MANILA, Philippines – We came into SMX Convention Center’s 1st floor hall and Jonathan Cook (vocalist and pianist) and a shirtless Kyle Burns (drummer) of Forever the Sickest Kids were climbing the support pillars that held up the lights and monitors stage front, to the left and right.
They were dangling 30 feet up in the air.
They were up the metal scaffolding and, having reached the top, proceeded to swing to and fro. Cook hooked his legs into a bar while one arm gripped a steel rail like a mad chimpanzee hopped up on sugar and audience energy.
Their Vedder meets Bono stunt was greeted with howls of approval from the boys, screams of ecstasy from the girls. FTSK certainly made their set the night’s benchmark for rock frenzy.
It was a humid Sunday on September 30; intermittent rain showers swept through the metro. It was a great day to be indoors, but people chose to come and listen to rock.
Welcome to Bazooka Rocks.
One ticket price, no sections, just one massive melting pot where the tweens, the teens and the youth of today (quite a few of them with their parents in tow or relatives on chaperone duty) came to see the rock bands of their generation up close and personal.
“Did you guys see the balloons?!” Vernon Go, PULP Magazine publisher and head honcho of its events arm PULP Live World, excitedly asked me. When I shook my head and said I just came in what with the payday traffic, he laughed. “Oh, man. It was awesome!”
I got to see exactly what he meant at the end of the set of The Maine, a rock band from Arizona, when half a dozen dark green balloons the size of truck wheels came bounding off the stage and into the crowd.
The Maine take their name from the lyrics of the sea shanty “Coast of Maine” by Ivory. They have a lot of post-grunge in them by way of Fuel and Filter, but gentled by shades of bubblegum and tongue-in-cheek alterna-pop.
Vocalist John O’Callaghan called for the kids to “stay in school, listen to your parents” as they wrapped up their set, making me scratch my head about where the perils of rock and roll shows have gone to.
Or did I totally miss the sarcasm?
The sheer scale and logistics it must have taken to create this 12-hour indoor music festival (that will be an annual thing from now on, say the organizers) was staggering.
Consider: there were not 2 or 3 foreign bands who ruled their subculture roosts here, but 8.
FTSK, for example, are a group from Texas who paid their dues playing around Dallas and then breaking big into the scene when Alternative Press Magazine named them the number one underground band in their “22 Best Underground Bands” list of 2008.
The complete Bazooka Rocks list included FTSK, Avastera, Wonder Years, The Maine, A Skylit Drive, Marianas Trench, Mayday Parade, and the headlining act of The Pretty Reckless. There were also 3 local acts who played for Pinoy pride: Penguin, Salamin and Robin Nievera.
The foreign bands covered a very wide gamut of modern rock styles. There were the melodic, auto-tuned anthems of Vancouver boys Marianas Trench, famous not only for their unusually vocalized songs but also for their guitarist Josh Ramsay, who co-produced Carly Rae Jepsen’s hugely viral, hugely overplayed hit “Call Me Maybe.”
From where I sat, MT were very much influenced by the sound of modern-day scrunk and the “fuelled by ramen” bands from Fall Out Boy to Panic! At the Disco.
Closer to my sonic comfort zone were A Skylit Drive, a band from California who worked the screamo and the post-hardcore into their sound with the requisite breakdowns, without straying into all-out metal. Vocalist Michael Jagmin, who’s a tenor capable of shredding more than 3 octaves and a growl, certainly had virtuosic talents oozing out of his gothic, zombified facial make-up.
Another enjoyable group was Mayday Parade. They were easily the crowd favorite of the fest, with their pop punk sound by way of SoCal punk like Blink 182, AFI, New Found Glory and even some Good Charlotte riff stylings. Throw in a dash of post-grunge and they easily, to this old man, had the most relatable sound of the night.
The highlight, of course, were The Pretty Reckless, fronted by ex-“Gossip Girl” actor Taylor Momsen. With an old school sound that just oozed rock and roll bravura, The Pretty Reckless melded cock rock by way of biker attitude but with the tortured, burn-the-world angst of grunge infused with 21st century girl melancholia.
Momsen herself was waifish, beautiful and blonde. She burst with rocker defiance. To top it off, her voice dripped seduction and danger. She easily differentiated herself from the rest of the festival’s bands by her Suicide Girl gone mad image. That, and her potent stage presence.
The rest of her band are all older than her (especially guitarist Ben Phillips) — guys who would have grown up to Led Zep, Sabbath or Cream. And the songs showed this influence with the kind of power chord-driven, verse chorus verse, plus guitar solo (or the occasional bridge) anthems you’d hear on a 30-year-old classic rock aficionado’s playlist than a tween of 2012.
They have hits aplenty and they were easily the most popular band that night. But what was wrong with The Pretty Reckless?
There was a timer graphic that would come up on the 3 huge stage screens that counted down the next band in the festival. When it clocked in at 5 minutes the crowd would rush in and begin to noticeably thicken. When it would reach past less than a minute, the audience would happily chant along, culminating in inevitable screams and cheers when the graphic changes to the next band’s logo or name.
The Pretty Reckless came up a good 10 minutes after the timer was up. Momsen’s calls for louder cheers were met with weak or scattered shouts. This seemed to infuriate her, or were a disappointment, at the least.
Problem was, it was almost past midnight and TPR had come up onstage when a lot of the audience had left after Mayday Parade’s set. The scattering of parentals and designated drivers sat cross-legged at the back or dozed in corners, stretched out like exhausted seals, hoping the kids will wrap up their party before the wee hours.
The audience that was left tried to do their darn loudest to please Momsen, screamed their lungs out as she urged them on. From the looks of it, she didn’t seem satisfied. They also stopped after every song with up to a minute of delay while the lights were out, while Momsen conferred with a tech guy.
Still, all their expected hits met with great reaction and the performance itself, while it lacked the gestalt that would have set them aflame, was done with precision. The full throttle speed of “Going Down,” the controversial “Hit Me Like A Man” and “Miss Nothing” were testament to a band who knews their strengths and played them to the bone.
“Everything you love will burn up in the light!” sang the Cancerian-born Momsen (she was born on July 26, 1993).
That light coalesced and illuminated Momsen’s head. She shook her blonde locks, whipped that halo down, let it coil down her feet before making it rear up again.
All of a sudden the bazooka exploded. The chorus began again. Fire in the hole. – Rappler.com
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