Festival Review: Midwest Punk Fest X (Sincere Engineer, Off With Their Heads, Dopamines, etc)

Midwest Punk Fest.  Have you ever heard of it?  I thought not.  It’s an annual Punk Rawk event in Bloomington/Normal Illinois, and it celebrated its 10 anniversary this year.  Over that decade, the fest has had some ebbs and flows.  I attended the seventh edition and although they pulled in some decent acts, it was sparsely attended.  Dan Vapid and the Cheats headlined and they were basically giving a private performance to me and my wife.  They killed it being the consummate professionals they are, but I expected more from my local scene.  The venue that hosted MWPF ceased hosting shows soon thereafter.  Somehow MWPF soldiered on.  They put together a MWPF9, which was hosted by a local dive bar.  That lineup had national acts The Dopamines, Arms Aloft, and The Raging Nathans anchoring the bill.

What would MWPF have in store for Midwestern Punkers in its tenth incarnation?  Would there even be a MWPFX?  Some cohesion was introduced to the MWPF family the day Chris Golwitzer got involved.  Chris has played in MWPF before with his band Werepire Day.  These days, playing music is Chris’s second passion, his first?  A new venue in Bloomington called Nightshop.  When Chris opened the doors at Nightshop, MWPF found a kindred spirit and a new home.  With a stellar venue, and a seasoned booking agent in the fold, MWPF sought to crush it with this year’s lineup.  Which they did.  They managed to pull in The Smoking Popes to headline.  Old faves The Dopamines and the Raging Nathans followed suit.  Red City Radio was brought in as was Off With Their Heads.  Normally, those bands would have been more than enough to satisfy the punk contingent in central Illinois, but the new MWPF team did not stop there.  They rounded out the lineup with Carrie Nation and the Speakeasy, Sincere Engineer, Typesetter, La Armada, Flatfoot 56 and The Bollweevils.

With a lineup like that, MWPFX was a can’t miss.  I bought my ticket and blacked out the dates.  When the week of the fest finally came, I counted the minutes to Thursday.  As the day approached, The Smoking Popes had to cancel due to a death in the family, then Off With Their Heads almost cancelled due to Ryan’s slicing his finger to the bone by grabbing a glass with his hulk-like strengh.  It sounded like OWTH would be a gametime decision, and the loss of both of those acts might be tough for MWPFX to overcome.

Well Thursday came and I arrived to the dulcet tones of Better Days out of St. Louis.  Next came a sight to behold, Livin’ Thing out of Springfield, IL.  From the moment they took the stage, I could tell that these guys got it.  I just don’t know what “it” is.  The five-piece included instrumentalists in matching track suits with the shout-chanting lead singer looking like a cross between meatloaf and Gibby Haynes.  Check them out.  I missed the next two bands as I was imbibing at the watering hole down the street.  Blood People out of Chicago kindly stepped in for The Smoking Popes on short notice.  We caught their whole set.  Their upbeat pop punk is perfectly punctuated by frontwoman Aly Jados’ shakes and shouts.  Wanna play a fun game, try to figure out what famous frontwoman she reminds you of… is it Courtney Love, or Brody Dalle (The Distillers), or Joan Jett (it can go on and on); but that’s some amazing company.  Off With Their Heads acoustic contingent of Ryan Young and John Polydoros popped up next, much to the relief of the MWPFX organizers.  I spoke with Ryan before the show and inquired about the condition of his finger.  He then put forth the digit in question and demonstrated his home surgical skills, which looked to involve a generous portion of Gorilla Glue.  We all shrugged and hoped for the best.  I guess the glue held up for a few songs and from there on out, he was going on adrenaline.  Which came in spades as they dropped some choice cuts off of their recent acoustic record Won’t be Missed including Jackie Lee, Start Walking, and Clear The Air.  Red City Radio came out next and I was amped for these guys.  They brought the house down and closed a great first day.

Day 2: When we got to Nightshop for day 2, Jared Grabb Among Thieves was playing.  We cruised right to the patio to hang out.  While my wife mingled, I rifled through the offerings from Waiting Room records.  $1 CDs curated to Rock, Metal, Punk and Emo, aka my favorite music.  We popped back inside for a beer at a very opportune moment, The Dry Look from Champaign-Urbana IL were coming on.  I guess these guys are in a bunch of different bands, playing different genres of music.  But the singer has an affinity for the late 70s-early 80s power pop sound.  These guys nail it.  If you like 80s Iggy Pop, Bowie, Blondie, Suicide, Cheap Trick, The Strokes, check these guys out.  A standout set of the fest for me.  Sincere Engineer hit the stage next, having missed them (her) last year at the fest, we made sure to find a spot right up front for this set.  Deanna Belos, the brains and brawn behind SC, rocked the acoustic for this set.  You just can’t help but root for her, such clever lyrics and catchy tunes.  The way Deanna can cut the shit and get right to the heart of the matter, bare her soul for all to see, and still rock the house bears a striking resemblance to some folks that graced the stage the previous night (OWTH).  SC slammed through some tunes from her new record Rhombithian, closing with my personal fave Corndog Sonnet No. 7.  I guarantee everyone in attendance left a fan.  Would you think that Pontiac IL could birth a classic 80s style hardcore punk band?  If you know anything about rhetorical questions, the answer would be yes.  The Subservients promised crushing hardcore punk and they delivered.  They also promised a stage dive, but as the crowd did not appear ready, willing, or able, to support a human in flight, I think it was a good idea to save that move for another time.  The Raging Nathans had the prime slot on this bill as they caught the crowd at their ideal inebriation level.  RNs classic punk delivery and sing-along style got the punks moving.  Mostly swaying to the staccato rhythms, not much moshing to be had at MWPFX, for better or worse.  Dirty Rotten Revenge are something of a local legend in Bloomington IL and I had them circled as a band to catch.  What do they say about the best laid plans?  My wife and I missed the set.  We were hanging out with Josh Goldman of The Raging Nathans.  We exchanged thoughts on last year’s fest.  I also got a look at his clutch of CDs from the $1 bin.  He grabbed some classics including Goddamnit from Alkaline Trio and Read Music Speak Spanish from Desaparecidos.  He found a good opportunity to upgrade the CD library in the van.  I bored him with the recounting of my new DAC (Digital to Analog Converter) and how CDs are sounding much better than vinyl on my system since its addition.  We did make it out for Friday Night’s closer, another local favorite Dripping Slits.  I have to admit I was a bit toasty for their set.  I do remember that they bore a sonic resemblance to Butthole Surfers.  I have to catch these guys the next time they’re in town.

Day 3: We rolled into Nightshop as Turnspit sauntered up to the stage.  I had hoped to catch Bike Tuff, but other obligations prevented an early arrival.  I’ve been looking forward to seeing Turnspit, as I’m also working on a review of their album.  So I’ve been listening to it a bunch, and it’s a standout record of 2018 IMHO.  I enjoyed Turnspit’s set quite a bit, although it didn’t have the back and forth that I noticed on the record.  Both Jason Swearengen and  Gillian McGhee share vocal duties in TS, many times on the same song.  This dichotomy represents itself wonderfully on the record, but live the scale tipped towards Gillian for the most part, which took out some of that interesting dynamic for me.  They still rocked hard and played a great set.  Skin stood out, it’s an important statement and I recommend you give its raw honesty a listen.  I guess I spent more time socializing on Saturday than actually watching the bands.  I don’t remember catching Still Alive.  I did see Funrod and they surprised me with their classic punk sound and irreverent lead singer.  La Armada hit the stage next.  I had listened to some of their stuff and their brand of metal is a vicious assault on the senses.  They did not disappoint.  After that musical beatdown, we were on the ropes.  I wanted to catch Carrie Nation and the Speakeasy, so we hung in there.  Caught a couple songs by CN.  I dug their vibe, it was just too late and we needed to rest up for Sunday.

Day 4: We hit Nightshop while Winder was in the middle of their set.  Good stuff, atmospheric post-punk.  They really wringed every last note out of their instruments.  Witchfeet hit the stage next and they seemed to attract quite a following.  They kept the post-punk theme going with their sound that they compare to The Cure, Guided by Voices and Built to Spill.  I’m going to have to give these guys a second listen.  Ok.  Next MWPFX did a major tone shift.  The Fantastic Plastics brought their theatrical brand of synth pop.  The band led by Tyson Plastic on guitar and Miranda Plastic on keys looks like they dropped right out of a Power Rangers episode.  Their cheesy neo-futuristic garb and regurgitated DEVO sound really make a statement.  They come complete with video show.  Just as I was getting into these guys, I thought to myself, I don’t know where the sequencers leave off and where the band picks up.  Still worth catching if you get the chance.  Ok.  Let’s get back to the good old-fashioned punk rock.  No one better to do that than City Mouse, who I’ve seen before at Nightshop.  This three-piece gives just what the doctor order from frontwoman Miski Dee Rodriguez.  Classic stripped-down punk in the vein of The Ramones!  We had to cut out of this set early to grab a smoke.  While we were out on the patio we caught up with Sarah from Typesetter.  We got the lowdown on their tour and on the new record.  We are totally amped for that release!  While hobnobbing we bumped into Jon Lewis from The Dopamines.  We talked a little bit about their set at FEST last year which he informed us that the band had no recollection of.  It’s tough being punk rock’s reigning party band!  These guys live up to the hype though. As Typesetter started making their way to the stage, we grabbed a front row spot.  As always they crushed it.  They played some new tunes and some old, and for grins, they broke out a cover of Blondie’s “Hangin on the Telephone.”  Bollweevils came out next.  These guys were in rare form.  I think they had been prepartying with The Dopamines.  Love these guys.  They came up out of the old school Chicago Scene with bands like Naked Raygun and Articles of Faith.  Bollweevils bring a ton of energy and they haven’t lost a beat in all these years.  Fun fact about Bollweevils frontman Daryl Wilson, when he’s not diving off stages at punk fests he works as an ER Doctor in the suburbs of Chicago.  Finally, after 30 hours and 4 nights, we came to the end of MWPFX.  And who better to take us home than The Dopamines.  We caught these guys at the FEST as previously mentioned, and I thought they embodied everything punk rock stands for.  Loud catchy tunes, a down to earth attitude (when they’re not talking shit onstage), and a party til you die lifestyle.  They crushed it.  Going through some of their new album Tales of Interest.  They broke out King of Swilling Powers and Business Papers.  What got me singing was their classic Soap and Lampshades.  I have to say when they sauntered off the stage, I started making my way to the door, it being almost 1am and me having to work the next day.  I looked around for my wife and she was embroiled in a blood game of flip cap with members of the Bollweevils and The Dopamines.  I went over to get her out when Jon Lewis threw a Vodka Redbull in my hand and told me to flip the cap.  A stack of bills sat on the table for whoever could get the cap to pop up and catch it.  I failed miserably and threw in my buck.  Jon Weiner of The Dopamines was next and with cat like dexterity he got the cap airborne and snatched it.  By this time the barkeep was pushing us toward the door.  As everyone discussed where to reconvene the party, I grabbed my wife and ducked out of there.  It was 130 and I had get home to bed.  I probably missed out on a night of debauchery and hilarity, but at least for a minute I got to party with the infamous Dopamines.


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