Review: Big Pre-Fest in Little Ybor brings the Menzingers, mewithoutYou to Ybor City
Normally, when a festival's Day 1 headliner cancels with only a few hours' notice, it's bad news. When it happens at Big Pre-Fest in Little Ybor? You barely notice.
Oh, sure, it would've been nice to see Nebraska punk outfit Desaparecidos at the Orpheum on Wednesday, capping a night of about three dozen bands at venues around Ybor City. But when singer Conor Oberst (of Bright Eyes fame) was hospitalized following a show in Jacksonville, forcing the band to kill its entire fall tour, Pre-Fest just shrugged and gave two bands longer sets.
Because just like its mother festival Fest in Gainesville, Pre-Fest, which returned for a third year on Wednesday, isn't really about the headliners. It's about getting close to as many punk, metal and emo-folk acts as you can in one night.
The two biggest beneficiaries from Desaparecidos' dropoff were alt-prog outfit mewithoutYou and melodic garage punks the Menzingers, who each got an added 10-20 minutes of stage time. But even that wasn't guaranteed.
"I personally am recovering from the flu," said mewithoutYou singer Aaron Weiss, who spent his first few songs contorting and stretching his body, warming up as the band's progressive, Radiohead-like rock blossomed around him. Lush, tumbling tracks like The Dryness and the Rain, D-Minor, Timothy Hay, Disaster Tourism and Blue Hen seemed to pulse through his body, propelling him toward the end of his extended set.
Fellow Keystone Saters the Menzingers incited a mad crowdsurfing storm from the get-go, as singer-guitarist Tom May dove in, ax and all, on the first song. It never let up thereafter, with a riotous I Don’t Wanna Be an A—hole Anymore and Mexican Guitars practicallyforcing a stagehand to stay front and center all night to assist with stage-divers. The Orpheum may have been Pre-Fest's emo stage on Wednesday, but the Menzingers treated it like a party.
Oberst and Weiss weren't the only ones ailing. Into It. Over it. also recently went down a member due to illness, so singer Evan Thomas Weiss stripped down to an acoustic guitar for a Storytellers-style set at the Orpheum, plucking and strumming out emo wailers like New North-Side Air and Midnight: Carroll Street, and gentle confessional ditties like Pinky Swear, all in a voice somewhere between Ben Gibbard and Chris Carabba. When he hit Proper and Upstate Blues, the crowd yowled along as if reading from their own diary.
Oberst's absence also benefitted the other bands originally scheduled to play opposite Desaparecidos, including hardcore outfit Loma Prieta and powerful post-rockers Pianos Become the Teeth at Crowbar, a more metal-friendly venue that saw plenty of athletic thrashing on stage all night.
(We never got a circle pit, at least not that I saw. But maybe Pre-Fest crowds were just a well-behaved bunch. Bright yellow signs posted at Tequilas cautioned fans against “dancing, slam dancing, hardcore dancing, moshing, lawnmowers, circle pitting, pogo-ing, walls of death, spin kicking, skanking, stage diving, crowd surfing, windmills, pile-ons, dog piles, pickin’ up the change, etc…”
And perhaps because their set no longer conflicted with the Menzingers', rebellious Canadian punk outfit Crusades drew a good crowd to Tequilas for a ferocious performance of their album The Sun is Down and the Night is Riding In, face to face with a small army of diehards chanting back every word.
While Pre-Fest's venues are a little set apart -- the Orpheum is a brisk 5-10-minute walk from New World Brewery -- you can set your watch to the schedule. This probably enabled out-of-town guests, who are genuinely treating Pre-Fest as a Fest warm-up party, to check out local punk favorites like the Tim Version or Wolf-Face at Crowbar, or Awkward Age at New World Brewery.
Big Pre-Fest in Little Ybor continues Thursday (click here for details) with a "Viva La Lucha" wrestling match at noon at the Orpheum; free live music at Tequilas starting at 12:20 p.m.; and headliners including Lagwagon, Teenage Bottlerocket, Masked Intruder and Beach Slang.
Of course, after Wednesday's show, who cares about headliners?
-- Jay Cridlin
-- Jay Cridlin