08 July 2007

The Last Night Of The Fest

I just sat down for the first time in what seems like about 16 hours. Upon more careful reflection I realize I'm probably engaging in hyperbole: I recall briefly parking myself in a chair in the upstairs bar somewhere around 7 pm, and of course I had to sit down to drive the car back here to the hotel, but apart from that I've been not just on my feet, but pretty constantly in motion for over 14 hours now.

I remember at one point someone asking what time it was and how many more bands still had to play, and realizing that even though we'd already put in a pretty full day of rocking and rolling, that it was only 5 o'clock and there were still eight (in the end it turned out to be nine) more hours to go. "If this were a job," I said, "We'd already be collecting overtime." It wasn't a job of course, though right now I'm feeling like I just put in a double shift at the steel mill; what it was - and no hyperbole here either - was one of the best days of my life.

A bit over the top, you ask? I don't blame you; it sounds that way to me, too, and when the phrase first popped into my head around the time the Mr. T Experience tore into "I Fell For You," I thought I'd better check with a few other festgoers before dropping it on the public. But the first five people I asked instantly agreed that it was one of the best days of their lives as well, and Jackie O. unhesitatingly pronounced it THE best day of hers.

I pooh-poohed that notion at first on the ground that her life hadn't been much more than a third as long as mine, but then accepted that both of our opinions were quite valid. Still, I hadn't fallen in love or won the lottery, or even done much at all apart from watch bands, dance, and run around talking to a couple hundred people. So what made it so special then?

The only answer I can come up with is: everything. Every single blessed thing, even the minor and major annoyances like getting clumped in the head by the flailing feet of a couple stagedivers or the power going out last night and shutting down Friday's fest session about four hours early. The latter was a disaster that would have sent lesser men (like, say, yours truly) running for cover, but faced with the likes of Chris Thacker, Pat Termite and Mark Enoch, the disaster quickly turned into no more than in a minor hiccup. The power was back up and running this morning, and with a few quick adjustments to the schedule, it was possible for nearly every band to play, and because set times were shortened (in most cases) to half an hour (strictly enforced by Mr. Termite, one of the best stage managers in the business), the bands wound up turning in tighter shows and better thought out sets than we would have dared hope for if they'd had 45 minutes or an hour to screw around in.

One exception to the half hour rule was Ben Weasel. The organizers wanted him to play for an hour, at least twice as long as most Weasel extravaganzas I'd ever seen, and in this case they turned out to be correct. Backed by New Hampshire's Guts and opening with a trio of songs from My Brain Hurts, Ben then proceeded to whip through a selection of Riverdales, Ramones, and Ben Weasel tunes, topped with a Queers cover ("Love Love Love." Ben then came back as guest vocalist with the Steinways, who've been known to insert the odd Weasel cover into their set list. The look on Chris Grivet's face as he played drums behind the man who'd been a punk rock god to him for 13 or 14 years was priceless.

"Grivet, back when you were a kid listening to Screeching Weasel, did you ever think..."

"No! Not in a million years."

"...that you'd be sitting there staring at Ben Weasel's ass while you and he played some of the favorite songs of your life?"

But the day was full of priceless moments like that. In fact, I'm tempted to say that's all the day was: an unbroken string of priceless moments that people will still be talking about 20 years from now, the same way they still talk about Gilman Street in 1987, or the first time they saw Operation Ivy or Screeching Weasel or Green Day.

I know, I said something like that about last year's fest, and I don't take any of it back. The thing is, this year's fest was just like last year's except for being bigger, better and even more amazing. I couldn't even begin to list all the highlights, musical or otherwise, especially not tonight when I'm desperate to get a few hours sleep before an early morning wakeup call for the trip back to New York, but let me just mention the Ergs, who were about as sensational as I've ever seen them, the Methadones, with Dan Vapid singing sans guitar for the first time I've ever noticed and topping off their set with a blistering version of "What We Hate," which, sadly, Ben didn't get round to doing, and the Copyrights, one of last year's sensations who have clearly upped the ante since then.

Also upping the ante were the Parasites and the Beatnik Termites, who to be honest haven't always impressed me in the past, but who each turned in the set of their lives tonight. It was as though bands were feeding off the incredible energy of the crowd and sending it winging right back at them. That, coupled with the excellent sound system and an audience fully prepared to sing along with every line, meant that were to be no bad performances, at least not that i saw. The Guts were sensational, both backing Ben Weasel and maybe even more so on their own (not to mention when Wimpy joined them for a mini-set of classic Queers songs). Hell, I don't know anyone who wasn't sensational, to the point where I was worried whether enough of the crowd would still be on its feet by the time the Mr. T Experience took the stage in the very nearly wee hours to wrap up the fest.

I needn't have concerned myself. Despite having spent much of the earlier evening propping up the front bar and possibly attempting to drink it dry, Dr. Frank demonstrated once again why show business is his life, treating a frenzied audience to exactly what I hoped he would: a delicately balanced admixture of mid-90s pop-punk classics and more contemporary stuff that should be classic, even if it isn't yet. He even threw in MTX's big "hit" from the 1980s, "Danny Partridge Got Busted," which pleased the purists and completists no end, but seemed to leave the younger end of the audience looking a bit bewildered. Roach and Scampi from the recently defunct Groovie Ghoulies, jumped on stage to do a number with Frank and the boys, and when I saw him heading in that direction, I figured B-Face, himself a former Ghoulie, was going to get in on the action, too.

Sadly he didn't. I guess you can't have everything after all, though the one wish I wasn't granted was for MTX to finish up their set with "Dumb Little Band," the song that probably sums up as succinctly as it can be summed up the whole pop-punk experience of the past 10 or 20 years. But such was not to be the case, so... maybe next year.

And there will be a next year, probably twice as big again as this year's model, and they're also talking about taking the show on the road. Just in case there was any doubt about it, today's/this weekend's events proved pretty definitively that this pop-punk thing isn't going away any time soon.

But I am: geez, I really have to get some sleep. Don't worry, much more fest coverage is sure to come to your way soon, and if you have a spare week or two to read it all, hop on over to the PPMB for what's likely to be some of the most exhaustive and exhausting discussion ever. Just don't mention the donuts.


Anarchie said...

Excellent roundup of the fest, I agree it was one of the best days of my life too. It worries me though that it was good I'm going to have to find the money for next year!

Dave Hughes said...

I remember the first time I heard "Dumb Little Band" and thinking that Dr Frank had somepoint jumped in my head and written my autobiography. A brilliant song. Wish festivals like that occurred in Glasgow.

Anonymous said...

They need a bigger venue. And don't forget the Varsity Weirdos, they're pure pop-punk dancing harmonizing perfection.