Having mixed feelings over mixed drinks, I decided to go to the Saints & Sinners festival "punk day" in Asbury Park since I haven't seen Against Me! and HORSE the Band for a while.
My inner turmoil was immediately amplified when I got there and August Burns Red was playing. The Asbury Park Convention Hall is a 3,500 capacity affair, and instead of the usual steady influx of people until the headliner, hundreds of kids would come and go, the hall never being even half-full at any time. The stage was so large that they essentially cut it in half until the last five bands went on. While ABR played on stage left, Municipal Waste set up with a curtain over them on stage right.
Even though the story behind their name is awesomely bleak for a Christian band, ABR still played run-of-the-mill technical metalcore. And of course, they had red stage lights on them for all 25 minutes, making them look absolutely ridiculous. The singer tried to win over the Municipal Waste fans waiting on the other side of the stage, but it was in vain. Once they finished, two-thirds of the crowd left, showing taste wasn't in abundance on the Jersey shore that Saturday.
Municipal Waste went on and revealed a flaw that would hinder every band but the last few: The vocals had a painfully precipitous echo throughout he venue. You didn't notice it with the screamy bands, but MW's singer Tony said it best: "It sounds like we're playing in a cafeteria!" One of the few bands that actually looked like they were having fun, the clowned princes of thrash shredded through "Headbanger Face Rip," "Unleash the Bastards," "Terror Shark" and handfuls more. Beer bongs and hilarity ensued; it was all over too quickly.
HORSE the Band went on next (much of the crowd came back) and for an inexplicable reason they played only four or five songs. Was their set cut short to get back on schedule? Who knows, but they made the most of it. "A Million Exploding Suns" whipped the kids into a frenzy, and if you know anything about HORSE, you're aware their perennial set closer "Cutsman" is always a colossal event. My only complaint was the keyboard was low in the mix, but the whole band showed a considerable amount of enthusiasm for a fairly alienating experience.
After a few more bands of incessant screaming and emo haircuts, the stage divide was taken down and the Casualties were the first band to have the whole stage to themselves. As with Municipal Waste, much of the crowd left, but a dozen or so street punks came out of the gutter. I haven't really taken the Casualties seriously after I turned 16, but I have weak knees for nostalgia. Plus, they actually got good at their instruments. The majority of the crowd however was unreceptive, prompting the bassist Rick to say after the first song "If you don't fuckin' move I'm going home!" Well, no one moved, but Rick jumped into the crowd and actually got a circle pit going; the crowd was being slowly won over. However, the singer Jorge was noticeably suffering from the cafeteria vocal effects. The shrieking was unbearable at points, but the echo was slowly getting fixed as they were playing. As they went into "Blitzkrieg Bop," several kids got on stage to sing, showing their club roots in a big venue. More people came out of the merch area to watch them, and by the end of their set it was a complete 180.
- Intro / On the Front Line
- Under Attack
- The System Failed Us...Again
- Get Off My Back
- Criminal Class
- Punk Rock Love
- Made in NYC / Blitzkrieg Bop
- Unknown Soldier (+ one more new one I believe)
Agnostic Front came on next. Remember how the Casualties were able to win over the crowd? Well, Agnostic Front couldn't. Besides the few dozen hardcore kids just there for them, they were very out of step with the rest of the crowd. "Uh oh, kids are getting kicked out for fighting. Definitely Agnostic Front fans," Roger Miret said towards the end, speaking volumes. Not only were the hardcore kids barely receptive to the new songs, they seemed to be there solely for the songs "Crucified" and "Gotta Go." I was shocked that no one in the crowd knew "Victim in Pain" except for one or two people. Besides Roger Miret's tough guy "family" and "crew" stuff (and Vinnie Stigma's inability to move while playing guitar), they played satisfactorily. But as what would be the theme of the day, AF were simply not playing for the right crowd.
Hardcore kids filtered out and pop-punk kids came in. It was 9:30, about the time you realize the place has no heating system and since it's mostly empty, there's no way togetherness will create heat. Saves the Day came out and despite the fact I haven't heard them for 5 years, I was hooked in. They were a delight, maybe because they were a pretty big contrast to anything else that day -- but plowing through "At Your Funeral" and a few Through Being Cool tracks, while playing expertly, helped. Their bassist Manuel seemed to be letting back on his skills, unfortunately. Their set seemed very short -- 30 minutes is an inadequate amount of time for direct support of the festival headliner, but the whole day didn't seem to make much sense anyway.
As Against Me! were setting up, a large cloud of dust came off the freshly tapped hi-hat, prompting someone to yell "Wow, it must be cocaine!" I thought it was pretty funny. No one else did. So it began. Everyone seems to criticize the fact Against Me! plays the shit out of New Wave live. Obviously a band hitting the mainstream with their new album is going to do that; it's a moot point and fairly ridiculous criticism. Plus, songs like "Americans Abroad" and "White People for Peace" can co-exist peacefully with their older songs.
They came out five minutes late with guns blazing, playing "Up the Cuts" and literally said zero words to the crowd the entire set. No matter what your feelings are about their song choices, no one can argue about their dynamic show with fiery playing. Their musicianship is admirable and they seemed to have just as much fun playing "Thrash Unreal" (where Tom broke his A-string in the middle of the song) as they did playing "Pints of Guinness Make You Strong." You could see song choices like "Don't Lose Touch" and "Cliché Guevara" coming from a mile away, but they played a blistering "Walking Is Still Honest," which was a slight surprise. And the fact that "Sink, Florida, Sink" has lost none of its bringing-the-house-down-quality, it balances out say, the meandering "Animal" and the over-the-top silly "Stop!".
After they finished their set with a terrible finale choice in the form of "The Ocean," they left the stage with a smirk, with the lights not coming back on. Being that there was five minutes left in their set time, I stayed, looked back and saw half the crowd left. Conscious of my status as a reviewer, I was planning to write "The crowd trickled out, unaware or oblivious of Against Me!'s eventual encore." Then I kept waiting. They weren't coming back. I believe even the festival operators thought they were coming back since they kept the stage lights off, and their roadies didn't even start taking their instruments. To be honest, I don't even think those loveable assholes NOFX would gyp a festival crowd of 10 minutes. Not only that, but you have to assume Against Me! is backstage and can hear the 40 kids front and center screaming the words to "We Laugh at Danger (And Break All the Rules)." After a full 10 minutes, the lights went on and the instruments were taken away. I walked out more disappointed than I thought I would be while Against Me! were playing, surprised that Saves the Day was the best experience I had for my $35.
- Up the Cuts
- Cliché Guevara
- Pints of Guinness Make You Strong
- New Wave
- From Her Lips to God's Ears (The Energizer)
- Thrash Unreal
- Americans Abroad
- Don't Lose Touch
- White People for Peace
- Walking Is Still Honest
- Sink, Florida, Sink
- The Ocean