The third and final day of FEST 14 was a greasy, humid Sunday Funday to end all Sunday Fundays. Though it was the closing day of the tiring sprint of a festival, there were no hints of sadness or exhaustion in the air; that was reserved for Monday. New friends were still crushing PBR’s in the early afternoon between iced coffees. The Top, a popular Gainesville brunch spot, was slammed with prim Gainesville families in their Sunday best, and hungover FESTers in their Sunday worst. It was a stark reminder of the dichotomy that produced punk in the first place, and why things like THE FEST are still necessary and loved.
If you’re a fan of Columbus’ hyper-DIY punk collective Defiance, Ohio, you were probably floored by the monumental performance the band gave on a bright Sunday afternoon at Lot 10. The band hadn’t toured in years, nor been together with all six members in longer than that, so getting the whole group on the same stage is no easy feat, nor entirely replicable. The band’s set was laid back in comparison to the knuckle-skinning distortion and head-bashing vocals heard all weekend, and the chilled-out energy matched the early afternoon perfectly, and set the tone for a fantastic last day. The band’s anti-capitalism, outside-the-mainstream, DIY ethics are almost immediately recognizable; in a weekend drenched in gritty screams and Marshall-crunch growls on guitar, the choice to keep things clean is as much a statement as a stylistic choice. Though their set pounded out riveting punk anthems and speedy sing-alongs, the use of stripped-down aesthetics and sounds provided a refreshing and profound take on what a punk band can be, or even really is, and one that set Defiance apart. The crowd that had gathered to watch the band was tribute to the six-piece’s reach and strength; during “Oh, Susquehanna,” if you weren’t singing, you were in the minority. For a band with dominantly self-released material, that’s a remarkable feat.
Jeff Rosenstock, the incredibly talented mastermind-disguised-as-a-goofball behind Bomb the Music Industry!, blasted Lot 10 later in the afternoon with probably the most fun set of the weekend. Right after Rosenstock greeted the crowd by shouting, “America, the country full of racist policemen!”, the air ripped open with “You, In Strange Cities” off of this year’s We Cool?, which crashed Side One Dummy’s website on its release. So ya, Rosenstock has a pretty dedicated fan base. And it’s easy to see why. His party-boy indie-punk is so damn infectious and deliriously enjoyable. Its like snorting a line of pop rocks; not gritty enough to be actual drugs or heavy-hitting shit, but it will still muck you up and get your neurons firing to just the right receptors to make you feel elated even though you have chemical candy lodged in your nasal cavity. Rosenstock stopped near the end of the set to explain that a fan had related an experience of being sexually assaulted at one of his shows, and went on to assert the importance of making women feel comfortable and secure at shows. In a genre undeniably dominated by male voices, the importance of this PSA cannot be overstated and must be respected. Tossing in a cover of System Of A Down’s “B.Y.O.B.” near the end of their time (“I’m on metrolyrics.com right now,” laughed Rosenstock as he looked up the lyrics), the group left a gleeful, stoked crowd behind. Rosenstock is also the only person we saw all weekend with the guts to not tune his guitar, and it was so, so punk.
Up next was Rosenstock tourmates and Canadian buzz-punks PUP. The four-piece from Toronto operated under the name Topanga for a while before legal troubles ripped that bit of brilliance from them, but their new moniker, which stands for ‘pathetic use of potential,’ is somehow even more endearing and warm. The crew opened with a rip through “DVP,” a track off of their second LP and nod to Toronto’s Don Valley Parkway. It was instantly obvious that the buzz surrounding the band, which signed to Side One Dummy last year, has permeated far and wide, as Lot 10 filled with fans shouting along with singer Stefan Babcock and hurling half-full PBR’s throughout the set, a sign of affection and badge of legitimacy at THE FEST. Guitarist Steve Sladkowski never fails to wow with spotless grit on guitar; his solos are at once chaotic and classically trained, tearing through different modes and scales. Indeed, pretty much all of PUP’s songs follows suit, with complex time signatures couching hectic, flailing drumwork and vocals. Even bassist Nestor Chumak’s fretwork shows more imagination than anything you’re likely to hear on modern rock radio. The group invited Jeff Rosenstock out for their traditional closer, a cover of key party anthem “Sabotage,” to an ecstatic roar echoed across Lot 10. Keep an eye out for the band’s next and no doubt kick-ass full-length early next year.
PUP is an undeniably tough act to follow in terms of both musicianship and energy, and Spraynard bore that weight with a strong set as darkness fell over Lot 10. Shaking the moss off the trees dispersed across the grounds, frontman Pat Graham hurled his best over the audience; “The rhythm’s always changing but the tempo stays the same.” It’s admissions like these that keep Spraynard at the top of the heap and their fans in a sweaty crush against the barriers at their shows. They were also the second band of the day to take a moment from the music to speak about sexual assault and violence against women, and encouraged everyone to make sure they were communicating with one another and creating a safe space for all to feel welcome and comforted, which is what Spraynard’s tunes are all about.
The Lot 10 festivities plugged along with Philly indie-emo-punk darlings and damn wonderful humans Modern Baseball. The fresh-faced four-piece, all of whom are just wrapping up their time at Drexel University, didn’t have to do much to encourage the crowd; they were already locked in a tangle of grins and stickiness against the guard rails. The euphoric grins seen across the sea of faces were awe-inspiring in a humble, effortless way; they were the kind of bright eyes that admitted that listening to the music of Modern Baseball has given them, each in their own way, a way to feel as great as they did right there, crammed against the front of the stage, with thousands of grimy strangers, waiting to see their favourite band. MoBo opened with “The Weekend,” with singer Brendan Lukens seemingly aware of the faces mesmerized on his, shouting at them, “You’ve got a smile that could light this town, and we might need it, cause it gets dark around here.” As darkness was draped over Gainesville, it was a meta-moment that meant nothing to anyone not paying attention, but to FESTers locked on Modern Baseball, it was overwhelmingly magical, even if just for three minutes and change. The set ended with “Your Graduation,” a heart-wrenching three-minutes of pop-punk perfection and catharsis. Lukens’ songwriting is visceral in its honesty and observation of details, but as Lukens clearly understands, these seemingly menial moments and minute remarks combine to create a profound narrative that’s just as powerful and probably twice as effective as trying to tell an over-blown story of heartbreak and corroded relationships; “bullshit, you fuckin’ miss me, there I said it, I guess I’ll talk to you in a few months,” is a perfect example of the gutting power of simple honesty, and the home it can give to broken hearts. Modern Baseball should be proud of themselves for giving that home to thousands of kids already.
The Wooly played home to a double-header that would make as legendary a bill as any tour: Chris Farren-fronted power-pop goof-rockers Antarctigo Vespucci, and short-lived but well-loved punks Chumped. Vespucci, a celebrated marriage of the punk genius of both dear friend and punk celebrity Chris Farren and Jeff Rosenstock, put on a ridiculously enjoyable set of boiler-plate pop-punk jams, brimming with Farren/Rosenstock jabbering between sets that could’ve been a comedy set of its own. Farren’s unassuming presence matched with Rosenstock, very much the opposite, is a superb dynamic that invites any and all watching to join in on the stupid, endearing fun times. Also, the level of catchiness that the set was stocked with was preposterous. The skittering pop-punk riffing and maddeningly hooky chorus lines made for a riotous 40 minutes stocked with absolute rippers. “I’m Giving Up On U2” wins for best song title ever. And best chorus, to be honest.
The slacker-pop of Vespucci couldn’t prepare an at-capacity Wooly for the feels of Chumped. The Brooklyn bummer-punk quartet announced earlier in the day that the set would be their last before what some are calling an indefinite hiatus, and some are calling a permanent break-up, and all are really torn up over. It didn’t take long for the bittersweet news to sweep across THE FEST, and it took even less time for tears to well up in glassy eyes across the Wooly when Chumped took the stage. The set was a whirlwind of snotty punk swells, feels-y jams and as if the set wasn’t emotionally-charged enough, an on-stage proposal tugged even harder on already-weary heart strings. To call the band Nirvana-esque would be to strip them of the ferocity and energy they bleed, and tether them in a cushy realm of normality and Kurt Cobain posters on college-house walls. They are anything but these tropes and deserve a more original place in musical categorization. Anika Pyle’s intensity on vocals and guitar are reflective of the emotions they try to get a handle on in their songs, which is a difficult task to attempt. Chumped’s short three years with us exemplified their superiority in distilling these feelings into song, and their ability to do so will be much missed. Come back soon, Chumped.
The last set of the day came in head-bashing style with Oakville, Ontario’s garage-punk outfit Dead Broke. The band culminated a short stint with fellow Ontarians The Penske File at FEST, and their energy was clearly intact and at an all time high at The Atlantic at midnight. The tenacity and guts that the young four-piece spat out were impressive and electric; a small cluster of FESTers, some of the few who were up and kicking at the end of the weekend, hugged the stage and were visibly shocked by the fiery performance, unable to adequately reciprocate the insanity being hammered into them. The short set included a grizzled cover of “Feel Good Hit Of The Summer,” that actually felt like the least fired-up song of the set. That tells you how nuts Dead Broke’s original garage-rock really is.
The last day at FEST was packed with many highs and few lows, like the rest of the weekend. Spirits flew even higher than PBR cans hucked from drunk moshers, and positive vibes were unmistakable across town. The humid stench of perspiration, mingled with low-quality beer, burritos, cigarettes and Spanish moss, will probably hang heavy over Gainesville for a few days to come. It’ll have to do until next year.
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Review by Luke Ottenhof | @LukeOttenhof