Bamboozle: The Good, the Bad & the Soggy

bamboozle-main.jpg
Pete Wentz / Gwen Stefani / "Steve Perry"
WRITTEN BY
Stacey Anderson

The Bamboozle is the ultimate annual music festival for teenagers, in all that implies. Held in the parking lot of Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, it crammed 9 stages with raucous rock, pop-punk, and hip-hop acts -- most of whom are youngbloods with a max of five active years and two albums behind 'em -- and brings higher-profile but disparate marquee names in at night.

Because there was no real pattern in the Bamboozle booking -- the theme seemed to be "new" until you saw '90s frat rockers the Bloodhound Gang, or "emo" until you saw budding rap star Asher Roth, or "decent" until you saw anything before 4 P.M. -- the whole parking lot had a needling sense of chaos, which is probably half of what enticed the 70,000-odd teenagers who made the pilgrimage.

That, and the stuff; Bamboozle had far and away more marketing than any festival I'd ever seen, enough that it was just nakedly the objective -- for every flat-ironed band crying about Daddy, there were two booths selling t-shirts, tote bags, silver-plated ankle bracelets, corn arepas, and neon Wonka candy (to match the neon Wonka main stage). Bamboozle was a carnival of over-stimulation, not least because there was a clown dunk tank, Ferris wheel, and monkey racing track on the premises. Or was he racing? Mostly he accepted quarters in a fez while tweens spilled energy drinks on him.

MORE BAMBOOZLE COVERAGE:
>> Photo Gallery: Best of the Bamboozle!
>> 15 Must-Hear Bands at Bamboozle

SATURDAY

On Day One, so-sartorial headliners Fall Out Boy shared billing with proto-ridiculous industrial Vikings GWAR, hissy synth-dancers Innerpartysystem ... and the most awesomely, mystifyingly nonsensical surprise guest in the history of forever: motherfuckin' Journey -- or their non-union Long Island equivalents. (It made my brain ache, trying to wring the logic from it.)

Rumors flew all day long about the identity of "Linc's Surprise Guest" on Saturday's bill, from Panic at the Disco (logical) to 50 Cent (less logical, but would somewhat explain management's fear of airborne water bottles). Instead, it was... Journey. Or, in actuality, a Journey tribute band from Long Island called Evolution.

So while it wasn't exactly the hairlicious, "Don't Stop Believing" rockers in the flesh, it was still bizarrely awesome to hear that song plus a handful of others ("Faithfully," "Any Way You Want It") in a scant 30-minute set of theatrical bombast. It was confusing on every level -- so Jersey, so quickly! -- but technically spot-on and truly fun. Lead singer Hugo, a total dead ringer for Journey's best-known frontman, Steve Perry, didn't disappoint -- right down to the feathered hair, too-tight jeans, and glass-shattering falsetto.

So it was an extra-tragic irony that all the exhausted parents at Bamboozle that day, decamped in the bleak little Parents Lounge inside Giants Stadium, were out of earshot and completely missed someone playing their music after suffering a full day of hysterical, assaulting noise. A lot of teenagers got grounded that night.

Headliners Fall Out Boy proved about as expected. Singer Patrick Stump was even less intelligible live, yodeling "Cars Crash Hearts" and "Sugar, We're Going Down" with only every other syllable distinct. Bassist Pete Wentz issued random decrees to the shrieking audience like a Jersey Turnpike messiah. "I could sell ice to an Eskimo," he drawled late in the set. "I could sell swine flu to a pig." To which the girls screamed, and he sneered, and it morphed into Stump yelling, "This ain' a scee, it's a gah dah arms rahhhh" ("This Ain't a Scene, It's an Arms Race"), and everyone left happy... everyone, of course, except those poor, defenseless parents.

Near the entrance, just prior to FOB's headline set, demon-costumed metal mavens GWAR adjusted their giant rubber phalluses and hosed the crowd with fake blood. Business as usual. (It was amazing to see them give an interview earlier in the VIP tent, holding microphones with perfect primness between their veiny red hooves.)

Hey Monday, one of Saturday's earlier acts, did their best to set cheerleader vibes in motion. "Doesn't everyone sound great today! Yay!" screamed singer Cassadee Pope before launching into their most recognizable pop-punk ditty, "Arizona." Unfortunately, no one sounded great on the smaller stages; they were stacked so close together and not staggered in time, so their sound systems bled into each other all day. But props for the rose-colored glasses, Cassadee!

Over and aloft at the Wonka main stage, Gavin Rossdale crooned Bush's "Everything Zen" to a crowd that was neither sexy nor violent. "Why is this guy on the main stage?" whined a girl through her profound braces. "He's just married to Gwen Stefani." But, lest we forget who wears the skinny jeans in that household, Rossdale did his best to push his solo beefcake nonsense into arena grandstanding -- "I never thought that I had any more to give," he howled during "Love Remains the Same," clawing at his transparent long-sleeved tee but not damaging it in the slightest. Oh, Gavin -- you're beautiful, but please go back to the drawing board.

Rapper Kid Cudi, best known for sharing vocals with Kanye on "Welcome to Heartbreak," acknowledged the crowd's polite confusion. "How many of y'all know who I am?" he asked. Genial woo-ing ensued. "Oh, okay." He looped live from his upcoming debut Man on the Moon: the Guardians, which sounded promising; the epic "Skies Might Fall" was strong, but overpowered, sonically, by the punk pep of New Found Glory on the adjacent, larger stage. (Still covering Sixpence None the Richer's "Kiss Me" by speeding it up slightly -- check out the brains on these guys!)

Asher Roth followed with the most confident set of the hip-hop-driven Kazoozle Stage (Valid existential question: Is it possible to be taken seriously on the Kazoozle Stage?) and repped the "suburban minutiae" material of Asleep in the Bread Aisle surprisingly well. Live, he brought a haughty energy; filler tracks such as "Lark on My Go Kart" were engaging but not pushy, to the point that such lines as "If you're trying to have sex/ I'm the best at it" finally seemed plausible.CLICK HERE TO READ SUNDAY'S RECAP

SUNDAY

Day Two brought a slightly older crowd, perhaps because they could provide their own transportation -- it's entirely likely that parents across the Tri-State Area looked out the window, saw the heavily raining horizon, and refused little Emo and Emoette a ride to Giants Stadium. Good on' em -- the rough din and the waterlogged trash, plus the Napoleonic security guards' insistence that no one bring in an umbrella (why, because we'd throw them?), was almost apocalyptic.

That, or because No Doubt was headlining; it was their second full show in five years (the premiere being their Atlantic City splash the evening before). Would Gwen and the gents still have it? It was just a matter of not drowning before 9 P.M. and finding out.

As someone whose first concert was these guys in their Return of Saturn heyday, I'm pleased to vouch: they still brought it. Gwen shed the Harajuku Girl and dub-princess visages of later/solo years to embrace her ska-pop roots -- tightly knotted blonde hair, white tank top over black bra, that unmistakable trill in full, free reign. After a half-decade absence, the musicianship was exceptionally tight -- from opener "Spiderwebs" through to lighter-hoisting "Don't Speak," and all the "Hey Baby" and "Bathwater" brazenness in between, they were note-perfect and robust.

The new tour is, as they established in this month's SPIN cover story, a step towards writing new material. And yet, the familiar set didn't feel tributary; "Excuse Me Mr." (from their career-making 1995 album Tragic Kingdom) was revised as a more brooding, dubby stroll, with bassist Tony Kanal doing that same crazy head-bopping tic he'd so clearly missed doing. In a technical-mishap lull, they gleefully launched an instrumental cover of "Guns of Navarone" by the Skatalites, with each member taking ample time to skank elatedly across the stage, and it was truly hard to tell who enjoyed their lap most. Or who in the audience actually remembered skanking.

But they all will now.

Earlier on Sunday, young punk-prog-rockers Now, Now Every Children were as good as the terrible name wouldn't suggest. Singer Cacie Dalager carried the sodden crowd with ease, even during a solo performance of "Friends with My Sister" that consisted solely of her vocals and arpeggiated guitar. Watch for them in the future; they were elevating in the bleak afternoon haze. Across the way, at the godforsaken Kazoozle Stage (seriously, Wonka candy makers, name your next taffy something hardcore), emo weepers Rookie of the Year bled an array of songs that all sounded exactly like Something Corporate. Singer Ryan Dunston pounded at an acoustic Gibson country-western guitar, which was inaudible over the three backing electrics and also hilarious, because you know he was thinking, "This gives us so much cred. Johnny Cash played this guitar!"

Care Bears on Fire, who must be too young to remember their namesake, were precociously great pop-punk; the Brooklyn middle-schoolers sang the cheeky "Barbie Ate a Sandwich" with gusto. They preempted a performance by hyper rapper Charles Hamilton, whose absence was a mystery on par with Journey. They trickled into the good-natured squalor of Jersey boys Saves the Day, true veterans of pop-punk (albeit with only one founding member -- singer Chris Conley -- remaining), who belied their emo-granddaddy roots with offerings from 1999's Through Being Cool all the way to their brand new single, "Sink Into Me."

Over at the main stage, the Used's singer Bret McCracken howled, "Are you ready to hear some shit?" It proved honest. The new stuff, all about "stabbing guys in the throat," if he's to be believed, was a total wash of pseudo-hard screamo. But it was better banter than that of reunited So Cal punks Face to Face; singer Trever Keith opted to roar homophobic slurs at the front row. Somewhere, Miss California was tweeting in agreement.

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