As the annual Bamboozle festival continues to grow, so too does its offshoot tour, the Bamboozle Roadshow. The national outing began in 2008 as a series of club dates featuring just a handful of acts. Now, though, in its third year, it's become an almost-all-day, two-stage affair which threatens to rival the Warped Tour.
Yesterday's stop at the Cruzan Amphitheatre in West Palm Beach, Florida, started during school hours and featured a brief rainstorm, but by the early evening, the weather had cleared and the crowd had amassed for a taste of the best pop-rock acts around. Here are our Top 10 Moments of the day:
BEST RALLY DURING A DOWNPOUR: Mercy Mercedes
By 3 p.m., half an hour before the show was set to start, Mercy Mercedes took the outdoor second stage just in time for the start of a deluge. But it made little difference to this Greensboro, North Carolina, quintet, who bounced happily through its allotted set, grinning despite the rain. At first, many in the small crowd huddled in the venue bathrooms, trying to watch from the doorways. Eventually, though, the infectious good cheer of songs like "Shiver Me Timbers" drew them out, turning the gathering fans into a wet, huddled, but happy mass.
BEST LESSON IN HOW IT'S DONE: Good Charlotte
When Good Charlotte appeared amid the late-'90s wave of commercially viable punk-pop acts, the guys could often seem like also-rans in the shadow of the great Blink-182. But 15 years after the band's inception, its mere continued existence impresses, as does the surprising timelessness of its early hits. Playing the main stage just as darkness hit around 8 p.m., the Madden-brother-helmed band delivered the most seamless performance of the evening. Every song charged along at a fierce clip, with little time wasted between them.
New songs, like "Like It's a Birthday," blended seamlessly with almost decade-old hits like "The Anthem" and "Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous." This last number, actually, seems to represent the melodic and structural apotheosis of everything at which the current pop-rock scene aims. This means, for whatever it's worth, that Good Charlotte was perhaps ahead of its time, an idea only strengthened by the torch-passing appearance of two All Time Low members on the last sung refrains of the song.
STRANGEST SET-ENDING CALL-AND-RESPONSE: The Downtown Fiction
This up-and-coming Fairfax, Virginia, group has added a new, fourth member to its lineup, and the second guitar lent some muscle to the band's mostly clean-cut pop-rock. Fontman Cameron Leahy has edged things up with a new haircut that gives him a greaser-lite look. The guys' pro stage antics showed a group ready for prime time -- or at least a bigger stage -- with the bandmates making frequent use of mini home-made risers.
At one point, Leahy unleashed his mic from its stand and descended into the crowd, only to be swallowed up by clawing female hands. Still, the strangest bit came towards the end of the set. Leading the crowd in a call-and-response chant of "Day-o," Leahy then stopped it, and closed his eyes for the next line of that old song. "Daylight come and me wanna go hooooome," he slowly crooned, in seeming complete seriousness. Then, without another word, he launched immediately into the rip-roaring set-closer, "Living Proof."
BEST GENRE-BENDER: The Ready Set
The Ready Set is the moniker for one guy, 20-year-old Fort Wayne, Indiana, native Jordan Witzigreuter. Many of his songs rely heavily on samples, synths, and sequencers. Witzigreuter has added three buddies to play with him live, but even with a traditional band lineup, it's the frontman's versatile voice, and the skittering, shifting samples accompanying it, that make the act stand out.
From behind a curtain of bangs and thick-frame glasses, Witzigreuter moved between pop-punk-style soaring choruses, smooth R&B-style passages, and quick-fire sing-rap verses. Power chords drove everything along, and under all of this throbbed a succession of beats that morpedh from robo-hip-hop to Euro-dance, even to reggae. It might sound random, but the spritely singer's charisma and vocal chops drew it all together.
BEST ODE TO THE SEAFARING LIFE: Cady Groves
Oklahoma City-based solo artist Cady Groves was among the stylistic wild-cards of the bill. She favors a rather hushed, twangy good-girl style that's more Taylor Swift than Taylor Momsen. The pint-size Grove looked as though she were in danger of being engulfed by the vast main stage, which she opened at 5 p.m. At times she also seemed in danger of being drowned out by the nearby second stage, where bands were still performing. Still, as her brief acoustic set rolled forward, Groves seemed to perk up, until she got to her musical piece de resistance. "Did you guys ever want to be something, like, weird when you were a kid ... like a fireman?" She asked the crowd. Well Cady, apparently, wanted to be a pirate, and proceeded to sing "The Life of a Pirate," which repeats frequently the desire, "I wanna be a pirate." It's the title track of her new album, in fact, so Groves seems serious indeed about joining our peg-legged friends.
BEST GUILTY-NO-MORE PLEASURE: Hanson
Anyone old enough to remember the original reign of Hanson's "MMMBop" -- almost nobody in this crowd -- would find the band's latter-day version almost unrecognizable. There's the age thing, of course, as even the littlest guy in the "MMMBop" days is now married and in his 20s. But Hanson has refused to stay a one-hit wonder, and throughout the years has toured and released new music continuously for a cultish following.
That following actually deserves to grow: These days, Hanson kind of shreds. Even as kids, the three brothers boasted formidable musical talent, which have gotten more impressive with the years. Middle brother, Taylor, went Little Richard-crazy on a gleaming white piano, and big bro Isaac sprinkled in some serious guitar licks on new songs like "Thinking 'Bout Something." The addition of some (admittedly canned) brass and some huskier vocal stylings gave the band a roughed-up, Stax-flavored, roots-rock feel.
BEST PERFORMANCE FOR AN AUDIENCE OF DOZENS: Great Big Planes
Threesome Great Big Planes had a few things going against it on Tuesday. First, the members are clearly above legal drinking age, making them among the oldest performers on the bill. Second, they're from Brooklyn, a strangely isolating factor in a tour whose lineup favors heartland earnestness. Third, they aren't a pop-punk band, and live on the second stage favored a vaguely '70s-retro look and sound, with plenty of acoustic guitar, as well as reverb-soaked, gentle electric riffage. Finally, the band was stuck playing the same time as Hanson.
Still, the guys performed for their crowd of 30 or so as though it were a crowd of 3000, graciously thanking everyone after nearly every song and stressing, "It's about quality, not quantity." Frontman Josh Moran even invited one new male convert to dance onstage, who then gleefully air-guitared during an acoustic version of Radiohead's "High and Dry." There was nary a ripple of recognition of the song in the small assembled audience, but Moran still remained unflappable.
BEST AUDIENCE PARTICIPATION TACTICS: Forever the Sickest Kids
Dallas-based Forever the Sickest Kids released their first EP in 2007, but at the Bamboozle Roadshow, they strutted onto the main stage to triumphant entry music, clearly assured in their near-star status. From the get-go, the band boasted some of the best live melodies of the day, relying on vocal power and not canned, pre-recorded tracks like some of their tourmates. In the same vein, they also got their synth lines from a living, breathing musician, rather than a MacBook Pro.
But what really amused the crowd was frontman Jonathan Cook's creative movement prescriptions for his fans. He frequently invoked the usual arm-waving and fist-pumping, as well as the shaking of the old devil horns, whose image he cleaned up by calling it "the rock fist." But he also gave a detailed demonstration on how audience members should form their hands into birds, instructing everyone to flap the hand-bird's wings, and even give it a name.
BEST COORDINATED COIFFURES: Stereo Skyline
This Long Island foursome boasts poster-boy-cute looks, a taste for unseasonably hot stage wear, and a careful range of artfully mussed blonde 'dos. While various acts on the day's bill drew their lineage from pop-punk bands like Blink-182, Stereo Skyline actually seemed to borrow from the Hanson book. (Fitting, then, that Hanson would take the main stage directly after this band's second-stage slot). Eschewing nearly all of the punk derivations of their tour mates, Stereo Skyline instead offered a style that sounded, well, blonde -- relentlessly sunny, slightly rootsy power-pop with strummy, radio-ready interludes. It created a fitting vibe for the late afternoon, in fact, as the sun had finally returned.
BEST COMEBACK FROM TECHNICAL DIFFICULTIES: All Time Low
The Baltimore quartet's late-evening main stage set was meant to demonstrate its ongoing coronation. But as minutes ticked past the group's posted start time, fans grew restless. The culprit: Two blown speaker heads, a situation eventually fixed by snagging a spare stack from another group.
But this was a festival on a tight schedule, which meant a seriously truncated set. Frontman Alex Gaskarth and company tried their best to cram as much as possible into about 20 minutes. There were plenty of poses atop risers, ribald jokes, spurts of smoke, and countless F-bombs uttered to drive the point home that the band was all grown up. Oh, and a quick succession of hits, from "Damned If I Do Ya (Damned If I Don't)" to "Lost in Stereo" to "Weightless" to "This Is How We Do." There wasn't enough time for much of anything else, but this was clearly enough to sate a couple thousand shrieking fans.