like we were walk-ons in a David Lynch film.

DAY FIVE

Pkew Pkew Pkew
Horrible Things
Nervous Triggers
Bobby’s Oar
Bong Mountain
Ramona
Black Dots
Arms Aloft
Western Settings
Erica Freas
City Mouse
Nothington
Radon
Burn Burn Burn
The Copyrights
The Sewer Rats
The Penske File

Sunday is the hardest day. I just don’t ever want to say goodbye and go back to the real world. It’s a sad truth, but we still had a whole day to savor.

Aaron met me at the Holiday Inn and from there we went to Loosey’s to have breakfast with Tsunami Bomb. Well, most of the band had gone back home by then, but I got some quality time in with Dominic. It’s always so nice to actually catch up with people at a huge fest like this instead of just high fives and hugs in passing.

Once we’d eaten, we headed to Bo Diddley to see Pkew Pkew Pkew with our new friend Sarah. Last year I barely got in the door at Tequila’s to see these guys and now they were dominating the largest stage at FEST. Kudos to you dudes! We then hung out at Palomino for a few bands and caught Bobby’s Oar playing outside Big Lou’s on our way to see Bong Mountain at High Dive.

After a quick pit stop at the Holiday Inn, we shared a Lyft with my friend Alithea and headed to see Ramona. They’re killing it this year. Of course I’m glad to see them blowing up and working on a new record for Red Scare, but I wish all that was happening before they left Seattle! Their set was amazingly powerful and made me tear up just a bit. They covered Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Run Away with Me” which I’d never heard before, but was transfixed by. I’ve since heard the original and am really impressed with Ramona’s version. Abbey injects so much emotion in her singing that she could make you feel sappy about “Old MacDonald.”

Black Dots went on next and while they were great, I was still thinking about that Ramona set. Arms Aloft and Western Settings were definitely worth seeing for the hundredth time, though I felt a little guilty for not checking out something I’d never heard of. FEST singalongs had ravaged Aaron’s voice and at this point we were working on a Penn and Teller act. His voice was completely gone and could only communicate by texting me while I talked to him.

Fest 17 Kayla Greet
He took off to see Too Many Daves with some friends while I snagged a tempeh burrito at Boca Fiesta and watched Erica Freas’s solo acoustic set. I walked in a couple of minutes late and every seat in the Hippodrome was taken. A smattering of people was sitting crisscross applesauce style on the floor in front, so I snagged a space just to the left of Erica. As she played, more and more people came by, sheepishly poking their heads in the door. Every single time Erica encouraged the folks on the floor to come closer so there was enough room for everyone. By the end of the set we had her surrounded. She spotted Mattie Jo watching from the doorway and had them come in to sing a RVIVR song with her. The last song she played was “Quinn.” Before she launched into it she taught us the last line of the song that ripples out for several measures. What an absolutely incredible moment. Sitting there with maybe three hundred echoing “Our hearts beat with you” was so beautiful that I teared up for the second time today. Erica was a much-needed emotional reset and I feel so lucky to have been there.

Aaron caught the tail end of this singalong. After I shook out my leg cramps and thanked Erica for a beautiful set, we headed to The Wooly to watch City Mouse and make sure Miski was playing without shoes on. Their set was also very powerful. Towards the end, Miski jumped off the stage and into the crowd with her guitar and mic. Those intimate FEST moments never get old.

We attempted to end the weekend on a high note by seeing Radon but we goofed. So instead of going to Boca Fiesta, we showed up to the High Dive where there was a line to get in. Fuck! Why does everyone wanna see Radon?!? Well we got to the front of the line finally and heard gravelly songs about being tired and realized we were at Nothington’s last show. Whoops! Not that we have anything against those dudes, it just wasn’t the speed or crowd we were looking for.

Once we rectified our mistake, Aaron handed me a Shirley Temple and ran into the crowd for “Facial Disobedience.” It was a much better set than they had played at Leonardo’s and I was happy we caught them twice. My buddies Burn Burn Burn from Seattle were playing one of the last sets of FEST at Durty Nelly’s so we headed there next. The guy in front of me had clearly been to the same button machine we had earlier that day and I tried to trade him a Ren & Stimpy pin for his coveted “Nuke the Whales” one. To his credit he did consider it, but had to pass on the offer. Damn!

Burn Burn Burn played great and for a mostly Northwestern crowd. After their “last song,” they were told they still had six minutes so they cranked out a cover of “My Own Worst Enemy.” Not wanting to have a Lit song be the last thing we heard at FEST, Aaron and I ran back to the High Dive for another Copyrights set. As we wound down the weekend, we walked past the last bands of the night, deciding not to go in especially since that Penske File set was absolutely packed.

So instead we took a Lyft back to the Wyndham. Our driver let me request Samiam’s “Don’t Break Me” for the ride and he even had a disco ball and light show in the back! I’m the world’s biggest idiot and booked my flight home from Gainesville at 6 AM on Monday. Aaron was kind enough to stay up till 5 AM with me and we had a mostly delirious karaoke party in his hotel room. We shared an elevator with two brave Chicago dudes who were on a quest to find gators to fuck with. I’m certain they were totally sober. Then in the parking lot I ran into my buddy John Pata and got to spend my last few minutes of FEST with some of my favorite people of all time. FEST 17 was a resounding success and I can’t wait till the next one already.

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Antarctigo Vespucci, Katie Ellen, and Alex Silva, By Will Malkus

Antarctigo Vespucci, Katie Ellen, and Alex Silva, November 2, 2018 at Songbyrd Record Cafe and Music House, Washington, DC By Will Malkus

Question: How many times can Will and Lorien (Aretesophist Photography) get caught in commuter traffic during a storm while driving to Washington, DC to cover a show? Answer: At least twice.

Fortunately, we were guided by a force much stronger than weather or time: friendship. Despite the rain, traffic, and general gloom, we both knew there was one thing that would lift our spirits no matter what, and that was seeing best friends/soulmates Chris Farren and Jeff Rosenstock play power pop jams with the rest of Antarctigo Vespucci in a coffee shop basement. This was my first time going to Songbyrd Record Café and Music House but I’ve heard nothing but great things from friends over the years and it did not disappoint. While we didn’t have time to try any of the food or browse the vinyl racks, even just hustling through the upstairs café to get to the basement venue was enough to make me want to go back and spend a lot more time there.

Alex Silva
Baltimore-based electronic musician Alex Silva had already started his set by the time we got into the crowded basement, but I didn’t need to hear very much to understand why he was on this bill opening for Antarctigo Vespucci. I’m not usually a big EDM person, but Silva’s music oscillates between energetic dream pop and heavier, less polished garage rhythms—which is sort of the crossroads where Farren and Rosenstock’s styles intersect into their own band. Two of the tracks he played (“Montealto” and “Cable Salad” from his Mind Pattern Explorer LP) were a little more glitchy on that bright and dreamy side of Silva’s style, but the latter half of his set featured songs from his upcoming 2019 album which really stuck out to me as great. Before moving more into composition Silva spent a lot of time playing in hardcore bands, and you can really get the feel for that hardcore energy on his set closer “Paralogize.” I feel like we always see the “DJ head bob” get made fun of on TV or in movies, but Alex Silva and his music are punk rock enough that it looked natural when he did it. He relocated to Baltimore, Md. a few years ago and founded label Canadian Duck Tapes, through which he releases his own music as well as other electronic artists, and I’m definitely going to be keeping an eye out for more of his local stuff.

Katie Ellen
Lorien and I were just starting to dry off and get settled when Katie Ellen began tuning up for their set. Seeing them is always a little emotional for me, not just because they play beautiful, haunting songs that evoke genuine feelings and memories but also because frontperson Anika Pyle’s old pop punk band Chumped was one of my very favorites for years and years. As a fan it’s easy to get wrapped up in musicians who are special to us and resent or blame them for changing or breaking up, but it’s important we recognize and support their growth and need for change. In the case of Katie Ellen, growth is exactly the right word. As much as I loved Chumped, the lo-fi folksy sound that Katie Ellen has mastered is perfect for Pyle’s voice, which can swell from soft and sweet to screaming and full of emotion in a heartbeat. This may not be an entirely relatable sentiment, but listening to Katie Ellen is a lot like feeling a depressive episode come on—it starts off all quiet and slow and then suddenly you realize there are all these threads of anger and manic energy mixed in that you never even noticed.

But as excellent as Katie Ellen sounded, it was hard to appreciate over the noise from people talking. This is pretty common at DIY shows, unfortunately, and I don’t want to call out an entire scene or imply that it’s everyone doing it but I’ve noticed it a lot more in DC than anywhere else. People seem to get this idea that acts that aren’t loud as fuck and jumping around are just there as background for their conversations, but please stop talking over quieter bands and musicians. You may think you aren’t being that loud or the performer can’t hear you but I promise you they can, and so can everyone trying to enjoy them.

Katie Ellen’s set started with “Wild Hearts,” the first song they released on the TV Dreams 7” back in 2016. It has the distinct bedroom folk feel of a Liz Phair song played in the background of Dawson’s Creek, but with some welcome punk edge and lyrical content that should be appreciated all on its own. All of Katie Ellen’s songs are poetry, which has always been one of Anika Pyle’s strong suits, but the amount of honesty and exposure she pours into these songs is remarkable—it’s like she’s inviting the listener to step fully into her mind, body, and experiences. And that’s not to say that every song is a slow coffeehouse ballad; the four piece really put all their energy into the indisputable fucking jam “Houses into Homes” towards the end of the set and closed after a false start with “Adaptations of Para Todos,” which sounds the way break-ups feel: tumultuous and loud, then quiet and reflective, and finally cathartic and resigned. Or peaceful; it’s hard to tell for sure, which is what makes it so good.

Antarctigo Vespucci
The best way to see Antarctigo Vespucci, I can now confirm, is absolutely in a one hundred degree, wall-to-wall packed basement with bad lighting. It’s been said before, but they are so infectious that the excitement bounces from one person to another until even the most stoic punk is smiling and swaying along with the music. Chris Farren, face covered in glitter to match his mirror-crusted guitar, may be trying to distance himself from his “hot guy with glasses” brand these days, but in every other way he’s still the same old Chris. Whether he wants to be the absolute center of attention or not (he does) Chris Farren can’t help but pull every eye to him when he’s performing, including co-conspirator Jeff Rosenstock’s—but at least the feeling is mutual. “Find you a partner who looks at you the way that Chris Farren looks at Jeff Rosenstock,” Lorien texted me a few days after the show while editing photos, along with a picture of Farren gazing lovingly at Rosenstock while he screams into the microphone, and it’s true the chemistry between the two is indisputable.


Considering the first release the two ever put out together was called Soulmate Stuff you have to anticipate a fair number of loving gazes, but I was even more excited that the soulmates were joined on this tour by Laura Stevenson (of Bomb The Music Industry! and Laura Stevenson And The Cans) and John DeDomenici (also of BTMI! and every solo record Jeff Rosenstock has released). Watching this incarnation of Antarctigo Vespucci perform was a lot like watching four best friends just hang out with each other. Laura Stevenson pulled down double duty playing the literal bells and whistles and providing backing vocals; her voice on “Impossible to Place” was an especially great counterpoint to the blend that Chris and Jeff have perfected, and John DeDomenici killed it on bass like the professional he is while also holding down some understated dance moves. They even had Katie Ellen join them on stage to provide some percussion and harmonies during “Breathless on DVD,” because no one is more hype about the music his friends make than Chris Farren himself.

All told, Antarctigo Vespucci played seventeen songs straight through without stopping for breath and we were all soaked through with our own sweat, especially after an encore performance of “Don’t Die in YR Hometown” that got predictably wild. You might think that after Chris Farren casually wandered out into the crowd for “Come to Brazil” to close the night out we would be ready to go home, but as Antarctigo Vespucci exited the stage for the last time there was a pervading sense of reluctance from the crowd to head for the door. The basement of Songbyrd that night was full of friendship and glitter and smiles, but out the front door was just rain and our real lives. It was clear that no one wanted that show to end.

Still, at least we had some guidance, “because the things that last forever are the things that never change.”

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Will Malkus is a writer, librarian, and concert photographer based out of Baltimore, MD. You can check out his photography portfolio at charmcorephoto.com/.

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Red City Radio, PKEW PKEW PKEW, The Penske File, 2018 by Will Malkus

Red City Radio

Red City Radio, PKEW PKEW PKEW, and The Penske File, October 21, 2018 at Metro Gallery, Baltimore, Md. By Will Malkus

“Fuck Evertthibg. I hope th show a good tonight. Pro b nottho.” These two (?) sentences (?) were shared on twitter by Toronto-based pop punk act PKEW PKEW PKEW in the afternoon of October 21, 2018, just a few hours before they were supposed to play a show in Baltimore, Md. with fellow Canadians The Penske File and punk rock veterans Red City Radio. I immediately texted Lorien Lamarr (Aretesophist Photography); what was going on? Was everyone okay? What if PKEW PKEW PKEW didn’t show up tonight? An hour later the PKEW boys followed up with another tweet: “Pretty much all chicken fingers at good.” “Nevermind,” I texted Lorien, “they’re just drunk.”

Fears assuaged, I headed for Metro Gallery. Baltimore (much like any city) has a few local venues that are hidden gems and Metro Gallery is right up there with the best of them. As the name suggests, they curate art shows featuring local visual artists in addition to hosting all kind of performances, not just bands. It’s about as multipurpose as any venue I’ve ever been to and I’ve seen some great art there over the years, of both the visual and aural varieties. Tonight, I was confident, would be no exception. These bands were responsible for some of my favorite music: I’d been listening to PKEW PKEW PKEW’s self-titled album regularly since it was released in 2016, and The Penske File’s Salvation was a revelation from the first few notes I heard to the end of the album. Oklahoma City’s Red City Radio are a staple of any contemporary punk catalog; you can walk into practically any show at the FEST in Gainesville, Fla. and find frontman Garrett Dale on stage, even if it’s not with his own band. I knew we were in for a good night, barring any unforeseen circumstances of course.

I arrived at Metro Gallery a little early, mostly due to some incredible parking karma, but inside was not a heartening sight. There was Red City Radio merch. There was Penske File merch. But where was the PKEW PKEW PKEW merch? Oh no. One beer later and it was getting close to time for The Penske File to take the stage. I did some quick sleuthing on social media and discovered the all the members of PKEW PKEW PKEW had decided to go to an Eagles game in Philly that afternoon. Philadelphia, Pa., if you’re unfamiliar with the topography of the East Coast, is about three hours from Baltimore with no traffic. It’s an easy drive if you leave in the morning. It’s possible in the afternoon. When an Eagles game lets out in the late afternoon in downtown Philly and you have to be in Baltimore by 7:30? You step on the gas and hope for a miracle. Luckily for the boys, they had a buffer. The Penske File was up first.

The Penske File
Seinfeld reference name notwithstanding, I have never seen a crowd so completely caught off guard as when The Penske File started playing. If you like flawless harmonies, rock anthems that sound like they should be played to arenas, and pop punk music that will make you dance around your living room, this is a band you should absolutely be aware of. It’s rare to find a band with a vocalist that makes you want to sing along to every song; it’s even more rare to find a band with three distinct vocalists of equal ability who have that effect. To be honest, one of the best parts of seeing them live is seeing just how much of the vocal work is shouldered between the three of them. Before this show, I honestly didn’t know if they had one incredibly talented vocalist doing the bulk of the work or if all three of them shared the load equally. Turns out it’s the latter, and it’s a sight to behold. I was especially blown away by drummer Alex Standen’s vocal ability, which absolutely has to be mentioned.

The Penske File lead with “Kamikaze Kids,” track one off their 2018 album Salvation, and specifically with guitarist Travis Miles’s best power-rock scream. From there they went into a full set that could only be described as acrobatic; I don’t know if I’ve ever seen one band do quite so many splits and jumps for a Sunday night crowd. It was clear from the beginning that they were going to give 110% and the audience responded to that in kind. I saw multiple looks of incredulity traded among the crowd: this was the opener? What would the rest of the show be like? Another standout was “American Basements,” a slower Springsteen-esque ballad that chronicles The Penske File’s experience playing at a house show in Ohio and is probably my favorite of their newer songs—not purely because of the harmonica interludes provided by Miles—but it sure doesn’t hurt. The Penske File work like a well-oiled machine, different vocals dipping in and out at exactly the right moment to create something wholly unique. Sometimes they say more with their silences and pauses than with the words to their songs.

PKEW PKEW PKEW
But all too soon, they reached the end of their set. Right before closing with “Come What May” (probably the Salvation track that best illustrates Standen’s voice), they took the opportunity to confirm my suspicions. “So, PKEW PKEW PKEW isn’t here yet. They, uh, went to the Eagles game today? But if they show up you’ll see a great set!” The time was 8:00 PM, and we were all standing around waiting to see if PKEW PKEW PKEW would show up or if headliners Red City Radio would call a time of death and play their set early. And then, out of nowhere, PKEW drummer David Laino ran into the venue with cymbals in hand—wearing an Eagles beanie over an Eagles baseball cap—looked around in a panic, realized he was on the wrong side of the stage, and ran back to the other side muttering three perfect words under his breath: “I’m so drunk.” If you play in a band and you ever want to feel like a hero, I’d advise you to show up ten minutes before you’re supposed to play in a blaze of drunken action. The rest of the band was met with cheers as they burst in wearing Eagles hats and shirts, practically throwing their gear onto the stage and setting up in under ten minutes. With no preamble they immediately launched into “The Prime Minister of Defense,” where the repeated chorus of: “Let’s stay in the minors, where we can hit well even when we’re drunk” had a special kind of resonance.

PKEW PKEW PKEW are nothing if not consistent, and their raucous party energy was only amplified by the circumstances of this particular show. Continuing with the theme of truly excellent harmonies, the foursome’s new single “Passed Out” adds a new trick to their repertoire between the three distinct voices of Mike Warne, Ryan McKinley, and Emmett O’Rielly. PKEW’s onstage antics are half the fun of seeing them live, especially Emmett’s faces and, in this case, the moment during “Hangin’ Out” where members of The Penske File and Red City Radio emerged from the crowd to hold up pieces of paper with scores written on them. The band earned a 5, 7, 6, and 6 from the judges in case you were wondering. PKEW PKEW PKEW have gotten more mileage out of one album than most bands do in three, so they tend to have a pretty perfect and consistent set list. I’ll admit, it’s nice not to have to wonder if they’ll play my favorite song (“Kathie Lee + Hoda”). Around the middle of their set it occurred to me that we were receiving the quintessential experience for a band with a song that repeatedly asserts, “We’ll sing about beer and football.” Spirits were high as the set ended, and PKEW asked us to clap for the other bands on the bill, and then to clap for ourselves for being such a good audience.

Red City Radio
“Fuck the Eagles!” Garrett Dale, with a shit-eating grin plastered across his face, yelled into the microphone as Red City Radio took the stage twenty minutes later. “And fuck PKEW PKEW PKEW! Not you though Emmett; I like you. This one’s dedicated to Emmett!” If you don’t know Red City Radio by now, I honestly have a hard time knowing where to start. They formed in 2007 and have had almost exactly the same lineup ever since, with only guitarist Ryan Donovan of Nothington fame stepping in to fill the gap left by Paul Pendley in 2014. Red City Radio have released six albums, toured on three different continents, and have never failed to charm me. A lot of that is due to the undeniable charisma of Garrett Dale, but that’s not to say the band doesn’t have chops.

Their new album Sky Tigers really has the sense of self-awareness and easygoing confidence that comes from bands that have been doing this for a decade or more, and I was really looking forward to hearing it played live. Red City Radio entered completely straight-faced to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” for some inexplicable reason, then got right down to it. They’re pretty much pros at this point and might be incapable of delivering anything other than a solid performance, but even then they managed to surpass my expectations on quite a few songs, most notably “Rest Easy.” There were a lot of contenders for best moment of the night during their set, including when James Hall from The Penske File switched out Garrett’s guitar by handing his new one off like Excalibur, but the winner was easily when Emmett jumped back onstage during “In the Shadows” to play a trumpet for thirty seconds, thereby sealing Red City Radio’s status as a ska band forever.

The sheer power of Garrett Dale’s growl of a voice cannot be overstated, and there is something undeniably awesome about seeing Red City Radio’s particular brand of Americana-infused punk performed in front of a giant banner of a two-headed tiger. The show was so good—and all of the worrying and the suspense had paid off in the best way possible—but Red City Radio wasn’t done yet, blowing us all away with a three-song encore barrage of “Rebels,” “We Are the Sons of Woody Guthrie,” and “Show Me on the Doll Where the Music Touched You.” “If we play a few more songs will you shut the fuck up?” Garrett demanded when he reclaimed the stage to calls for more songs from the crowd. “Actually, if we play a few more songs can we all listen to Miley Cyrus and take some shots?”

So we did.

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Will Malkus is a writer, librarian, and concert photographer based out of Baltimore, MD. You can check out his photography portfolio at charmcorephoto.com/.

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Spanish Love Songs, October 4, 2018 at The Pie Shop By Will Malkus

Spanish Love Songs

Spanish Love Songs, The Rememberables, and American Television, October 4, 2018 at The Pie Shop, Washington, DC By Will Malkus

The morning of October 4, 2018, just eight short hours before I was supposed to drive to our nation’s capital to see Los Angeles, Calif.’s own Spanish Love Songs, I woke up with a 100.3 degree fever. I immediately panicked; I had been waiting months to see these very nice, very talented people play again—and to top it all off, this show was happening at the new venue above the Dangerously Delicious pie shop. I couldn’t believe that my body would betray me like this, but I also couldn’t deny that I felt like absolute shit. I drank some Emergen-C, called out of work, downed some NyQuil, and crossed my fingers. Six hours later I woke up soaked in my own sweat (which I’ll admit felt extremely on-brand) and my fever had broken! The gig gods had heard my prayers! I was nowhere near 100% but I was going to make it this show come hell or high water, because did I mention it was also storming?

My good luck endured and Lorien Lamarr (Aretesophist Photography) offered to drive, so all I had to do was make it to her house and we were on our way! Until, that is, we hit immediate gridlock right outside of Baltimore. Rush hour traffic is no joke no matter what city you live in, but Washington, D.C. rush hour traffic is a fucking nightmare’s nightmare even when it isn’t raining. Still, it did feel extremely fitting that we were stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic on our way to see a band from Los Angeles. I spent most of the trip trying not to fall asleep or talk, but by some miracle we made it to the venue, found street parking, and got inside while the first opener was still tuning. I claimed a space off to the side, put my earplugs in, and tried to figure out if I was freezing was from being sick or if the pie shop was just pumping the A/C hard. I was so out of it I didn’t even realize that other friends had arrived and were standing right next to me.

American Television
First up was American Television, a four-piece melodic punk outfit from the D.C. area that I’m always jazzed to see, not only because they rip but also because they put on some of the best DIY shows in the city as Breakin’ Even Presents, including this one. The American Television boys organized the last show Spanish Love Songs played in town as well, and it’s a good combination. As drummer Bryan Flowers donned a hat shaped like a giant piece of pie and frontman Steve Rovery put on a pair of cardboard glasses that read “X-Ray Specs,” it was clear that they were not just here to play but also to entertain us. I’m sure the rest of the crowd that made the journey out to the show in the rain appreciated the energy they brought to the room, because my sick ass sure did.

American Television played a tight twenty-minute set of blistering punk rock across all flavors, from the pop punk personal favorite “The Creek” to the decidedly heavy “Explosions in This Guy.” It seemed like they were just as excited to get to the rest of the bands on the bill as we were because they barely stopped playing long enough to tune. But like the professional he is, Rovery still managed to slip a merch plug into a song intro: “This song’s called ‘Death Defier.’ We got coffee over there called Death Defier, drink it or something!” The standout track of their set for me was “Better Living through Chemistry,” which showcased both Jerred Lazar’s specific brand of shredding and some of bassist Edwin Wikfors’ best work. It was a good start and I was feeling energized, but I was worried. It was still early—would I peak too soon?

The Rememberables

Fortunately, local fuzz pop band and winners of the “Best Facial Hair of the Gig” award The Rememberables had me covered. Fresh off their most recent tour, this was the only band I had come to the pie shop knowing virtually nothing about. I spent a long time trying to figure out what their sound reminded me of—was it new wave? A little bit country? Finally, I cracked the code. If you took the best parts from every song on a ’90s college station and combined them into one band, it would probably sound a lot like The Rememberables. There were elements of Dinosaur Jr., Smashing Pumpkins, Nirvana, and the Lemonheads mixed into the sludgey wall of sound they produced, and I found myself repeatedly getting lost in their music. I honestly couldn’t tell you if each song was three minutes long or ten minutes, and that’s not a complaint. It was nice to trance out for a half hour, specifically to Tim Bean’s blown-out, driving guitar and Binh Ngo’s Paul Westerberg-style vocals. The Rememberables had mercifully gotten me through another set, but now I had to make it through the main event.

Spanish Love Songs
If I’m being honest, I was kind of worried in the minutes leading up to Spanish Love Songs. The whole “being sick at the gig” angle was a fun one that I knew I was going to use in my review, but I still felt awful. I was genuinely worried that I would have to manufacture a happy ending about rallying for one of my favorite bands, but as soon as I heard those opening notes of “Nuevo” I knew I wouldn’t have to manufacture a damn thing. There was no way I was doing anything but screaming lyrics back at the band tonight. Schmaltz, their 2018 release, is hands down my album of the year, but it’s hard to describe to other people. It’s about being depressed? And how the world is incredibly fucked right now? And things are never going to get better? But like, party jams.

Spanish Love Songs
Every member of Spanish Love Songs is one of the nicest people I’ve ever met, and they have a great group dynamic. While Dylan Slocum’s warbling vocals are undeniably the focal point of their sound, Kyle McAulay on guitar is probably the most fun member to watch on stage as he emphasizes some of the best lyrical moments with gestures and back-up gang vocals. Every time I’ve seen them play Kyle seems like he’s having the time of his life, and I really appreciate the way he looks out for everyone at the show. I once saw him stomp out a lit cigarette mid-song that some asshole had dropped on the floor of the venue, and at this particular show he took charge of distributing beers to every member of the band only to discover that drummer Ruben Duarte had already smuggled three behind his kit. It cannot be overstated that Spanish Love Songs are good people, and as always with their tours, Meredith Van Woert’s keys were sorely missed.

There was really no other way they could have opened this set other than the same perfect two-song combo that Schmaltz opens with. “Nuevo,” a stripped-down rumination on what it means to get old in punk that never fails to leave me in tears, swells into a burst of guitars before transitioning seamlessly right along with Slocum’s vocals into the much faster and more energetic “Sequels, Remakes, and Adaptations,” where I was happy to note they changed the last, echoing instance of the word “brothers” in the chorus to “sisters.” That’s no surprise, considering the subject matter of a lot of Spanish Love Songs tracks centers on the state of society and trying to cope with the prevalence of hate and abuse, along with our own personal demons, but it’s always welcome to see more inclusion in the “brotherhood” of punk from artists I admire as much as this group.

Spanish Love Songs
“We’ve been working on those rock’n’roll endings!” Dylan joked at the end of “Bellyache,” but it actually does show. Schmaltz is both an easy and a tough record for me to listen to; the songs are incredibly catchy and endlessly sing-able but are also sometimes all too real in their subject matter. This has earned Spanish Love Songs a reputation as kind of a “sadboi” band, but their party potential has always been criminally overlooked in my opinion. Songs like “Joana, In Five Acts” and “Beer & NyQuil” became joyous celebrations of solidarity that helped relieve our collective frustration and bring us all together as a crowd. Even something as simple as shouting the chorus of “The Boy Considers His Haircut,” which expresses a desire to find a flattering haircut that hasn’t been claimed by Nazis, is such a relatable sentiment that simultaneously acknowledges how fucking absurd it is that we have to deal with Nazis co-opting hairstyles in 2018. I knew my voice was going to be shot the next morning but that didn’t stop me from screaming it raw during “Buffalo Buffalo,” a perfect closer if ever there was one.

The night ended with Spanish Love Songs mercifully skipping their acoustic tearjerker “Aloha to No One” and thanking all their homies for coming out. I prepared myself for the long journey home to my bed. I had survived the show, and actually felt better than when I’d arrived. I would never try to claim that a night of good music and good people had cured me, but to quote the aforementioned song: “You might wake up, but you’ll never be better.” Maybe it’s not always about feeling better; maybe sometimes it’s about going on with your life anyway.

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Will Malkus is a writer, librarian, and concert photographer based out of Baltimore, MD. You can check out his photography portfolio at charmcorephoto.com/.

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The Cathartics, Unhailed, Terry Savage, Thunderkok, The Catalysts by C E Hoffman

The Cathartics

The Cathartics, Unhailed, Terry Savage And The Wonky Honkees, Thunderkok, The Catalysts at Gus’ Pub, Halifax, 09/26/2018 by C E Hoffman

A Wrinkle in Time: The Last Cathartics’ Circus

The rain’s stopped long enough for me to get to Gus’ Pub. When I arrive, the audience is literally my bandmates, three other humans, plus sad guys on the slots.

Whatever. It’s gonna be great.

Somewhere between sound check and Thomas (aka The Cathartics lead/tonight’s MC) donning a ringmaster’s jacket, the audience quadruples but after I ditch my glasses all the world’s a pretty blur, so it doesn’t make a difference.


We (The Catalysts) kick it off. Every time I plug in with these musicians I flood with gratitude. I feel like I’m allowed to be myself and that’s what rocking out is all about.

Everyone should be in a band—or some equivalent. Like how everyone should face their fears, laugh in public. Whatever your passion is, motherfucking go for it because behind passion lies the purest bliss. Nothing could compare to this.

I keep losing my breath. Is it excitement? Am I nervous and don’t know it? All I know is when I’m onstage I am born again, and I could do it again and again and people actually mosh to our set!

Terry Savage And The Wonky Honkees
I’ll admit I miss the next band (sorry, Terry!) ‘cause I spend so much time talking with badass librarians on the curb. You can always judge a gig by its audience, and these people are fantastic. Some femme I’ve never met lends me a sweater ‘cause I’m cold and I feel like everybody’s good but some of us are out of practice.

I’ll also admit I completely forget which came first: the card tricks or the hot dog eating contest, and yes I was sober.

Thunderkok
Next up: Thunderkok. (You read that right.)

Disclaimer: I hate metal. Or I did, until, Thunderkok took center stage. Their energy is impeccable. We are all made badass in light of this storm and while I dodge the moshers I am liberated. Maybe there’s more to metal than anger. Maybe the best metal evokes joy.

Everyone’s a hot, sweaty mess and almost everyone exits for air/cigarettes. I figure I should ditch ‘cause I wanna get to Charlie’s Bar before it closes but then again the vibes are great and I wanna see The Cathartics.

I don’t remember when Thomas water-boarded himself, when the balloons came out, when I spun around in streamers. All I know is the bands were tight and everyone was alive.

Unhailed
Unhailed takes over. They start chill but really amp it up by the end, pulling us with their rising tide.

Their song “Heavy Rain” hits me like sexy fog. The intro’s Bowie-esque in the best way.

Then they knock out “Rebel Yell” and nothing will stop us from singing.

In some mosh pits you’ll find the best people who ever lived. Life is for living and these fuckers are killing it.

There’s a paper airplane-making contest/cartwheel competition while The Cathartics set up. I am indebted to whoever thought of providing free popcorn ‘cause I sweated a surplus of calories. My hair’s a shitshow. I’m very happy. Everyone’s drunk. (Except me.) Everyone’s free.


The moment we’ve all been waiting for: The Cathartics! On the one hand, it’s a Wednesday night and we’re tired. On the other hand, music is the safest way to make love and the best way to wake up.

Two songs in, the whole crowd’s moshing: ripples on the universal seascape.

I don’t know what it is about The Cathartics but it’s like you’ve got these shimmering lovebeams fucking up a stage. Becky’s a monster drumming machine and Thomas keeps on keeping on no matter what bomb rolls in, like that moment moshers literally knock him over onstage and he Keeps. On. Playing.

In these small seconds we become big. One precious instant and we are infinite. Nothing matters. Not your IQ or the shape of your tits. Just this.

It ends with a group hug (“I love every one of you,” says Thomas.) I clean five streamers off the floor before slipping away into a fresh 1 AM.

FYI there’s some badass bands in Halifax. There are beautiful humans here and I could say the same for Marrakech and Bristol and probably everywhere. There are so many heroes you’ll never know, but I did, for a moment, and a moment is all we need.

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C E Hoffman is a full time dreamer/part time human. They make music in The Catalysts and write words that (sometimes) get published.

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Against Me!, Speedy Ortiz, and Typesetter By Will Malkus

AgainstMe!.Ottobar.080518

Against Me!, Speedy Ortiz, and Typesetter, August 5, 2018 at The Ottobar, Baltimore, Md. By Will Malkus

I’ve seen Against Me! live more than once, so when I walked into the Ottobar in Baltimore, Md. the same way I have hundreds of times before, I thought I knew what to expect. The sweaty, heaving mass of punks both young and old, wide smiles as far as the eye can see, and of course Laura Jane Grace’s trademark scream-singing shaking me down to my bones, but this particular AM! show was a stand out among stand outs.

There are a lot of factors that can take a show from just being rad to crowning the top five, like maybe the lineup has incredible openers (it did), or maybe there’s an abundance of that special energy of an entire community all moving as one (there was). Maybe it’s as simple as seeing a band you’ve loved for years playing in your hometown venue, combining something special and impermanent with a place that’s familiar and comfortable. That combination alone can take a great night and push it that extra bit so that it reaches extraordinary. This was that kind of night.

The first thing I did after entering was grab a beer and head up to the upper level to catch up with  Lorien Lamarr (Aretesophist Photography) and other friends, but once the first band took the stage and started sound-checking I quickly descended back into the crowd. What struck me in the weeks leading up to this particular show was the lack of a local opener—a pretty uncommon sight in a city like Baltimore with a thriving punk scene. Whether it was a specific tour-wide decision or the bands’ commitment to getting the crowd home at a reasonable hour on a Sunday night, it struck me as odd that they didn’t want a local act to warm up the crowd first.

As soon as Typesetter from Chicago, Ill. launched into their set, however, I immediately understood that this was a band that required no warm up. The five-piece’s sound is a fantastic balance of No Idea Records whoa-oh harmonies and ’90s grunge which occasionally wanders into melancholic indie pop territory. Typesetter had people moving by the second song, and by their fourth the crowd realized they were most certainly not watching an opener and really got into it.

Typesetter_LorienSmith_001
One of the themes of the night was hard work, as three out of the five members of Typesetter pulled double duty on vocals as well as their instruments. The only exceptions were Matt Gonzalez on drums, who was working hard enough for two kits, and Sarah Bogosh who stole the show by keeping up on keyboard, trumpet, vocals, and effects pedals simultaneously. They even gave a heartfelt tribute to Baltimore’s own deceased Charm City Art Space, may it rest in peace.

As Typesetter wrapped up their set and we all made a mass exodus back to the bar I overheard the people around me confirming my suspicions that they had indeed been blown away. It would be a tough act to follow, but I knew Speedy Ortiz was more than up to the challenge. This was my first time seeing the self-described “snack rock” band from Philly after years of hearing how good they are, and they did not disappoint. I was especially excited to see that Audrey Zee Whitesides had joined on bass. I had last seen her on tour with Mal Blum a few years ago and I knew from experience that she could slap with the best of them, but she pulled out all the stops and still managed to blow me away with the bassline on “Swell Content.”

The name Speedy Ortiz might be kind of an in-joke, because this band loves to play around with speed. Songs regularly start out at a breakneck pace only to slow down to a sludgy crawl by the second verse, then speed back up again to close it out. Speedy Ortiz put out their first release in 2011 and have produced at least one new album every year since, so it was hard for me to keep up with their set list, but some stand-out performances were “Lean in When I Suffer” and set closer “No Below,” which frontperson Sadie Dupuis playfully introduced as originally being titled “Ocean Shitty” after Ocean City, Md.


If you’ve seen Speedy Ortiz live before you’ve probably also seen the flyers that they put up at each venue before their show, detailing what constitutes safe conduct in a show space and offering a phone number and email address that goes directly to every member of the band and the tour manager. Dupuis paused in the middle of the set to call attention to these resources, adding that Against Me! was the first tour headliner to insist that they be added to the contact list. She then announced that she had forgotten to tune during her crowd work and launched into “I’m Blessed” (a haunting anti-abuse song off of their most recent album), proving that her beautiful, breathy singing is no less powerful or angry than the band Speedy Ortiz was opening for.


I snapped a picture of one of the safe space flyers in the bathroom while I was waiting for the bar to clear and basked in the excitement of my fellow punks. The air was full of that nervous energy that permeates in those last calm moments before the headliner takes the stage, the unspoken agreement that everyone is about to go fucking nuts. Halfway through my third and final beer of the night I decided I would start watching Against Me!’s set from the upper level, which ended up being a great decision as I was less than twenty feet away from the band with a perfect view of the stage.

The last time I saw them play was at the Fest in Gainesville, Fla. from across a packed Bo Diddley Plaza and it had been hard to see the stage from the depths of the pit, so this time I got to observe all kinds of small moments between the band, like when Laura Jane Grace looked at bassist Andrew Seward and mouthed that she was feeling so good, with a huge smile on her face that got wider and wider as the night went on. There’s a spark that lets you still love doing this, in spite of everything, decades after you started. Not everyone has it. Laura Jane Grace fucking has it.

AgainstMe!_LorienSmith_001
Against Me! is notorious for switching up their setlist from night to night, which is even more incredible given that they played twenty-four straight songs and only paused once just long enough for Laura Jane Grace to say, “It’s so nice to see you!” The first quarter of the set was fairly tame while the crowd got into sync, but by the time the band started playing “Thrash Unreal” everything exploded. From where I was standing I couldn’t even see the floor, just a mad rush of bodies all pressing towards the stage, hands thrown up into fists, and hundreds of faces all screaming the words back as loud as they could. The band was so incredibly in sync that they barely had to look at each other to know where they should be or what song was next; they just burned their way down the setlist and we all went along for the ride.


“I Was a Teenage Anarchist” seemed to ring especially true to this crowd with its repeated chorus asking if we remembered when we were young and wanted to set the world on fire, and I can only speak for myself and the people I came with but yes, we absolutely did. Against Me! closed with a double whammy of “True Trans Soul Rebel” and “Black Me Out,” two more recent songs that were treated with a lot of respect and reverence by all in attendance. This band, which informed an entire generation of punks, now screams at audiences about being queer and trans and each night hundreds of people scream it right back. It’s so fucking good.

After repeated chants for an encore Laura Jane Grace did reemerge with an acoustic guitar to serenade us with a beautiful and unexpected cover of the Mountain Goats’ “The Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton” followed by the full band for a finale finish of “Tonight We’re Gonna Give it 35%,” “Reinventing Axl Rose,” and “We Laugh at Danger (And Break All the Rules),” but I had to look that up because by that point I couldn’t hold out any longer and jumped into the mass of sweat-soaked bodies to become a part of the chaos.

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Will Malkus is a writer, librarian, and concert photographer based out of Baltimore, MD. You can check out his photography portfolio at charmcorephoto.com.

 

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Sinking City Pop Fest and a Wake for Watercolor Paintings By Jules Weiss

Watercolor Paintings - Robert Martin

Watercolor Paintings reunion show at Sinking City Pop Fest, Chintimini Senior & Community Center, May 12, 2018

A few weeks ago, I watched a band die. It was less of a funeral and more of a celebration of life, a last hurrah. It was sitting shiva, or at least what I think sitting shiva would feel like, because it’s something I’ve never had to do before. It’s sad, certainly, and very emotional, but comforting in some strange way because at least you know the person dying isn’t alone in their final moments as a person. Their memory will continue to exist, but after this they won’t feel real anymore. A band that no longer plays exists only in memory. People will still listen to their music, but it can no longer be experienced in the same way it was experienced when you could hear it live, especially when live performances were so integral to understanding the music in the first place.

I had never heard of Watercolor Paintings before a few weeks ago. Rebecca and Josh Redman are siblings from Santa Barbara, Calif., whose parents held a b’nai mitzvah for them, since they didn’t want to pay for separate parties. I had never met either of them before their performance, but I feel like they bared their souls to a room full of people who are now deeply connected by this intensely private moment.

Corvallis DIY’s inaugural music festival, Sinking City Pop Fest, is probably something everyone in attendance will talk about for years, especially those of us who attended all the shows. The fest, which ran May 11 through May 13, featured four shows, twenty bands (some local and some visiting from other areas of the Pacific Northwest), one band from Germany, a lot of coffee, a little bit of moshing, vegetarian Mother’s Day brunch, a handful of freshly printed cassettes, and a whole bunch of new friends. It’s an experience I’m glad I didn’t miss, and the Saturday night show (which I’ve started affectionately referring to as “punk rock prom”) was the big ticket and not-so-hidden gem of the weekend.

Watercolor Paintings played last at the Saturday night show, where the audience was largely made up of community regulars and members of other bands playing that night and at other shows in the fest. Not everyone who had listened to the earlier sets stayed to the end—most folks who stayed seemed to know of the group, knew what was coming, and knew to stay. Rebecca and Josh sat on the floor, backs to the stage with their harp and ukulele, and we all snuggled together in a semicircle around them. They opened with a little bit of sibling banter (something that would continue throughout the performance) and a song I don’t know the name of, but it had an audience participation component. Rebecca sang the melody while we sang the bassline with Josh:

So many lights, so many lights,
So many stars, so many stars.
So many lights, so many lights,
So many stars, so many stars.
So many lights, so many lights,
So many stars, so many stars.
So many lights, so many lights,
So many stars, so many stars.

Not everyone stopped on Rebecca’s cue, and the room collectively collapsed into laughter and applause when it was over. It was a hauntingly beautiful way to start the evening, and a small part of something larger I’ll never be able to recreate, partially because I have dug and dug but cannot find a recording of the song on the internet. It’s something that will exist forever in my memory and in the shared experience I had that night, and something I so desperately want to share with people who weren’t there, people who I care about who I want to share such beautiful and fleeting experiences with.

The whole night was like that. There was another singalong, a few missteps and restarts, and a lot of sibling banter. Rebecca remarked that it was odd to be playing songs she wrote when she was nineteen, ten years ago or so. Lyrics and chords were forgotten and suddenly remembered. It felt more like band practice, or a private moment between the pair, than a public performance. I teared up a few times. Surprisingly, almost nobody took out phones to record. There was an understanding in the crowd, a respect for the private nature of the moment as a whole. The crowd favorite “Indiana” was played, partially because the song’s “namesake,” Corvallis DIY organizer, longtime Santa Barbara resident, and friend of the Redmans, Indiana Laub was in the room, ready to be pointed out and publicly but gently embarrassed by the experience. (The song isn’t actually named after Laub, but the reference seemed to be a reoccurring joke between Laub and the Redmans, and calling Indiana out was part of the friendly banter emblematic of the whole experience.)

And now I’m flying to Indiana
I wish I had a pair of wings so I could do it for free
All the time
So I could watch your hair grow

At the end of the performance, after a lot of applause and probably a few tears, Rebecca and Josh made good on their promise earlier in the evening that everyone would walk out of the show with at least a CD (a copy of their 2009 album Open Your Mouth) and a 7” EP, a split with Madeline Ava. I gathered my things, said my goodbyes to folks I would see at the brunch show on Sunday morning, and biked through the cool night air of Corvallis to where my partner was coming to pick me and my bike up. I had picked up a few gifts for him at the show, but I was more excited to tell him about my experience, which I did. I cried about it a little—I had missed him, but not in a wish-you-had-been-there kind of way. It was more of a wish-we-had-shared-this-experience kind of missing someone. I gave him the CD and made him promise to listen to it sometime soon. It was the only part of the experience I could properly share with him.

I watched a band die. But I also watched something new be born, a new understanding shared between the people who were there to sit shiva and give Watercolor Paintings the send-off I can only imagine it deserved. I will undoubtedly see Rebecca Redman again, sometime soon, since she’s a member of a number of punk bands that tour with some frequency through the Pacific Northwest—SOAR, Remambran, Coherence, and doubtless more to come. I might ask her if there’s a recording of that so many lights, so many stars song in existence, and if there is, where I can find it. But I don’t think I’ll ask her if she’ll play it again, regardless of how much I want that. Watercolor Paintings is dead, and that’s okay.

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Jules Weiss is new to the West Coast, new to punk, and new to writing articles for any sort of publication. They are a graduate student in Anthropology at Oregon State University doing research about transgender people involved in punk and trying to figure out exactly what’s up with that. You can find them on various places on the world wide web where they don’t keep their name private at all, or by email at weissjul@oregonstate.edu.

 

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