The 9-city, 10-day travelling punk festival known as Upstart Fest rolled into Boston last Saturday night. Billed as “The Northeast’s biggest and best punk rock party,” the tour stretched from Philly to Portland, Maine, with a group of established headliners as well as up-and-coming local acts. The best part of the festival is the variety of punk sub-genres that they cover: from folk to hardcore to psychobilly, the Upstart Fest lineup reads like a primer on the many facets of punk music.
The Boston show kicked off with the almost-pop-punkers OC45. The band always brings a ton of energy to the stage, and may have brought even more thanks to the fact that this was the first night of their 2-month U.S. tour. The band focused on songs from their newly-released EP, “When It Hits.”
The Old Edison brought their punk-folk style to the stage, kicking things off with the crowd favorite “Dead Vulture Hurricane.” Among a slew of acoustic guitars (and no drums!), violinist Catherine Joyce shouted along the “You can go fuck yourself” chorus along with the crowd.
Connecticut’s Cry Havoc! never disappoints, thanks to the mid-song pit dives of frontman Johnny Disaster. The almost-hometown crowd knew enough to expect Johnny to draw blood when he bashed himself in the forehead with his microphone (happens every time). But don’t let the theatrics fool you, they play an awesome brand of hardcore punk, and even threw in a Bad Brains cover that really got the crowd moving.
Also hailing from Connecticut, Two Fisted Law delivered a typical all-in performance, mainly focusing on songs off of their second album, “Late Nights and Bar Fights.”
Albany’s New Red Scare is always an entertaining sight. Frontman Bill Gwynn’s grinding, gyrating moves kind of make you think you’re watching a strip show, but somehow it works so well with their raw sound.
American Pinup started their set by assuring us that they really were a punk band. Honestly, that may have been a bit of a stretch, but they mixed in some ska and swanky, slow rockabilly beats that worked great with singer Lauren West’s amazing pipes.
Russia’s Svetlanas definitely scored the biggest buzz of the evening: before they played, bands and fans alike were telling me how unbelievable they were. They were right. The Svetlanas look and sound like traditional 80s punk (crazy eyes, spraying beer in the crowd), and were so alive and fired-up onstage that they even got yours truly into the pit. Despite the fact that pretty much no one knew a word to their songs (though they do sing in English), they had everyone in the crowd moving and completely enthralled.
The Turbo ACs never disappoint, and as always sounded tight as hell. I like that they throw an acoustic guitar into the mix, and drummer Mike-E is always solid.
The crowd really filled in by the time the Hudson Falcons took the stage, and their working-class rock got a big pit going.
The Koffin Kats were the headliners of Upstart Fest, and played a kickass set of psychobilly-fueled rock behind Vic Victor’s vocals and simultaneous antics with the upright bass. Vic’s stage presence and willingness to throw himself and his bass around with such abandon would be a recipe for disaster for anyone less cool, but of course the Kats pulled it off superbly.
Upstart Fest is growing from year-to-year, and while it may never be as big as some of the West Coast punk festivals, the organizers do a stellar job of bringing together a stellar lineup of well-established acts and relative newcomers, all from different corners of our punk rock world. Can’t wait for next year.
Top 3 photos by Chris Lynn, bottom two by Lyz Manikas.