Published Apr 17, 2014After years of under the radar toil, the DIY underground in America's Northeast, and in particular Philadelphia, has finally reached critical mass. Anchored by a steady stream of house shows, groups are borrowing from indie, pop-punk and emo while each forging their own individual takes on what's mostly easily summed up as melodic punk.
Philly's Modern Baseball have received the lion's share of that attention, gathering notices from a diverse range of media outlets, including Pitchfork and Grantland.
The attention has clearly filtered down to fans, who showed up in droves for the band's 6:30 p.m. start-time. From the opening chords of "Tears over Beers," the crowd sang along, with some taking the opportunity to do some early stage diving.
Cherry-picking the best cuts from their two full lengths, the band took the adulation in stride, preferring to make between-song jokes, particularly ones concerning their bass player Ian Farmer, who was decked out in glittery, skin tight spandex and a white Panama hat. Although funny and charming, these mid-set pauses to tune their guitars stymied their momentum. But their playing was fast and loose. Real Friends front man Dan Lambton even jumped on the mic to sing back up on "The Weekend" — not bad for their Toronto debut.
After Modern Baseball's bouncy goofiness, Michigan's Citizen offered far moodier, brooding post hardcore. The band had a solid contingent of fans in the crowd, but their lumbering tracks lacked precision and felt disjointed. They were ultimately the night's most forgettable act.
Chicago's Real Friends, third on the bill but first in the hearts of many in the crowd, found far greater success. Playing emo-tinged pop-punk, their set went off like a bomb, with crowd surfers quickly overwhelming the roadies on stage. They sang entire verses while Lambton, clearly the tour's heartthrob, looked on in awe. Time spent winning over crowds on Warped Tour has honed the band's live show, even if his well-intentioned lectures on respect and keeping a positive mental attitude felt rehearsed.
After the pandemonium of Real Friends' set, Detroit's Fireworks felt like a step back as far as crowd reaction goes. Not that the six-piece were deterred by a relative lack of enthusiasm from the crowd; some mic problems off the top led to a rocky start, but the band quickly found their groove.
Though Fireworks started life as a bit of a New Found Glory clone, their sound has evolved into a unique pop-punk and indie hybrid, coming across quite a bit gruffer live than on record. They won over many of the unfamiliar in the crowd, and their lead singer thanked them for giving the band a chance to take a break from the day-to-day dreariness of their day jobs before exiting the stage.
Given the short life-cycle of punk groups, Wonder Years are regarded as elder statesmen in the scene despite being together for less than a decade. Opening with the first two tracks from last year's The Greatest Generation (its cover served as a massive backdrop at the back of the stage) "There There" and "Passing through a Screen Door," extremely bearded singer Dan Campbell had the crowd in the palm of his hand.
Littered with references to Philadelphia, the band's hometown, their music has nevertheless been taken to heart across North America. Although many in the sold-out, all-ages audience have yet to encounter the travails that plague Campbell, there's clearly universality to the anxieties he's expressing, even when they concern arcane Philly landmarks like the fountain at Logan Circle.
Like too many of the night's sets, the sound for the headliners was muddy, meaning that the interweaving riffs and licks from the band's trio of guitarists were lost in the cavernous mix. But fans greeted each song as if it were the band's greatest hit, resulting in a show that was pretty much all peaks picked from across their recent catalogue. "The Devil in my Bloodstream" was a rare respite, but even that song ultimately exploded into a sea of pogoing.
The main set finished with "Washington Square Park" and "Came out Swinging." The seven-minute plus "I Just Want to Sell Out My Funeral" was a fitting encore that sent the crowd over the edge and onto the stage as wave after wave of crowd surfers tried to get one last ride in.