Review: Pre-Fest brings Gainesville's punk festival to Ybor City with Geoff Rickly, Masked Intruder, The Holy Mess and more
One of Florida’s greatest claims to the national concert scene is Gainesville’s Fest. The punk festival draws thousands all across the county — and internationally — to the state. And this year, for the first time, it spilled into Tampa Bay.
Big Pre-Fest in Ybor kicked off Tuesday night as, for two days, nearly 100 bands headed to Fest are playing over five stages as a kind of warm-up to the weekend’s festivities.
So did Tampa draw as large a crowd as Gainesville? Based on the first night, no, it doesn’t seem like it. But including Pre-Fest, Fest has doubled in length this year. For many concertgoers, skipping a festival in another city with every band also playing Fest probably made sense for their schedules.
And as Fest becomes bigger, it’s nice to have a more low-key version of it. As anyone’s who waited in line to get into a venue two or three bands early will tell you, Gainesville can struggle to hold all its attendees. Here, there was practically no hassle to getting into any show.
More importantly, the atmosphere is largely the same. There’s the same deluge of beards and band T-shirts, same hoarse singalongs and same half-finished beers being flung into the crowd. (I didn’t get splashed until midnight, and even that was water, which I consider a huge coup.)
One unique aspect of Pre-Fest was a handful of “special” shows. For instance, Philadephia’s The Holy Mess opened the Orpheum with an Alkaline Trio cover set. The band was a good fit for the melodic pop-punk of tunes like Jaked on Green Beers.
Following that was stridently anti-Christian Canadian outfit Crusades. They played several tracks of blackened, metal-tinged pop-punk like Parable II, with its refrain of “God is dead and so remains.”
A new face for the Fest crowd was Pennsylvania’s Nona, who played what was arguably Tuesday’s best set. The group blazed through a set of insanely infectious indie-punk not unlike Swearin’ on the intimate stage of New World Brewery. But none were earlier in their careers than Pale Angels, who played their first-ever show at New World as well. The fuzzed-out trio formed after a Nirvana cover set at an earlier Fest, which makes sense — on tracks like Mama, the vocals sound eerily similar to Kurt Cobain.
Meanwhile, Crowbar hosted a slew of heavier hardcore acts. Among them was Pittsburgh’s Code Orange Kids, who occasionally flirts with post-rock on tracks like Colors (Into Nothing), but mostly play pulverizing, pounding hardcore.
In terms of punk credibility, drawing the ire of a government entity ranks high. That’s the case with United Nations, the hardcore supergroup that’s allegedly had its Facebook taken down and releases stalled by the organization of the same name. The band features former Thursday singer Geoff Rickly, who makes for a formidable frontman. The rest of United Nations has changed over time and often stayed anonymous — their press photos feature them in Reagan masks — but I counted two members of Pianos Become the Teeth among their ranks.
Speaking of masks, there was Masked Intruder, who sported Spring Breakers-style ski masks for their show on the Ritz Ybor’s main stage. They put on an exuberantly goofy set, including two cops who sulk onstage before being convinced to stage-dive and party like it’s the end of an '80s college movie.
Their songs have a satirical edge, reimagining crush-stricken punks as criminal stalkers (Heart-Shaped Guitar is sung from their perspective, then their understandably creeped-out object of affection.) But they are also fine pop-punk songs in their own right, and their packed, raucous set was probably the closest to a typical Fest show.
There was also an example of Fest’s constantly morphing schedule. In 24 hours one time slot on the Ritz Ybor's side stage went from Orlando emo band You Blew It! to New Jersey punks Titus Andronicus to Rickly playing Thursday songs. Going from one of the best active bands, Titus Andronicus, to an impromptu acoustic set is an undeniable downgrade, and Rickly admitted he'd wanted to see Titus Andronicus, too. But he rallied anyway with renditions of Thursday tracks and a solid, New Jersey-repping cover of Bruce Springsteen’s Atlantic City.
Closing out the night at the Orpheum was '90s punk group F.Y.P. The audience’s attitude was giddy and silly — maybe because this is a band that penned Come Home Smelly, maybe because it was 1:30 a.m. at this point. Either way, it was a nice end to a festival that picks up again tonight with '90s punk heroes Samiam and The Bouncing Souls.
-- Jimmy Geurts, tbt*