The drunks were at the bar; the punks were in the pit. Between the two there was a clear divide in energy levels at the Face to Face/Strung Out show Sat., May 21 at Philadelphia’s Trocadero. Kids on the floor maintained a constantly swirling mass for both bands without tiring (and surprisingly few fights). The old heads up at the balcony drank their drinks and took some abuse from the bands. There wasn't any real hostility, though, just a kinship formed over fast beats and snotty vocals.
After opening sets from the Darlings (SoCal pop-punk) and the regrettably named Cerebral Ballzy (thrash punk), Strung Out emerged to big applause and an even bigger mosh pit. While the band has tweaked its sound over the years, the tunes segued nicely into each other as guitarists Jake Kiley and Rob Ramos peeled off solo after solo. Frontman Jason Cruz frequently interacted with the crowd during and between songs, offering high-fives and fist bumps while occasionally tweaking the adults at the bar. After a tight 45-minute set, the band bowed out to make room for the night’s main event, Face to Face.
While Face to Face has officially been reunited since 2008, 2011 feels like their true comeback. Their new, pretty good album Laugh Now, Laugh Later just dropped. More importantly, their promotional tour for the record boasts the best Face to Face set I have ever seen.
I’m not going to pretend to be an old vintage punker, but I did catch the band twice before their breakup, and while both performances were exemplary, tonight had a raw energy and enthusiasm that surpassed previous stops in Philly. Maybe it was the rambunctious crowd. Maybe it was the fact that the returning members look exactly the same (well, Trevor Keith and Scott Shiflett anyway. Drummer Danny Thompson is new and I don’t know who the second guitarist was, but he wasn't Chad Yaro). Or maybe it was just a really, really well-picked set list.
Tonight, the band played “the hits.” That means a lot of stuff off the first three records, plus “Bill of Goods” from How to Ruin Everything. Four tracks from Laugh Now were shown off (set opener “Should Anything Go Wrong”, plus “It’s Not All About You”, “Bombs Away” and “All for Nothing”), and they sound much better in a faster, live setting. I’m one of the few who actually loves the group’s experimental Ignorance Is Bliss record, but I didn't mind seeing it passed over, along with Reactionary, in favor of tracks like “Won’t Lie Down”, “A-OK” and “Walk Away”.
The band kicked things off with new tune “Should Anything Go Wrong” and the crowd erupted. They didn't quite know the words yet, but they sure kept time. Then Keith counted into Don’t Turn Away’s “You've Done Nothing”, and the audience sure knew the words to that one. The show seemed to deal out songs by period. A Face to Face suite yielded “Ordinary”, “Walk the Walk”, “Won’t Lie Down” and a particularly roaring version of “Blind”, for example. Big Choice, of course, got the biggest reaction, with songs like “Disconnected” and “Big Choice” setting off the crowd.
Keith took the time to chide the drunks, galvanizing them to a minimal amount of exercise by standing up for the entirety of “Bill of Goods”. But after an hour-long performance plus a two-song encore, Face to Face left the stage to applause from everyone in attendance. Fans were promised another show within a year, plus they scored Laugh Now for free if they bought anything at the merch table. All kidding aside, Keith and co. were good to Philadelphia.