Review: Pre-Fest Day 2 brings Obits, Samiam, Bouncing Souls, Andrew Jackson Jihad, more to Ybor City
Fest’s first-ever foray into Tampa Bay came to a close Wednesday night, as Big Pre-Fest in Little Ybor began its slow march toward the main event in Gainesville.
The second night featured some of the festival’s biggest names (The Bouncing Souls, Samiam) as well as some of its best (Obits, White Lung, Lemuria, Andrew Jackson Jihad). And hopefully somewhere in there, a foundation was laid for a festival in future years.
First up on the Ritz Ybor’s main stage was Lemuria. Their setlist drew heavily from their new album The Distance Is So Big, including the sweet, swirling Brilliant Dancer and Chihuly. Yet they also played some older tracks such as Pants, which has become a sort of Fest theme song along with Dillinger Four’s Gainesville. And it may just have been early, but the crowd was sparse enough to stand comfortably — unlike Fest, where you’re likely to be slammed around even to a relatively demure band.
At the Orpheum was Andrew Jackson Jihad, and as great as they are, it was slightly disappointing to see them going back to acoustic. The Phoenix group started as a guitar and upright bass duo before switching to electric in their last two records — by far their best, in my opinion. A full band fits their songs’ cathartic nature better (check out this rendition of Big Bird or their cover of the Pixies’ Where is My Mind?) But I’m definitely in the minority here, and their set was an intensely crowd-pleasing one.
Speaking of the Pixies, there was California’s Lovely Bad Things, whose song Fried Eyes strongly recalls that group. They didn’t play it during the part of their set I caught at Crowbar, but they demonstrated their versatility by switching up instruments, and their '90s influences with members sporting a Soundgarden T-shirt and flowing, J. Mascis-esque hair. Before them was No Weather Talks from Hamburg, Germany, who played a kind of melodic punk that sounded like a slightly heavier Discount.
Catching the U.K.’s Caves at New World Brewery didn’t fit into the schedule, sadly, but it did allow for a stop into the venue to see Worriers. The band is the new project of Lauren Denitzio, formerly of The Measure [sa], with which this group shares catchy melodies matched to introspective lyrics. Yet Worriers seems poised to draw more attention, with Spin streaming their new record and Pitchfork’s Jenn Pelly interviewing Denitzio.
Another group popular with those tastemakers is Vancouver punks White Lung. The band features fierce frontwoman Mish Way, who works as a music writer as well. This also marked White Lung’s first show with Wax Idols’ Hether Fortune, and the quartet blazed through a set mostly comprised of their album Sorry — with Way at one point singing Glue’s refrain “you’re a dead horse rising” while on the floor like, well, a dead horse.
In comparison to all these younger acts, Sub Pop-signed garage rockers Obits looked like they could’ve been someone’s parents. But that also meant the group, which features Rick Froberg of Hot Snakes and Drive Like Jehu, were among Pre-Fest’s most proficient performers. Even when they weren’t saying anything, like in instrumental opener Besetchet, they remained compelling.
As tough as it was to leave Obits early, it was necessary to make it to see '90s Berkeley punks Samiam. Toward the end of their set, Chris Wollard of Hot Water Music came out to belt out Dull and bear-hug the singer, in one of those impromptu moments that make up Fest lore.
Fellow HWM member George Rebelo played drums for Pre-Fest headliners The Bouncing Souls. In pretty much the definition of a crowd-pleasing set, the New Jersey group played their 2001 record How I Spent My Summer Vacation, among other favorites. It was these last two sets that felt most like Fest, both in the enthusiasm and energy, and near-guarantee of getting slammed around.
So how did Pre-Fest fare overall? Pretty well — the number of venues lining Ybor’s Seventh and Eighth avenues certainly suit a multi-day, multi-venue music festival. And although almost all the bands fall under the umbrella of punk, that spans from hardcore to indie-punk to folk enough to accommodate a decent range of taste.
It could potentially even grow more diverse — Fest organizer has Tony Weinbender mentioned the possibility of doing a festival closer to Harvest of Hope, which hosted hip-hop and indie acts. Here’s hoping in whatever capacity, Fest finds it way back to Tampa next October.
-- Jimmy Geurts, tbt*