I always feel more alienated in confined crowds. There’s something about being one amongst a throng of people that makes my back hunch over with overwhelming sense of unfounded doom settling into the dry fissures of my knuckles, sprouting sprigs of anxiety.
So how, during a seasonably accurate May weekend, did I end up caged in a “punk- rock” playpen haphazardly put together by a neglectful father in the backyard of the Asbury Park waterfront? For what reason would I subject myself to nearly sixteen hours of gratuitous underage cleavage, twelve dollar hot dogs, and one guy dressed as a slice of bacon?
Saturday, May 17, 2014 4pm
Day One of Skate and Surf “Festival”
Asbury Park, NJ
Buzzed on an earlier bounty of craft beer and my current tepid anticipation, Chris and I headed to the ticket trailer to obtain our media passes. We were greeted by an equally tepid attendant, about a mile tall and two miles wide and, who, at her job’s obligation, proceeded to give us a hard time about our credentials. In the time it took for us to gain access, I found myself staring at her bloated tribal tramp stamp as it led to a cracked wilderness. I was eventually broken from the trance with the feeling of her hand slapping a refugee media band from a past Bamboozle on my wrist. I shared a silent eye chuckle with Chris as we turned the corner to the entrance, throwing away a precious water bottle in the process at the demand of an impersonal guard; lest it contained alcohol so I can easily refuse the festival’s feast of $8 Miller Lites.
And there we were, as fellow Warriors inside the Battle Dome, full of canned cheers and rehearsed anarchy, regrettable tattoos, and the magical rainbow of Vans canvas sneakers. We surveyed our surroundings for a bit, checked the desirables on the set list, and made our way to the adult corral, succumbing to the highway robbery of beer in order to take the edge off the situation.
Brick + Mortar, Asbury Park’s current success story, had the honor to be the first band I witnessed during this slow decline of a weekend. Both Brandon and John were swallowed by the gargantuan overkill of The World Stage, even though their sound from the days of Asbury hot spots has transformed to become more festival friendly. After their performance, Chris and I successfully confused a mouth-breather of a watchdog in permitting us backstage, where our brief meeting with the cord wrapping Brandon included an honest complement of his ridiculous wolf shirt. Explained as a device to make him look thinner, I couldn’t help to think that our quick exchange garnered an underlying sentiment that Brick + Mortar was on the cusp of stardom, and with that, the eventual and necessary neglect of those who supported them along the way.
Speaking of neglect, who remembers The Early November? Yeah, they were there too on Saturday, making noises for a patchy crowd of half- baked former frat friends; taking liberties at the curves of my hips with their glossy eyes and muttering sly sentences my way in syncopation of Ace Enders screaming the lyrics to “Decoration”.
Saosin was there too, “featuring Anthony Green”, whose admittance for practicing the set only once added to my growing apprehension. Regardless, it was actually fucking awesome to see Green return to his roots of fronting Saosin, as the band churned out songs they haven’t played in probably over a decade to a sea of Manic Panic heads whose 3rd grade discography surely included the revolutionary Translating the Name. Green played with his usual erratic finesse, writhing on the stage against the howling of his ancient lyricism as natural as a sperm to an egg. However, even in all of its glory, there was something disconcerting about being a witness to this reunion. I think being sandwiched between the vista of the dilapidated Berkeley Oceanfront Hotel and a southern skyline of burgeoning yuppie apartments had created this nagging feeling of attempting to relive the past and, in the process, refusing the future.
I suppose it’s because the future is spawned from our efforts to revive things. In these said efforts, we have a tendency to knock down and build worst monstrosities, our initial fervors buried in the sand.
Chris and I left shortly after, regrettably missing Midtown’s exultant return.
Sunday May 18, 2014 2:30PM
Day Two of Skate and Surf “Festival”
Asbury Park, NJ
Chris and I were strategic in our entry today, flying in at the far back of the festival behind The World Stage like two wayward seagulls swooping in on a fat family’s fast food picnic on a dirty New York beach. We decided to arrive earlier, as the bill did call for a few personal favorites whose sets were limited to a mere 25 minutes each. We had to act fast if we didn’t want to miss Midtown again…
Wanting to hear closer to the ground, we made a nest out of the smaller stages positioned away from Ocean Avenue. Queue in New Jersey natives, The Scandals, whose traditional punk sound was refreshing despite the overpowering scent of Porta Potties (and nearby Porta Pizzeria) situated next to the stage. They were a solid band playing some solid tunes, as each member was clearly over the age of influence, nursing their callused musician’s hands with a call and response attitude.
Moving two stages down, past a tiny half-pipe crammed between two carbon copied huddles of unique post-high school anarchists of wannabe greasers and their sour faced pinups, I positioned myself next to a figure from a decade or so ago. Sporting a pink and black, long side banged spiked cut from 2001 and a tattered Operation Ivy shirt, this girl was in her mid-thirties, tattoos stretching and fading like the rain clouds rolling in above us. She was staring at the stage in front of us, eyes latched onto a frail frame of a man, angular and eloquent like a post-hardcore Abraham Lincoln. United Nations took the stage to a crowd of thirty people, a little wayward “screamo” daisy in a garden of dandelions. I could see in this girl’s stare that she has been in love with Geoff Rickly for nearly fifteen years, the small smirk in the corner of her lips stretching further to her ears with each cacophonic screech from the former Thursday front man. I bore again a witness to this display, as Rickly mangled a microphone stand with each swing of his dangling limbs, losing his voice in a violent fit of passion customary for his performances. The rest of United Nations, which includes members from Pianos Become the Teeth, followed with a stalwart steadiness, blasting away spectators in a frenzy of chaos. It was pretty fucking awesome as well.
Fucked Up, Toronto-based noise makers, is kind of like a Polyphonic Spree of punk. Fronted by the half-naked, seemingly half- crazed Damian Abraham, the band fits like a square peg in the circle of hardcore. Removed is the strained and serious thrashing synonymous with the scene, as Abraham physically interacts with his fans in a lighthearted appreciation of growls. I never have seen a more avid fan base crying Abraham’s words towards a stage, as the vivacious and hairy front man hands down won the award for best performance of the weekend. Ripping off his shirt in the early stages of the set and jumping off the stage onto the tired grass to harass unsuspecting festival goers, Abraham made friends with everyone; the skateboarders for hire, the lone crust punk in the corner, even the one old guy wearing a fishing vest were unable to escape his tornado of a performance. Honestly, my words are not doing justice to what Fucked Up is capable of. I suggest you do a quick internet search on their live performances or better yet, give them your hard earned money to see them in action. You have my word that they’ll make it worth your while. Mind blown to oblivion.
Admittedly it has been quiet a chunk of time since I last ventured out to see Circa Survive, although they’ve seemed to manage to find a way to get on the ticket of every show I went to for a span of three years. However, I’ve seen enough of Anthony Green lately, whose current project is rekindling old band flames (see Sounds of Animals Fighting, Saosin, still waiting on a Zolof the Rock & Roll Destroyer reunion) to a mob of an ever growing fan base of overly obsessive young males. In the past, their post-hardcore soundscapes and mystic lyricism was the stuff of cramped and dark venues of sticky beer floors scattered throughout the tri-state area. I was then a malleable teen, eager to pay the nominal fee to hear the echoes of “Stop the Fuckin’ Car” in a sober and nearly virginal state. So when Chris grabbed me by the arm, ushering me into the decayed Berkeley Hotel with another slight of the wrist towards a confused security guard, I followed willingly. Complete with the streaked mirrors and frayed chair covers of the ocean front hotel, we ventured out onto a weathered balcony to see the panoramic crowd that these dudes, in their ten years, have captivated.
“Come to me, my babies”, Green pleaded, catching a wayward hat with one hand and shrieking his precious words into the mic of the other as the crowd is showered with his infinite gratitude and projectile beef jerky sticks. The mob complies, as body after body is lifted to Green like dying children towards Christ, each aching arm, each broken heart outstretched towards the stage for a miracle. I stood there awestruck, seeing a concert I thought I’ve grown tired of time and time again, resurrected, the tired ghost of the grandiose Convention Hall canopying the congregation from behind.
Back in the early 2000s, the Skate and Surf Festival was formulated out of necessity. The scene needed an outlet, where acts and artists could organically join together for a weekend celebration of their endeavors. We all know the story of how it turned into Bamboozle, losing sight of its intentions in search of what sells instead. There was something charming about this past weekend that honored that original necessity, but something was awry. The festival seemed like a dog with its tail between its legs, bowing back to the master that fed it and, in return, was starved as punishment. Deserving bands were given no time to showcase their talents, as the promoters relied far too heavily on selling tickets laced with speculative nostalgia. The targeted audience has undoubtedly grown up, and those that remain decided to spend their time caged up in a beer garden in the farthest corner of the venue, lamenting on how awesome it would be to see Lifetime or Jawbreaker again, not the double headliners Midtown. However, somewhere between the yellowing and tender shin bruise gifted to me at the Property of Zack after show on Saturday and the polite conversation I had with Gareth, a handsomely tall Welsh gent who grew up in United Kingdom listening to Brand New, one thing remains.
There was an undeniable eerie correlation between the shelled remains of a once cherished festival and the ruins of Asbury Park; the spirit of defunct bands haunting the tattered vacant lots, their lamented melodies rising from wave crests and wafting between the broken window panes of The Casino.