I learned about the band Iwrestledabearonce three days before they came to Pittsburgh. I’ve got more than a little bit of a soft spot for chick-fronted metal—and a band with a lead who’ll scream her lungs out like this? Going to this show was practically mandatory.
The openers, Just Like Vinyl, touted their not-corporate status as a badge of honor. They’re living the oft-romanticized, little-understood lives of unsigned artists: selling merchandise to stay on the tour, making all their merchandise themselves. Their rapport was almost playful, an entertaining contrast to the headbanging and screaming. Their lead singer is also magical: He managed to spit straight up while headbanging and still miss hitting himself with it.
The next band, Close to Home, has members who sport some fantastic ink if worrisome hair. (Seriously, an artsy mullet?) Their one guitarist had broken his hand (jerking off, if you believe the lead singer), so they borrowed ones from In Fear and Faith. Even with the lineup change, their rapport was clear and entertaining—and they included the crowd in their teasing. The lead guitarist dedicated a song to their hometown football team, the Cincinnati Bengals—and as the crowd responded with (Real? Fake?) outrage, the lead singer bounded in to cover, re-dedicating it to the Steelers . . . and then, grinning mischievously, to Pittsburgh’s baseball team, the Pirates. (Pittsburgh overwhelmingly ignores or actively rejects the existence of the Pirates. The audience’s response was what you might expect.)
In Fear and Faith was up next—and as part of their sound check, they played Scary Monsters & Nice Sprites. (No matter where I go, I cannot escape Skrillex. Seriously.) Within minutes of their set’s start, there was a mosh pit everywhere. But it wasn’t a pissy, elbow-throwing one like the Columbus Skrillex show. Kids shoved, then apologized for shoving. If someone went down, others picked them up. When people surged in one direction, we held on to our stuff and laughed. We were a great big squishing humid mass of humanity, but we were still overall amused by it.
I’ve gotta say it: This crowd was fucking awesome.
In Fear and Faith’s stage presence is pretty wonderful. They’re one of those bands that has a singer and a screamer—and their screamer climbed everything, from the drum set to his fellow bandmates. Their guitarist on the far end of the stage jumped around despite having his foot in an air cast, and the guitarist and bassist closest to me—both of which had gorgeous hands—headbanged and happily set themselves up to be climbed upon.
After their set, the guy beside me draped himself over one of the front speakers. “I’m happy,” he said. “I could stay here for hours.”
Then came Iwrestledabearonce. With them they brought the banes of this photographer: a hyperactive smoke machine and super-bright flashing backlights. Their guitarist also brought a bundle of tricks; luckily, I was close enough to watch as he pulled sounds from his six-string I’d have previously thought were computer-generated. From watching their borderline-Dadaist music videos I’d gotten the impression they’re a whimsical combination of thoroughly tongue-in-cheek and brutally heavy, and their live performance certainly cemented that impression. Their energy level was up yet another notch, driving people to start passing the first few crowdsurfers around. One made it up to and was dumped onto the stage—and lead singer/screamer Krysta Cameron, despite being around eight inches shorter and forty pounds lighter than him, tossed his ass right back off again. “We’re gonna play a game,” she shouted to the crowd. “It’s called the floor is fucking lava. So if you’re not jumpin’, you’re gonna fuckin’ burn to death.”
Between Iwrestledabearonce and the headliners, Dance Gavin Dance, the guy beside me let go of his speaker and decided he was hell-bent on getting up on stage—that he wanted to hug John Mess (DGD’s screamer) more than anything in the world. He told DGD’s guitarist Will Swan as much as the guy was setting up, and asked if it’d be okay if he was on stage. Swan seemed amused, and told him to hit his pedals for him. A few minutes into the start of the set he jumped up, draped his arm around Mess, shouted at the crowd, dove off the stage, and was gone.
You can say any number of things about DGD’s one frontman, Johnny Craig—from his recent stint in rehab to the epic clusterfuck earlier this year where he swindled a number of fans out of thousands of dollars via a twitter computer-selling scheme—but the fact stands that the group still knows how to move a crowd. Not only that: when crowdsurfers kept being dumped on stage, Craig and fellow frontman John Mess would pick them up and let them pop back off the stage on their own. When the groping of front-row fangirls would get a little too personal Craig’d deflect them almost casually, but he spent most of his time on the front being petted and squeezing the outstretched hands of fans, his grip strong & his palm dry.
Afterward, I ran into the drummer from Iwrestledabearonce, Mike Montgomery. Heralding from California (in close proximity to the ocean, which he enjoys), IWABO at this point was at approximately midway through their tour: still living out of a cluttered if clean-smelling van; their only days off being the driving days between far-apart venues.
The subject of Warped Tour came up, as they were a part of it last year. “As long as you pull your weight, it’s incredible,” Mike said, and added that they were fed very well. The problems we at DOOM! noticed with this year’s Warped lineup (editor’s note: this is in reference to the lack of female representation on the tour, but the inclusion of the pro-violence-against-women Blood on the Dancefloor), though, went nastily political here. He put it clearly and bluntly: “We were shit on.” Mike told me that IWABO, as well as a number of other bands, were promised spots on this year’s tour . . . then dropped on their collective asses. He named a string of other bands that Warped screwed or otherwise chose to not pick up this year—bands that are also touring out of their vans, where they need the support of a big tour like Warped the most; bands with female members and fronts, that aren’t cookie-cutter sausagefest screamo.
But there’s a rival tour coming, he says–and while he couldn’t name it yet, it promises to showcase the variety Warped is missing.
So yeah: If you’ve been looking at the lineup for Warped Tour and asking yourself why some bands aren’t back on, or why Warped’s suddenly, notably lacking bands with female fronts—hell, even female members . . . There you have it.
Do I know what the rival tour is, that’s going to have these missing bands and possibly going to showcase a variety of music rather than just cookie-cutter screamo? Not yet. But they should be announcing it soon—and if they end up back at Pittsburgh, I’ll be there again.
Text & photographs © 2011 Ran Case @ DOOM! Magazine. All Rights Reserved.