(Live A Loss For Words photo credit to Liana Hunt)
My favourite thing about festivals is the fact that you can wander around all day and see bands that you definitely wouldn't have experienced otherwise. This review is going to be a selection of the sets that I had something to say about, but this won't be all the bands that I saw - there were way too many of them for me to talk about all of them! Some of the notable sets that I won't be talking too much about were Cartel, Only Rivals, Neck Deep, Crossfaith and Fireworks - all brilliant sets, but I just didn't see enough of them to be able to review them properly. But now, onto the rest:
I've only been listening to PVRIS avidly for a few months, but they've quickly established themselves as one of my favourite bands, especially after their brilliant opening slot for Lower Than Atlantis last month. I missed the very beginning of their set (one song, 'Smoke') but I was still blown away by the rest of it; running through songs such as 'St. Patrick' and 'White Noise', vocalist Lynn Gunn was completely on point, sounding even better than she did the first time I saw them. I've never seen Alex or Brian look happier, both of them beaming out at the crowd that were eating up every single moment. For this early in the day the reaction was much better than I'd been expecting, and it still surprises me to see how far this band have come with just one album under their belts.
As if their set wasn't going amazingly enough, a surprise appearance from Josh Franceschi on 'My House' was the icing on the cake, even if his microphone wasn't working for the majority of his time on stage. These guys are definitely ones to watch, and if you haven't listened to them yet it's imperative that you do so as soon as you can. Their popularity is going through the roof and the trajectory is nowhere near tapering off, and I can't wait to catch them for the third time this year at Reading festival - I guarantee they will just keep getting better. If they headline Slam Dunk in a few years time, I won't be shocked at all.
Next up was the third ever UK show from the acoustic side project of The Wonder Years frontman Dan "Soupy" Campbell. Because The Wonder Years had already been announced as performing at Slam Dunk, it wasn't too surprising when Aaron West and the Roaring Twenties were added afterwards, so it also wasn't too surprising when the Roaring Twenties weren't actually there, and it was just Dan (or should I say Aaron?) on stage by himself.
If you haven't heard of Aaron West and the Roaring Twenties, the concept behind the act is that the songs tell the story of the worst year of Aaron West's life, and it was really interesting to see Dan embodying the character of Aaron and speaking as him. The Wonder Years have always been super popular because of their lyrical content and how easy it is to relate to them, but this acoustic emo act was obviously the drawing point of many people at this weekend, as the room was full to bursting before he even came out on stage. To have people queuing out on the landing for the third act on the stage is a huge achievement, but considering the fact that before Slam Dunk he'd only ever played one UK show, it just proves that the demand is definitely outweighing the supply.
Starting off with 'Our Apartment', most of the crowd were shouting along to every word, which didn't let up through 'Grapefruit' or 'Runnin' Scared'. My personal favourite song is 'Divorce and the American South', which had the loudest singalong in the first half of the set. This boosted even higher during the trumpet solo, as the crowd decided to cover for the absent backing band and perform a vocal trumpet solo - which Soupy congratulated us on afterwards, calling for a round of applause for the great trumpet solo - something that definitely lightened up what was an otherwise completely depressing set. But depressing does not mean bad, and Aaron West was one of the best performers I saw in the entire day at Slam Dunk, so I seriously hope that he comes back and announces some full length UK shows at some point in the near future. I couldn't stick around for the rest of Aaron West's set, as I wanted to see some of Beartooth, but the half that I did see was superb.
I didn't think that the Fresh Blood stage could get any busier, but when I returned to see Fort Hope I sadly couldn't even get into the room. I stood outside and listened to a section of their set - most notably 'Sick', which sounded pretty sick ('scuse the pun) even from outside on the landing. With the band having signed their first record deal in the last few days, this crowd is just going to keep growing, and I'm so proud of how far these boys have come from back in the My Passion days. The UK rock scene is on the rise, and Fort Hope are leading the pack.
I saw a bit of A Loss For Words at Slam Dunk last year and I thought they were pretty awesome, so I was bummed out when I discovered that they'd announced their break up before I'd even gotten around to listening to any of their full length albums. When it was announced that they'd be performing at Slam Dunk on their farewell tour, there was no chance that I was missing it.
Joining the set to hear 'Pirouette', I was amazed when there was a surprise guest appearance from the vocalist of Save Your Breath, Kris Richards, whose band broke up back in January. I was a big Save Your Breath fan, so the moment was rather bittersweet, but it really embodied the entire ethos of Slam Dunk festival - having fun with your friends - and with a singalong of epic proportions it was perfect for this summery festival crowd. With singer Matty thanking his "brother" for appearing on stage with him, it really spread the love - something that A Loss For Words seem to be really fond of, as Matty was also wearing a t-shirt proclaiming 'I support same-sex marriage'.
One of the most notable things about their set was the amount of bands they were shouting out to, thanking Decade, Light You Up, Transit, PVRIS and Neck Deep, to name but a few. Dedicating 'Distance' to Fireworks was also a poignant moment, with A Loss For Words splitting and Fireworks going onto hiatus, but there wasn't time to dwell on the emotions because the set was just too much fun. Nowadays, pop punk bands seem to take themselves much too seriously, but A Loss For Words were having so much fun and it was definitely encouraging the crowd.
My sixth time seeing Lower Than Atlantis was also my shortest time, as I only managed to see three of their songs in the fifteen minute gap I squeezed in at main stage. It was impressive that they seemed to on top of their game, as this was their second festival set today (the first being at the BBC Radio 1's Big Weekend in Norwich) but if anything that made them sound tighter, because they'd had the perfect warm-up this morning.
After catching them on their UK tour last month, I didn't think Lower Than Atlantis could get any better, but vocalist Mike Duce seemed to be so much more confident in front of this crowd, belting out every word and getting it shouted back in his face twice as loud. 'Ain't No Friend' had everyone dancing, while 'English Kids In America' is still a festival classic - perhaps even more memorable today than it was at Reading festival last year. I stuck around long enough to hear 'Deadliest Catch', my all time favourite of their songs, and I sincerely wish I'd been able to hang around longer, because they were sounding even tighter than normal. With a large tour announced in December, I'm sincerely hoping I'll be able to go along to one of their shows, because it would be brilliant to see them wrap up their biggest ever year as a band on such a high note.
Back at the Fresh Blood stage, the crowd outside the room had gotten even larger than it was for Fort Hope, meaning that I had to strain to hear This Wild Life over the voices of fans waiting outside. After such an extensive co-headline tour with As It Is over the last few weeks, I assumed that most of the people who wanted to see This Wild Life would have already seen them - this belief was naive, as disappointed fans were turning away in droves when they realised that there was no way for them to push into the room to see the band. This Wild Life were actually one of my most anticipated bands of Slam Dunk, so I stuck it out and managed to hear a good few songs, especially once the crowd dispersed a little bit and you could hear the music outside.
'History' is one of their most well-known songs, and this was confirmed when they played it first, with the singalong from the crowd sounding much louder than the band themselves, the same of which can be said for 'Over It'. 'Ripped Away' sounded absolutely flawless, but the highlight of the part of the set that I saw was definitely their cover of Blink-182's 'First Date', which was a surprising but perfectly performed cover.
I left after hearing 'Better With You', one of my favourite songs, but that wasn't before I noticed that even their co-headline tour mate Patty Walters, lead vocalist of As It Is, was unable to get into the room. This band are such a massive deal, something that I hadn't realised until this show, but I think it's a brilliant sign - they deserve to have all of this attention, because Anthony and Kevin are both such talented songwriters and performers. I haven't had the opportunity to see a This Wild Life headline show yet, but it's definitely something I'm going to ensure that I do next time that they come to the UK - I need to experience this show on a bigger scale, and I need to actually get into the room next time!
I've had a love-hate relationship with Don Broco recently, as I haven't really enjoyed any of the singles that they've been releasing from forthcoming album 'Automatic', but that completely changed throughout their set yesterday. Starting off with 'Money Power Fame' was a brilliant way to drag the crowds attention to this band, who threw every ounce of their energy into their performance. A Don Broco show is a high velocity show, and that didn't change at Slam Dunk; if anything it ramped up even higher, with frontman Rob Damiani going absolutely crazy up there.
Newest single 'Automatic' didn't get that much of a reaction from the crowd: possibly because of the relatively young age of the song, or possibly because other people are agreeing with my opinion of the new material. However, something that you can't deny is the fact that they performed the song live amazingly, and it's impossible to move your eyes away from the stage from the second they start from the second they exit.
Older songs 'Whole Truth' and 'Priorities' both got amazing responses, with the crowd kicking it up a gear and dancing more than I'd seen them all day. I had to leave half way through their set, to run across to Seaway, but I'm definitely feeling more love towards Don Broco after seeing the new songs in a live environment, and remembering how encapsulating their live shows are.
I only managed to catch one song from Seaway, due to some terrible set clashes, but the one that I saw definitely deserves a special comment, and that was 'Your Best Friend'. I'd been having a pretty terrible morning - missing Set It Off and We Are The Ocean, and suffering with a terrible migraine - but after hearing such a fun song live I just couldn't stop myself from dancing and beaming from ear to ear. I don't know what it is about these Canadian fellows, but they're so full of fun that I can't help but fall in love with them a little more every time I listen to them. I haven't been disappointed by a single one of their songs that I've heard so far, and after purchasing their full length album 'Hoser' at the festival, I'll definitely be listening to them more.
However, I had to leave Seaway quite early to get along to Finch, who were another of my most anticipated bands of the day. Since Finch's reunion tour a couple of years ago, I've been getting quite excited about the day when I would finally see them live, and I couldn't believe it was finally here.
I will admit that I didn't know many of the newer songs that they played, as I only managed to purchase their newest album 'Back To Oblivion' at the festival, but the ones that I did hear sounded brilliant. I joined their set on 'Anywhere But Here', and was amazed by how much the band were putting in to the set - some of the older hardcore bands that I've seen have been quite complacent in their live shows, but Finch were excelling the performance I'd experienced at the Hidden In Plain View show last month, which was insanely high. The new music definitely padded out their set, putting a brilliant amount of life into it, and instead of being disinterested by the songs I didn't know I found myself falling in love much further with this band.
'Letters To You' is obviously one of Finch's more well-known songs, so a lot of the crowd did seem to only be in attendance for this one, demonstrated when the moshing went through the roof for the duration of the song. A hardcore anthem, it's difficult to find someone who doesn't know this song, and I was amazed by how brilliantly the band played it over ten years since they wrote and released it. After going through two break-ups, it's impressive that the members still perform so well together, and their chemistry is palpable throughout the crowd.
Finishing with 'What It Is To Burn', another of their most popular songs, it was surprising to see another guest appearance from Josh Franceschi, who mentioned the fact the he wanted to perform the song with them in an issue of Kerrang! a few weeks ago. Seeing a dream come true like that live on stage should have been corny, but after seeing Josh moshing side stage throughout the previous couple of songs in their set, you could really see how much it meant to him, and he threw everything he had into his vocal (which, thankfully, was on a working microphone that time!). I can't believe that I waited this long to see Finch, and I will not be waiting this long until the next time.
I don't really have that much to say about Taking Back Sunday that I didn't already say in my review of their show in Oxford in December, but that isn't a bad thing because it proves that they are consistent. Their banter was still lacking, which was much more noticeable (and cringe-inducing) in this environment, but the rest of their performance was one of my highlights of the entire day. I said before that Taking Back Sunday really know how to craft a brilliant setlist, and while they played most of the songs that I'd seen them play only a few months ago, they played them all fantastically so I had nothing to complain about.
All of their biggest hits: 'MakeDamnSure', 'Cute Without The 'E' (Cut From The Team)' and 'You're So Last Summer' were all present, as well as a good chunk of their more recent releases, meaning that there was something there for every era of Taking Back Sunday fan. The majority of the crowd did seem to be turned off from Taking Back Sunday, but that was kind of understandable with them sandwiched between Don Broco and You Me At Six, both who are relatively new on the scene, meaning that their fan base might have been too young to fully appreciate Taking Back Sunday when they were at the height of their career. I was kind of disappointed with the crowd, who didn't seem to be making any effort at all - the whole point of a festival is to enjoy bands you wouldn't normally see - but the fans that were getting involved were going crazy. It would have been nice to have a few surprises in their setlist, other than just the inclusion of 'Happiness Is...' bonus track 'How I Met Your Mother', but it was still a lot of fun, and I was glad that I could stay for their entire set.
What's It Feel Like To Be A Ghost?
Number 5 With A Bullet
How I Met Your Mother
Liar (It Takes One To Know One)
Stood A Chance
Timberwolves At New Jersey
A Decade Under The Influence
Faith (When I Let You Down)
You're So Last Summer
Better Homes and Gardens
You Know How I Do
Cute Without The 'E' (Cut From The Team)
You Me At Six were definitely the highlight of most people's day, and with their promise of playing older material there was no question in my mind that I was going to see every single second of their set. I've always been a huge advocate for them playing earlier songs, so my wish was finally coming true. I wasn't disappointed when the started the set off with the double header of 'The Truth Is A Terrible Thing' and 'Save It For The Bedroom', and going by the reaction from the crowd this set had been a long time coming. People were flooding in from every direction, screaming the lyrics from the top of their lungs, and it really felt like something special was happening - the excitement in the air was palpable. It didn't let up through the first five songs, concluding with 'Jealous Minds Think Alike', which is one of the best songs You Me At Six have ever written - there's a reason that they catapulted into such heights of fame, and it's mostly due to the skill and potential they displayed in their formative years.
However, after the fifth song in the set things quickly went downhill. Due to a medical emergency with a fan, the band had to stop the set, so Josh attempted to banter with the crowd - talking a bit about their time away in Australia last week, and referencing some football rivalries - but after the banter sunk like a rock he went off-stage while the medics worked. A little over half an hour later, the band came back on stage, and it's testament to You Me At Six fans that they all stayed calm and civilised despite the lengthy gap, allowing the medics to work and for the band to give them the space that was necessary. Oftentimes things like this can go very badly very quickly, with fans throwing things and complaining about the lack of music, but that wasn't demonstrated at all during this set - everyone was extremely civilised, even if some people did get bored and wander away to The Wonder Years.
A brief intermission here, to give a shout out to The Wonder Years, who seemed to be playing a blinder of a set. I was disappointed that I was going to miss them to see You Me At Six, so the gap in the set was a blessing in disguise - due to the silence at the main stage you could hear every word of The Wonder Years set going on at the other end of the road. Dan's vocal sounded so stronger and powerful over the pop punk backtrack, which was surprising after he admitted during the Aaron West set that his voice was rather shot, and it was a real hint towards how expert he is as a frontman - he really knows what he's doing. It was my second time seeing The Wonder Years, and while I wish I could have seen and heard more of them, I was happy enough with what I got.
After You Me At Six walked back out on stage, Josh Franceschi announced "someone's life is way more fucking important than our little band playing songs at a festival", a sentiment that he reiterated on his Twitter following the incident, and it really was heart-warming to see the frontman of such a massive band caring so much about his fans. You Me At Six might have exploded, but they're still just five boys from Surrey at heart.
I'd been anticipating quite a large cut from the set following the time that they'd been off stage, but they still completed their entire set - bigger hits like 'Room To Breathe' and 'Lived A Lie' running parallel to older songs 'The Rumour' and 'Take Off Your Colours' - and it was a breath of fresh air to get a mixture of both eras in a You Me At Six show. Often when I see the band live I find myself getting restless, but this was the perfect mix of fun and serious, meaning that there wasn't a single moment of the set that fell flat for me. This was the best show I've ever seen You Me At Six play, and I think it's going to stay that way forever, as the band have said that they will be cutting the older songs from their set completely following these three festival performances. I sincerely hope that they'll consider the crowds reaction during 'Always Attract' and rethink that decision, because that kind of colossal reaction only happens in older songs that mean a lot to all of the fans, but I'm sure they know what they're doing.
The band are going off to record their fifth album this summer, and while I'm nervous about what the result will be, I'm excited as heck as well. As Josh sang, "the problems that have come haven't yet torn You Me down" and I'm sure they aren't going to any time soon.
The Truth Is A Terrible Thing
Save It For The Bedroom
Stay With Me
Jealous Minds Think Alike
Lived A Lie
No One Does It Better
Take Off Your Colours
Kiss And Tell
Fresh Start Fever
Room To Breathe
Bite My Tongue