West Coast Riot 2009

author PP date 27/06/09

The 2009 edition of West Coast Riot, the annual punk and hardcore festival held at the central Gothenburg docks Frihamnen in Sweden, had a lot to live up to considering last year's edition was pretty much a who's who of punk rock, with NOFX, Bad Religion, Lagwagon, No Fun At All, Millencolin, Flogging Molly, Comeback Kid and more on the bill. Had No Use For A Name and Rancid been on the bill, I wouldn't have minded if a lightning struck me down the moment after NOFX's headline slot finished. So how do you respond to such a sick lineup the year after? You book one of the oldest punk rock bands still around, Social Distortion, serve a side dish consisting of legendary NYHC act Sick Of It All, two-decade old punk rockers The Bouncing Souls, top notch skatepunkers Pennywise and No Use For A Name, as well as the new challengers in the form of The Gaslight Anthem. Can these two lineups compare on paper? Honestly, not at all, even though I'm a huge fan of some of the bands on the bill this year. Apparently I wasn't alone with my sentiments, considering the turnout was miserable at best, a mere two or three thousand kids at the very maximum had a ticket to the show, compared to the 10,000 or so of the year before, even if the lineup was still really good and almost all bands seemed to think so as well. This doesn't bode well for the arranger's finances despite Metal Town selling out this year, so lets hope that there'll still be a next year.

Full Lineup

No Use For A Name, The Gaslight Anthem, Suicidal Tendencies, The Living End, Sick Of It All, Gogol Bordello, Raised Fist, Pennywise, Social Distortion, Lesra, Vicious Irene, The Knockouts, The Durango Riot, Parkway Drive, Face To Face, The Bouncing Souls, The Aggrolites

Festival Area

Last year, the weather leading up to the opening performance of No Fun At All was cold, windy, and slightly rainy. This year, it was precisely the opposite, with a cloudless blue sky and a temperature range between 25 and 28 degrees. I was planning on writing about the ridiculous amount of tattoos this year compared to last year (at least 80% of people had a tattoo, and they weren't small tattoos either), but then I realized that the unforgiving heatwave / blistering rain/wind contrast between the years probably had something to do with the issue. I also remember the beer costing way more last year than it did this year, which could also be a consequence of the ridiculous heat and the fact that there really wasn't any place to hide from the sun. Maybe West Coast Riot realized that by lowering the beer prices they'll sell so much beer that they can cover up for the lack of ticket sales. Or maybe it's just that in the last year or so the Swedes learned it the hard way why they should've voted yes for the Euro instead of keeping their now nearly value-less currency a few years back. Whichever the reason, much more beer and cider was to be sold this year, which is why we also needed more toilets, this time much more smartly arranged, easily accessible no matter where you were situated on the festival area. Additionally, the heatwave ensured that the lone watering spot in the middle of the festival was in constant use. Had there not been a place to re-fill your water bottles for free, I'm fairly sure we would've seen a few hundred heat-related health issues over the course of the day.

In case you haven't been to the festival (why not? It's the 2nd best punk rock festival in Europe after Groezrock), or just don't remember from my article last year, the festival consists of three stages. The two main stages are right next to each other, allowing for a quick turnover between bands. Just five minutes at the very shortest is required for a switchover with one band stopping on stage 1 before the next band finalizing their soundcheck on stage 2 and jumping straight into the set. If for some weird reason you don't like any of the big bands, there's always the intimate close-up stage, incidentally also the only place outside of the beer tent where you could get some cover from the sun.

One of the new additions to this year's festival was the Billabong Wakeboard Challenge, a short wakeboarding track set up just after the festival area entrance, where wakeboarding pro's from around the world would be reeled in by a motor towards a decent-sized jump, followed by some tricks in the air and (hopefully) a good landing. The idea in itself is fairly cool, but the execution was a bit pointless. Why not allow some guests to try the same as well for a small charge? Or how about setting a Billabong merch sale (surf shorts, t-shirts etc) in conjunction with the show? Because the way it was set up now, people just walked past it, stopped for 20 seconds to have a quick look at what exactly was going on, and then continued towards the stage. Considering how unbearably warm it was out in the sun, this could've been a massive hit among concertgoers - for what better way to rid yourself of sweat after moshing in a Sick Of It All pit than to fly through the air and plunge into cold(?) water after a bad landing. Maybe next year.But I won't keep you any longer, lets get to the reviews bit.

Reviews

No Use For A Name @ 13:30-14:10 on Black Stage

I was contemplating whether or not No Use For A Name should be rated at all considering I heard about 35 minutes of their set, but only saw about 15 minutes of it, as the remaining time was spent registering for the press passes and actually walking over to the stage. The sound was perfect though, and Tony's voice showed no signs of weakness or lack of volume like the night before (probably due to the venue sound quality yesterday), so I figured I'll give it a go anyway. If the small club saw NUFAN play tighter than ever, their West Coast Riot show showcased a much looser band, with all members now having enough space to run and jump around the stage. The usual "fuck you that's my name" routine of "The Answer Is Still No" was shouted back to the band loud enough for me to hear while walking towards the stage, which tells me that the few people present this early were liking what they were seeing. Indeed, the energy and joy on stage for the fifteen minutes that I saw was so good that I can't let this pass without rating it, although a much higher rating would've been likely had I seen the whole show. [8]

Gaslight Anthem @ 14:15-14:55 on Red Stage

If NUFAN seemed to be even better on a bigger stage, then The Gaslight Anthem appeared to be exactly the opposite from what I remember. Vocalist/guitarist Fallon failed at creating a sustainable connection between the band and the audience - something which is vital when a band and the crowd are separated by some seven meters - as the only times he addressed the crowd was to say things like "good morning" and "thanks for waking up with us". You wouldn't be blamed for thinking the band was having a terrible hangover, as all the genuine charm of their club shows was virtually non-existent today. That the band chose to play mostly songs from "The '59 Sound" didn't help, especially because all the slow songs from this record received a live treatment. Although songs like "Great Expectations", "The '59 Sound" and "The Backseat" displayed a glimpse of the good stuff we know Gaslight can deliver, they just can't match the awesome energy of the "Sink Or Swim" tracks. As such, the crowd stood still for the majority of the time, probably sharing my sentiments, wondering why the band seemed to only put in 50% today. [6]

Suicidal Tendencies @ 15:00-15:45 on Black Stage

Since I chose to spend most of Suicidal Tendencies' set eating and drinking at the beer stalls, only occasionally eying the big screen (awesome addition by the way, did I mention that yet?), it wouldn't be fair to rate them based on that alone. But let me tell you this: Suicidal Tendencies are precisely the sort of band that International Superheroes Of Hardcore are parodying: an ultra-serious, camouflage shorts & bandana-wearing outfit preaching about 'the family' and playing generic hardcore songs. To their credit, some of the gang-shouted choruses were (are?) actually pretty catchy, but really, this type of music just isn't my cup of tea at all, especially when their frontman fits the trailer-trash stereotype perfectly due to his clothing and the way he almost looks like a rapper on stage. Legendary or not, I wouldn't go see them because they just don't have the songs for a modern audience.

The Living End @ 16:00-16:45 on Red Stage

Back in April, The Living End were a positive surprise with their lively and entertaining live show, even if I didn't think much of the songs. Today, they were the best band on the bill, leaving behind a performance unmatched by any of the bands before or after them. As you may or may not already know, The Living End are a 3-peace who play a mixture of Wolfmother-esque rifftastic rock'n'roll and psychobilly: they've got a guitarist who not only worships crazy classic rock solos and experimentation but is also able to write riffs and licks that tickle your ear just the right way. It's nothing new, but when he spices the stuff with Billie Joe Armstrong-like showmanship, it suddenly becomes way more interesting. He overplays his solos, throws his guitar around, plays an incredible solo with one finger stuck in a beer bottle that's been rubbed against the fretboard, spins 360's around all the time, hops on drumset, and all the sort of stuff you'd call gimmicky. But the beauty is that although everyone knows he's showing off and trying to grab the crowd's interest, it's still entertainment in it's purest form: he does it all with such conviction and charisma that you can't but smile at the performance. The crowd is spellbound - cheers and whistles can be heard all around as the guitar is being abused by the beer bottle. Then consider this: there's an equally eccentric double bassist displaying similar showmanship on stage as well, there's just no way you'll be bored during this spectacle. While the guitarist is busy showing off his finger-speed and improbable scaling ability, this guy looks like a thief as he creeps behind his bass, letting loose on a bass-solo before standing on top of the huge instrument. Sure, it might be scripted when he throws the bass 360 degrees, kneels down and has the guitarist jump on his bass while both are playing a solo, but it's also fuckin' awesome display of great entertainment. Throw in a few tracks that belong into the drooling lips category, and you've got a crowd who have simultaneously fallen in love with the Aussies. They're coming back for a full headlining tour in November - count me in. [8½]

Sick Of It All @ 17:00-17:45 on Black Stage

Legendary hardcore kings Sick Of It All promised to deliver a hell of an explosive show prior to their performance at the festival, and in that they succeeded - at least partly. It's crazy to see how much energy Lou Keller & Co have even though they're well in their 40s - to start things off he stormed the stage a couple of times back and forth while the rest of the band engaged in simultaneous jumps. Then he attempted (and failed) to create a stage-wide circle pit, a wall of death and general chaos within the crowd, fueling the fire with newer songs like "Uprising Nation", "Machete" and "Take The Night Off". Although the majority of circle pits consisted of standard hardcore 2-step, there were a bunch of asshole karate moshers as well, who ensured that the few people that were actually watching the band now had to stand even further off stage, diminishing any sort of intensity that you'd hope to have at a Sick Of It All crowd. [7]

Parkway Drive @ 17:45-18:30 on Close-Up Stage

"We stick out like a sore thumb at this punk rock festival" is the opening line of the Parkway Drive set. Indeed, what this technical metalcore outfit is doing at a punk and hardcore festival is beyond me, as their cliché scene live show feels completely out of place and pretentious in the midst of straightforward bands who don't care about crashing into each other on stage as much as they care about the old school singalongs. Yet the tent is filled with multi-coloured hairdo's and youngsters, and everyone seems to be having a good time. You can't fault Parkway Drive for trying, as their set is one of the most energetic of the festival, with guitars being thrown around while growls and screams are delivered voluminously in our direction, but I'm just not feeling them today. I want a d-beat or at least a hardcore drum pattern, not watch technical prowess and bleed my ears out tonight, so I left after two songs. No rating for the band, as they aren't bad as such, but why the hell weren't they booked for Metal Town the day after?

The Bouncing Souls @ 19:00-19:45 on Close-Up Stage

I was initially bummed out about having The Bouncing Souls play at the same time as Pennywise, as they are considered to be one of the most influential punk rock times, having been around for over 20 years now. They've never played in Sweden, which is probably why their set was switched with Face To Face so they wouldn't conflict with Pennywise, something which the crowd rewards with great attendance at the small tent and big singalongs in many songs. The crowd loves songs like "Lean On Sheena", evident in the sing alongs that are some of the biggest of the whole festival, but on some level it seems that the crowd are giving this show way more effort than the band is. The frontman is lazily standing still most of the time, even if he does sport a huge smile on his face, and there isn't considerable energy displayed anywhere else on the stage either. This was a case of The Offspring syndrome where the crowd loves the songs but the band on stage is otherwise quite boring. [6½]

Raised Fist @ 19:15-20:15 on Black Stage

I didn't need to be anywhere near the stage to know that Raised Fist were putting on a hell of a show. Not only were they they loudest band on the bill with their retardedly aggressive form of hardcore punk that borrows equally much from Comeback Kid as it does from Rage Against The Machine's rapped verses, but they also seemed to be the most active on stage. Just like the Suicidal Tendencies set earlier, I sacrificed these guys in order to get some food and cider down my stomach (needed some sugar in the heatwave), but every time I looked at the big screen I saw one of the following: a) intense headbanging b) something that resembled a 100m race from one side of the stage to another or c) the vocalist leaning over in agony, delivering some of the fiercest screaming I've heard in a while. Again, no rating but this is one of the shows I'm really bummed out about missing, so I figured some words of encouragement are in order regardless.

Face To Face @ 20:15-21:00 on Close-Up Stage

Apparently Face To Face were an awesome melodic punk band from the 80s to mid 90s, where they broke up just before punk got really big with Bad Religion, NOFX and the lot leading the way. They reunited last year, and now they're playing their first show ever in Sweden, but they're damaged by their slot-switch with The Bouncing Souls: lots of people are really enjoying their set but many leave just 10 minutes in to catch Pennywise, including the undersigned. It's a shame really, because during the three songs that we had time for, Face To Face play awesome punk rock and spice it up with NOFX-styled stage banter that's laugh out loud funny. For example, the vocalist stands on stage and announces that this is the first time they're playing in Sweden ever, and he would love to have a singalong where he blanks out a lyric or two in the microphone, "But I don't know if you guys know the song. We'll look like a bunch of jackasses if you don't, and Scott over here is going to place a soap inside a sock and beat me with it later in the hotel room if that happens. I don't wanna look like a dickhead on stage so please, singalong if you know it, will you?" - needless to say the audience is bursting into tears of laughter. There's no way I can rate this based on three songs alone, but lets just say that the band started on a solid 8, with potential to develop into much more.

Pennywise @ 20:30-21:30 on Red Stage

Pennywise are criminally unknown here in Scandinavia, at least if you are to base it on the disappointing sing alongs during their show tonight. They don't come to Europe that often - in fact their West Coast Riot performance was the only European show of the summer - but when they do, their two decades of live experience shows. The two minutes on stage were used on inciting a riot; things like "lets go motherfuckers!", "are you readyyyy?", "This is it people" echoed out of vocalist Jim Lindenberg's pipes, whose dominating in-your-face stage appearance was only fortified by his ultra-cool look: the black cap, and pitch-black sunglasses covering his eyes ensured that this guy looked punk as fuck. And not just that, but he was fucking wasted on stage, drinking half-pint sized vodka shots, ensuring a much sloppier delivery than on record. Fact is, the whole band seemed a little out of it, the sound was nowhere near the ultra-tight skatepunk that we're used to hearing on record. Maybe that's why songs like "Every Single Day", "As Long As We Can", and "Society" received only mild sing alongs--much less than I had expected at least--while the cover tracks, like Ramones' "Blizkrieg Pop" and Black Flag's "Gimme Gimme Gimme" received a much louder response. When you're playing only an hour though and you have two decades of studio material, I don't know if you should be playing covers....plus it kind of pissed me off that 80% of the band's set revolved around "Pennywise", "Straight Ahead" and "Full Circle" with very few tracks from what are arguably their two best albums: "Land Of The Free?" and "About Time". Anyway, at some point, the band brought some incredibly drunk Swedish kid on stage who couldn't even stand, and threw him around a bit just for the fun of it. Pointless but I guess it was fairly fun at the time, just like the band's constant slagging off of the people sitting at the beer tents: "I've seen you guys sit there all day, did you come here to watch bands or drink beers?". As expected, the band finished their set with the huge sing along fest that is "Bro Hymn Tribute", the woo-ooh-ooh-ooh's were being sung long after the band stroke their last chord on stage. [7½]

Social Distortion @ 21:45-23:00 on Black Stage

For the main attraction this year, West Coast Riot had booked Social Distortion, the seminal punk band who've been putting out records for 30 years now, with a few classics in between. I wouldn't have thought there's a single person who wouldn't know songs like "Prison Bound", "Story Of My Life" or their Johnny Cash cover "Ring Of Fire", but apparently my girlfriend didn't when I played her some live videos from their set. At least the people at the festival were singing along, with the latter song finally getting a proper amount of volume from an overall disappointing crowd today. About freaking time, the last band is playing and NOW the crowd is waking up. Just so typical. I suppose it took a bunch of guys in their 50s and 60s doing synchronized jumps on stage and running around to have people realize that this is a punk show and you're meant to be fully awake, singing along from the top of your lungs to a bunch of classic punk rock songs. It's funny how people say that The Gaslight Anthem sound like Bruce Springsteen when the way they appear on stage has been almost directly lifted from the Social D playbook; the distant, Midwestern 50s attitude on stage, and their vocalist's metaphorical remarks about the songs the band is about to play is exactly what The Gaslight Anthem attempts live at varying degrees of success. Anyway, I'd be lying if I said that Social D were the most interesting band on stage today, but they could've been if we would've had about 10,000 more people at the festival. Even half of that would've worked for a better sing along. [7]

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