by Catherine Vianale (@catherineveeee)
This past weekend I made my way up to Atlanta’s Wrecking Ball festival. This second edition featured a range of bands from legendary emo groups, to rock star-level bands who haven’t played a show in years, to hardcore and punk groups who have carved their niche into the music scene in recent times. The diversity, overall quality, and cohesiveness of this festival was phenomenal, and the crowd ranged from high school aged show-goers to adult punks who ditched their jobs to fly across the country to see Quicksand or Hey Mercedes play one last time. One of my favorite parts of this fest in general was watching people go nuts, cry, or just stare in wonderment at their favorite bands; most everyone I encountered felt an emotional connection to at least one of the bands playing Wrecking Ball. Watching insanely talented musicians reference the OTHER insanely talented musicians during their sets created an overall atmosphere of I-can’t-really-believe-this-fest-is-real. At times it didn’t feel real, simply because of the number of legendary bands on the lineup.
The fest was held at Atlanta’s Masquerade, which has the outward appearance of a giant crack house and the inner look of a Renaissance-era castle dungeon. The indoor venue is comprised of two stages (one upstairs and one downstairs), aptly named Heaven and Hell, along with three auxiliary outdoor stages. The Masquerade has been a staple in the Atlanta music scene for almost 30 years; the conclusion of Wrecking Ball also serves as the final moment for this incarnation, as they are demolishing and relocating it.
I caught local Atlanta band Femignome who were the first band of the first day of the festival, a two-piece playing sweet and ridiculously catchy bedroom pop. New York melodic hardcore band Drug Church played soon after and delivered a set that was both high energy and very pointedly introspective. Frontman Patrick Kindlon spoke a lot in between songs, at one point calling Atlanta “the bleeding edge of progressive thought” in a state with predominantly southern conservative values (I imagine this was the idea). In addition, he astutely commented on the virtues of not “speaking extemporaneously,” or without thinking, and how this is crucial to interactions with other people. Their set was one of my favorites of the whole fest as they were happy to interact with some of their more vocal fans and address issues relevant to their music.
I still feel a slight ringing as I write this from the sustained volume of black metal group Deafheaven. Vocalist George Clark showed off some dance moves during of the more shoegaze-y moments in their songs and wore the classic all black getup despite playing at the hottest time of the day on the outdoor stage. I loved watching Touché Amore play, because watching 100+ people having a really good time is really touching in and of itself. They were inspiring to watch and were joined onstage by Gouge Away (a powerful and socially aware South Florida punk band) vocalist Christina Healey at the end of their set.
My friend dislocated his shoulder during Ceremony’s set but in his words: “it was worth it.” Ceremony vocalist Ross Farrar appeared to be either backing off on delivering some of the harsher aspects of their songs or was experimenting with a less aggressive vocal style, but their classic punk songs were as hard hitting as ever. Opening with their kingpin “Into the Wayside Pt. 1/ Sick”, many a backwards-hat-wearing kid stage dove and crowd killed. The band counteracted some of their more intense songs with some slow bangers, “The Doldrums” from their Rohnert Park LP and “The Separation” from their latest post-punk offering.
I separate my life into two parts; my life before seeing Drive Like Jehu and my life after seeing Drive Like Jehu. The dudes are rock stars. Their hour long set only gained momentum and crowd attention as it went on and they closed out the first night of the fest. I caught the Piebald/Knapsack/Jeff Rosenstock official aftershow that night inside the Masquerade, which featured Knapsack playing most of their classic album This Conversation is Ending Starting Right Now. Frontman Blair Shehan’s voice couldn’t quite reach the raspy high vocals of 1998 but the effect was still tremendous; this classic emo-punk group was poised and didn’t miss a beat.
Atlanta’s post-punk kids Warehouse were the first to play on Sunday at the outdoor Purgatory stage, and their precision and innovative ideas translated really well into their live show. Vocalist Elaine Edinfield’s raspy vocals and calm, focused presentation gave the songs their unique flare. Supporting sound from the flawless and technical bass and guitar parts gave the set a very strong flow and serious appeal to those who had never heard or seen the band before.
San Francisco’s Culture Abuse came in like a wrecking ball with their almost overbearing onstage presence and ridiculous level of volume, but their distinctive blend of hardcore vocals and power pop melodies was engaging. Halfway into their set, frontman David Kelling grabbed someone’s weed vape and hit it for at least 10 seconds, triumphantly diving into a song with the lyrics “kill cops, fuck Donald Trump.” The group recently released a full length on 6131 Records entitled Peach.
Athens’s Mothers played soon after on Hell, and delivered their usual brand of vulnerable, heartbreaking folk-indie ballads. Frontwoman Kristine Leschper forges a connection with her audience every time I’ve seen them play, even at one point thanking the crowd for being so respectful and quiet during their set. Their set was probably the most intimate set of any that I witnessed at the fest; I felt very safe and comfortable in their audience. Potty Mouth’s performance was the only set that I outright danced to; the energy of the trio carried me through the rest of the day.
The most disappointing set, in relation to my expectations, was that of Dinosaur Jr. This feels really weird to say, but judging by the fact that someone threw a shoe George Bush-style at them, I don’t think I’m alone. The entire set seemed off, no one on stage appeared to be into what they were doing, and the number of mistakes that occurred during the set made the entire experience a little awkward. I’m a huge Dinosaur Jr. and J. Mascis fan so this was super bizarre to me. The group played songs mostly off their newest release Give a Glimpse of What Yer Not, throwing in their crowd pleaser “Feel the Pain”.
I somehow completely missed Quicksand in my formative music listening years, but seeing their set made me wish I hadn’t. Walter Schriefels electrified audiences for a second time in his Quicksand performance after an equally unbelievable performance in Gorilla Biscuits the day prior. The reason that Wrecking Ball scheduled them as headliners became immediately apparent to me during their performance and I’m very happy that I got to catch their set; it was a perfect send off at a great festival overall. The end of the fest also serves as the end of the original location of the Masquerade, but I look forward to hopefully attending future installments of Atlanta’s Wrecking Ball.
My favorite 5 performances:
1) Drive Like Jehu
5) Drug Church