(For a review of Day 1 of Big Pre-Fest in Little Ybor, click here.)
As Fest 13 begins its onslaught on downtown Gainesville today, Tampa's offshoot Big Pre-Fest in Little Ybor wrapped up Thursday night with some of the biggest names playing this weekend.
In some ways, it was a scaled-down version of last year — the main venue was moved from the Ritz Ybor, which previously hosted two stages, to the Orpheum this year. But in other areas, you can see the festival's ambition growing. Along with the typical evening shows, Thursday hosted a free acoustic show, a comedy showcase and a Halloween-appropriate monster mash called Kaiju Big Battel.
Mainly though, the festival has served as an appetizer to the entrée that is Fest's enormous lineup. Those who can't make it to Gainesville can still get a taste of what'll be happening there, while those going can see some bands early and cross off some schedule conflicts, or just get in the spirit with a more relaxed, but still plenty raucous energy.
Fittingly, the first band at main stage The Orpheum was Dear Landlord, who play the Fest staple of might be described as bummer pop-punk. The group has melodic hooks and harmonies, but sung in gruff voices and with wallowing-in-despair choruses like "sometimes I'm wishing that this world would die."
On the other hand, Kepi Ghoulie was the more traditional pop-punk act with Ramones-esque bubblegum pop melodies, grinning as he ran through a number of songs before his band Chixdiggit's later set. To further the celebratory feelings, balloons, rafters and Halloween items were thrown out into the crowd throughout the set.
Following them, Night Birds swiftly set the mood as singer Brian Gorsenger stomped and chewed on the remaining balloons onstage. So did the Dead Kennedys playing in the background before their set, as their aggressive surf punk was heavily influenced by such '80s groups.
Over at New World Brewery, Seattle's Dead Bars offered their take on gruff pop-punk with a Pacific Northwest flavor. Their song Funhouse Monday served as a eulogy for the now-closed punk venue, as it describes a day in Seattle including visiting Experience Music Project.
Diverging from many of the hoarse-throated musicians on the bill was the lovely voice of Laura Stevenson, who performed at Crowbar. Despite being a past member of Bomb the Music Industry!, Stevenson's folk-tinged indie that can get genuinely shiver-inducing on tracks like The Wait is an outlier in Fest's typical roster of punk acts, so it's always a pleasant surprise to see her return.
However, the biggest surprise of the night might've been Toronto punks PUP's set at Tequilas. The group just released their first self-titled release this year, but they drew one of the most cramped and crazed crowds of the festival (the Polaris Music Prize nomination and New Noise cover might've hinted at their increasing popularity as well.)
No one seemed more taken aback than the group, who noted they were barely a band a year ago and "didn't know what the f--- Fest was." Nonetheless, they matched the crowd's energy, with singer Stefan Babcock jumping onto the speaker and stage-diving off the not particularly divable stage during closer Reservoir.
If PUP represented one of the new faces of Fest, Michigan's Cheap Girls are more one of its reliable mainstays. Their set at Crowbar spanned their four albums of unflashy, but catchy and effective, '90s power-pop that several bands have tried their hands at, including much buzzed-about Fest first-timers (and Cheap Girls tourmates) Beach Slang.
At this point, concertgoers had to choose between a number of acts including headliners Less Than Jake playing their 1996 album Losing Streak in full or a reunion set by Pennsylvania group Spraynard at Tequila's. However, the best choice may have been to stay at Crowbar and see New Jersey trio Screaming Females, led by guitar shredder Marissa Paternoster.
The idea of a guitar god is arguably a lost one, but if one were searching for one in the modern day music scene, Paternoster may be its best candidate. Even if their audience was a little spare because of all the surrounding concert choices, the group delivered, as Paternoster performed guitar gymnastics on tracks like Rotten Apple, Starve the Beat and Bell.
Now the dust (and spilled cans of beer) have settled, Fest proper can begin with what is arguably its biggest, best lineup yet. Which raises the questions — how will it top itself if it comes back for a 14th year, and how will Big Pre-Fest in Little Ybor grow along with it?
-- Jimmy Geurts, tbt*