FEST 12

author PP date 13/11/13

At 400+ bands the size of FEST lineup is almost incomprehensible. When you factor in the sheer quality of the lineup and consider that for a punk rock specialist such as myself there are at least 200 bands you’d go check out if they rolled into your hometown, it becomes a mammoth achievement by organizer Tony Weinbender and his team, who have hand-picked all bands at the festival. As a result, schedule clashes are inevitable and hence it requires either careful planning or an easygoing attitude of willing to miss some of your favorite bands in order to catch everything you wanted to before arrival.

The whole shindig takes place in Gainesville, Florida, a classic American university town with sororities and frat houses everywhere if you venture outside of the main street, around which the whole festival is centered. At the heart of the festival is the Holiday Inn, a 167 room hotel complex with a third floor outdoor pool area ideal for the kick-off party each year, which is at a walking distance to all 15 venues in the city. These are scattered on and around the University Avenue, which also has plenty of fast-food, restaurants, small bars, and everything else a festival-goer should need during the week.

Map of FEST 12

The distances are slightly larger than at pre-FEST, rendering especially shows at 1982 and Palomino/Boca Fiesta questionable if you are planning to catch the next set at 8 Seconds or Florida Theater, which, let’s be honest, both had stacked enough lineups to warrant hanging out only at one or the other for the entire festival.

Speaking of distances, the alternative to Holiday Inn once it sold out was the Paramount Plaza, situated about four miles away from the festival itself. A taxi fare would set you back about $16 back, but a non-stop free shuttle was available from early morning ‘til 1am each day. Therefore the automatic recommendation is to stay at the Holiday Inn, if possible, unless you are concerned about noise (= you haven’t drank enough PBR during that day), in which case Paramount Plaza is ideal due to its quieter nature.  PP

Venues

The venues aren’t as quirky as they are down at Ybor City, Tampa, where pre-FEST is held, but they differ significantly from each other. While the main stage at Florida Theater is specifically a concert venue with a sloped floor making it possible to see everything even from the back, already the venue right next door, 8 Seconds, is basically a cowboy saloon where they’ve purpose built a stage to accommodate FEST this weekend. Rockey’s, Loosey’s, Durty Nelly’s, The Atlantic are all basically variations of the traditional English pub, whereas Mars Bar and 1982 are more beaten down, garage styled venues with dark interiors. Then you have The Wooly, which is essentially just a large space that doesn’t seem like it’s used for anything in particular normally.

As for capacity issues (this goes for anyone thinking about going to FEST next year), be aware of the following venues when even remotely popular bands are playing, as you need to be there early to have a chance to be admitted in:

The Atlantic and Loosey’s - these two places seemed to be packed generally all the time due to their small size.

Rockey’s was full one time when we tried as well, but generally it didn’t seem like it was an issue to get into this place.

None of the other venues were at capacity at any point when we tried: sure 8 Seconds and Florida Theater required some queuing for non-press/VIP guests, but I was told this never exceeded five or ten minutes at most. PP

FEST Afterparty

Worth Knowing

Here’s a few golden nuggets of advice we’ve jotted down based on our experiences:

* Come in early for registration. The queue was ridiculously long at Holiday Inn, so if you hadn’t gotten your wristband already at pre-FEST earlier this week, it looked like you were going to miss the pool party and/or some of the bands on Thursday.

* Beware of jumping between venues: while it may take only a few minutes to move between The Wooly and 8 Seconds, you may be forced to queue 10 minutes outside as the staff check everyone’s IDs at the door.

* Bring enough cash for merchandise. It’s ridiculously cheap. $10 will get you a t-shirt, $20 a hoodie at least for the smaller bands. You don’t see that kind of pricing at Europe. Lots of designs to choose from as well.

* Stay at Holiday Inn if possible - the Paramount Plaza is nice but it’s a long while away meaning taxi drives all nights when you come back later than 1am. By then the shuttle didn’t run and a taxi sets you back about $16 one way or so.

* PBR is cheap ($3 a beer + tip - $2 on the last day for a 0.5L/16oz can) - but coming from Europe you can’t really consider it a real beer - its watery taste should remind you of the ‘light’ beers in Europe more than anything else. Consider investing that extra dollar in the craft beers they sold at almost every venue.  PP

Thursday, October 31

The Holy Mess

The Holy Mess @ 4:00-4:30 at 8 Seconds

FESTivities are opened by The Holy Mess, who spend the first five minutes of their set talking shit about what’s happened to them so far in the pre-FEST days. Lots of drunken stories are shared with the audience, before the band finally starts playing their roared, old Against Me! style punk rock that echoes across the venue nicely. Their showmanship is one of constant energy and a strong dynamic between the front rows and the band, and especially "Goodbye 3713 (Must’ve Been A Good One)" sees the crowd participate in a big way during the "That’s the conversation in my head right now" parts. Later, they finish off with an Alkaline Trio cover of "You’ve Got So Far To Go", for all those people who missed their Alk3 cover set at pre-FEST two days ago. The difference between these two sets is like night and day, though, and where the band looked kind of boring on stage covering Alkaline Trio, they now deliver a convincing show of rowdy punk rock energy that gives FEST the ignition it needed to get going straight away. [8] PP

"Let the midnight speeecial! Shine a liiight on me" - Red City Radio

Red City Radio @ 4:50-5:30 at 8 Seconds

Seeing as I had to leave early yesterday, I can justify seeing Red City Radio again already can’t I? In any case FEST’s relative superiority to PreFEST is becoming apparent, as the 8 Seconds venue is extremely busy when the band takes the stage. There are people everywhere: upstairs, on the stairs, in the bar, by the merch table and packed closely enough in front of the stage that it’s near impossible to get within 20 metres of the band. Starting the set with Creedence Clearwater Revival’s "Midnight Special" again, Red City Radio quickly gets another singalong show rolling, but equipped with ten more minutes, they make it more of a greatest hits set this time, meaning that we get to hear appropriately echoing responses to both new songs like "Two Notes Shy Of An Octave" and "The Dangers Of Standing Still" and older favourites like "50th And Western" and "Spinning In Circles Is A Gateway Drug". The latter is both delivered and received like an anthem of affirmation, and people are flying on top of each other up front while shaking fists and calling lyrics out loudly, and so the conclusion remains simple: It’s another excellent festival showcase of Red City Radio’s quality and a fortification of the notion that they are not a band to be missed on any occasion. [8] TL

"I know this sounds lame and all, but the humidity down here is making my voice crack and it’s be really good if you could help out with this last one" - Citizen

Citizen @ 6:10-6:40 at The Wooly

I know, I know, I should be checking out new bands instead of seeing the same ones twice, but there was just something about Citizen’s PreFEST opening that compelled me to come back, even if it was delivered to a very lackluster crowd. They know it too, revealing some disappointment with it between songs - "We played in Tampa two days ago with no one there to see us, so thank you for coming out" - seeming genuinely grateful for the solid turnout at Wooly’s today. Singer Mat Kerekes still looks out of place, like a young Greg Puciato in a Barry Sanders jersey among scrawny grunge kids, but his bitter vocal work is still on point, and even if his lows continue to drown out a bit, his screams rising with the band’s instrumental surges continue to sound heart-wrenchingly good.

The show feels noticeably better than the band’s PreFEST outing, climaxing towards the end with Kerekes humbly asking the audience to help sing the song and members of the crowd suddenly rushing on top of each other to call lyrics back at the band. Overall I leave feeling strengthened in notion that Citizen is a promising band that lets their music do most of the talking, which seems poignant considering that it speaks pretty loudly and convincingly. [7½] TL

Andrew Jackson Jihad

Andrew Jackson Jihad @ 6:50-7:30 at 8 Seconds

If anyone had missed that it’s Halloween today, it’s hard to mistake at 8 Seconds, seeing Sean Bonnette and Ben Gallaty of Andrew Jackson Jihad crack pre-show jokes dressed as Wayne and Garth and having what looks like Ramona Flowers and Hit-Girl among the costumed festers ahead of me while the duo treats the crowd to its tongue in cheek, pessimist songwriter-punk. On record, I have had my troubles deciding if the band’s music was either charming or annoying, but here a packed out 8 Seconds is not in doubt, singing and clapping along elatedly, as quirky lyrics and Simon And Garfunkel rewrites come streaming off the stage in an infectious manner, facilitated strictly via upright bass, acoustic guitar and two yelpy male vocals. Like an intentionally unhip alternative to Conor Oberst or an American counterpart to Frank Turner, Gallaty and Bonnette garner the kind of reception that validates the minimalistic acoustic punk tradition, and even if their limitations do catch up with them occasionally across the middle of the set, it’s hard to leave them without a smile. [7½] TL

Daylight

Daylight @ 7:50-8:20 at The Wooly

There’s a queue to the Daylight show outside the venue, which means there are already quite a few people inside the venue ready to witness their dreamy brand of post-hardcore that combines elements of Nirvana with Deftones-esque vibes. That’s their new sound, anyway, and a member of the crowd requests the band to play some old shit, to which the band simply responds "nope". The gravelly punk rock is a thing of the past for Daylight, whose singer spends pretty much the entirety of the set with is face disappearing into his long hair hanging low in front of his face. Fits the image and dreamy sound quite well, especially with the subdued head bangs that come with all the songs off "Jar" which are being showcased here tonight. It’s a good choice as the songs off this record sound absolutely fantastic tonight and encompass the entire venue with their depth and sonic reach. [8] PP

Second opinion: It seemed like Daylight might have partied a bit too hard, because their singer was less funny than at prefest, but on the flipside they sound much better here where I could actually hear their vocals somewhat. TL

Lemuria

Lemuria @ 8:30-9:10 at Florida Theater

Arriving at the Florida Theater, I have to first spend a moment envying Gainesville for a venue that has the proper descending venue floor to ensure maximum visibility for the crowd (why are no rock shows in Copenhagen played in places like this?) and then another moment being a bit confused, because I’d always thought of Lemuria as a boy/girl type of band, yet here singer/guitarist Sheena Ozzella is clearly in a front role, both singing lead and engaging with the audience between songs. The mix is decent and the band’s tunes are received favourably by a strong contingent of fans down front, many of them singing along to the band’s surprisingly poppy tunes. It seems that my singular infatuation with the band’s early hit "Pleaser" (which they don’t even play: sadface) has given me an entirely false perception of the group, who here seems like a female-fronted indie/pop/rock group that’s most revered for being one the underground still has to itself. Aside from the correction of my understanding of them however, Lemuria plays a show that’s mostly just solid, gratifying the proven fans while remaining moderately enjoyable to the rest of the theater. [7] TL

Big D & The Kids Table @ 8:50-9:30 at 8 Seconds

It’s Halloween tonight, and Big D clearly take that seriously, arriving on stage sporting enormous skull masks that have terminator-style red eye spots in place of eyes. It’s kind of ridiculous listening to such happy ska songs sung by a team of monsters on stage, but fun-filled sets are what Big D have always excelled at, tonight being no exception. The masks hinder the lead vocals from being heard properly, though, which is why it’s good to see them drop the outfits after three songs, so you can actually hear the vocals as they are meant to be heard. The pit gets going straight away, and the show turns into a dancing party that never ceases until their set is over. There’s a pure party atmosphere at the venue with virtually everyone dancing and singing along, so Big D wisely spend no time in between the songs to deliver their 30 minute set efficiently. "This is our first FEST, it tastes yummy like Orange Juice", proclaims their singer late to the set. If this set didn’t put you in a good mood, then I don’t know much that would. [8½] PP

The Menzingers

The Menzingers @ 9:30-10:10 at Florida Theater

Having time before the arrival of my beloved Menzingers, I’m moving with determination towards the lowest and closest level of the Florida Theater, to endure a half hour of shoulder to shoulder waiting with an anxious fan base. When the show commences however, I immediately regret my decision, as the already overpopulated front area is instantly flooded with crowd-surfers, and while the more freshly rested festers struggle to stretch arms above the pandemonium to yell along, I soon find myself pinned against a bar far to the side, looking back across a fully rammed Florida Theater in search of a route back to some safety.

After successfully relocating then, it’s clear that the band’s PreFEST triumph was only a modest tremor next to the quake here in Gainesville. From wall to wall people are singing along to every refrain in a selection of Menzingers songs that come off like they’ve outgrown their parent band and somehow become the audience’s collective property. The show is only forty minutes, and surely there are people down front gasping for their lives, but the love directed from the crowd towards The Menzingers’ songs is almost a little frightening, no matter if it’s a new one like "Gates" or an older tune like "Time Tables". As a whole, the set feels so exuberant that I’m not so much asking if the band can handle the success they’re having, as I’m wondering if the punk-rock scene, even in America, is big enough to handle a band with this much success? [9] TL

Second opinion: Fuck yeah. PP

The World Is A Beautiful Place…

The World Is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid To Die @ 10:40-11:20 at Rockey’s

It’s around 10:35 when we arrive and Rockey’s decently sized bar (Copenhageners think Loppen, but slightly bigger) is already almost at capacity, with a throng of people scattered in front of the stage in the corner of the room which barely holds the band’s gazillion members. They only play for a few seconds before experiencing minor problems with one of their guitars, but even the brief bit before they stop reveals that this audience is almost dying to see them, and when they start for real, people are once again flying on top of each other, crying out song lyrics and recklessly disregarding the FEST booklet’s request that guest don’t treat each other like theme park rides.

With rambling mewithoutYou-ish vocals, the band leads the audience through quickly developing progressions that go from dreamy to full fireworks displays in spans that are short for a band who falls under the post-rock umbrella. When all the band members sing or scream at the same time and the guitars are hammered it sounds like thundering judgment day, and you get a newfound understanding for why these guys have been so hyped of late. Mostly though, it’s a show that celebrates the admittedly intense connection between the band and their already proven fans, more so than one that allows for much in terms of connecting too strongly with new listeners standing more curiously in the back. That being said, you’d be hard pressed to claim that the whole set doesn’t burn up like some colourful and fascinating explosion that leaves even newcomers curious to hear more. [8½]

The Draft @ 11:30-00:10 at Florida Theater

Feeling a little less tired than at the band’s set at pre-FEST, I decide to catch The Draft reunion again with a fresher mind. A more analytical look at their set reveals thoughts like "this is the missing HWM album" and "such fantastic songs that grow on you" circling my mind as the band’s nostalgia-driven songs get people singing along at the venue. The response isn’t massive, though, because it’s been forever since they last released an album, but nobody can deny that Wollard’s gravelly croons sound great at this venue tonight. The whole set feels like a "remember this one? And this one? And what about this one?" experience from the crowd’s perspective as the band airs a selection of great songs that deserve a bigger response than they are getting tonight. "Stop Wasting My Time" and "All We Can Count On" are the highlights of their set tonight. [7½] PP

Torche

Torche @ 00:40-01:30 at The Wooly

The Wooly is rammed to its limits for the Torche show, yet the sound does not live up to expectations and makes it difficult to hear the subtle melodies in their songs. "Kicking" comes in as an early highlight right after the band asks if anyone wants some candy and throw stuff out at the people, but even here the bass is way too loud on the mix, despite the droning nature of their ‘pop-stoner’ songs. The crowd is going crazy regardless, though, with constant crowd surfers flying everywhere, and an insane-looking mosh pit taking place right at the center of the venue. The band, on the other hand, just headbang on stage with limited movement, but then again the droning style of their songs requires them to not jump around like idiots on stage. Towards the end of the set, it does feel like it is only the big hit songs that engage the crowd properly, although during these songs, people go absolutely mental in the pit. [7½] PP

Friday, November 1

On My Honor @ 5:10-5:40 at Atlantic

I had actually been meaning to see Placeholder at The Mars Pub at this point, but the sidewalk is blocked with people halfway round the block, waiting to get in either there or at the Florida Theater, so instead I head over to The Atlantic where On My Honor are halfway through their set. The Knoxville quartet plays a style that’s distinctly more pop-punk than the mainstay of FEST’s lineup, with everything that entails of sparkling lead riffs and high strung vocal pathos. Bands like Amber Pacific and Cartel come to mind as likely comparisons as the band keeps the energy admirably high in front of a sparse early crowd, who look on curiously, like they’ve just walked in as randomly as I have. The tunes are enjoyable, but clearly it’s a situation where it’s hard to really get anything started, so the band members put their game faces on, take care of business, extend their gratitude towards all involved in FEST and head off. [6] TL

Mixtapes @ 5:20-6:00 at 8 Seconds

Not much changed between the Mixtapes set at pre-FEST to their actual slot at FEST. "Ross (Dirty Water)" was again the set opener, and the beach theme was prominently on display from third song "Road Apples" onwards. "We’re gonna have a beach party now", their male singer proclaims, before throwing out beach balls, inflatable palm trees, and instructs people to circle pit around one of the palm trees again. The venue is quite full with few pre-FESTers present, so the crowd eats it up, especially after a guy with a broken leg ditches his crutches, crowd surfs from stage to the back of the venue to kiss a guy, and back at the request of the band. Later on, another audience member joins on stage to sing the guest parts for "Mt. Hope", and "Anyways" is finally aired right before set closer "Cassettes" in what is otherwise a completely identical set to their pre-FEST one a couple of days earlier. Again, the songs are hit-and-miss and the great songs are a few and far between. There’s a party with beach balls flying around everywhere in 8 Seconds, sure, but it’s just a gimmick intended to distract from the varying quality of their actual songs. It’s a fun set but it’ll never be more than a 7 on our rating scale without more consistency musically speaking. [7] PP

The Hotel Year

The Hotel Year @ 6:00-6:30 at Atlantic

The Hotel Year’s "It Never Goes Out" was a surprise record for me last year, which ended up staying on my mind way longer than expected, and since hearing it, I’ve been keeping half an eye on the band hoping they’d build on it instead of fading as so many bands on their level do. And judging from the now packed Atlantic I’m not the only one who’s anxious when the band get things started mellow with "Weathered". "I’ve been looking forward to this show for a long time, so please, give me energy and sing along" their frontman asks, not without a smidge of vulnerability, and by the time the first song climaxes a strong contingent at the front are crooning words back at him like they mean something.

Most of the highlights from "It Never Goes Out" get aired to an increasingly dedicated response, with people jumping on top of each other to call the lyrics back at the band, who on their part strain their voices to near-screams that puts a hint of wear on them towards the end of the half-hour set. What’s most impressive about this set however, is not so much the energy or the reception from the front crowd (as we shall see, almost all bands at FEST have that) - Here it’s the confidence, the variety and the unusually clear melodiousness of how the band’s excellently written songs come across, like a more immersive warmth among all of FEST’s violent punk rock explosions. So when the last notes of "There Is A Light" has rung out, it’s hard for me to explain precisely why, but I’m leaving with much more hope for the band’s upcoming album than many other band’s I’ll see at FEST, taking comfort in the fact that as I pass I can hear people even from the back rows talking about how positively surprised they were. [8½] TL

Dowsing @ 6:10-6:40 at Rockey’s

Next up are Dowsing, a classic Count Your Lucky Stars band specializing in revivalist original emo geared toward all the 90s kids present at the festival. Their quirky emo tracks feature raw vocals that almost break into a scream sometimes, yet there is little movement on stage aside from some small stuff within their own personal spaces. The small talk between the songs is mostly about forgetting their setlist, being out of tune, etc., nothing particularly memorable, which actually symbolizes their set in general. Decent songs, decent energy, but not much that carries on to the days after the show, even if they air a rare song from their first EP with a friend helping out on vocals. [6½] PP

Best Practices @ 6:50-7:20 at The Atlantic

Best Practices carry over Halloween to the next day as their bassist arrives on stage in a giant snowman costume - and attempts to maximize the number of jump kicks he can complete during the set (5 in the first song from when the tally started). They play a brand of screamed out high energy punk rock that feels a little sloppy and untight but not so much that it would matter. Their vocalist has trouble with keeping his microphone in front of him, making it occasionally difficult to hear him properly, but that's not the main problem in their set tonight. It's that the band needs to take themselves a whole lot more seriously before they will start drawing in people to their show. Their songs carry a great energy, and are even catchy in all their screamed out glory, now the band just needs to believe that themselves as well. Until then, people will check out their recorded material and think it is solid, but wonder why the band don't seem to think so themselves when playing live. [6½] PP

The Swellers @ 7:20-8:00 at 8 Seconds

The Swellers start their set with their lead vocalist standing alone on stage with an acoustic guitar. He is shortly after joined by the rest of the band for their first big sing along for "The Best I Ever Had", before they play a new song from their brand new album that came out a few days ago. For "Bottles" a circle pit breaks out, and both "Runaways" and "2009" sound great as well with big sing along response from the crowd. Indeed, when the band play their big hits, the response is solid, but their problem lies within the passages of weaker songs. Not even once during their set do they string together a section of only solid material, and in the ridiculously stacked lineup at FEST the contrast is just way too large between simply decent bands like The Swellers and the much better bands. As such, their set feels kind of anonymous, almost as if it was on autopilot all the way through, so few memories stick from the show even moments after it is finished. [6½] PP

Restorations @ 7:40-6:10 at Atlantic

My plan was originally to be watching Pity Sex and Museum Mouth at this point, but the Palomino is rammed when I get there and considering that "Feast Of Love" struck me as underwhelming, I decide to go back to the already homey feeling surroundings of The Atlantic to check out an extra "mystery" set from Restorations. Vaguely distracted by a TV above the bar showing Waterworld, I watch from the back as the Philadelphia quintet play through only three or four songs that I’d label as post-rock with punk rock vocals. The compositions take their time, and the use of vocals is on and off, but the band looks completely confident in front of a full room, and when the songs climax they brandish their instruments energetically, hammering out the waves of noise while the audience loyally sing along to their refrains. When the half hour is up, it feels almost too soon for the band’s expansive sound, like a surprise storm that’s ended before it really began, but still it was definitely characteristic enough to pique my interest. [7½] TL

Mean Jeans @ 7:40-8:20 at Florida Theater

I walk in halfway during the Mean Jeans set to find the Florida Theater only half full and an instant feeling of the stage being far too large for this band to be on as the band are explaining "Night Vision" to be originally inspired by The Offspring. Their set has an old school punk rock vibe, evident in songs like "Stoned In A Pub" that take you back to the Ramones days. Their songs sound fun though, the band is jumping and bouncing on stage, and people are enjoying themselves as I glance around the venue, so I see no reason to not rate them a solid 7½ for the 20 minutes of the set that I managed to catch. [7½] PP

"I know band’s come to Toronto and to your town and they always say the show they’re playing is the best show ever, but they’re all lying. Band’s that come to FEST and play and say those are the best shows of their lives, they’re telling the truth!" - Junior Battles

Junior Battles @ 8:30-9:00 at Atlantic

In brutal honesty, my initial liking for Junior Battles has yet to carry over from their debut seven inch to their first LP but I’m thinking a live show from them might do something to change this and judging from the fullness of The Atlantic, I’m far from alone in wanting to check them out. While I’m unfamiliar with pretty much every song they play, their set has everything you want in terms of making poppy punk-rock feel alive. Their stuff is fast, catchy, technical, and employs multiple singing voices; their between-song banter is down-to-earth and humorous and as is becoming a theme for FEST shows this Friday, the fan base is in piles in front of the stage, singing choruses back lovingly. All in all, the whole spectacle feels like a fun, slightly smaller version of a Red City Radio show, just with cleaner vocals and a Canadian tint, and if I’m honest, there’s absolutely nothing to hold against that. [8] TL

Direct Hit! @ 8:50-9:20 at Loosey's

The line outside of Loosey's is enormous, stretching around the entire block as Direct Hit!'s surging popularity has been grossly underestimated by FEST organizers. The venue is packed to its absolute limits, and already soaked in sweat as everyone is jammed against the stage singing along. The energy inside the venue is undeniable: people are flying off every imaginable object, mic stands are constantly being pushed into the crowd, the band itself vaults themselves into the crowd at every opportunity, and the singalongs are massive for a small venue like this. The band turns to the window to dedicate and play a song toward the people waiting outside in line, whilst inside I'm drenched in sweat after just five minutes of being inside the venue. Here, everyone is moving, and the energy dynamic is absolutely insane in what is quite possibly one of the craziest shows at FEST this year. This kind of dynamic is what makes for lasting memories, for stories to tell to induce jealousy from people who weren't here. Direct Hit!'s pop punk revolution is coming - are you ready for it? [9] PP

Great Cynics @ 9:20-9:50 at Atlantic

Having a vague memory of reading Great Cynics described as sort of a Gaslight Anthem with female vocals (and already feeling FEST wearing on my feet) I stick around at The Atlantic for the London trio’s set. The two guys in the band look positively stoked to be here, playing with wide grins on their faces, while bassist/second vocalist Iona looks a bit more cautious on her side of the stage. In front of them however, it feels like they’ve brought a home crowd with them from overseas, with a group at the front going the extra mile to one-up the typical fest-crowd, adding a breakneck circle-pit and an ambitious human period to the by-now customary activities of crowd surfing and shouting along. Really though, despite the enthusiasm in the room, Great Cynic’s sound feels a bit non-descript and I don’t think they get nearly enough contrast out of Iona’s vocal contributions. All in all, the set is fun to watch but not super exciting to listen to. [7] TL

The Stereo State @ 9:20-9:50 at 8 Seconds

By the looks of it Stereo State should've played where Direct Hit! just did and vice versa. There aren't very many people at 8 Seconds as I arrive, but that's their loss, as The Stereo State are putting one of the most heartfelt and genuinely honest performances at FEST this year. This is their last show ever, and they have every intent of making this a very intimate set. Everyone who has ever supported the band receives warm thanks, including A Wilhelm Scream who apparently convinced them to start touring back in the day. It quickly becomes clear that The Stereo State are one of the most criminally underrated bands at FEST this year from the sheer amount of amazing material they air tonight from "No Constellation" to "American Bones" and many others. Their performance has a thoroughly nostalgic vibe, reinforced by the band getting together into a hugging circle for their final song ever. Here, Nuno Pereira from A Wilhelm Scream joins in to guest on vocals to make this set extra special for the band. Ridiculously good songs, a great, intimate vibe to their set despite an empty venue. All the people who missed this should feel left out. [8½] PP

Cobra Skulls @ 9:40-10:20 at Florida Theater

Immediately after Stereo State finish I dash over to the Florida Theater for Cobra Skulls, arriving to the show 10 minutes into their set to find the venue half full once again. The small crowd responds well to their fast paced, Fat Wreck styled punk rock songs, where a few ska/reggae vibes appear on occasion. The band stand mostly still with small movement in their personal spaces, meaning it's not exactly the most memorable show that's going on here, even despite the occasional Bouncing Souls references in their sound. Not to matter; the crowd is dancing, the songs are straightforward but decent, but the real party is clearly happening next door, so I leave early to be sure to catch A Wilhelm Scream's set. [6½] PP

FEST crowdsurfer

A Wilhelm Scream @ 10:10-10:50 at 8 Seconds

Back at 8 Seconds, the venue is packed all the way towards the back by the time A Wilhelm Scream launch into "Get Mad, You Son Of A Bitch". From here onwards, we see the same insanity mentality of "jump off everything you can find" as we saw to Direct Hit! earlier, with crowd surfers dominating the scenery even all the way back at the venue. The singalongs echo in the venue louder than any I've heard thus far at FEST, with "I Wipe My Ass With Showbiz" seeing the pit erupt into what can only be described as unsafe for anyone wishing to avoid bodily harm as the crowd takes everything out of the aggressive stance of the band on stage. Not just that, but the singalongs never cease echoing, with "Me Vs. Morrissey" receiving a king's treatment from the crowd, and even new songs from the recently released "Party Crashers" seeing some love. At the same time, the energy on stage is awe-inspiring, with the band relishing every chance at launching back at the crowd with vocalist Nuno Pereira at front, crashing wave after wave towards the front lines of the crowd, where they are met by the dozens upon dozens of crowd surfers arriving in to high five and sing along with Pereira. What we are witnessing here is quite simply the best show at this year's FEST: everything from the crowd participating, to the band's undying energy, to the electrifying mood at the venue is top notch. Brilliant. [9] PP

Real Friends @ 11:10-11:40 at 8 Seconds

Real Friends is the only band on the schedule today that PP and I are both looking forward to seeing, and considering that they have about a gazillion more facebook likes than the average FEST band, it’s with looks of confusion that we see 8 Seconds go from packed to crickets during the changeover between A Wilhelm Scream and now. The place is catastrophically empty then, when the Chicago quintet gets started, with little more than twenty people hugging the stage to pay attention to them, making it somewhat understandable that especially guitarists David Knox and Eric Haines look like they would rather be anywhere else than playing the show. Bassist Kyle Fasel gets real when introducing the various songs played, and singer Dan Lambton pulls out all the traditional pop-punk stops, split-jumping, visiting the barrier and holding the mic out for the faithful few, who reward his efforts by at least singing along and crowd surfing as much as their numbers allow. The sound echoes across the empty room though, and there are problems with Lambton’s microphone along the way, yet he doesn’t let himself be phased, opting to stay humble and appreciative, preaching inclusiveness in the punk-rock scene at large. All things considered though, the show can’t escape the feeling of disappointment, and it’s clear that whether you’re into Real Friends or not, it feels like they deserve some better circumstances than this. [6½] TL

Second opinion: Miserable turnout, ruined their set for me. PP

Pentimento

Pentimento @ 11:50-00:20 at Atlantic

Back at The Atlantic, the venue is at capacity when Pentimento start their set, and while I wouldn’t have thought so based on the raw tone of their records, every aspect of their set is much neater than the average FEST band. Sporting a button down shirt and a neat haircut, frontman Jeramiah Pauly reminds me of Chris Carabba, straining his melodious voice against a shameless echo of reverb, most every word of his coming through clearly audible. Contrasting the FEST’s raw main courses, Pentimento’s songs come off the setlist sounding more structured and more shamelessly oriented towards big singalongs, giving off the vibe that they could make their parent band much bigger if they had a cleaner production on record. For now though, the people who are fortunate to have made it in here have them to themselves, which they gratify in proper FEST style: Crowdsurfing like crazy and singing back every word they can. Admittedly, Pauly’s between song banter feels a bit more like routine charm than the often heartfelt outbursts otherwise heard around the festival, but otherwise Pentimento’s set feels like the best of both worlds: Punk rock energy and reception married to songs and a sound that’s ready for bigger stages. [8] TL

Teenage Bottlerocket

Teenage Bottlerocket @ 00:30-01:30 at Florida Theater

Pretty much every show I've seen since around 6pm today has been all kinds of awesome, so Teenage Bottlerocket has all the chances of capitalizing on the positive energy of everyone FESTing their minds out on a Friday night. Turns out that is not the case at all as nothing seems to work for Bottlerocket at this year's festivities. The crowd is still sparse as they kick off with "Headbanger" whilst the sides of the stage are packed with other bands watching. Just like during their European tour, the band explains that whenever the bassist puts up his instrument or hands, the crowd should cheer, which the crowd happily obliges to. They show off some of their usual gimmicks like using the guitar as a rifle, shooting off members of the crowd, but unfortunately they are faced with an impossibly awful sound for such a simplistic expression. The vocals during "In The Nuthouse" are terrible, but luckily the crowd takes care of some of it, which doesn't save the band from the fact that there is no intensity to their set whatsoever tonight. The singalongs quickly diminish, and 20 minutes in I'm jotting down notes in the vein of "should I leave? This is not fun at all". While Bottlerocket sets can sometimes be crazy, that is rarely the case at the larger venues like their pre-FEST set, or the performance at the Groezrock main stage have proved in the past. So even though songs like "Skate Or Die" are fun tonight, the bad sound and the lack of dynamic between the band and the crowd are quickly resulting into people leaving in droves halfway through their set. I join these people because it hurts to watch Bottlerocket suck this much in front of their peers, but they are just not a big venue type of band, at all. [5] PP

Annabel @ 00:30-1:30 at Rockey’s

Having liked Annabel’s 2012 album "Youth In Youth" I was sort of bummed when their vocals were drowned out almost completely at their recent Copenhagen show, and entering Rockey’s for my last show of the night, I’m hoping to hear this rectified on the band’s home continent. Sadly though, along with a rather small contingent of curious onlookers I get to observe that things are essentially the same here, with the singing severely lacking from the soundscape and activity on the floor hence being almost nonexistent for the show’s first half.

It’s unclear exactly what changes then, whether it’s the choice of songs or just the new arrival of some excited crowd-members, but at some point during the last ten minutes, the script is flipped completely, with someone who looks uncannily like Signals Midwest singer Max Stern suddenly leading a barrage of crowd surfers. The band’s second guitarist joins the action, playing and grinning while being lifted high, while some friend of the band takes off his pants and throws them at the singer’s head. By the time the set concludes with one of Annabel’s older songs, the sound has not improved at all, yet the guitarist is in the crowd, the pants-less friend is playing guitar instead, and the singer is in the middle of a pile of people screaming out the last refrain. I confess that I’m utterly confused as to what happened, but what I do know is that a pending disappointment was at least turned into a fun spectacle to end the night. [7] TL

I Am The Avalanche @ 00:50-01:30 at 8 Seconds

Turns out leaving early from Bottlerocket was a good decision as I Am The Avalanche are playing next door and they are full of life in comparison. The venue is packed once again, and even though the band aren't necessarily doing much more on stage, they just get the crowd going in a completely different way straight away. Songs like "Holy Fuck" and "Amsterdam" have echoing singalongs, and the band's crowd interaction is solid in general, so the atmosphere at the venue is so much better than next door at the Florida Theater. It's still nowhere near the intensity levels of A Wilhelm Scream earlier, but at least I Am The Avalanche improve from their pre-FEST set thanks to a bigger crowd participation and a sense that the band is more alive on stage than before. Nothing amazing, but a solid set of punk rock from Vinnie Caruana & co. [7½] PP

Saturday, November 2

Banner Pilot @ 2:30-3:10 at 8 Seconds

I've seen Banner Pilot a ton of times and their vocals have never been audible properly in the mix. They are finally prominently on display in the mix at the early 8 Seconds show, where the crowd feels a little tired from FESTing so hard the day before. "Spanish Reds" receives a small sing along, as does "Heart Beats Pacific" alongside a number of their older tracks like "Central Standard" and "Greenwood". The crowd slowly wakes up as the set progresses though, both because the venue is almost packed to its limits, but also because Banner Pilot are putting on a showcase of their best songs tonight. There's not much activity on stage from the band, though, and given it's an early set the intensity levels of the crowd never raise up enough to make this a special show. Nonetheless, a few strong singalongs and good tunes made it totally worthwhile to show up early today. [7] PP

Iron Chic

Iron Chic @ 3:30-4:10 at 8 Seconds

Turns out the reason the venue is so packed is neither because of Banner Pilot playing or because RVIVR is about to put on a showcase of what can be done with punk rock played from outside of the box, but because Iron Chic is playing next. In what is probably the first time during any band I've seen so far at FEST, I am at a complete loss of words over how every single member of the audience seems to know the lyrics to every one of their anthemic songs, except for myself. As a result, the crowd dynamic is brilliant from the get go with the barricade breaking down early on, and the band having to cut their song short to get it fixed. "Everybody take 3 steps back", they ask, but as soon as the set gets going again people go wild. There are even people climbing on the wall near the entrance to dive down onto unsuspecting people in what looks like a dangerous maneuver every time, as it is almost three meters high and behind most people who are landed on. There's a ridiculous amount of crowd surfers throughout the set, and the sing along doesn't seem to cease even when Erica from RVIVR/Latterman joins on stage to help out on a new song. The atmosphere at the venue feels special, like how you would expect when every song is joined by a thousand others aside from the vocalist, drowning him out in the mix almost every time. [8] PP

"Guys, we know you want to crowd surf, but there are a lot of people up front that we have to watch out for, so if you HAVE to crowd surf, could you maybe take your shoes off first? Or maybe we could surf those people to the back instead of to the front? Or.. MAYBE this could be a show where we just don't do that?" - RVIVR

RVIVR @ 4:30-5:10 at 8 Seconds

It’s a tough choice today, deciding whether to start with RVIVR or Dikembe, but in a mood-based decision, I feel more like going for the sunny, fast-paced boy/girl punk-rock of the former, and considering that 8 Seconds is already rather packed others are seemingly of the same inclination. And understandably so, because it doesn’t take long for the four-piece from Washington to get a good show going. Explaining that this is the seventh week of their current tour, it’s understandable that they look a bit tired, but at the same time they’re smiling wide and seemingly stoked to be here. This rubs off on a happy audience that eagerly sings the band’s catchy whoa-oh melodies back to them. Taking time between songs to show gratitude for the opportunity to play and to preach a bit of gender equality, the band exudes positive and independent energy in waves that support their sound, which for once is coming through relatively unhindered at 8 Seconds. Overall you simply get the feeling that it’s impossible to not get a smile on your face when in this band’s company. [8] TL

Dikembe @ 4:40-5:10 at The Wooly

The Wooly is fairly packed for the hyped up emo rockers in Dikembe, who look genuinely surprised to see this many people at the show early in the afternoon. But their heartfelt take on emo has won over hearts everywhere, so especially songs from the "Chicago Bowls" EP receive a strong response from the crowd. That said, songs from their debut album also sound great, and a new song is aired from "Medium Ship" that'll be about in a few months, which also sounds pretty good. The band are moving around a lot on stage during the faster songs, throwing themselves around to make the songs feel varied and impressive throughout their set. Moreover, the transitions between the quiet and more aggressive parts in terms of their energy on stage are also sublime. The band's thank you's for supporting them feel sincere, and based on this show, the Dikembe hype should keep growing in the coming months and years. [7½] PP

Braid @ 5:10-6:00 at Florida Theater

Considering that Braid were one of a handful of quasi-legendary bands that manifested emo’s emergence in the music world’s overall awareness, it’s weird how easy it is to get into an only moderately full Florida Theater this afternoon, but then again I guess they play often enough to not really be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. In any case, they take to the stage with a good mix of songs old and new, with the classic "Killing A Camera" appearing early and summoning up some love from the crowd, while the performance of songs from the band’s upcoming album has them looking excited to still be playing together. Compared to the wild displays of craziness at other FEST shows, Braid’s set is a relatively casual affair, but musically speaking they provide a welcome contrast with their odd rhythms and highly diverse setlist. [7½] TL

Half Hearted Hero

Half Hearted Hero @ 6:20-6:50 at Rockey's

I arrive 15 minutes into the Half Hearted Hero set to find Rockey's completely deserted. A tiny turnout for a band that released a strong album earlier this year in "Whatever", which transformed their lightning speed technical pop punk to Title Fight style dreamy, contemplative post-hardcore to critical acclaim. That's why it's weird to see nobody here, because "Whatever" has been receiving solid reviews left and right, and the band look visibly flattened on stage at the lack of response or people present. They fire with all cylinders at first, going through older material, before arriving at a few "Whatever" songs in the end. Just when they finish their set, someone from the band shouts "There are lots more interesting places to spend your money at FEST, so do it somewhere else" in what feels like a bitter and ungrateful response to the few people that had bothered to check the band out. Other than that, the band needs to put on a solid performance even to a smaller crowd than expected, this just felt half-assed and way too static for its own good. [5½] PP

Weak Teeth @ 7:00-7:30 at The Atlantic

Weak Teeth play piercing hardcore punk with an emotionally tinged edge - think the emotional post-hardcore bands like Touché Amoré and so forth - and coarse, but decipherable vocals. They, too, are a small, relatively unknown band, so the crowd is small but a glance across those standing up reveals a few people singing and screaming along to their lyrics. Eventually, a lone guy breaks open the pit, but in general the passion showcased on stage is not matched by the audience, aside from a few people at the very front of the venue. Hence, the show never gets up from merely a decent rating. [6½] PP

Modern Baseball @ 7:10-7:40 at The Wooly

For fans that haven’t heard of Modern Baseball, the Maryland quartet are basically a little brother band to the likes of Say Anything and The Front Bottoms, but a full Wooly’s clearly does not need introductions considering how the words to "Tears Over Beers" and "Re-Do" are yelled back at the group with elation. The band get’s the FEST treatment with these singalongs and with people piling up at the front and they clearly look overwhelmed by the great reception. Their bassist Ian Farmer - who looks a bit like a brunette Ron Weasley - is smiling so wide his face looks about to burst, and soon a fan in a hotdog costume is crowd surfed onto the stage to take a selfie with him and jump back out.

"Hey am I the only one whose feet are fuckin’ killing me by now?" - Modern Baseball

Farmer follows him with his bass, and upon his return to the stage Real Friend’s Dan Lambton appears uninvited, pushing him off his microphone to steal a few of his lines and mess with the band members’ hair. It’s impressive that Modern Baseball are one of the more on-point sounding bands of FEST then, considering that the set is pandemonium from then on out, with the band and their friends and the audience reaching out towards each other lovingly. There’s a lot of positivity at FEST sets today though, so what’s most impressive here is that Modern Baseball manage to both be at the receiving end of it while still keeping some focus on delivering their cool songs with precision and humor. [8½] TL

FEST crowdsurfer

Paint It Black @ 7:30-8:10 at Florida Theater

There's an electrifying atmosphere inside the Florida Theater for the Paint It Black set. Vocalist Dan Yemin seems to sense this, so he only says the first word to their first song, before launching himself against the barrier and letting the crowd go crazy with the microphone. "Stage dive! Figure it out!", he says in reference to the barrier up front, "We've moved the barricade a little closer to suit you". And this people do - they are vaulting off speakers, stage diving, crowd surfing, and moshing up front, creating a dynamic among the most intense ones seen at FEST 12. Which is to be expected, considering the short, piercing bursts of hyper aggressive melodic hardcore that Paint It Black are known for. Yemin stomps on stage, bends over backwards to scream, crashes around like a ravaged lunatic, and the crowd response with huge anthemic singalongs of "WE WILL NOT BE BROKEN" on "Past Tense, Future Perfect".

The melodic sections spice the intense hardcore sections nicely, so "Pink Slip" sees people go absolutely mental in the venue, the same for "The New Brutality" which is played live for the first time in five years according to the band. Yemen is in a talkative mood, someone up front shouts why are you so mad, and he goes on a rant afterwards: "Why am I so mad? I'm not mad, I'm just angry. What am I so angry about? Mother-fucker. Have you read a newspaper lately? Or maybe you live in a gated communities fantasy land. This year alone there are twenty three schools closed in Philadelphia, with a new prison built on site instead.", as he goes on to explain numerous reasons why he is angry. It's social and political commentary like this, alongside the constant aggravation of the crowd through one liners like "come on, everybody UP", that makes the Paint It Black show fantastic tonight. They are the most 'present in this moment' band at FEST, the most socially conscious hardcore band here at the moment, and arguably also one of the most intelligent bands of their genre in the past decade. Tonight was a display of pure power; this is how the most innovative hardcore band in the world sounds and looks like. [8½] PP

Second opinion: I generally can’t get into hardcore, but finding myself without something urgent to do, I decide to join PP to check out Paint It Black as a longshot. I hated every second of it. Obviously more about message than about music, I could go rant at lengths at why I think these guys get it wrong, but it boils down to two thoughts that haunt me while watching the entire show. 1) If you think things are so messed up, why are you on stage commanding kids to jump off speakers instead of doing something? And 2) What is this aggressive us-vs-them mentality ever going to solve? In the clearest display of how two people can see the same show completely differently, this was not my cup of tea at all. TL

Dillinger Four @ 8:30-9:30 at Florida Theater

Dillinger Four have played at FEST plenty of times before; perhaps this is why their set starts off with them just hanging out and talking on stage in the best NOFX manner. After a little bit of banter, the band kick off with "Gainesville" - you know, the song with the "it feels like Summer in October" chorus - and immediately after let everyone know that they can leave now since they probably only came to hear that one song. From here onwards, a site called Brooklyn Vegan gets made fun of for their average FEST goer commentary, and Obamacare gets mentioned pretty much every second song with spiteful sarcasm because it was enacted instead of a single payer system. The venue is rammed to its limits - D4 being one of the 'house' headliners at FEST - so the singalongs are echoing and anthemic, and both sides of the stage are filled with other bands jumping around crazily to their favorite songs. There's more and more talking between their songs - about how their songs are about 'stuff', mostly - and eventually someone near the front shouts something about more tunes. "You could have just stayed home, smoked pot and listened to our records", the band proclaim. They are partially right, but for some of us who have never seen Dillinger Four before, because they virtually never come over and play in Europe these days, the banter is funny but we could've heard a few more songs instead. At the same time, their showmanship is rather static on stage, with songs being executed well, but lacking in any real form of energy, so even though I'm finally satisfied about having seen Dillinger Four live, I had expected a lot more. [7½] PP

"Not that we have anything against straight edges, but our friend is breaking edge tonight, and we’d like you all to cheer for him as he downs his first beer on stage!" - You Blew It!

You Blew It! @ 8:50-9:20 at The Wooly

Orlando quintet You Blew It! got a bit a hype around their 2012 debut "Grow Up, Dude" last year, and while I never really got into it, I make a point to check out their live set here. The band channels the current mathy, dorky emo-trend by the book and their show develops in much the same fashion as Modern Baseball’s - who they are currently on tour with, and who also appear on stage late in the set to join the singalongs. The set here is more explosive, energetic and scream-driven though, which is actually a shame because it detracts from the movements of the individual songs, making this a example of the many FEST sets where the proven fans get it and a lot of curious newcomers are somewhat left to their own devices. It’s still fun to watch, but it’s just clear that there’s room for tweaking when the most engaging musical moment in the set is "The Fifties", performed solo by the band’s frontman and only included due to request. [7] TL

Elway

Elway @ 9:20-10:00 at 8 Seconds

Immediately after D4 I walk around the block to re-enter 8 Seconds where Elway are roughly 10 minutes into their set. The venue is predictably at only half capacity as everyone is at D4, but the band displays decent energy on stage nonetheless, and "Passing Days" draws a surprising singalong early on, enough for their singer to break away from the mic during the chorus bit to allow the crowd to sing the song back. As "Dear Colorado" results in a similar response, I decide that FEST apparently knows Elway a lot better than I had expected. They look fairly standard on stage without any gimmicks, big jumps or anything, except for getting everyone to sit down and jump like Slipknot late to their set. They apparently did the same last year as they ask us who remembers it from last year, which is in a way a little bit sad considering that's the only noteworthy part of their set. Not that they were bad by any means, just nothing particularly memorable took place during their set, except for a ton of good songs being aired. [7] PP

Forever Came Calling @ 10:00-10:30 at 1982

As a venue, the small bar 1982 - which is full of old video game consoles offering Sonic and Super Mario and the likes - is at a disadvantage being the location furthest removed from the rest of the FEST venues, distanced by a good ten minute walk which can feel insurmountable when your feet are hurting from a full day of FESTing and when it costs ten minutes of some other band’s set (which I painfully learned walking here to watch I Can See Mountains Thursday at midnight, only to find out that they had cancelled and been replaced by The Caution Children, whom I was too bummed out to pay much attention to).

The California quartet’s "Contender" won me over last year however, so I make the walk again, arriving to hear the band humbly declare "we’re going to start a little later because we have a really short set". When they do kick off, they initially let the music do the talking, with frontman Joe Candelaria - who looks a head shorter than me and is still probably twice my size - speaking quickly between songs and barely giving himself time to finish before starting each new tune. The gathered group of fans here love them though, and as they sing along, the band loosens up, lead by a thankful and laid-back John Swaba on bass. The set is only about 25 minutes long, but by the end Candelaria has loosened up some and people have yelled along to songs like my own favourite "Ides" for instance. So while it’s a small time set among FEST’s many explosions, things still end on a positive note. [7] TL

Off With Their Heads

Off With Their Heads @ 10:20-11:00 at 8 Seconds

20 minutes later and 8 Seconds is again nearing capacity as the people from Florida Theater descend to watch Off With Their Heads, who start with a blow up doll on stage that's thrown out into the crowd shortly after. The crowd surfing is rather wild at this point as people's intoxication levels rise, and singalongs are bigger and better than what I remember from pre-FEST a few days earlier. Their rowdy, gravelly delivery is the same as it always is, while the pit is going crazy, where a confetti cannon is fired at some point. "This is probably the last time we're playing FEST in a little while", says vocalist Ryan Young ominously near the end of their set, before "Clear The Air" closes their set tonight. "Trying To Breathe" is still oddly missing from their setlist, but they compensate with "Drive" and other classics instead. [8] PP

Tenement

Tenement @ 11:20-00:00 at 8 Seconds

I was originally going to see something else, but D4 recommended everyone to go see Tenement so I stay here after the Off With Their Heads show. Their set is full of positivity, and upbeat, bright sing alongs, recalling Superchunk on steroids in some parts. They have a ton of energy on stage manifesting itself in jump kicks and great movement, but the highlight of the set has got to be the drunken Dillinger Four dude who stumbles on stage looking like he's fucking hammered, and just grabs the mic to proclaim "THIS IS THE GREATEST PUNK BAND EVER" before starting to chase the vocalist on stage as he's still playing his guitar parts. It sure looks like he's a bit confused, as he's browsing around the stage and standing there looking like a confused dickhead for quite a while before he's ushered to the side of the stage again by the band. Pretty hilarious stuff. In the meantime, Tenement are playing a ton of solid, bright songs with a positive aura of energy that rubs off even on a tired fuckers like me who's just about ready to go home after 5 days of FESTing hard. [8] PP

Banquets @ 11:20-11:50 at Rockey’s

Jersey City’s Banquets have always struck me as promising, both when I’ve heard and seen them in the past, and as they go on before a decently filled Rockey’s the band continues that trend, appearing much like Pentimento did the previous night, like a band that actually has the songs and the professional stage appearance to someday transcend the FEST scene. Their frontman is genuine and forthcoming while appearing used to handling the attention, and the band’s Gaslight Anthem-ish songs come through well and feel as catchy, while the singing also parallels Pentimento by sounding fuller and more melodious than the average scratchy FEST croon. Still, there’s a bit of a sense of this being a breather-show for most of the audience, for while there is indeed some obligatory stage divers and singalong pockets, a lot of people take it easy, seemingly saving the last of their energy for the sets that are about to close the night. [7½] TL

Hold Tight! @ 00:10-00:40 at Rockey's

Rockey's is perhaps the ideal venue at FEST for intense crowd participation due to its intimate size and the mirror pitched up diagonally behind the band pointing straight at the front rows. That's also exactly what happens during the Hold Tight! set, with people rushing to the front to sing along to a few songs, with a catchy dynamic taking place between the band and the crowd. Hold Tight!'s pop punk leans strongly on a New Found Glory-ish foundation, but tonight they play their songs much faster than on record, perhaps to fit the punk crowd, perhaps in consideration of their short set time. Either way, it ignites the crowd as the people right at the front deliver a passionate singalong, jumping around everywhere, which results in the band's microphones falling over all the time due to the crazy dynamic happening right up front. That's the theme of the whole show: fun, high octane pop punk with people bouncing around in ecstasy singing along. [8] PP

United Nations

United Nations @ 00:50-01:20 at The Atlantic

The venue is at capacity with a long line outside as United Nations set fire into what is one of the craziest sets showmanship wise at this year's FEST. Geoff Rickly has been known to deliver devastating performances with his screamo outfit, and the packed Atlantic venue is a perfect avenue for him to kneel over into the crowd to scream passionately. When he isn't busy engaging the crowd, he's crashing around the stage together with the rest of the band in total chaos; immediacy, urgency, and intimacy are all clocking 11/10 at this show, and the unleashing of pure energy on stage is undeniable all the way through. There are occasional references to the band having been sued over their name and censorship, as well as other political themes, but for the most part Rickley & co practically tear the stage apart with their insane live show. Absolutely fantastic. [9] PP

Captain, We’re Sinking @ 01:00-01:30 at Rockey’s

I’m not saying it’s necessarily because I pretty much gave Captain, We’re Sinking’s sophomore album "The Future Is Cancelled" the Album Of The Year title in my review, but Rockey’s is rammed in expectation of the Scranton quartet’s set and as they set off with "Adultery", it’s looks like they’re fairly unprepared for this strong a response. People are howling the song’s refrains back at the band, who look somewhat fidgety because something is wrong, and the set has to stop for a minute as the band figures out why one of the guitars isn’t coming through. As things recommence however, it’s clear that people do not care, so long as they can be a part of this, and we’re not only talking fans here. The Menzinger’s Greg Barnett is on the side of the stage, mouthing every word in support of his brother Bob who sings and plays guitar, and Greg is joined by at least one of the Leagues Apart guys who looks like he’s as eager as the fans to be a part of this.

Feedback rings from the monitors and things aren’t always in tune, but the situation still escalates, with stage dives and singalongs increasing while bassist Zack Charette grinningly buys his band whiskey shots from the bar next to the stage and songs like "Brother", "Beer" and "Annina, We Will Miss You" get rapturous reception before "Crushed By Milwaukee’s Best" is supposed to end the set. At this point however, security is as busy trying to contain other bands’ members on the side of the stage as they are with the actual audience, and when the band chooses to honour a request to cover NOFX’s "Linoleum" the room just blows up as people from a number of bands storm the stage and singer/guitarist Leo Vergnetti disappears in a mountain of people screaming along. And while we’re a good five minutes over curfew, things still don’t culminate until everybody has spent their last drops of energy in a communal performance of "Gunner Merring Will Have His Revenge".

I’ve mentioned before that FEST 12 has already featured so many triumphant celebrations that their currency almost suffers from inflation by now, and you could argue that the sound wasn’t perfect, and that it’s weird in the first place to apply a celebratory tone to Captain, We’re Sinking’s completely hopeless narratives, but honestly, the feeling leaving Rockey’s tonight defies such argument. Rather it feels like a redemption of a band that has tapped into some extremely painful subject matter to now stand at the cusp of being recognised as the punk rock scene’s much deserved next big thing. And I don’t think I’ll forget it if I live to be 100. [9½] TL

Sunday, November 3

Polar Bear Club

Polar Bear Club @ 5:00-5:40 at Florida Theater

It's good to see Polar Bear Club still heavily lean their set against classics from their debut album "Sometimes Things Just Disappear", which continues to draw the biggest response from crowds all around the world aside from maybe "Living Saints" and "Screams In Caves" as exceptions. That also applies tonight, where songs like "Eat Dinner, Bury The Dog And Run", "Another Night In The Rock", and "Burned Out In A Jar" are sung back by the crowd, though with less volume than on previous days. "It's quiet on Sunday", says vocalist Jimmy Stadt, before assuring us that it's alright, he understands. Not one to be fazed by the milder crowd participation, he hops down to the barrier to sing "Living Saints", and spends the majority of the set jumping around frantically to the extent that he's losing accuracy in many of his vocal passages due to the mic simply being out of reach from him. Later on, he throws a somersault stage dive into the crowd while singing another passage, but no matter what he does it's just the front parts of the Theater that are active today. It's a shame his vocal style has become so much more polished than the raw, gravelly charisma of the debut album, because as songs like "Pawner" demonstrate today, they are decent, but lack the emotional supercharge of the debut album tracks in what is an increasingly common trend at Polar Bear Club shows these days. [7½] PP

Second opinion: PP is spot on about the grading, but I disagree wholeheartedly with his feelings for the band’s newer songs. "Pawner", "Screams In Caves", "Bottled Wind" and "Killing It" all sounded great and reminded me how good "Clash Battle Guilt Pride" is (and sent me directly to the merch table for a shirt. TL

PJ Bond @ 6:00-6:30 at The Wooly

PJ Bond - in case you're not familiar with him - is basically a Ryan Adams who stayed in the punk rock scene, and while his country songwriter style struck me as a bit too loyal to tradition on his solo recordings, the Colorado native impressed me enough with a performance at the acoustic stage at Groezrock for me to make his set this evening a priority. For the occasion Bond has enlisted touring mates Arliss Nancy as a backing band, explaining the audience that they all flew in from Europe and worked out the arrangements a few weeks ago, and I find this a likely reason that it takes a few songs before the set really settles in.

"This song is about a bartender I used to sleep with" - PJ Bond

At first the arrangements feel a bit too layered, stealing focus away from Bond's original songwriting talent, but about halfway through you can feel that the musicians find their groove and that the mix is properly adjusted, and as Bond gets around to some of his most catchy songs, like "Stop Being Bad" and "I'm In A Bad Way", the crowd starts to get more into it. Naturally we don't see any crowd surfing or wild screaming along here - at most some friendly guest appearances on stage from other band’s members I must admit that I don't recognise - but the musical atmosphere is so well-executed that when the set ends, I feel like I could easily have enjoyed it for a good deal longer. [7] TL

Arliss Nancy @ 6:50-7:20 at The Wooly

Even if PJ Bond hadn't heartily recommended sticking around to watch Arliss Nancy I would have done so anyway, due to the simmer of hype the band is already beginning to gather. While having shown themselves to be expert country musicians supporting Bond, the Colorado quintet's own sound is more of a nostalgia-tinged good-times rock alá Gaslight Anthem, with vocals that sound a lot like Chuck Ragan. While coming off as friendly, laid-back drunks in their between-song banter, the band plays like seasoned road-warriors already, and while I'm unfamiliar with their songs, they easily strike me as one of the standout bands at FEST, who seem more ambitious when it comes to developing a sound that's their own as opposed to one that aligns loyally with existing trends in the scene, and who has the songwriting talent to back this ambition up. They might not get celebrated as fan-favourites the way other FEST bands have, but a few of their songs get a response that points in that direction, and regardless of their reception, their performance in itself marks them as ones to look out for in the near future. [7½] TL

Smoke Or Fire @ 7:00-7:40 at Florida Theater

"Monsters Among Us" is already the second track on the Smoke Or Fire setlist today, and draws as loud of a singalong as you're gonna get out of the tired FESTers on a Sunday evening when everyone's pretty much ready to go home. "What Separates Us All" has a moderate singalong as well, but realistically Smoke Or Fire are facing an uphill battle, and with the little movement and lots of standing still that they exhibit on stage, they're not going to do much better. They've always been like a poor man's version of Anti-Flag, whose energetic performances put Smoke Or Fire to shame especially because of how similar the two soundscapes are. Tonight, they break a string and the room is in almost complete silence, making everyone sense the tiredness of the crowd, so even though the last few songs feature decent singalongs, it's difficult to rate Smoke Or Fire higher than this. [6½] PP

FEST Crowdsurfer

Fake Problems @ 7:40-8:20 at 8 Seconds

As my fellow scribe TL mentioned to me earlier, all the quirky and quieter bands are playing today, probably to match with the general sense that it's time to go home and nobody wants to hear in-your-face hardcore or aggressive punk rock for the fourth day in a row. Fake Problems are a good match as they have hints of punk rock in their sound, but generally deliver a relaxing atmosphere with a touch of humour attached tonight. Their singer is wearing a ridiculous bright red shirt that wouldn't have been out-of-place at an 80s disco party, but he soon takes it off to reveal a white t-shirt with #FESY written on it. This is the running joke throughout their set, referring to FEST as FESY instead, which is just the light hearted humour we need to close off the evening. He has a friendly charisma to him, making it easy to like their songs and to sing along as the crowd also moderately do throughout their set. [7½] PP

Second opinion: Only saw the last bits of this, but it was enough to make me a bit bummed to miss them, as the band gave me some vibe of personality that will probably make me check them out at a later opportunity. TL

Titus Andronicus @ 8:40-9:20 at 8 Seconds

As Titus Andronicus commence their set about seven minutes late, having been extra careful with their soundcheck, there's a tone in frontman Patrick Stickley's voice when he says that they're "thankful for this opportunity to be a part of the contemporary punk community" that seems to leave it open to speculation if he feels they're part of the FEST scene at all, but as they rip into "Four Score And Seven" and "A More Perfect Union" from "The Monitor" two things are clear: 1) There's a crowd here that loves them anyway and 2) their grand riffage and compositional movements come through with a lot more personality than many of the more typical FEST bands.

It's promising for a while, but as the set moves towards songs that noticeably fewer fans recognise things start to get a little awkward, and become fully so when one attendant - in a display of complete lack of situational awareness - decides to open up a moshpit all by himself, flailing around for several minutes in complete denial of the fact that nobody is going to really join him and that his unpredictable movements are distracting the more sober members of the audience from the actual show. To make matters worse, Stickley's charismatically, often off-tune, vocals cut out completely midway during the last song, and considering that Titus Andronicus are playing their longer songs today, it makes for a considerable stretch to close the show, where you can't actually hear him at all. These then, were hardly the optimal conditions to get the best impression of a Titus Andronicus show. [6½] TL

Have Mercy @ 9:40-10:10 at 8 Seconds

Baltimore quartet Have Mercy's debut LP "The Earth Pushed Back" is a likely candidate to appear in Album Of The Year lists around these parts, mixing Dashboard Confessional's bluntly emotive content with the sentimental atmosphere of bands like The Jealous Sound and The Dangerous Summer. But judging from the now scarcely populated 8 Seconds either nobody has told the FEST audience that, or - in more likelihood - this is just less important to them than catching The Lawrence Arms, whose Florida Theater set overlaps this one.

Still, Have Mercy handle the slightly disappointing reception more consistently than Real Friends for instance did, and they sound a lot better too, though singer/guitarist Brian Swindle does sing more parts in his half-screamed voice than on record, seemingly aware that his low chest-voice isn't faring too well against the guitars in parts where both are employed significantly. The score of fans that have assembled in front of the stage though, stretch their voices to the maximum to sing along to the parts they know, predictably occurring in album standouts "This Old Ark" and "Let's Talk About Your Hair" to name some. In another display of FEST-Sunday strangeness then, another band that has a richer sound than the festival's average somehow has to settle in an admirable uphill struggle against a lacking crowd presence. [7½] TL

The Lawrence Arms @ 10:00-11:00 at Florida Theater

So I was wondering where everyone was for some of the shows I considered must see earlier this evening. Turns out the answer is they’re all here. One of the most revered bands at FEST this year, The Lawrence Arms play so very, very seldom, which is why everyone left at FEST is here, packing Florida Theater to its limits for one more time before closing. Anticipation fills the air as the band gets ready to kick off, and once they do with "Cut It Up", the sing along at the Theater is deafening in its nature. By song three, Brendan Kelly interrupts the broadcast by saying "now, a message from Paul", who presumably played in another band as he enters the stage from the side along with a girl. "I love you, and I wanted all of our friends and family to share this moment", he says, before proposing to the girl on stage. Her reaction is at first a puzzling "oh my god" with hands in front of her mouth, before she downs her beer (strangely enough), and eventually says yes.

We return to the Lawrence Arms set where the singalongs continue with "The Slowest Drink At The Saddest Bar On The Snowiest Day In The Greatest City", and especially the "drunk on the radio waves" part is sung along in echoing fashion by the crowd. Yes, it’s Sunday, and people maybe aren’t as loud as they have been during the weekend, but there’s a sense of communion in the crowd, many of whom have never seen Lawrence Arms play before. On stage, the band aren’t doing anything particularly special - mostly standing still and playing their songs with small energy in their own personal spaces - but they don’t necessarily need to because of the sheer amount of good songs they have written.

Yes, you can complain about the vocals sounding kind of weird in the mix (certainly not album-like at all), and the difficulty in hearing some of the guitar melodies in the crowd, but that doesn’t matter as this is a nostalgia-driven set for many of us. This should change soon, as the band are gearing to release a new album in 2014, so perhaps they’ll be touring more often (Groezrock pretty please). Either way, the band finish with a crowd favorite "Are You There Yet Margaret? It’s Me God", whose "aeroplane, aeroplane" parts unleash yet another thunderous singalong session from the crowd’s side. Had this show been on a Friday, it could’ve been so much more, but for a Sunday show this is about as good as it gets. [8] PP

Knapsack @ 10:30-11:30 at 8 Seconds

My last FEST band of the year is Knapsack, whom I admittedly know only by name, yet have been looking forward to due to my considerable affection for quasi-legendary singer Blair Shehan's newer band The Jealous Sound. One of the more atypical frontmen in general, Shehan's pale, bald frame, big ears and protruding brows that cast his eyes in near-permanent shadow, has him looking very unlikely to sing his contemplative musings with a sentimentality that is as quintessentially emo as it comes, and to underscore this singing with arena-sized, pop-sensible chord dynamics. Yet that is exactly what both his new and his old bands are all about, and the sizeable 8 Seconds crowd that's still around is clearly loving it.

In fact they love it perhaps a little too wildly for Shehan's liking, as you can tell that he's clearly past any phase of thinking that crowd surfing and spraying beer all over the place is cool show-etiquette, but for the most part, he reigns in his reservations and focuses on addressing the more gently rocking fans that "get it". Combining this with perhaps the best mix I've heard at 8 Seconds all week, the full, carefully structured efficiency of the band's soundscape is brought to bear in a parade of songs that, even to someone like me who doesn't know them, makes it easy to appreciate that Knapsack was originally a band that could pen a big hook almost routinely. The full appeal of their material is clearly evident, when Shehan is actually saying his goodbyes sounding like he has no intention of playing an encore, yet is clapped back on stage to perform two more to a crowd that, like me, are praising themselves lucky to have gotten this rare opportunity to see the long defunct Knapsack live. [8] TL

Final Thoughts

With four days of FESTing behind us and two days of pre-FESTing before that, how does the festival compare to the European experience of a festival? Well, for starters, FEST feels like going to a bunch of club shows in a row, except that each one of them is packed, each band you see is awesome, and you never have to worry about a shitty support band to struggle through before the main event. It also means good sound, and big singalongs for pretty much every at least remotely recognizable band on the bill. Moreover, the fact that you’re sleeping on a real bed with shower / swimming pool available makes a huge difference to being able to soldier through 6 days in a row; in a European festival format on a dirty field with little or no opportunities to do the same, you’re dead tired after just two or three days at max (unless you’re still 21). It’s also cool to see how the city of Gainesville is virtually taken over by FEST-goers for the weekend, you’ll rarely see anyone not wearing a FEST wristband during the week who isn’t working at one of the local establishments.

FEST afterparty

Still, some of the charm of the grass field festivals is lost in the process. The ability to get hammered beyond belief for 24 hours in a row if you so want is not there because most places stop serving alcohol at 2am, and being too drunk outside means you’re going to be arrested by the otherwise friendly local police department. Moreover, it’s easier to be totally disconnected from ‘reality’ at an outdoor festival than it is at an indoor one like this one.

It has its advantages, but it’s not as characteristic overall. Perhaps this is the European in me talking, but I for one prefer the grass field festival format slightly more, even if it means worse sound in most cases.

As for improvements, FEST seemed very efficiently organized, so there’s little to note in this department. At pre-FEST, the guidebook had designated The Bricks as a meeting point before the shows, and while you could argue Holiday Inn was this to an extent at FEST, it would be nice with one or more designated quirky bars where you could meet before/during/after the shows with your friends and locals alike.

Overall, if you’re into punk rock, you can’t really find a better, more focused festival than FEST. The lineup is without discussion the best in its style every year, provided you’re enough of a music nerd to constantly be checking out what’s the newest and hottest up-and-coming bands in the genre. The bigger names are notably missing, but that’s simply because the venues can’t hold capacity to book a band like NOFX or Bad Religion without causing mile long queues outside. Perhaps a new/outdoor venue will alleviate this in the future.

For now, FEST was a fantastic experience, and can be recommended to any punk rock fan in Europe thinking about making the trip over there. The sheer amount of small bands you’ll probably never get to see in Europe, most of all in front of this big crowds singing along, is worth it alone.  PP

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