The fifth annual Upstart Fest boasts 9 days and 8 states, and the heart and soul of this rolling punk rock circus is to highlight bands you should totally be checking out. It also featured the most eclectic group of punk rock outfits I’ve seen so far. Everything from folk-punk to hardcore was showcased and it seemed intentional. All your favorite bases were thoroughly covered.
To check out coverage of the show in Brooklyn, keep reading below.
At The Grand Victory in Brooklyn, a small event space smack-dab in the middle of Williamsburg, Kyle Trocolla opened the show with an acoustic performance of his solo work. When he’s not busy playing with Two Fisted Law, a hardcore punk band also on the tour, he’s writing folk punk songs on his own. His powerful and genuine vocal performance was the first thing that struck me about Kyle. His cover of The Ramone’s “The KKK Took My Baby Away” was a fantastic crowd-pleaser and led everyone in the room to sing along. Despite a few minor feedback issues, he took everything in stride. He lamented that his day job involves teaching social studies at an alternative school for at-risk teens, which he documents in his song “Throw Away Kids”. One of the more solemn tracks on his set list, it was also Kyle’s most gripping.
Hailing from Long Island, InCircles brought the first set packed with rage. Singer and guitarist Jewlee was charming in their performance, switching from mumbling in between songs to screaming during choruses. Their sound couples punk and garage rock, especially on tracks like “4 Beers Deep” and their set sounded like stepping into a time machine back to the ‘90s period of grunge and alternative. The band was high energy, bumping and colliding around the small stage like atoms in a frenzy, which proved contagious when audience members started doing the same. Jewlee’s vocals could best be described as bloodthirsty and married between Kurt Cobain and Patti Smith and their guitar playing is no different. Stopping halfway through the set, they asked the sound technician to boost their guitar. “I’m trying to go deaf,” they declared.
Hopeless Otis carried on next, and the New York pop-punkers’ name is deceptive. This band has outright positive lyrics – a refreshing trait in a genre that is so often nihilistic and despairing. Instrumentally, they possess the same vibe as post-hardcore acts like Planes Mistaken For Stars and Operatic. Watching their set and listening to their lyrics made me feel like I could take on a full-grown bear with my hands alone. Hopeless Otis has a goal for the audience every time they play: make you believe in yourself.
My favorite performance of the night was Avenue Rockers, all the way from Texas. These dudes are solid and Luna is an untamed frontman. Covered in sweat (and maybe a lot of beer), Luna flailed and bounced while spitting vocals, sometimes finding more room to dance on the floor with the audience and complete with his button up shirt barely hanging on. Everyone likes to see a lunatic on stage. If you miss the glory days of Rancid (circa Let’s Go), then I congratulate you: Avenue Rockers will restore your faith in ska punk. Roy Gomez absolutely shreds on bass and brings such a dynamic element to this band’s sound. I would love to see them live again the next time they’re in town.
Philly punks Posers were supposed to play right after Avenue Rockers, but unfortunately had car trouble on the way to Brooklyn. When you add Pope Francis’ visit into the mix, you get a band stranded for hours waiting for a mechanic. I always look forward to seeing those guys play, so it was a bummer to hear they couldn’t make it. But there’s always next time.
Lost In Society from New Jersey took the now empty slot and fired through some combative tracks. The three-piece was tireless, especially Nick Ruroede who plays bass like he’ll never play live again. “Not Afraid” was their most memorable song with a chorus that roars “Nice to meet you / Fuck you too!” The pop-punkers’ sound is reminiscent of an angrier Rise Against. I caught myself shouting along to their gang vocals multiple times during their quick set and each song was catchier than the last. They have some big shoes to fill coming out of the legendary Jersey scene, following veterans like The Misfits and Bouncing Souls, but Lost In Society packs just enough punch to stand against the rest.
If you love classic hardcore acts like H2O and Sick Of It All, you’ll adore Enziguri. Melodic hardcore was never my cup of tea, but they played an entertaining set overall. One track on their set list that struck me was about the importance of equal marriage rights, so it’s nice to know that their songs have a well-thought out message that resonates with today’s issues. These Bronx dudes are all about brotherhood in true hardcore fashion, so if you still crave more, Enziguri can fill your little empty heart.
Two Fisted Law was the last band I got to see for the night. The five-piece was too big to fit on the tiny Grand Victory stage, so guitarist Andrew Giannettino and singer Jym Parrella worked the set up close and personal to the crowd on the floor. The band pulls their influences from several genres, which made them so much more interesting to watch. Each song reminisced of hardcore, metal, and blues, all melded together to make for a truly unique band with a sound that’s totally all their own. Giannettino is a highly talented guitar player, and fans could be seen bowing to him whenever he started a solo. Two Fisted Law blends the perfect amount of bite and melody to remind you what’s so great about punk rock: pure, unapologetic fun.
Upstart Fest’s approach to showing up-and-coming bands is top notch and I went home knowing I had a lot of new music to listen to. I can’t wait to see what they have planned for next year and I hope the line up is just as diverse and awesome as this year’s.
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