Live Review: Groezrock 2016 – Meerhout, Belgium

Live Review: Groezrock 2016 – Meerhout, Belgium

Friday April 29th

Meerhout is cold. It’s muddy too, but the mud’s an irritation, rather than the crippling, frigid inertia caused by the biting cold. There’s also rain. Lots of it. Added to this, an electrical storm has knocked out the internet meaning there’s an hour long queue to get in to the festival proper; a wait in the cold, wet, mud.

Still, The Aggrolites (3.5/5) are on hand to lift our spirits, and their gritty, punk-tinged ska enough to make us momentarily forget about the testing conditions. It may be a mudbath, but 40,000 punks from all over Europe and beyond are determined to make the most of it and the Californian heroes soon get people dancing.

The Dirty Nil (4/5) also get people moving, and on the barrier-free Back To Basics stage it’s a recipe for carnage. They’re showmen too, and there’s a theatrical slant to their performance that elevates them far beyond their rock’n’roll confines. Lead vocalist Kyle Bentham, dressed like a sartorial icon and blowing bubblegum, is the epitome of cool, and cuts like ‘Friends in the Sky’ prove there’s plenty of substance to go with the ice-cool image. A rip-roaring cover of The Misfits’ Last Caress’ goes down a storm and leaves the hardcore punks punching the air in delight.

While Four Year Strong (3.5/5) lack the elegance on The Dirty Nil, they can deliver some huge, bouncy, pit-friendly anthems, and the Worcester, Massachusetts mob don’t disappoint. The sound might be a little off, but the quartet still barrel through a sing-along friendly set, including ‘Stuck in the Middle’ and ‘Go Down In History.’

Muncie Girls (4.5/5) are on a huge upward swing at the moment and plenty of punks feel the same, meaning the Back To Basics stage is appropriately busy for one of the UK’s fastest rising bands. Opening with ‘Respect,’ one of the outstanding tracks from this year’s excellent ‘From Caplan to Belsize,’ they soon have everyone onside. “This is scary” vocalist Lande Hekt jokes midway through the set. But the Exeter trio have nothing to fear. Now a confident and honed live act, songs like ‘Gas Mark 4’ and ‘Gone with the Wind’ suit the big stage and mass audience participation. Expect to see them on a bigger stage next time they hit Groez.

Less Than Jake (5/5) are old hands at this festival lark and it shows in their crowd-pleasing set. Everything – right down to the puerile banter and self-effacing humor – is exactly what the crowd wants to hear and the Gainesville veterans give selflessly. Glitter cannons, pyrotechnics, huge balloons and t-shirt giveaways all help to make a hit-packed performance, which includes ‘Johnny Quest Thinks We’re Sellouts,’ ‘How’s My Driving, Doug Hastings?,’ ‘All My Best Friends Are Metalheads’ and ‘Gainesville Rock City,’ one of the most fun of the weekend.

Those Europeans love Frank Turner, and the main stage is bursting at the seams to watch Frank Turner And The Sleeping Souls (4/5). It’s an odd juxtaposition; watching the rabble-rousing folk-tinged anthems of the quintessential Englishman – often singing about being English and all it means – in a field in Belgium to people from as far away as Finland and South Africa. Yet he’s so popular he nearly causes a riot. The chance to win a signed setlist (cased in an Elvis picture frame) causes pandemonium and sees Turner’s mate Ricky forced to crowd surf around two pillars during ‘Out of Breath.’ It’s enjoyable festival-friendly fun and proof Turner’s right at home in the biggest of arenas.

By the time Saosin (4/5) hit the stage the temperature has plummeted to a new low. It’s icy cold outside, and perversely the perfect setting for Saosin’s taut, tense post-hardcore. Feeding off the crowd’s anxiety, it’s a set played right on the edge, and in Anthony Green they have a frontman who you simply cannot take your eyes off. “Bring him to me, I wanna scream in his face,” he tells the crowd, before dragging a crowdsurfer on stage and doing just that. It’s brilliant stuff, blurring the boundaries between passive audience and complicit, compliant performers. The crowd respond in kind, ensuring a memorable set from the returning Californian stars.

Perspective’s a funny thing, and by the time Youth of Today (4/5) hit the stage, they look miles away, thanks to the incredible number of bodies in between me and the stage. The Back to Basics is full – and then some – to witness a rare show from the legendary US youth crew. Featuring Ray Cappo (also of Shelter, Better than a Thousand) and Walter Schreifels (Gorilla Biscuits, Quicksand, Rival Schools,) the quartet play a set all about positivity, making a difference and changing the world for better. It’s the sort of rhetoric that hits home at a place like Groezrock, where thousands of like-minded people come to sing, dance and celebrate – and it feels triumphant.

Which brings us nicely to Rancid (5/5). Seeing the Californian punks perform ‘…And Out Come The Wolves’ in its entirety is the big draw for many of the attendees and it is a front-to-back triumph. It’s no mean feat considering ‘…And Out Come The Wolves’ is a bladder-testing 19 songs long, but Rancid rip through it like a pack of rabid dogs. Of course ‘Roots Radicals,’ ‘Time Bomb’ and ‘Ruby Soho’ get greeted with the biggest sing along of the weekend, but there’s plenty of gems buried in ‘… And Out Come The Wolves’ and it’s great to see them live, especially when Rancid are capable of delivering incendiary takes on the likes of ‘Old Friend’ and ‘Journey to the End of the East Bay.’ They also have time for a killer 5 song encore, featuring ‘Fall Back Down,’ ‘I Wanna Riot’ and euphoric blast of ‘Radio,’ which sends the punters back to their ice-cold tents deliriously happy.

Saturday April 30th

While Day One at Groezrock was fuelled by green tea, Day Two feels mild enough to hold a cold drink and not worry about the safety of your fingers. Which is handy, as Saturday features plenty of bands best enjoyed with a beer.

It’s an early start too; Tel Aviv’s Not On Tour (4/5) hit the stage bang on midday to blast away the cobwebs and fuzzy heads, and they do a fine job in setting us up for the day with their fast and contagious punk rock. Vocalist Sima is energy personified, charging across the stage at every opportunity and ensuring a high-intensity, high velocity set matches the speed of their punk rock songs.

Back in January, we included Rozwell Kid (5/5) in our list of 50 bands to watch – and it’s a bloody great feeling when a band you love on record justifies the hype live. This is the group’s first time in Europe and the Back To Basics tent is full of people eager to see what the fuss is about. They’re a band that is so lyrically irreverent it’s impossible not to smile while you’re singing along to their nonsense. But they’re also performers, blessed with three showmen up front and centre. Guitars get thrust in the air frequently and with wild abandon, while guitar solos that sound like they’ve been lifted off your parents 1970’s metal albums fly past at a dizzying rate. It helps that every song is a perfect slice of twisted indie-rock, with the likes of ‘Baby’s First Sideburns,’ ‘Halloween 3.5’ and ‘Kangaroo Pocket’ winning over everyone in the tent. If you’re off to see The Hotelier and Into It Over It, make sure you’re there early to catch your new favourite band.

Bad Cop Bad Cop (4/5) also make a strong impression over on the Watch Out stage, Groezrock’s outdoor stage for up-and-coming acts. In fact, the crowd is enormous for the LA punks as they hit the stage with a team high-five. They’ve got some outrageously infectious songs too – ‘Anti Love Song’ and ‘It’s My Life’ in particular get the crowd bouncing – while jokes about camping in the mud ensures their affable, light-hearted, patter goes down well.

It’s The Movielife’s (3/5) first time in Belgium since 2002, and they look eager to make up for lost time. The sound on the Monster Energy stage is not playing ball, however. Vinnie Caruana’s barely audible at times, and although their set is packed with energy it’s a little hard to fully throw yourself into it. Still, it’s great fun to sing along to songs like ‘Single White Female,’ and the audible cheer from the UK contingent down the front when Vinnie thanks the different nationalities for being there raises a smile.

Modern Baseball (4.5/5) release ‘Holy Ghost’ later this month, and it very much feels like a watershed moment for the Philadelphia quartet. They’re on the up and up, ‘Holy Ghost’ is currently being met with some serious critical acclaim ahead of its release and the Back to Basics tent is once again bursting at the seams with people crammed in. Unsurprisingly, it’s pandemonium on stage, with stage invaders and stage divers making the most of every song. They’ve never sounded better too; songs like ‘Broken Cash Machine’ and ‘Tears Over Beers’ just perfect for the mid-afternoon shenanigans.

While it felt like watching history in the making for Modern Baseball, it really was a little piece of history for The Falcon (4/5). Representing their first ever overseas show, the punk rock supergroup (featuring The Lawrence Arms’ Brendan Kelly, Alkaline Trio’s Dan Andriano and The Loved One’s Dave Hause) are in relaxed and carefree form away from the day jobs. And it shows, as the camaraderie and banter between the members flows freely and easily. They’re big fans of innuendo too, it turns out. Playing in support of their excellent ‘Gather Up The Chaps’ return, the set is heavily weighted towards this, with new cut ‘Sergio’s Here’ in particular a real highlight.

Iron Chic (5/5) are both Groezrock veterans and Groezrock favourites. Last time out they were hampered by bass problems that resulted in some seriously weird noises, but this time, there’s no such issues. And they’re at it from the off too, dropping crowd-favourite ‘Cutesy Monster Man’ early doors in the set. It’s one of those moments that makes Groezrock so special; 3,000 fists in the air, 3,000 people singing along and everyone having a bloody great time. Their set flies by, hit after hit met with a similar response, and even includes a cover of Green Day’s ‘She.’ Jason Lubrano staggers around stage, hitting himself on the head frequently, if not stunned somewhat bewildered by the size of the crowd and adulation. Still, when your songs are as pit-friendly as like ‘I Always Never Said That,’ it’s really no surprise. A great set’s made even better by the first rays of sunlight in two days; proof positive that Mother Nature’s a fan of positive energy and cosmic-styled sing-alongs.

Another band to be surprised at the reaction is Moose Blood (5/5). Like Bad Cop Bad Cop, they’re on the outdoor Watch Out stage, and like their Californian sisters, the crowd stretches back beyond the horizon. Having just completed a lengthy UK tour, you’d forgive the Canterbury emo/pop-punk heroes if they were a little jaded; in fact their beaming smiles and infectious energy feeds right into the crowd. Stage divers tumble frequently through the air as they blast through a set drawing largely from 2014’s superb ‘I’ll Keep You In Mind, From Time To Time.’ The crowd’s loud enough that vocalist Eddy Brewerton can step away from the mic during an electrifying renditions of ‘Bukowski’ and ‘Cherry’ (and look completely overwhelmed at the experience), while ‘Chin Up’ and ‘Boston’ invite a frankly insane amount of stage invaders and stage divers. Like Modern Baseball, it feels like the latest in a long line of high watermarks for a band that’s only going in one direction, especially if new song ‘Honey’ is anything to go by.

No Use For A Name (4/5) pull one of the largest crowds of the weekend, and it’s a fitting tribute to Tony Sly. Guest vocalists include Joey Cape, Mad Caddies’ Chuck Robertson and Not On Tour’s Sima. It’s a varied set too, taking in tracks from throughout NUFAN’s back catalogue. Plenty of songs get greeted like old friends, but ‘On The Outside,’ sung by Joey Cape and Stacy Dee from Bad Cop/Bad Cop, steals the show.

It’s great to see Sum 41 (4/5) back at the top of their game and they’ve definitely grown from being oiky punk irritants to consummate main stage performers. They remain hugely popular too, and even though the temperature has dropped to another horrible low by the time they take to the stage, the tent remains packed. They’re hugely entertaining, keeping the mood light and fun and playing to the crowd, including dalliances with ‘We Will Rock You’ and ‘Seven Nation Army’. Drawing heavily from their three best known albums, songs such as ‘Over My Head (Better Off Dead)’, ‘In Too Deep’ and ‘Fat Lip’ bring on unrivalled levels of hysteria. It’s an excellent, inclusive set (especially for the three lucky souls who got to watch it from the side of the stage) meaning once again punters filter back to their tents cold, probably drunk, and giddily happy.

Someone (or ‘Sum’ one, right…) once used the phrase ‘All Killer, No Filler’ to describe their album. It’s a term that can be squarely applied to yet another first rate weekend in Belgium. See you next year, Groezrock!

5/5

Words by Rob Mair (@BobNightMair)