Punknews.org contributing editors Bryne Yancey and John Gentile took I-95 from Philadelphia up to Brooklyn on June 27, 2013 to watch Fucked Up, Title Fight and Hop Along perform at House of Vans. What follows is an email exchange about the events of the show.
John Gentile: Finally, The Yance and I felt as though we had arrived at our station. After walking into the House of Vans, a combination skate park / convert venue / party-get-down place, we felt hip, we felt happenin', we felt like one of the club, we felt like cocks-of-the-walk. Stylish youths packed the place: beards over here, mom-jeans over there. Anti-fashion is fashion once again, and I'll admit, it has a certain flair. I would not have predicted the Sigmund Freud and Jane Goodall looks to make a comeback in 2013, but the kids made it work.
If art must be driven by commerce these days, then I'll admit, Vans is doing it right. While most concerts are basically just people standing around checking their iPhones, the Fucked Up/Title Fight/Hop Along show really did have a party vibe. Free beer was being dispensed put back and a tasty taco truck was flinging out chorizo faster than you could say three fifty, please. But above all, it seemed that people were there to kick back, get excited, have a good time, and most importantly, dig some cool bands.
Bryne Yancey: I would wear "FUCK JADEDNESS, DOWN WITH CYNICISM" on a t-shirt if I could, but even I have to admit I was a little skeptical of what the House of Vans setting would be like, John. I'm glad I was wrong. I agree; the whole setup at HOV was laid-back and decidedly party-centric. I imagine plenty of other "corporate events" probably feel very cold and unfun, but that wasn't the case here. Everyone was having a great time, including the bands—even if the free beer being doled out was (gulp) Heineken Light. Then again, ain't no punk worth his or her weight in back patches and denim vests that'll turn down a free beer, regardless of the yellow swill factor.
But, on to the bands: This was an eclectic lineup, starting with the blasted out indie rock of Hop Along. In my Fest review last year I said that they could be the biggest band in the world, and I still think that's true; I've still never heard a vocalist on Frances Quinlan's level, or even close—as great as she is recorded, she's even better live—and she and the rest of the band shined. "Laments," "Young and Happy!" and closer "Tibetan Pop Stars" were clear highlights. There were only a few people in the crowd who seemed familiar with the songs, but the overall reception to them was extremely enthusiastic, to the point where the band seemed legitimately floored at how much clapping and cheering was happening. It was really great to witness, and I have a feeling Hop Along will be garnering more reactions like that going forward.
John: I agree that Hop Along was very well received. They actually got quite a bit of applause from people who were clearly unfamiliar with them when their set started. However, I found Title Fight to be the most perplexing. I had them described to me previously as "hardcore." Perhaps I've lost touch with that term, but I don't feel as those that definition fits the band. As they played live, the stuck to a mid-tempo crunch and airy, but cold guitars. As with so many bands, Title Fight seem to operate more on texture than riffs giving their music a sort of Joy Division reference, without overtly aping that band. The vocals were basically uniformly cries of desperation, which can work well, but I think the band could use a bit more vocal variety to widen their sound. I suppose the reason as though the "hardcore" description threw me off was because this music seemed very introspective and not very conducive to energetic movement. There were some people getting down to their lower register stomping, but I think was only because in general, the music is steady and only, once in a wild, became unstable or threatening.
Bryne: Describing Title Fight as perplexing in a live setting has proven to be awfully apt. I know you're unfamiliar with them, John, but their records are actually really great—I still prefer 2011's Shed over last year's Floral Green, for what it's worth—their sound, which I've always interpreted as—somewhat like you said—yelped desperation over dissonant, often muddled instrumentation, just has never translated well in a live setting. Ned Russin still can't seem to figure out how to stay in front of his microphone while singing and while his onstage enthusiasm is appreciated, it'd be nice to be able to hear his vocals for more than half a song.
Going in to this show I actually thought that Title Fight would end up being a bigger draw than Fucked Up, and it seemed to be true: There were plenty of hardcore kids in the crowd, who've stayed with TF even as their sound has wholly shifted away from hardcore, and they were enthusiastically moshing, stage diving and crowd surfing throughout the set. But once they stopped playing, there was clearly a large exodus from the show, leaving a few hundred people left for the closing set from Fucked Up. You've seen them live a few times before; this was my first time. How did this set stack up to the others?
John: Fucked Up has existed in many-a forms. Once they used to be hardcore smashers. Then they were hardcore, with a thick, heavy indie texture. Then, with the release of David Comes To Life, their sound became giant waves of volume that existed more in pulses than riffs. I was pleasantly surprised to see that at the Vans show, the band have regained some of their sharpness. While they still have that huge, soaring "Fucked Up Sound," the songs seem to have become more angular again, and frankly, more rocking.
"I Hate Summer" stormed along with energy, but unlike their peers, Fucked Up were also able to hold onto that big indie rock sound, which made the songs sound titanic. Likewise, classic "Police" was still savage, but it did more than just kick out a mosh-inducing riff. Perhaps this is due in part to the new songs. The David songs seemed to rely on dynamics and flows as much as actual notes, but the new songs seem to be anchored back in classic rock riffage. The effect is that vocalist Damian Abraham seems just a bit more juiced up then before and seems entirely in the driver's seat on the newest songs, where previously, at times, he seemed to just be placed atop a mountain of music. That effect was interesting too, as it relied on the contrast of Damian's bark to the music's smoothness, but finally, he seems to be intertwined with the music instead of climbing on top of it.
Bryne: I agree to a certain extent; as a first-timer to Fucked Up's live act, I was impressed — if unsurprised — at how strong they sounded throughout. I thought the three-guitar assault sometimes created an almost impenetrable din; whether that was a product of the band's setup, the venue's setup or both I'm not sure, but a lot of the nuance found in Fucked Up's studio recordings fell by the wayside in a live setting, which I suppose is par for the course when it comes to most punk shows. Abraham's madman antics more than made up for any drowned out notes, however. The way he ran around the pit, hovered over the barricade and handed off the mic to enthusiastic crowd surfers made the show infinitely more interesting and unpredictable.
The new songs the band played sounded very tight and much more melodic than most of what we've heard from Fucked Up in the past. "Classic rock riffage" seems apt. It'll be interesting to see how these songs evolve, if at all, as time goes on. Regardless, Fucked Up were the *perfect* first headliner for the House of Vans series this summer. I'm looking forward to a couple of the upcoming shows there, mainly Kid Dynamite. And MELVINS.