When you pull into the parking lot of the Central Florida Fairgrounds at ten in the morning and see groups of people adorned with piercings, tattoos, and multi-colored hair drinking beer by their cars, you might think: “I might be in the wrong neighborhood!” Or, if you’re like me, you think: “This is going to be one hell of a party!”
Two of our favorite summery alt-rock bands have teamed up to bring a little sunshine across the country this weekend. Pepper and Less Than Jake announced a co-headlining tour that spans January and February. The two bands toured alongside each other on this past summer’s Van’s Warped Tour, where we caught them in Orlando.
The title just about sums up the experience. Despite the fact that Warped Tour has been going on for twenty years, this was my first time attending. The lineup had a few acts I wanted to see, and I was happy to see some other bands as well.
“Summertime and the living’s easy, and Bradley’s on the microphone with Ras M.G.” say the lyrics to Sublime’s 1996 hit “Doin’ Time”. Fast forward almost twenty years, and neither Bradley Nowell, nor Marshall Goodman, a.k.a Ras M.G. were on the microphone, but the sound they created, and the mellow vibes that go along with it were in the air at Tampa’s Midflorida Credit Union Amphitheatre on August 14th.
The 2013 edition of The Big Ticket Festival came rolling through Florida over the weekend, providing a memorable rock and roll experience for the overflow crowds.
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The event, co-sponsored by Jacksonville’s X102.9 historically features a broad spectrum of Alt-Rock acts, and serves as the highlight event for Alternative rock fans throughout Central Florida. This year was no different. Headlined by Thirty Seconds To Mars and the reformulated Stone Temple Pilots, we saw a harder edge then in prior years, but still quite a diverse offering of artists.
As it turned out, 21 was the key number for the day. Spread out over the sprawling Metropolitan Park, we were offered the chance to see twenty-one bands over the three stages. Over the course of the day, there were plenty of memorable highlights, but nothing more impressive than the amazing set from Twenty One Pilots.
30 Seconds to Mars and STP put on solid shows on the Main Stage, but in general, the smaller Jaegermeister Stage was the place to be. More on that later…
Let’s start with the Main Stage acts. Highlights included Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington making STP’s songs his own, and putting on his usual high energy show. Jimmy Eat World offered up forty minutes of non-stop hits, including a nice cover of “Last Christmas.” Crowd favorites, The Dirty Heads and Pepper (just three Coconut pokers from Hawaii) got the crowd into a nice ska/reggae groove. A distinctive pot odor permeated the crowd as both bands offered up fun, well-received sets, that seemed pretty much perfectly suited for the herb in the air.Local rockers, Breaking Through kicked off the main stage and looked and sounded perfectly at home on the big stage. We also saw Ocala’s own A Day To Remember command the crowd with a powerful and creative set, including stuffing front man and lead singer Jeremy McKinnon into a big inflatable ball and bouncing him through the crowd during the best show of the event,”It’s Complicated.” The crowd loved the local guys, and their amped performance clearly fed off of the energy. Aside from his trip around the venue in the big beach ball, McKinnon was a mad man all over the stage and sounded great.
The main stage action was good, but truthfully, it paled in comparison to the events on the Jaegermeister Stage. I was most excited to see Manchester Orchestra, but they truthfully were nothing special despite the fact they debuted some excellent new tracks. Austin rockers Saints Of Valory kicked off the second stage with a tight set that featured a fresh rock sound. They also offered up the best cover of the day with a killer version of Lorde’s “Royals.”
The 1975 were clearly one of the most anticipated acts, and they lived up to expectations, led by charismatic lead singer Matthew Healy, they made the trip to Florida all the way from Manchester, England. Nothing More followed and delivered a powerful performance. Their powerful mix of metal and hardcore sounded strong, but I was more impressed by their stage show. These guys were just fantastic, with all four band members also expert showmen, They do some very creative things on stage and are a band that is truly a must see act just dripping with potential.
The festival also brought us another opportunity to see Frank Turner, and artist who I feel is one of the best touring the country today (see my recent review). Accompanied by his uber-talented and hyper-energetic band The Sleeping Souls, they killed this, their 194th show of the year. They were a bit of an odd fit in the line-up, but walked away with many new fans. Turner interacted with the crowd more than any other performer, and was his typical smart ass self, and as usual sounded superb. And, “yes,” the fans managed to get the flag onto the stage, after hitting every stop on this tour since it debuted in Cleveland.
As good as Turner was, he was not the best act on the stage; that honor for the 2nd year in a row went to Twenty One Pilots. This duo out of Ohio, were astoundingly good live. Tyler Joseph is the lead singer and keyboard player, and he’s just a mad man on stage. He’s everywhere, he sounds great, he’s charming, he’s creative, he’s talented – in other words, he’s pretty damn good. Drummer Josh Dun is just as integral to the band’s success and also a great performer.
Highlights from their set, included a few new mandolin offerings, including a slick “Brown Eyed Girl” cover and their fantastic new single “House of Gold.” These guys are growing as musicians, impressive stuff, as they are already tremendous performers. At different times, we saw Joseph crowd surfing, Dun perched on a small drumkit being held aloft by the crowd, and later dueling kettle drum solos where Joseph and Dunn were both being carried above the crowd by the fans. They also did a bit of crowd-bonding through their new friend Austin, who led a bit of a group striptease with Joseph. Fun stuff!
Twenty One Pilots were our choice for best act at the 2012 (Read our review here) and have done it again this year. Looking forward to 2014 when they return for an evening slot on the Main Stage.
Sometime in 1997 guitarist/vocalist Kaleo Wassman, vocalist/bassist Bret Bollinger, and drummer Yesod Williams started jammin’ together in their small hometown of Kailua Kona, Hawaii. Lucky for listeners, the trio has been making music together ever since. Pepper was born out of greatness and good vibes that day, and since has released five albums, with the release of their self-titled album on July 16th, 2012, marking their sixth installment.
A lot of bands that stick together for as long as Pepper has, end up tweaking their musical style as the band evolves and grows. The problem with this for most bands is that, as they change their style, hardcore fans are left feeling betrayed. Often times, as bands produce different sounding music, fans that were listening from the beginning are left longing for new music, from the band they once knew, the band that first grabbed their attention and made them a fan in the first place. On the other hand, as bands evolve they are also opening the doors to an entirely new audience. In this way, as long as a band is making good music, they will retain a fan base, even if it’s not the same fan base they we’re aiming for when they first started playing music together.
However, Pepper is not like most bands. The trio has accomplished something nearly impossible with their new self-titled album. The album is so many things that the old albums just weren’t, while retaining all the best parts of the classic Pepper style. If the older Pepper albums were good, the newest installment is great. They have tweaked their musical style but certainly have not forgotten their roots. At the end of the day Pepper has always been about groovy melodies and good vibes; and that will never change. Some of the songs on the album, like “Hunny Girl,” are a little more “poppy” than any previous Pepper songs, while other songs just sound more clean than what you would expect from Pepper. Yet, even with these stylistic tweaks, listeners can’t help but feel the sand between their toes as they tap their feet to the groovy island sounds. This is what makes Pepper’s new album so great; it’s so hard to call it “different” when you can just call it “better”.
The new album was produced by Matt Wallace, a producer who has worked with bands like Maroon 5 and O.A.R.. Choosing Wallace to produce the album may have been one of the trio’s best moves ever. Not only does the album sound as crisp as any Pepper album ever has but Wallace also helped guide the band through the spiritual journey that is creating an album. The band members even compared their experience with Wallace to their own version of college. Yesod says that Wallace really helped the band “focus on the art of songwriting” and he showed the guys that “it’s important what you do play as well as what you don’t play, creating both spaces in the songs”. I believe it is this very sentiment that helped the band find their new and improved sound.
When all is said and done, Pepper’s new self-titled album is a triumphant success. I must have listened to the album 420 times and I still can’t get enough of it. I urge fans of good music everywhere to give the new album a listen; it doesn’t matter if you’re a diehard Pepper fan or a Pepper virgin; you will not be disappointed.
JOEY FARESE Follow @joeyfarese (Editor: Joey Farese is a talented writer from Tallahassee. Follow him on Twitter, then follow us as well, as we continue to build Florida’s community of Rock And Roll Animals)