I have spent over a year watching live music through a computer monitor, my phone and occasionally on my TV. Due to the spread of Covid 19, live events were put on pause to try to reduce the spread. While for me, I have enjoyed the live streamed events and the more intimate interactions I have got with musicians it just wasn’t the same for many. It wasn’t the same as the energy you get from a room of friends made through the love of belting those lyrics back at a band. The energy of opening up a mosh pit for bouncing off the soon to be buds. The direct feedback the bands get of smiles and screams after performing each song. So when Punk in the Park announced the Arizona date about a month and a half ago it was initial excitement mixed with the social anxiety built up from a year seeing few others. However, once I got out there it was like the old cliché of putting on an old glove and slipping right into it like I had never stopped attending.
Opening up was the only question mark on the bill, Slaughterhouse. I had only known their name from the flyer and went in blind. Turns out this young band is a blast up on stage. Their songs filled with the highs of a punk rock song but with alternating speeds of melodies you could claim from garage rock or grunge. As the first thing to meet my ear, Veronica’s vocals were awesome.
Eddie played that bass with flair and opposite stage Taylor bring the guitar riffs. It was cool to find out that I’ve caught Nick, drums, in another fast paced punk band of Neighborhood Brats before this. Fans were anxious to get going as we saw our first circle pit form on the white cement of the wave pool. As far as this goes, it was wonderful to discover Slaughterhouse and add them to my list of rad bands I want to keep listening too.
Somehow only second on the bill were a favorite of mine and friends in the Bombpops. In the past year they had put out the wonderful Death in Venice Beach, but due to the coronavirus had to postpone an album release show. It wouldn’t be until a couple weeks ago, and still without a live audience, that they would commemorate the new album with the stylish and cool Live at the Rest Easy Inn stream. Nevertheless, today was finally the day they got to play those fantastic new tracks to a live audience.
As much as the audience was excited, it was clear Jen, Poli, Neil and Josh were just as excited to be up on the stage in front of people again. You could see it in their body language and an abundance of smiles and jokes up there, including at the cost of the waterless waterpark. It was great to hear the new tracks live and see a crowd eager to eat up the new songs from the Bombpops. They only keep getting better and better.
The energy only amplified up from here with the Efrem fronted Voodoo Glow Skulls. I say amplified because any band that Efrem performs with gets a boost from his fast paced, climb anywhere performance style. Voodoo was another band that put out a superb new and the appropriately named album, Livin’ The Apocolypse, in a time that things were on pause. The album their first recorded with Efrem on lead vocals too. In addition to the new stuff, they pulled out the classics, like “Who Do Voodoo We Do?”
I’ve managed to catch this lineup before, but Jorge and Eddie really looked like they had more pop in their step lending to only bolster the performance further. Efrem pulling out the Voodoo Glow Skulls flag nearly his height only added to the amusement their set brought. This was one of my most enjoyable times catching Voodoo Glow Skulls.
The task of following up that set was bestowed onto the New York hardcore band H2O. I always aim to catch H2O when they visit the desert as visits haven’t been as frequent in recent years. Though it is also because Toby Morse and company always bring a fantastic time live.
This day no difference and can’t undersell that it looked like Adam, on bass, was bursting at the seams to play by how he was everywhere on that stage. Toby was bouncing around singing lyrics too, occasionally bouncing them off his bandmates throughout. They hit on favorites from “Family Tree” to “5 Year Plan” through their set. It was wonderful to get to catch H2O again and the positive energy they bring with them.
Barely past the halfway mark on the 102 degree day, Russ Rankin bounced around the stage with Good Riddance. There is constantly a very animated and passionate performance out of them from Chuck Platt to Sean Sellers on drums. They look like they feed off each other as you could see exchanging looks and energy from another. I’m still pretty sure Sean noticed every time I was aiming my camera lens at him. All of these things lending to a wonderful time catching Good Riddance out there.
This was also a point in the day where I took a step back really observe the crowd. I refilled my water bottle its fifth time in the day and sat down in a spot friends offered in the shade under an umbrella in the Big Surf grass. This was a benefit to my feet who were not used to this much running around after the past few month. It was like things never went on a hiatus at a glance. People drinking beers and throwing up fists bellowing back lyrics. The mosh pit had only grown in the space carved out within the crowd. The beer lines growing to crazier lengths as it appeared more people had a better tolerance to drinking in the heat than I. This was certainly a return to form of the concert environment I very much missed.
From here we bounced right into a series of a few of the best stage presences in punk rock starting with Strung Out. Whether it is Jason Cruz, Rob Ramos or Chris Aiken there is not a body that stands still more than for a few seconds during a Strung Out performance.
Every time I watch this band it is a sight to see and having been over a year, that only elevated the excitement and smiles I had during this set. There were no signs that heat was even a factor on this or the crowd popping off to the songs. Strung Out delivered one of the most memorable performances of the day with this one.
Of course, when we are talking memorable performances there is not a way Face to Face is not in the conversation. When they put together the lineup for Arizona’s Punk in the Park they must have known they were just making a block of the most animated and high energy bands on the bill. You could just watch Scott Shiflett the entire set and feel you got your money’s worth from Face to Face.
Of course, the entire band will make you smile within a song from Trevor Keith playing or his banter to Dennis, on guitar, equally as animated as Scott. It is very easy to see these guys love playing these songs together with what is culminated on stage. The set filled around an hour with their deep catalog of hits including “Walk the Walk” to “Disconnected.” I don’t know if there will ever be a day that I am not running out to see Face to Face live.
Last up for the Punk in the Park with the sun set and the wave pool about three quarters full of fans was Pennywise. They came out already looking to have fun. Early on Jim Lindberg pulled out his phone and went live on Instagram for the world to see a little bit of their first set in front of a live crowd. The stage banter between him and Fletcher was just playful and funny.
They did something I really appreciate, that they also did last time I caught them, where they play around with songs outside their catalog. Examples of this include songs like from Offspring to the Ramone’s “Blitzkrieg Bop” showing their deep love and knowledge of the punk genre. For a bigger surprise, I didn’t expect them to fully cover “Stand By Me” later in the hour and a half set. Of course, the set was mostly from their own catalog with songs like “Fuck Authority” and the traditional closing of the set on “Brohymn.” While my feet were killing me by the end, Punk in the Park’s Arizona show left a smile on my face and a joy inside. I really missed doing this.