Before I get started, I'd just like to note that any incorrect information, especially bands' set lists, is purely accidental. I'm doing all of this from groggy memory.
Given that the Fest has become a pillar of our scene, not to mention an ubiquitous term with an inconsistent part of speech depending on who's saying it-"I'm going to the Fest;" "I Fested so hard last night;" "They're a very Fest band;" etc.-it's a little surprising how much the Fest 11 seemed to fly under the radar. The Fest 10 was such a huge blowout, with dozens of old No Idea bands either reuniting to perform or returning to perform for the first time in several years, that it sold out relatively quickly and stands as perhaps the most impressive lineup Tony Weinbender had ever put together. There was a clear theme to the schedule and lineup in 2011, and that worked to the Fest's advantage. In 2012, the Fest returned to be what it had more or less always been: A diverse collection of bands across varying genres and career trajectories, some old, some new. Paradoxically, it was almost more of a throwback than the previous year's Fest. That formula still works.
After giving the freshman class a year off in 2011, the Fest 11 returned to form with a multitude of new bands to go with a group of better-known headliners and Fest veterans. This also seemed to be the year that Festgoers made a more concerted effort to pique their own curiosity and forge into the unknown, as plenty of Fest debuts drew large crowds; unlike past years, there didn't seem to be sparse crowds at any of these shows. Hop Along wowed a huge audience Sunday afternoon inside the New Top Spot-at least those who were able to get in, anyway. The line, which snaked around the front of the venue twice and stayed steady as the band worked through their set, was undoubtedly the longest line of the weekend *not* at one of the two main venues. The otherworldly voice of Frances Quinlan permeated throughout the room and captivated everyone inside it. Some called it moving. Others called it breathtaking. We were all in awe for those 40 minutes. Don't sleep on Hop Along.
Austrian pop-punks Dee Cracks were a pleasant early Sunday afternoon discovery at Loosey's, playing a brand of tight, fast and silly pop-punk that was about as caffeinated than any large cup of coffee being brewed across the street at Volta. The spirit of Lookout Records is very much alive.
Later Sunday afternoon, Joyce Manor made their Fest debut at the Florida Theatre of Gainesville, the first band that young in recent memory to debut at the largest venue. Despite the set time and point in the weekend-any Fest veteran will tell you that Sunday is the most difficult day to trudge through due to fatigue, hangover and too much cheap pizza and cheaper beer the previous two days-the massive crowd was game and they received a hit-filled set mostly culled from the band's 2011 self-titled LP, as well as "Violent Inside" and "If I Needed You There" from 2012's Of All Things I Will Soon Grow Tired, plus their cover of Murder City Devils' "Midnight Service at the Mutter Museum" and a pair of songs from Constant Nothing, "Chumped" and "Five Beer Plan." Labels larger than our beloved Asian Man should be (and probably are) lining up to release the band's next album.
Chemical Ache, the new band fronted by Alex Goldfarb of Gatorface, No Friends and New Mexican Disaster Squad, made their Fest debut Sunday evening inside the Palomino pool hall directly next to Boca Fiesta. The band's sonic attack isn't entirely divorced from Gatorface's brand of tightly wound, aggressive pop-punk, and with the vast majority of fans in attendance getting their first listen of the band, most seemed to walk away impressed.
Elsewhere on Sunday, The Menzingers had the huge crowd at Florida Theatre of Gainesville eating out of their hands, with an impassioned set that stands as the band's best Fest performance of their career. On The Impossible Past got plenty of love, with "The Obituaries," "Ava House," "Good Things," "Gates," "Casey" and "Nice Things" all making the set; "Sunday Morning" received the huge reaction it seems to elicit everywhere; Chamberlain Waits fans got "Deep Sleep" and "Who's Your Partner" and though it probably doesn't make sense as a closer on a normal club show for the band, "A Lesson in the Abuse of Information Technology" from 2007's album of the same name makes a certain kind of sense as a Fest set finale.
Fake Problems made their return to the Fest after a year off and unlike their Fest 9 performance, peppered their set with mostly newer material from 2010's Real Ghosts Caught On Tape ("Soulless," "ADT," "5678," "Songs for Teenagers") and fan favorites/set staples from It's Great To Be Alive ("Diamond Rings," "Don't Worry Baby," closer "Heart BPM"). The New Top Spot was packed with fans welcoming the group back to the Fest with loud, loud sing-alongs, and the group fed off of it in what was a fun and triumphant set, and one that will go over well on their upcoming shows with Against Me!.
Saturday's generally the most action-packed day of any Fest; more people are in town, whether it's with walk-up passes or otherwise, and more large bands perform overall, with music starting at 1 or 2 p.m. and going straight through until last call around 1:45 a.m. The schedule was a little more spread out this year, but Saturday remained pretty busy. It was prudent to start it with a laugh, as comedian Kyle Kinane entertained a large crowd at Loosey's with a 25-minute set, one of his several that weekend but the only one billed as a "Mystery Band."
While several hundred bearded, black t-shirt-wearing, not-that-great-smelling punks snaked around 8 Seconds waiting for Iron Chic, Tallahassee's Little League were massively entertaining at the Atlantic, their songs sounding noticeably heavier and less twinkly than most remembered. Drummer Ronnie Francisco was especially fun to watch, as his tenacity on the skins was the catalyst for the band's more aggressive approach. A few onlookers were particularly excited, with the rest of us there generally admiring a band that doesn't tour much outside of the south bring the house down.
New Brunswick, N.J.'s Dads immediately followed Little League at the Atlantic, with a decidedly gruffer but no less fun approach than their predecessors. Those in attendance showered the band with their own sweat and spit via deafening singalongs and an extraordinary amount of crowd surfing.
Continuing a quest to check out bands on the rise that may've gone previously unseen, several ventured to see Run, Forever at 1982 and were treated to a set full of tunes from the band's new album for Tiny Engines, Settling.
Durty Nelly's may have been the most packed venue all weekend for its size, and House Boat's raucous early Saturday evening set was no exception. The band plowed through quick burst after quick burst of pop-punk, though if one wasn't near the front of the room it was mostly impossible to see or decipher.
Burning Love got a venue upgrade this year, performing at the much larger New Top Spot. It fit them well, as their punishingly heavy punk/metal hybrid echoed throughout the room with authority. Much of the band's set was culled from their excellent new full-length for Southern Lord, Rotten Thing To Say, including such riff vessels as "Karla," "Pig City II" and "Made Out of Apes."
Meanwhile at 8 Seconds, Broadway Calls were fighting sub par sound during their set, which seemed to be a recurring theme at many venues for the Fest's first two days. Nevertheless, the trio pounded through with plenty of tracks from 2009's Good Views, Bad News like "Be All You Can't Be," "Basement Royalty" and "Midnight Hour." The band's 2013 album for No Sleep is likely to be another favorite if their continued reaction at Fests is any indication.
Philadelphia's Luther performed a fun set at Loosey's shortly after, filling their set with cuts from their excellent new album Let's Get You Somewhere Else. Though some of the nuance in the hooks is lost in a loud and live setting, the band navigated their songs admirably, with "The Concrete Sound," "The Glory Bees" and "Heavy Money" all translating well.
From there, it was a far walk to the Laboratory for How Dare You's last show, where the Orlando, Fla. quartet poured their hearts out in front of a small but impassioned crowd filled with friends and family. Those guys never really got their due, but their driving, world-weary punk was a real treat while it lasted. 2008's Comfort Road figured prominently into the set, with "Eat at Charlie's," "Beacon Street," "Scout's Honor" and "Week of Heart Attacks" all garnering fun reactions.
Fellow Orlandoans (?) You Blew It! followed HDY at the Laboratory, and it's safe to say they'll be playing a larger venue next year. The stage, maybe six inches off the ground, was surrounded and eventually overtaken with roughly 150 kids losing their minds to the band's twinkly, heavy emo. Much of the set was culled from their debut LP Grow Up, Dude, with "Terry v. Tori," "Pinball House" and "Medal of Honor" probably receiving the most crowd participation in terms of volume and movement (i.e. head walking).
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"We only have six songs!" laughed Jeff Rosenstock as Kudrow entertained a sizable Friday afternoon crowd at Palomino, kicking off the Fest for the majority of those in attendance. Palomino was stageless but also *huge* which meant it was basically impossible to see (though not hear) any band play there unless one arrived early. No matter; who gets mad at the *beginning* of the Fest, besides curmudgeons that's who?
The Holy Mess drew a huge crowd at 8 Seconds, and though the sound wasn't great the band played well and their fans ate it up anyway, as many of them had likely been drinking since 11 a.m. if not earlier. In other words, a perfect Mess crowd.
Immediately after it was off to the venue formerly known as Double Down Live (which itself was the venue formerly known as Common Grounds) where the last few songs of Hostage Calm were caught before hometown heroes Dikembe took the stage. They got a big upgrade in venue from the previous year, and the Fest organizers must be prescient because hundreds of kids were losing their minds to "Scottie Spliffen," "Sorry I Can't Stick Around" and other aggressive-yet-vulnerable fare the band offered.
In terms of the scene a band is generally associated with, The Swellers have always been something of an outlier on the Fest's lineup; they're almost certainly the only band that's ever played Fest and has also toured with Paramore, for example. However, this was their fifth year playing and they brought it like they generally always do, not shying away from newer material ("Inside My Head," "The Best I Ever Had," "Hands") but also peppering in some older, more "punk" selections like "The Flood" and "This Is My Everest" from 2007's My Everest, a record that most of their younger fans probably don't even know exists.
Scurrying to the New Top Spot in time to catch The Copyrights proved to be a sound decision. The band plowed through a 40-minute set that spanned almost their entire catalogue, but with 2011's North Sentinel Island-their best record, if we're keeping score at home-figuring prominently into their set. "Hard Wired," "Crutches" and "Trustees of Modern Chemistry" were highlights, as well as "Cashiers" from 2008's Mutiny Pop, which still might be the most purely catchy song the Copyrights have written.
The Dwarves had a 40-minute set time Friday night at the New Top Spot; they played for *about* 17 minutes. It was awesome. The band may or may not have left the stage in anger due to some monitor malfunctions, but while they were there they kicked out banger after banger. Honestly, seeing the Dwarves play for more than 20 minutes probably isn't a good idea, especially when "Let's Fuck" is a minute-long and "I Will Deny" clocks in at a hefty 1:40. Get in, figuratively punch the audience in the mouth, get out before it gets too stale. Really, that sums of the Fest in a nutshell better than just about anything. See you next year, Gainesville.