Pre-FEST 12

author PP date 10/11/13

Over the past 12 years FEST has grown to become synonymous with the North American punk rock scene. Scheduled around the Halloween weekend each year, the festival has collected the fans and the best small to medium-sized names of the genre together for a long weekend’s worth of crazy partying colloquially known as ‘FESTing’ by the locals and visitors alike. In 2013, for the first time, FEST has expanded to four days at Gainesville, Florida, but what’s more, this year has seen a brand new addition in Tampa, Florida called pre-FEST. PP

What is pre-FEST?

In short, it features 100 bands in 2 days spread across 5 venues and six bands, many of whom will be doing special sets just for pre-FEST. It is located at the heart of Tampa in the historic Cuban district of Ybor City, a culturally vibrant area packed with tattoo parlours, Cuban cigar bars, quirky little bars, and culinary experiences for the open-minded. All the five venues are within walking distance to each other practically on the same street, with maximum ten minutes separating the two furthest apart from each other, making it easy to hop between venues based on where your favorite bands are playing.

Main street in Ybor, Tampa, FL

There are a few reasons why pre-FEST was added to the FEST experience this year. One, having just three or four days of bands at FEST meant many international visitors were arriving a few days early to deal with jet lag and travel distance, so bands were arriving early anyway to pitch up extra shows for those people. Two, people unable to travel to Gainesville for the weekend would have an opportunity to catch some of the stacked lineup at Tampa. And three, it would allow bands to play specialized sets for people attending both pre-FEST and FEST, such as Bouncing Souls who played all of “How I Spent My Summer Vacation" from start to finish at pre-FEST, and a ‘normal’ set at FEST instead. There are other, indirect benefits as well, such as Tampa having a bigger international airport, although most foreigners from Europe would likely have flown to Orlando anyway. PP

Impressions of the Area

While the festival recommended booking rooms at the downtown Tampa Hilton hotel, TL and yours truly opted to stay at Hampton Inn Suites located right by the venues in the Ybor district. This gave us an opportunity to wander around and get acquainted with the area before the start of the festival. It’s a truly multicultural area; from the bars to the restaurants, everything seemed to have a little bit more character than your standard American franchise-based restaurant/bar scene. Everything seemed to revolve around a little cafe/bar/restaurant called The Bricks, which combined as a craft beer joint with a pre-FEST oriented punk rock playlist blasting at the background, but you could also eat lunch and dinner, watch sports on TV, even classic sci-fi movies if that was your thing. For future pre-FEST goers, this is the perfect place to meet up and have a few beers prior to the bands start, or catch a quick break from the bands playing over at Ritz. PP

Ybor, Tampa, FL

Venues

Normally we wouldn’t spend much time talking about the venues, but in Ybor City, these too have a rather characteristic vibe, especially since many of them are not normally designated as concert venues per se. So a few words about the venues:

Ritz: The Ritz has two stages, the main stage and a smaller side stage. This is probably the only venue in Ybor City you could say is more or less a standardized events location, with a large main stage room featuring standing capacity of just over 1,100 people. A back bar served us swiftly with little queue throughout the two days that we were there. As a part of the same complex, you had a merch area with a specialist drinks bar (if you were into cocktails, this is where you could buy them), and a much smaller room accompanied by bar-style seating where the side-stage is found. This room is clearly not designed for impromptu stages like the small one setup here, which lead into rather disappointing sound quality for most bands playing here despite the added benefit of intimate surroundings.

Orpheum: The Orpheum is in the opposite end of the district about ten minutes walk from the Ritz. At 700 capacity, it is the second largest stage at pre-FEST, with a square bar right when you come into the venue from the left side of the stage, and a larger bar towards the right. Again, no problems in grabbing a drink quickly here either, and sound wise this venue had one of the better sounds at Ybor City.

New World Brewery: a tavern style bar with an outdoor patio, this was my favorite venue at pre-FEST albeit also the smallest. It has lots of character with its wooden flooring and outdoor stage covered by a small roof, plus it had a ton of microbrews on tap to quench your thirst. Capacity: ~250

Crow Bar backyard

Crow Bar: The darkest of all venues at pre-FEST, Crow Bar felt a little bit like a metal bar inside with its black interior and metallic bar stools, although once you stepped out into their backyard, a cozy little cafe would have you thinking otherwise straight away. PP

Without further ado, check out our reviews of 29 bands that played during pre-FEST below.

Tuesday, October 29

Citizen @ 5:20-5:50 at Ritz Main

The very first band to take any stage anywhere at this year's pre-FEST is Citizen, whose latest album "Youth" has seen a few rotations on my playlist this year, and who - judging from their moody sound a lá Captives or Basement - I would not have expected to have a rather buff looking lead singer in a black Calvin Johnson shirt. Still, just because Mat Kerekes looks like he lifts, it doesn't hinder him from singing both his introverted and his screamed out parts with admirable precision. Sadly, his lowest parts drop out beneath a mix that is otherwise faring rather well against the far from half full main room of the Ritz. The scarcity of the early crowd considered, it's a tough task for Citizen to get much started here, but to their credit they sound powerful and rock out in a sombre way fitting of their sound. Should they learn to handle their tuning breaks a little less awkwardly and be put in front of a fuller room, I'm sure things would instantly look really good for them. [6½] TL

The Holy Mess @ 5:30-6:00 at Orpheum

Word is that bands are meant to play special sets at pre-FEST for all those people who will also be travelling to Gainesville in a few days, so that they can see two different sets by the same band if they so desire. The Holy Mess take the ‘special set’ assignment seriously and decide to play 30 minutes’ worth of Alkaline Trio songs. “You can hear these songs way better on record, trust me", proclaims their vocalist, before singing fairly good renditions of “Keep ‘Em Coming", “Stupid Kid", “Warbrain", “All On Black", “Crawl" and “Jaked On Green Beers" among others. “You guys stand still like that also at a real Alkaline show?", he asks, before admitting “yeah, me too" in an ironic but oddly accurate depiction of what most Alkaline Trio shows are really like. What’s more ironic is that this is equally as boring live as the real deal during most nights. The songs just don’t work very well in a live environment, so you have people standing still, and a few faint sing alongs here and there, with almost no energy on stage. Clearly, this set was a little too special for my liking. [6] PP

Stickup Kid @ 5:50-6:20 at Ritz Side

Entering the Ritz side room where California's Stickup Kid are just getting started, things immediately look considerably more active on stage, with the quintet moving back and forth with the energy of a band that's made it their business to deliver when on stage. Sadly, the sound is not adjusted very well in here at this point, the band's high-octane pop-punk coming through with too much high-end and consequently blurring together when both guitars and the vocals are all employed simultaneously. So despite the room being moderately well populated already, it's a challenge to appreciate the finer points of Stickup Kids' qualities for the most of the set. Now and then some instruments will drop away and singer Tony Geravesh will catch our attention just enough to get heads bopping when his band mates come crashing back in, but overall, the sound is just not good enough for us to get more than a rough idea about how good Stickup Kid could be under more ideal conditions. [6] TL

Rescuer @ 6:20-6:50 at Crow Bar

Rescuer are the first band on the bill at Crow Bar tonight, and despite a totally static and sparse crowd at this point, they put on a show with frenzied energy, one that’s characterised with raw passion, emotional screaming a la Touché Amoré, and with intensity, urgency, and immediacy of a band that’s simply happening right now. It’s admirable they can put on a show with this type of energy even when the crowd clearly doesn’t give two shits about the band. Everyone is constantly crashing into each other on stage in a display of pure energy that you’d imagine would only happen at a packed, basement style venue. 17 minutes is what it takes them to scream through their emotional post-hardcore set, but that’s enough to have me convinced. When “Shame" is dedicated to their 6-year-old nephew who cannot walk or talk, and on top of that has a terminal kidney disease that will end his life within a year, the energy turns up a notch and has me thinking: well, this is definitely much better experienced live than on record. [8] PP

Heartsounds

Heartsounds @ 6:20-6:50 at Ritz Main

Following Stickup Kid, Heartsounds pick right up with more sunny, fast-paced, melodic punk-rock in the Ritz main room. They take time between breakneck guitar-duels to explain that they just came from playing in somebody's living room and that this large stage hence feels a bit awkward for them, but from looking at how they handle their instruments, you get the feeling that they could have played on the back of truck driving up the highway without them getting uncomfortable. Again however, the vocals sit a bit too far back in the mix, and especially Laura Nichol's yelpy contribution to the boy/girl dynamic is hard to pick up, and without the clear expression of this facet of their sound, the set quickly feels merely like a steady stream of blazing riffage, which likely gratifies proven fans, yet is only moderately enjoyable for more cautious onlookers like myself. [6] TL

Leagues Apart

Leagues Apart @ 6:50-7:20 at Ritz Side

Having a rare half hour with no particular plans, and having a vague memory of glancing over some positive mention of Leagues Apart in the FEST booklet earlier in the day, I wander in on their set as they're already a bit overwhelmed by a solid turnout in the Ritz side room. Upon prompted, the crowd reveals by show of hands that by far the majority of them has come from abroad to pre-FEST, just like the Manchester quartet have themselves. With a feeling of community thus established, someone treats the band to a round of shots that go down bitterly, before they continue ripping through an enthusiastic batch of dynamic songs, where all three standing members contribute vocals interchangeably in best Red City Radio-like fashion. Unfortunately, the mix is still being adjusted in here, so again you feel like you're cheated out of the full experience, but Leagues Apart still manage to penetrate the obstacles somewhat, leaving one with an impression that a new record from them would be something to look out for. [6½] TL

Second Opinion: Loved the vocals. Too bad you could hardly hear them at all due to terrible sound. PP

No Trigger

No Trigger @ 7:20-7:50 at Ritz Main

The special part about No Trigger’s set tonight is that they have Ben from Heartsounds on guitar, and that they've never rehearsed together so it’ll be interesting to see how it goes, according to their vocalist Tom Rheault. The band kicks off with “Checkmate", and Rheault immediately finds himself jumping down at the barrier to scream at the heads of the people right up front. The band put this sort of explosive energy on throughout the set, but unfortunately in what is turning out to be the rule rather than the exception today, the crowd is again anemic especially in contrast to the high energy set taking place on stage. Older songs from “Canyoneer" get little response, mostly because that album was released such a long time ago, but material from “Tycoon" receives at least some kind of sing along response from the crowd. Where are the circle pits at such an explosive show? “You Said It" sees the front row launch against the barrier where Rheault is again found sharing the mic for sing alongs up front. It’s one of the only scenarios where you can say anything positive about the crowd, though, who leave No Trigger hanging, resulting in a fairly standard punk show despite a good sound and effort from the band. [7] PP

Lee Corey Oswald @ 8:50-9:20 at Orpheum

After a break to get sustenance at the nearby Bricks Of Ybor, I head down to the Orpheum to check out Portland quartet Lee Corey Oswald, based on a vague remembrance of them being almost there with the Menzingers/Apologies, I Have None-ish-ness of last year's "Moon Songs". Based on that perception of their sound, I wasn't expecting the three t-shirts that say things like "LET'S GET WASTED" in neon coloured big writing, greeting me as drummer Corey Ciresi is jumping out of his pants, to seat himself in his boxers behind the frontman, who stands out with his normal clothes and his moustache and crazy-curly-hairdo combination. Appearances aside however, Lee Corey Oswald gradually build to a powerful deliverance in front of an Orpheum that is disappointingly deserted in contrast. Especially some of the cuts that are introduced as new come through very punchy, with especially the drumming and the rhythm guitar being delivered with contagious energy. If only there had been more of an audience here to give it some response. [6½] TL

Restorations @ 8:50-9:20 at Ritz Side

You often hear about the sheer joy of playing music. That is something which manifests itself in the way that Restorations handle themselves on stage tonight. The band is seemingly everywhere at once on the small stage, throwing themselves around into each other, jumping, moving around, et cetera in a crazed dynamic that rubs off to the crowd straight away. Their noisy, voluminous sound features elements of post-rock and shoegaze stuffed into raw punk rock songs with gruff vocals, which results into plenty of atmospherics fired at full cylinders to the crowd. The combination of such an experimental sound that pushes punk rock far outside of its safe realms and their excellent energy results even in the back of the venue going crazy for the band. There’s an infectious air of positivity surrounding their set, plenty of sing alongs, and a dynamic between the crowd and the band that captures everyone present at the venue. This is how you blow people away on stage. [8½] PP

I Am The Avalanche

I Am The Avalanche @ 9:20-9:50 at Ritz Main

Vinnie Caruana is known for his time in legendary pop punkers The Movielife, which is why it is surprising to see so few people turn up at the I Am The Avalanche show. The venue feels almost empty as the band delivers their catchy punk rockers and variate with more laid back tracks every once in a while. The sound is kind of hollow and echoing, though, and the showmanship on stage isn’t anything special either, so the show is quickly forgotten about. “Holy Fuck" sounds good, though, and “Brooklyn Dodgers" sees every last soul of the small crowd singing along as the last song. But as the set finishes it leaves me wondering: where is “Amsterdam"? That’s their hit song, so to leave it out should never be an option at their shows. [6½] PP

Second Opinion: Caught the end of this and actually thought it was pretty good. Liked the melodies despite not knowing the songs and the sound seemed improved from previous shows here as far as I could hear. Might have gone for a 7 myself. TL

Signals Midwest @ 9:50-10:20 at Ritz Side

Opening their set at the Ritz side room with their excellent "In Tensions", Signals Midwest immediately look like they're about to host a homecoming show here, despite the quartet originating from Cleveland. The solid crowd is elated from the very beginning and as the song winds its way towards the first batch of Make Do And Mends-ish vocals, the audience is completely ready to howl them back in the face of frontman Max Stern with full power. Clearly encouraged, Stern and his companions hammer their instruments with the exact amount of forceful intent that you want from a band playing such dynamic rock as theirs, and at every opportune moment the frontman stretches his fist in the air to prompt further response from his crowd. It's an extremely strong opening, and one that Signals Midwest frankly don't seem to have the horses (in terms of either songs or variety) to fully sustain throughout a show where the vocals continue to sink a bit below the instruments, as has become a trend here by now. The energy remains high even despite a slight dip towards the middle of the half hour however, leaving the band as one that feels like a must-check-out. [7½] TL

Second opinion: Wow, they started out crazy, almost as crazy as Restorations just before them. If they would’ve carried that kind of energy throughout, would’ve easily been an 8½ PP

Mixtapes @ 10:20-10:50 at Ritz Main

So Mixtapes clearly take all out of the FESTivities tonight by arriving on stage with an inflatable palm tree on stage, and their male vocalist wearing a Hawaiian shirt for good measure. A bunch of beach balls are thrown into the crowd during “Ride The Lightning", and at some point the palm tree is placed in the middle of the crowd, who are then told to circle pit around the thing. Predictably, it becomes collateral damage and is carried and thrown around in the pit instead. It’s pretty funny - and the band provides plenty of banter in between song to keep things properly tongue-in-cheek - but the fact is that it just highlights the hit-and-miss vibe of Mixtapes material as a whole. Aside from a few great songs, they have many more anonymous and average tracks, so the gimmicks are there to distract from that fact. It almost feels like the band are too unserious for their own good tonight, and so the show feels kind of meh overall. They take requests from the crowd for songs towards the end, which is a nice touch, and play “Cassettes" as the final song, but the overall feeling of the show is sort of mixed. [7] PP

Second Opinion: Caught a bit of this as well and PP is pretty dead on. Mixtapes are fun on stage but they obviously also have to be, considering how unambitious and samey their songs sound. TL

Off With Their Heads @ 11:20-12:00 at Orpheum

A solid crowd gathers at the Orpheum, even before Off With Their Heads are due to come on, and having seen the volatile Minneapolis quartet on a number of previous occasions, I can't blame them. With no announcement of any kind, Ryan Young and his band mates just sort of start a some point when they feel like their on stage preparations have reached an acceptable level, and being as bi-polar as ever, Young immediately comes off as someone who intends for someone else to get hurt as he howls into the microphone and the band's dirty chord-progressions set the audience off. Soon, Young has scolded touring guitarist "Nice John" (Polydoros) for an equipment malfunction, telling him how the band doesn't need him with such bile you almost believe it.

Meanwhile, crowd-favourite "Keep Falling Down" comes off the setlist early and the audience is instantly boiling, drinks flying everywhere and a radius of about six meters around Young quickly being established as a danger zone, in which you don't want to stand unless you want limbs in your face or crowdsurfers flying on your head. Other than that, OWTH seemingly decide to fill the mid-section of the set with lesser known songs that I at least personally am less familiar with, but it seems to make no difference to the audience, who rage on dedicatedly while Young comes off as a haunted man who, if he wasn't singing about things, they would instantly drive him to get in the face of everyone around him. "Yes, I know how much fuckin' time we have left, chill!" he sneers towards the end of the set, before kicking off "Clear The Air" and the ancient "Jackie Lee" to end a set that, despite lacking hits like "Trying To Breathe" and "I Just Want You To Know", still showcased exactly the incendiary quality that makes every opportunity to see Off With Their Heads a must. [8½] TL

Second opinion: It’s a nice treat with the less familiar songs, but I felt like the show would’ve gained immensely from a better song selection. Good action in the pit; needs more sing alongs to reach high ratings in my book. PP

Masked Intruder @ 12:20-12:50 at Ritz Main

Although Mixtapes were pretty funny on stage earlier, the full retard price goes to Masked Intruder. Always playing with robber-masks on like their name suggests, the band’s stage show includes two uniformed police officers glancing at the crowd imposingly with their arms crossed on both sides of the band. At first it seems like they are just standing still as frozen props, but if you stare at them long enough you start noticing how they subtly give the finger to the crowd every now and then. That lasts for a few songs, until Green, speaking with a thick 1920s gangster accent throughout the set, delivers a speech about how nobody likes cops. “Let’s get the cops to dance", he shouts, before firing yet another fast-paced pop punker, during which point the officers rush forward and stage dive into the crowd while Green turns into a dancing machine behind them. For the rest of the set, the officers can be found ‘policing’ various sections of the crowd, though they do return on stage timely for shouts of “I Fuck The Law", doing push ups with the bassist standing on their backs. It’s super gimmicky, but because Masked Intruder never slow down their totally ridiculous performance, it works and feels kind of funny anyway. It’s of course totally stupid humour, but it works in their instance. There are also some (relatively) more serious moments, such as when Mixtapes’ Maura joins on stage to sing the female vocal parts during “Heart Shaped Box". Overall, not a show to write glorifying words home about, but a fun show that put you in a good mood for the rest of the night. [7] PP

Second Opinion: This is the sort of show that would get a fire and brimstone-type review from me. Like Mixtapes earlier, the fun factor loses its novelty after about five minutes. Gimmicky and pointless in my book.TL

Geoff Rickly @ 12:50-1:20 at Ritz Side

After eight hours and eleven bands, the only reason I'm still on my feet is to see Titus Andronicus play, so I'm mildly surprised to enter the Ritz side room to the sight of Geoff Rickly on his bar stool, midway through explaining that he's just as surprised to be playing this set as we are to see him. He makes no mention as to the reasons for Titus Andronicus absence other than that he's as bummed to miss them as we are, saying instead that he intends to play some Thursday songs for us. This goes down well with some highly excited patrons at his feet, who sing along passionately as he delivers acoustic renditions of songs like "This Side Of Brightness", "This Song Is Brought To You By A Falling Bomb" and "Standing On The Edge Of Summer".

His own song "New Sympathies" also finds its way into the set, while Rickly takes the growing crowd's confusion in stride, ever apologising about his limitations with the acoustic guitar, especially as he manages to get it completely out of tune at one point. The intimate atmosphere is intruded upon somewhat unfortunately, by annoying conversations from groups of guests who mistakenly think it's cool to talk loudly while the ex-lead singer of legendary Thursday is on stage. On the upside however, it's impressive to hear Rickly's vocal control considering that he supposedly just came down from a more taxing performance with United Nations (and that I was reading the other day that he used to be called 'Tone Geoff' in his youth for his inability to sing on key). Overall then, his appearance marks a cool and welcome end to my evening, especially considering its last-minute facilitation in place of the absent Titus Andronicus. [7] TL

Wednesday, October 30

Timeshares @ 5:10-5:40 at Ritz Side

Timeshares play the sort of throaty, roared punk rock that you normally associate with bands like Latterman, Hot Water Music, and so forth. Today, they start well with one of their strongest songs “Oh No Not That", which features the catchy, passionate “better than you and me?" shouts towards the end of the song. They also recall Red City Radio and Nothington sound wise. A small sing along ensues early on for one of the solid song from their debut album, but most of the set is focused on new material today, which means it feels sort of anonymous as a whole because nobody knows the songs as of yet. They have decent energy on stage, a little banter et cetera, but leave no lasting impression compared to the other bands we’ve seen so far. [6] PP

Lemuria bumper sticker outside The Bricks cafe

Lemuria @ 5:40-6:10 on Ritz Main

“Brilliant Dancer" is the first song for Lemuria tonight, and already here it is evident that singer Sheena Ozzella’s vocals are a lot stronger live than they appear in a studio environment. She’s still all kinds of fragile when it comes to the delicate moments during the songs, and retains some of the awkward charm that works so well on record when she’s thanking people in between songs. She breaks away from her mic to dance back and forth on the stage for many of the instrumental parts, and in general the music today is a bit more fast paced than what is the average on record. Probably to appease the punk rock audiences. Either way, heads are bobbing everywhere even if people don’t seem to know the band as well as I had expected. The bassist, too, displays a strong show of energy on stage, and my initial fears over the band being too quiet and slow for a good live set turn out unnecessary. Sheena & co really take time to dance around in their own personal spaces even when they are attached to the microphones singing, so you can’t fault them for lack of energy, at least. For some reason “Pleaser" is omitted from their setlist today, but they play enough solid, quirky songs to leave a positive impression overall. [7½] PP

The Wild @ 5:40-6:10 at Orpheum

Playing as the first band on the Orpheum on the second day at pre-FEST, it's clear that Atlanta quintet The Wild are still a band at the grassroots level, as the otherwise solid showing of early birds take in the band's emo-tinted folk-rock looking less like they're eager to sing along and more like curious passers-by. The smiles growing on the audience's faces however, as frontwoman Dianna rocks back and forth on her feet, banging tambourines together like she been bursting to perform and lending her voice in support of lead singer/guitarist Witt, shows that the down to earth melodies and easy charm of The Wild is a welcome variation from the barrage of raw and high-powered punk rock of the previous night. Between songs, Dianna suggests that she could make us cheer for each band on FEST's line-up - "I can just read from the booklet.. I can read very slowly" - and explains that since banjo player Steve now lives in San Francisco, it's too rare that the get to play together at the moment. It's no surprise then, that their happiness carries over here, overcoming the show's smallness to give us all a great start to the day anyway. [7] TL

Luther @ 6:10-6:40 at Ritz Side

Michael from Timeshares is helping Luther out on bass, but otherwise their special set at the Ritz Side stage is fairly uneventful and, err, not special. Their brand of chilled out alternative rock has faint punk nuances, but the crowd is again rather anemically standing still, as if they don’t know the band. Yet later on people are singing along with surprising volume to the best material from “Let’s Get You Somewhere Else". Especially last song “A Quiet Stretch Of Weather" draws sing alongs even towards the back. It’s a decent set overall, but one which doesn’t leave me much to write about as the show is otherwise uneventful, albeit still good. [7] PP

The Flatliners

The Flatliners @ 6:40-7:10 at Ritz Main

The Flatliners on the other hand are a completely different monster. Their raw energy on stage is a clear winner of the day so far with the band absolutely tearing it apart on stage in terms of showmanship. “Eulogy" draws a huge sing along straight away and opens up the pit in what turns out to be a continuous flow of energy from the crowd’s side. Everyone’s loving it, especially because the band breaks away from their microphones at every opportunity to move around, and because the band delivers a fantastic selection of their best songs today. “Carry The Banner", “Monumental" and “Resuscitation Of The Year" all draw echoing sing alongs from the crowd. A rock solid set that left everyone impressed. [8] PP

Daylight @ 6:20-6:50 at Crow Bar

PP has been singing Daylight's praises on our trip, so while he's off seeing Lemuria and The Flatliners, I decide to check them out at Crow Bar, along with a bit of a rag-tag collection of sleepy looking pre-FESTers. The band comes on and immediately starts channeling grungy guitar noise at a ridiculous volume. Unfortunately, the band's lethargic vocals are as obscured in the mix as their faces are behind the long curly manes that cover their faces, meaning that a curious guest like myself has little but the band's - admittedly dynamic - chord patterns to keep me interested. It has its moments, but conversely there are also stretches where it feels like an endurance test, although alleviated slightly by the hilarious deadpan of the band's frontman. Ultimately though, there's no escaping that the oppressive mix makes Daylight's set the hardest one for me to get through at pre-FEST. [5½] TL

Banner Pilot @ 7:10-7:40 at Ritz Side

In what is quickly becoming a common trend at all Banner Pilot sets I’ve seen, the lead vocals are terribly low in the mix making it almost impossible to hear what the band are singing about. Despite that, “Spanish Reds" draws a massive sing along and solid energy from the crowd’s side. Later on, “Skeleton Key" starts what is probably the biggest side stage pit at pre-FEST this year alongside another strong showing from the sing along department. Still, it’s difficult to enjoy the set fully because of the sound problems, but other than that, Banner Pilot simply do what Banner Pilot do best: play a no-bullshit set of songs in quick succession without much banter on stage. [7½] PP

The Slow Death @ 7:40-8:10 at New World Brewery

...And the funniest band at pre-FEST award goes to: The Slow Death. Visibly intoxicated, the band spend lengthy periods of their set in banter, responding to “play some songs" shout from the audience with “Don’t tell me what to do! I’ll never play a song". Their singer is in an exceptionally talkative mood, telling us he’s high on life and asking if any of us have ever been on life. “Never get a Cuban in your band, it’s just not worth it", he proclaims in a reference to their tiny Cuban guitarist to much laughter from the crowd’s side. And when they actually play some songs, these are delivered with great energy, and a strong dynamic between the audience and the band with sing alongs while the band plays with their hearts on their sleeve. The set is packed with a sense of immediacy, as the band are playing this moment and this moment only, which cannot be said about many other bands playing today. A set that induced laughter, included a ton of great songs, and was the definition of an intimate showcase for many. [8] PP

Second Opinion: I had never heard of these guys before, but PP dragged me along and I’m glad because they were super entertaining. Their frontman’s dry humour struck me like he was some sort of Philip Seymour Hoffman character from a movie like "Charlie Wilson’s War" or something. Good stuff. TL

Fighting Fiction @ 8:30-9:00 at New World Brewery

Across the street from Tampa's Scientology chapter, UK quartet Fighting Fiction look far away from home as I walk in on the last 10 minutes of them performing for no more than 20 people under the New World Brewery's small patio. The band doesn't look too affected however, cracking jokes with the people lined up close to the stage and performing their fast-paced and melodic punk rock with admirable energy considering the circumstances. At this point however, the show looks a bit like a lost cause, or at least a bit of a footnote in the overall story of pre-FEST, and while the lads earn an A for effort, the finer points of their material and personality isn't done justice here. [6] TL

A Wilhelm Scream @ 8:40-9:10 at Ritz Main

A Wilhelm Scream have written some of the best songs in punk rock and that shows tonight. “Me Vs Morrissey In The Pretentiousness Contest (The Ladder Match)", “Die While We’re Young", and many others are aired tonight with the band sporting huge smiles all over due to the sing along response from the crowd. The pit is massive, their energy on stage is undeniable, and songs like “The King Is Dead" are screamed back at the band louder than any other band so far at pre-FEST. Though the venue is only half full, the band makes the most of what’s available and deliver a good, solid set tonight. [7½] PP

Red City Radio @ 9:20-9:50 at Orpheum

It would be ridiculous to complain about any single schedule snafu considering FEST and pre-FEST's completely stacked line-ups, but if there's one that's tempting to moan over, it's the clash of Red City Radio and The Menzingers, both seeming to me like bands that would definitely share fanbases more so than most here. The Oklahoma quartet has a 20 minute start on their Philly contemporaries however, so I stand pat at the Orpheum as an elated audience is greeted by a cheeky intro in form of the band coming on singing Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Midnight Special" a capella before launching into the wildly popular "Two For Flinching". "Together we can burn this fucking city to the ground" the crowd roars, with people flying on top of each other in a pandemonium that mimics that of the Off With Their Heads show of last night, and while you'd figure the singalongs to get smaller when the band declares their intention to play their 2009 EP "The Sons And Daughters Of Woody Guthrie" back to back, no such thing takes place. I mark that down as a testament to the band's well deserved reverence, and comfort myself that while I have to leave early, what awaits should be just as good [8] TL

The Menzingers

The Menzingers @ 9:40-10:10 at Ritz Main

While I feel that I’ve only found a limited audience trying to preach "On The Impossible Past" as holy gospel over in Denmark, it seems that The Menzingers have had no trouble finding deserved recognition in music circles over here, judging from the fact that the Ritz’ large main room is as full as I’ve seen it when they come on, and that people are singing along passionately to both songs from the band’s 2012 masterpiece and 2009’s “Chamberlain Waits". Like each time I’ve seen them, the Philadelphia quartet is rocking out appropriately on stage, while persistently looking a bit bemused by their own success. Other than playing their songs then, the show is less about what they actually do on stage, and more about a dedicated audience’s elated celebration of their extremely singalongable songs. “Ava House" and “Obituaries" sound predictably enormous, and you have to wonder what in the world the band is going to do when time comes to close this album’s touring cycle and try to follow it up. [8] TL

The Draft @ 10:40-11:20 at Ritz Main

Prior to the show I spoke to a girl who travelled all the way from Sydney just to see The Draft reunion. That’s some dedication, but as a fellow Hot Water Music fan I can understand her reasoning as this band consist of the band minus Chuck Ragan after his departure from HWM. So basically, they play roared, gravelly punk rock that’s driven by nostalgia and strong melody lines. They mostly stand still, though, and given the depth-laden nature of the songs they are difficult to fully appreciate without having heard them before, so for us non-fans The Draft reunion turns out to be a predictable set of punk rock that’s not bad nor particularly memorable either. [7] PP

Samiam @ 11:50-12:30 at Ritz Main

For Samiam, it’s a little bit of the same problem as for The Draft, but with sound problems due to a practically empty venue. There’s not much movement on stage aside from their singer walking around casually while delivering his passionate screams into the microphone, and while their songs are fantastic pieces of punk rock history, the echoing sound does them no favours today. It’s a far cry from the almost magical connection the band had with the crowd at Groezrock earlier this year. [7] PP

The Bouncing Souls @ 01:00-02:00 at Ritz Main

Bouncing Souls are clearly the main band for mostly everyone at pre-FEST who pack the Ritz Main stage for a late night showcase of their classic “How I Spent My Summer Vacation" album, which is being played from start to finish tonight. The excitement of the crowd can be sensed in the air already before they start their set, with sing alongs of “Here we go here we go here we gooo" taking place before the band even starts their set. And once they do enter the stage, the crowd goes crazy, and Attonito makes his way down to the barrier for “True Believers" to lend the mic to the crowd to help out. Not that he needs to do that at all, since the sing alongs are echoing in the venue as the loudest at pre-FEST overall, so the mic sound is drowned out by the crowd for the majority of the time. A celebratory mood surrounds the venue as some of the biggest classics in punk rock are aired alongside some rarer tracks, which the band realizes by simply playing through the 34 minute album effectively in just under 40 minutes. “Gone" is dedicated to Lou Reed before an encore, and the band returns to play songs off “Anchors Aweigh", including “Sing Along Forever", which really symbolizes the deafening crowd today. [8] PP

Final Thoughts

The Ybor City area is an extremely attractive place to hold a punk rock mini-festival because of its character, where cultural open-mindedness meets the rough nature of tattoo parlors. The venues are cool, and the idea of bands playing one set here and another one at FEST is a good one on paper. However, we noted down the following based on our experience:

Ybor, Tampa, FL

* Because pre-FEST takes place on a Tuesday and a Wednesday, the crowds are much milder and less into it, probably due to a smaller consumption of alcohol. Most international people will have arrived to Florida by Saturday morning anyway if they are coming to pre-FEST, so would it not make more sense to hold it the weekend before for maximum effect? Besides, 6 days of live music is just way too much, which could be sensed in the rather lacklustre crowds at FEST on its last day.

* ‘Special Sets’ need to be special. Many bands we saw played practically identical sets from pre-FEST to FEST. And I’m not suggesting bands should play covers sets like The Holy Mess did for instance. There’s far more value in bands doing a Bouncing Souls style revisit of a classic album of theirs, and if not available, then play one of their albums from start to finish.

* Hilton Hotel was really nice from the inside as far as we could tell, but personally we were glad to stay at the Hampton Inn instead, which was literally right next to the main venue Ritz, as opposed to a streetcar / taxi ride to downtown after a long evening.

As it stands now, for someone travelling from afar to come here should consider pre-FEST for two reasons: one, the Ybor City area is definitely worth seeing and exploring the small shops and businesses. Two, pre-FEST will help alleviate some of the inevitable clashes at FEST itself, so like we did, it’s possible to catch some of the bands here and then see something else at FEST during their timeslot. PP

Stay tuned for our mammoth article on FEST itself in the next couple of days.

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