Now in its fifth year as a parking lot festival in swampy East Rutherford, New Jersey, Bamboozle remains as strong as ever. With a potent lineup featuring a slew of New Jersey natives, pop power-houses, and scene stalwarts, there is hardly a better weekend in New Jersey for fans of contemporary punk and indie influenced rock and roll. The weekend began on Saturday, May 1, around noon and concluded late Sunday evening.
Pennsylvania’s Title Fight was the first band I caught, playing earlier than scheduled on the Zumiez South Stage at 12:50PM. The four-piece’s take on melodic hardcore and punk-pop was enjoyable and refreshing in a genre that seems to be teeming with uninspired and bland acts (see: Four Year Strong, The Wonder Years, This Time Next Year). Sticking heavily to the solid The Last Thing You Forget released last year on Run For Cover Records, the band ripped through songs such as “No One Stays at the Top Forever”, “Memorial Field”, and album-closer “Western Haikus”, and properly energized the small crowd who caught their set early in the Bamboozle schedule.
While walking over to see The Pretty Reckless, I caught pieces of Score 24; the Long Island punk-pop band probably deserves a second glance, unlike The Pretty Reckless who were bland and motionless on stage. Fronted by sixteen year old Gossip Girl star Taylor Momsen (but really anchored by a backing band of far superior musicians and singers), The Pretty Reckless sang Gothic-inspired songs that seemed to drag without any hooks or memorable choruses. It’s disappointing but not inaccurate to sum up the band’s set with one of their own song titles: “Dull and Void”.
Matt Thiessen-fronted Relient K played on the Sony Stage next, opening with “Who I Am Hates Who I’ve Been” from 2004′s Gold-certified Mmhmm. The band sounded crisp and experienced — the way a pop band touring for more than a decade should. Despite an enormous collection of seven full-length albums, the Ohio five-piece stuck almost entirely to their latest effort, Forget and Not Slow Down, including Thiessen’s favorite song, “Sahara”, which he described as being about lion cubs being eaten by birds of prey.
Who I Am Hates Who I’ve Been
Forget and Not Slow Down
I Don’t Need a Soul
Devastation and Reform
The Aquabats win any award for most entertaining band of the day — skin-tight matching superhero costumes that certainly didn’t flatter a band in their late thirties; a battle of good versus evil that featured The Aquabats fighting a team of men in crab costumes; and a song about the joys of pizza and why eating slices after 9PM for so many years lead to the first issue of unflattering costumes. The veteran Orange County, California, six-piece started with “Fashion Zombies” and rolled through a string of comical songs such as “Super Rad”, “Pizza Day”, and “Look at Me (I’m a Winner)” before closing with Myths, Legends, and Other Amazing Adventures, Volume 2‘s “Pool Party”, featuring inflatable pool toys tossed and ridden into the crowd. A fun cover of “Suburban Home” went largely unappreciated, leaving me to wonder if anyone in the crowd had ever heard Descendents’s essential Mile Goes to College — probably not.
The tail end (“Flowers and Fireworks, “Cities”) of All the Day Holiday’s set on the smaller Aquarian Stage sounded solid, but it was the stark contrast of Jersey locals Float Face Down on the opposite stage just moments later that captured my attention with their surprisingly large fan base and absolutely brutal metal/hardcore hybrid. Enormous pits of hardcore dancing spanned both stages in what must have amounted to being one of the largest pits in Bamboozle’s five-year history outside Giants Stadium.
Under the guise of Gegen Mich, Against Me! began a thirty-minute set on the Zumiez South Stage around 5PM with “High Pressure Low”, the first of four songs from the band’s solid White Crosses, an album to be released in early June on Sire Records. The album’s title track — described by frontman Tom Gabel as a pro-choice anthem — preceded an excellent performance of “Pints of Guinness Make You Strong” from 2oo2′s Reinventing Axl Rose. The small crowd, intimate singalongs, and top-notch performances by Gabel, guitarist Andrew Seward, bassist James Bowman, and drummer George Rebelo made Against Me! easily one of the day’s strongest acts.
High Pressure Low
Don’t Lose Touch
Pints of Guinness Make You Strong
I Was A Teenage Anarchist
White People for Peace
Saves the Day began with Through Being Cool lead-off “All-Star Me” and stuck with thirteen of the band’s strongest songs during their thirty-five minute set. A string of the band’s better cuts from In Reverie, Sound the Alarm, and Under the Boards were enjoyable, but it wasn’t until the band returned to older material such as “Firefly” and “Holly Hox, Forget Me Nots” that the crowd really responded. As if to contradict 2001′s Stay What You Are, though, the band played the much more recent “Can’t Stay the Same”. Throughout the set, bandleader Chris Conley sounded great, hitting even some of the more difficult notes that seem to be more prevalent on the band’s newer songs. Unfortunately, after the blasts of energy from “Shoulder to the Wheel” and the penultimate “At Your Funeral”, “Kaleidoscope” closed the set and reminded the crowd that Saves the Day no longer writes the fast-paced anthems that they were once-known and renowned for.
Anywhere With You
Holly Hox, Forget Me Nots
Can’t Stay the Same
Shoulder to the Wheel
At Your Funeral
The most anticipated moment of the day had to be Something Corporate‘s first New Jersey set in five years, and, to cut right to it, Andrew McMahon and friends absolutely delivered. The beautiful opening riffs of “Hurricane” started the band’s nine-song set with McMahon’s crooning: “Shake down you make me break for goodness sake..”. North‘s “21 and Invincible” was fun, but the return to Leaving Through the Window with “I Woke Up in a Car” was one of the set’s strongest moments. “If You C Jordan” started to show its age — really, the song’s subject matter puts McMahon back into the late 1990s — but was still enjoyable, especially with the energetic frontman jumping on the piano’s keys.
Undeniably the highlight of the band’s forty-five minute set was the ten-minute ballad, “Konstantine”. The song exposes McMahon’s soul and puts him alone in front of a piano to tell a story of lost love. A fairly simple composition, the song’s true beauty comes from its raw emotion and painstakingly honest lyrics. By the time McMahon addresses the song’s namesake character with the haunting “Did you know I miss you?” near the end of the song, it’s hard not to feel the songwriter’s entire emotional burden.
“Punk Rock Princess” rounded out the nine-song set, leaving an enormous Bamboozle crowd wanting much, much more at 8PM on Saturday evening. McMahon’s elegant performance and stage presence (paraphrased, “Bamboozle, it’s a beautiful thing to play the sun out of the sky for you”) is just too charming to not want a full tour out of Something Corporate, who performed as a five-piece that also included Josh Partington, Clutch Page, Brian Ireland, and Jack’s Mannequin guitarist Bobby Anderson.
21 and Invincible
I Woke Up in a Car
Me and the Moon
If You C Jordan
Punk Rock Princess
Chiodos played on the Zumiez South Stage, sorely missing former lead singer Craig Owens. The band played a fairly standard set that included “Baby, You Wouldn’t Last a Minute on the Creek”, “The Undertaker’s Thirst For Revenge Is Unquenchable (The Final Battle)”, and “Is it a Progression if a Cannibal Uses a Fork”, and “The Words Best Friend Become Redefined”, but replacement vocalist Brandon Bolmer lacks the vocal qualities that once made Chiodos an enjoyable listen. The songs hit hard, but Bolmer’s mix of high-pitched screaming and singing is far too unbalanced and lacking in melody. It doesn’t help, either, that Bolmer came in following the subpar Bone Palace Ballet, a collection of songs that hardly finds Chiodos at their best considering their much stronger back catalog.
By 9:50PM the night was almost over and only one band remained: headlining act Paramore. The Tennessee five-piece opened with a lengthy introductory jam and then moved right into “Looking Up”, the first of seven songs from their excellent 2009 full-length, Brand New Eyes. Frontwoman Hayley Williams was extremely energetic, invoking the crowd to sing along to the big choruses of “That’s What You Get”. “Playing God” sounded great; the hooks on Williams’s lines “but the way I, way I see it” are amongst the band’s most catchy moments.
The crunchy guitars of Josh Farro and Taylor York lead the way on “Pressure”, a fast-paced cut from the band’s 2005 debut, All We Know is Falling.”Turn it Off” and “The Only Exception” (the latter described by Williams as a love song) slowed the set down tremendously, but “Whoa” — which Williams joked was written in just five minutes, due to its simplicity — once again found the frontwoman singing huge choruses and instructing the crowd to do the same.
Bassist Jeremy Davis and drummer Zac Farro locked together for “crushcrushcrush”, a predictable yet excellent part of the band’s set. “Let the Flames Begin” received an extended outro, before the band closed out their set exclusively with Brand New Eyes material including hit singles “Ignorance”, “Careful”, and “Brick by Boring Brick”. “Where the Lines Overlap”, a song that begs for live treatment, sounded great and was dedicated to the Williams’s recently deceased grandmother.
“Misery Business” went last in the evening as part of the band’s encore, no surprise to anyone who has seen the band perform since that single propelled Paramore into the mainstream world-wide. A big surprise, however, came when Williams invited a random girl from the crowd onstage to sing the song’s bridge, taking a play right out of the playbook of local hero Bruce Springsteen (who often invites random kids onstage to sing “Waitin’ on a Sunny Day”. The biggest surprise of all, though, came when the girl invited on stage absolutely nailed the vocal part and continued to sing with Williams side by side until the song’s end. With the exception of “Decode” (possibly the band’s weakest song to date), set selection was flawless:
That’s What You Get
For a Pessimist, I’m Pretty Optimistic
Turn It Off
The Only Exception
Let the Flames Begin
Where the Lines Overlap
Brick by Boring Brick
With their seventy-minute setlist, Paramore did their headlining duties by trumping every other band through the day: Williams sounded as strong as ever through the set’s duration, evidence that her time with a vocal coach is paying off tremendously. Instrumentally, the band was as close to perfect as possible, even while running around the stage and doing flips off of each other. Paramore was genuinely appreciative of their chance to headline Bamboozle, moving up from an unknown side-stage act just a few years earlier.
Though Saturday featured a plethora of throwaway acts (including Drake, Kesha, Four Year Strong, Escape the Fate, Angels and Airwaves, VersaEmerge, The Maine, The Ready Set, The Word Alive, Of Mice and Men, Asking Alexandria, Attack Attack, Emmure, and I Set My Friends on Fire to name just a few), there were more than enough gems in the rough to completely occupy the festival’s ten hours. Even rushing from stage to stage for most of the evening, I still missed a few promising acts such as Hanson, The Bled, and Protest the Hero.
The top performances of Saturday’s Bamboozle belong to Paramore and Something Corporate, two bands who are clearly leaps and bounds ahead of their peers in terms of stage presence and live execution.
All photographs by the excellent Dan Gonyea.