After a stint when the festival was alternately known as Bamboozle, Skate and Surf returned to its roots for two days at Asbury Park this year. A forecast that predicted thunderstorms and rain for most of the weekend thankfully didn’t come to fruition (except for a short while on Saturday night) as fans generally experienced a temperate couple of days. The fragrant, salty sea air wafted over from the boardwalk, a reminder of just how close the beach was.
“Asbury Park is hands-down one of my favorite places on this Earth,” Modern Baseball’s Ian Farmer said when I briefly caught the band backstage. The grounds were actually laid out around the Berkeley Oceanfront Hotel (where most of the bands were staying), which made for a fun bit of star watching as musicians came and went through the lobby.
A perfect middle ground between the hectic one-day affair of Warped Tour and the full-blown, three-day Riot Fest, Skate and Surf provided the best of both worlds over its two days. The crowd never suffocated and lines weren’t too long for food or Port-a-Potties. The structure of alternating performances between two sets of stages (GameLoud-World and East-West) helped to reduce the wait times, although this did make for some tough scheduling conflicts on Sunday evening.
And it also bears saying: Fans at pop-punk festivals always seem to really be there for the music. One of the main reasons I love Riot Fest so much is for its lack of pretension. Likewise, Skate and Surf wasn’t an event for posturing or going for the sake of being seen; it was an event for hearing some of pop-punk’s (and metal/emo/hardcore’s) most exciting, up-and-coming acts and veteran forefathers.
Dads had the misfortune of getting assigned a set time that overlapped with The Front Bottoms, arguably the biggest draw of the entire festival. (“We’re just gonna play a Front Bottoms CD and dance,” joked Ryan Azada, the band’s bassist, backstage.) And although the band have roots in New Jersey, they were hesitant to label (or rely on) this a homecoming show. In preparation for these potential obstacles, the trio inverted their set to perform their more well-known tracks from the start. Luck didn’t seem to be in Dads’ favor still, as the generator providing power to the stage gave out in the middle of their second song, “Shit Twins”. But the audience on hand provided all the amplification the band would need, belting out “You’ll say it’ll be just like the old days/ But it won’t be the fucking old days,” picking up right where drummer/vocalist John Bradley left off. Soon, power was restored and the band recovered with “Get to the Beach!” and “The Romantic Ocean”.
BIG D AND THE KIDS TABLE
Big D and the Kids Table played the West Stage, one of a pair of stages tucked in the back of the festival grounds near the boardwalk. It might as well have been called the Wild West Stage: no barrier, no security. “L.A.X.” electrified the crowd as the endless crowd surfing began and didn’t stop for the rest of the set. In a time when some other artists wouldn’t hesitate to punch fans who make their way on stage, David McWane – the veteran Boston ska band’s singer – spent the majority of the set helping fans up, draping his arm around crowd surfers who made it onto the stage, emphatically crooning the songs, and even extending the mic stand for the fans to sing along. The band closed with “Noise Complaint” as McWane decided to turn the tables and jump into the crowd himself, where he was swarmed by fans. No complaints about the noise here.
N.B. The next day there was a barrier in place with an additional security team for the West Stage.
SO SO GLOS
So So Glos (especially lead vocalist/bassist Alex Levine) sounded great during their compact, 35-minute set on the East Stage. The scrappy Brooklyn punks got the crowd moving with a rousing rendition of “Diss Town”, as Levine led the crowd in an oh-oh-oh chant. The band followed with a new song, as Levine implored the audience to “get off the assembly line, get on the dance floor.” However, it wasn’t until the very last song, “Son of an American”, that the So So Glos totally won the crowd over. Mid-song, Levine shimmied down toward the ground à la the Isley Brothers’ “Shout”, encouraging the onlookers to follow his lead. He even got the people trickling in to see Kevin Devine at the adjacent stage to join in. “We’re all on a rock floating through space. Isn’t that weird?” Levine quipped as the crowd noise had reduced to a murmur. Finally, he sprang up to close out the track with the rest of the band, and the fans jumped up in unison and began moshing.
FOUR YEAR STRONG
The only hiccup in Skate and Surf’s first day was that generators supplying power to some of the stages were not ready when the festival was scheduled to kick off. As a result, the earliest group of bands got pushed to later times. However, the World Stage was unaffected, and Four Year Strong provided a triumphant start to the day in the second slot with a set heavy on the Worcester band’s older material. On lead-off track “What the Hell Is a Gigawatt?”, vocalist Alan Day hopped off the stage and stood on the security barrier, singing as crowd surfing fans came flying in all around him. Other vocalist Dan O’Connor asked for a circle pit on Rise or Die Trying classic “Maniac (R.O.D.)”, and the crowd gladly obliged. Four Year Strong closed their set with “Wasting Time (Eternal Summer)” as a fresh wave of crowd surfers were tossed around and fans clapped in unison to the furious double bass kick of drummer Jake Massucco.
The tiny Bar Stage was reserved for up-and-coming acts, but Sorority Noise had the biggest presence on the smallest stage. Sporting a similar self-deprecating, anthemic style as the likes of The Front Bottoms and Modern Baseball, the New Jersey natives opened with “Rory Shield” as singer Cameron Boucher implored, “Kiss me like you mean it/ And by mean it, I mean walk away like you don’t even know my name.”
The band followed with “Blonde Hair, Black Lungs”, and as the track descended into raw screaming, the crowd pressed toward the stage and crowd-surfing began. Security had to hurriedly push through to intercept the crowd-surfers from being thrown literally on top of the band. Boucher then passed the spotlight to fellow vocalist/guitarist Adam Ackerman on later track “Smoke”.
“This guitar solo goes out to you mom and dad,” Ackerman said, unleashing bluesy licks as he swayed his head back and forth. The band closed with “Dirty Ickes” as a circle pit opened up to Boucher’s cathartic shout, “And I’ve learned to love myself more than I could ever love you!”
Earlier in the set, Boucher revealed that he and Ackerman would be driving to Connecticut after the show to graduate from college. Boucher joked about how the crowd should cut checks to him as a graduation gift, but after Sorority Noise’s set, one of the most common sights was people walking around the festival grounds toting vinyl copies of the band’s 2014 record, Forgettable. Not a bad graduation present at all.
Manchester Orchestra’s musical style felt slightly unorthodox for Skate and Surf. Even when the band chugged through some heavy power chords and flew around the stage, these moments didn’t feel like they should inspire pushing and shoving. After “Shake It Out”, lead singer Andy Hull remarked, “I think this is our very first mosh pit. Not sure how I feel about it.” Certainly an exaggeration, but it speaks to the band’s self-perception as perhaps a more cerebral rock band despite their occasional hardcore instrumentation. The earth-shattering power of their songs was accounted for by the dual-drum setup between main drummer Tim Very and multi-instrumentalist Chris Freeman. Throughout the set, the band displayed manic stage presence – bassist Andy Prince has some serious moves, and was an absolutely dynamic sight to behold.
On set highlight “I’ve Got Friends”, Freeman turned his attention to the keyboard, a sound that’s even more pronounced than on the studio version, which provided a strong change of pace. Manchester Orchestra closed with the lush and emotive “Where Have You Been?”, with Hull’s haunting croon piercing through the crowd. The track built to a climax, with the drum hits and riffs building momentum alongside the flashing strobe lights, but finished with a low-key outro as all band members walked off except for Very, who finished up his drumming shortly after. It might not have been fireworks to end the set, but Manchester Orchestra closed on their own terms.
Dropkick Murphys opened their headlining set on Saturday with “The Boys Are Back” from their most recent album, Signed and Sealed in Blood. After saying that they would be performing their first album next weekend in Las Vegas, Dropkick Murphys frontman Al Barr explained the band would be digging into the archives for their Skate and Surf set in preparation – a refreshah – for a set chock full of great throwbacks, like Do or Die’s “Finnegan’s Wake” and “Barroom Hero”.
A little ways into the set, the stormy skies overhead that threatened all day opened up and a light drizzle turned into a downpour. “Where ya goin’,” Barr bellowed from the stage at fans heading toward the exits. “They must be emo fans, goddamit!”
The band finished strong with a medley of three covers (Bachman-Turner Overdrive’s “Taking Care of Business”, Grand Funk Railroad’s “We’re an American Band” and the Ramones’ “Blitzkrieg Bop”). But Dropkick Murphys saved the best for last with an expectedly rousing rendition of “I’m Shipping Up to Boston” as the soggy crowd got a second wind and belted out the words.
Fans assembled early and en masse for Modern Baseball’s Sunday set, which kicked the day off at the GameLoud Stage. (In a bit of irony, The Gaslight Anthem would later close out the festival on the very same stage, and Modern Baseball’s “The Old Gospel Choir” is a direct reference to the line in Gaslight’s “The ’59 Sound.”)
“What up fam?” guitarist Jake Ewald jokingly asked the large crowd before the band launched into “Fine, Great”. Modern Baseball kept things loose and lighthearted, like playing the riff from Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man” before transitioning into “Rock Bottom” and singing a bit of Sublime’s “Santeria” during the outro to “The Weekend”.
For their second-to-last song, the band covered the Killers’ “When You Were Young”, which received an enthusiastic singalong from the fans. They closed their set with “Your Graduation”, with drummer Sean Huber leaving his kit to provide lead vocals. As he leapt off stage and stood on the security barrier to finish the song, an incoming crowd-surfer completely took him down. The short, 35-minute set just wasn’t enough to satisfy the eager fans.
“It was just nice, too because – secret – we didn’t practice. We just all have been really busy with school and this and that,” vocalist/guitarist Brendan Lukens explained. “So we honestly did not have time to practice. We did 200 shows, we’ll be great. After the first song, it was like, ‘Thank god!’”
THE GASLIGHT ANTHEM
Uninhibited by an ironclad curfew, The Gaslight Anthem gave its home state their money’s worth with a career-spanning, 26-song set that spilled well over its scheduled 10 p.m. end time. Though the crowd was subdued for the first few songs, Get Hurt’s “1000 Years” inspired some movement.
The three-song sequence (“Helter Skeleton”, “Blue Dahlia”, and “We Came to Dance”) that followed shortly after riled the fans up as they began to frequently clap in unison. During the “We Came to Dance” line, “We’ll blow one last kiss/ To all the beautiful nights like this/ Under this Central Jersey sky,” singer Brian Fallon cracked a huge smile for the first of many New Jersey song references that elicited a huge roar of approval from the fans.
The Gaslight Anthem slowed things down with a subdued take on “Great Expectations”: The instruments played softly, putting Fallon’s vocals front and center. On the next track, the New Jersey rockers cranked things back up to 10 with “The ’59 Sound” as the synchronized hand claps swept like a wave through the crowd.
Later, Fallon introduced the Bouncing Souls’ Pete Steinkopf for a very New Jersey moment, as Steinkopf played a guest guitar spot during Gaslight’s Misfits cover of “Astro Zombies”. Admitting his disdain for the faux drama of encores, Fallon said the band would simply play through the end of their set, even if the show went past 10 p.m. The final two songs – older cuts “Blue Jeans and White T-Shirts” and “We’re Getting a Divorce, You Keep the Diner” – seemed to be a tribute to longstanding, diehard fans who stuck around till the very end.
THE FRONT BOTTOMS
It wouldn’t be hyperbole to say that The Front Bottoms are New Jersey royalty. Frontman Brian Sella could’ve gotten away with not singing a damn word during the set, and the band’s rabid fanbase would’ve gladly taken care of the rest. The band opened (sneakily before their set was scheduled to begin, I might add) with “Au Revoir (Adios)” and “Skeleton”, with fans eagerly singing along. These diehards didn’t even miss a beat when The Front Bottoms transitioned to deep-cut “More Than It Hurts You”.
During “The Beers”, I noticed that, beyond the massive crowd in front of the stage, there was a big gathering of people behind the fences trying to steal a glance at another legendary hometown set for the Front Bottoms. As the track gave way to its emotional peak – “As the summer I was taking steroids/ ’Cause you like a man with muscles/ And I like you” – the crowd screamed the words, and Sella simply replied, “I fucking love you.”
For “Twin Size Mattress”, the band tossed out many plastic tambourines for a specific line (“I’m sure that we could find something for you to on stage/ Maybe shake a tambourine or when I sing, you sing harmonies”) in the song. At this point, Sella brought out Kevin Devine for additional support on guitar and vocals. The crowd gave its loudest shout as the track reached its cathartic moment, as Sella sang, “With tears in my eyes/ I begged you to stay/ You said, ‘Hey man I love you, but no fucking way!’” An overeager fan hoisted himself up to join the Front Bottoms, but he quickly found out this was not the Wild West Stage. In t-minus three seconds, security swarmed the intruder and proceeded to throw him out of the festival grounds.
Apparently taking a cue from this fan, Sella also decided to send the set off in a blaze of glory. He shattered his acoustic guitar before coyly explaining that this would allow the band to play a new song with him on electric guitar. The track, which riffed on the “Star Light, Star Bright” nursery rhyme, featured a style reminiscent of Weezer’s “Beverly Hills”, with big drums supplied by Matt Uychich. Most fans know that festival gigs are pretty much set in stone, but that didn’t stop the crowd from begging the Front Bottoms for one more song. When the band does become a headliner – and they will very soon if their cult following is any indication – they’ll be able to rock far beyond their allotted 45 minutes.