It is now day 2 now of Pre-Fest in Little Ybor, so after nursing our hangovers and watching grown men fight in monster costumes (Kaiju Big Battle I’m looking at you!), the first band we witness are Broadway Calls. Their set features songs from the self-titled debut album. They don’t play all of it mind, but what they do manage to play treats the nostalgic hearts of their fans. Whilst on one hand they are a lot older and more experienced in this game called music, Broadway Calls inject youthful valour into these tunes. ‘Call It Off’, a usual live number to this day, still evokes a joy which fuels one’s desire to sing along like a crazed fool. Meanwhile, mid-tempo boons like ‘Van Rides & High Tides’ and ‘Back to Oregon’ contain the right bittersweet tools for a jolly good pop punk chorus. It’s a sure-fire trip down memory lane which makes you smile, yet despite the nostalgic charm you can’t help but feel Broadway have outgrown these songs since they wrote them. 

With only an album and a split with The Dopamines to their name, Dear Landlord treated us to the tightest set we’ve seen so far at Fest. Whiskey soaked anthems are mechanised through raw haemorrhaging fast tempos; ‘I Live in Hell’ is an example of this quick, thrilling punk spectacle. Rather than talk between songs, this seldom seen outfit just get on with it which is what their music calls for! Infectious “woahs” and fist-pumping acrobatically move in line with classics like ‘Lake Ontario’ and ‘Rosa’. Its bags of fun and none of us want these gruff punks to stop, even the guy who sloshes down alcohol from his shoe atop the crowd!

Changing venues, from The Orpheum to Crow Bar, we decide to watch our first British act at the festival. From this writer’s point of view, Leagues Apart become just as enthusiastic as their hammered crowd. Their debut album ‘Brief Interviews with Hideous Men’ took forever to come out, but once it did it was worth the patience. The likes of ‘In Spite of It All’ are robust with grit and melody, enthused by the band’s boisterous energy which is harnessed with strings, sticks, vocals and skin. Sure, the gruff punk style has become an oversaturated cliché over the years, but these gents are part of the last remaining few doing it rather well.

We proceed to make a dash around the corner now to catch the rest of a combustive conundrum at Tequila’s. Direct Hit! makes a melodically obnoxious racket at an accelerated rate. Latest album ‘Brainless God’ was apocalyptically themed in a gritty pop punk outlook, but based on this crowd and the overall vibe, nobody cares! It’s chaotic on one hand, though on the other it’s also really damn fun to watch Direct Hit! and their audience enjoying themselves. The quartet kicks and screams with melancholic fiery notes, not daring to slow down the pace from song to song. The only thing I can comment on, a recurring theme at Tequila’s, is dodgy sound mixing. Regardless, we’re just glad we didn’t miss the end of this punk party!

The rise of Australian folk tinged indie punks The Smith Street Band has risen steadily since their birth in 2010. Personally, I’m neither here nor there with it, however, judging on the packed out Crow Bar, the audience will say otherwise. Smith Street are an unquestionable force live. Their up stroke down beat tunes admirably ensnares heart strings. Intimacy is a moment few bands can achieve, so hats off to these Aussies. My doubt is further questioned by hearing cuts from new album ‘Throw Me in the River’. The cheesy nature is now kept at bay, with mature tides coming in, making The Smith Street Band a group I can now seemingly get behind in future. Both the ecstatic congregation and the stronger material is evidence enough for me, I’m sure the “shoey” bloke from before agrees.

As fun as it has been destroying our bodies through intoxicated loudness and shoving, there comes a point where you just need to slip into serenity. Laura Stevenson, along with her backing band The Cans, guides you through this remedial calm. Stevenson’s voice is tender to the touch, whilst conveying her words in a bold fashion. Take ‘The Wheel’ for instance, what one sees is Stevenson muster all her sentiments into something honest and pure. Of course, this wouldn’t be complete without the help of her backing band. Bass, accordion, guitar, drums, key and trumpet, instruments which help to reflect Laura’s state of mind in the songs she sings. This results in a beautiful picture of folk artistry. Once closing song ‘Master of Art’ lulls the room into a finely tuned finished, you feel as though you are reborn from meditative slumber.

Before we indulge in heartfelt punk and a skanking party at the Orpheum, we return to Tequila’s for one, if not, the breakout act of 2014. From the start, Canadian gents PUP provoke a tumultuous approval by the audience with their genius combination of meaty melodic riffs and anthemic choruses. You can’t blame them for going nuts at this band, as their material is to die for! ‘Mabu’ is led by a whimsical riff which goes over a boisterous gusto, whilst ‘Back Against the Wall’ is a shining example of the band’s tenacity for playfully infectious choruses. PUP proceed to throw a new song into the mix halfway through; it amps up the raucousness in a fun swirl tenfold! The only disappointing thing is the dodgy sound mixing in Tequila’s. It slightly takes away a chance for this set to be utterly perfect, instead making it really good. Regardless, putting my nitpicking to one side, everyone, both band and crowd are having the best time! The bass throbbing, dynamic closer ‘Reservoir’ is a testament to this, proving PUP are a welcomed act for the years to come.

As we mentioned before, it was now time for us to indulge in heartfelt Americana punk at the Orpheum. This is brought to us by those Scranton chaps The Menzingers. It has been a crazy last few years for the quartet as they only keep rising above the stratosphere. Any band who does reach such a zone will either touch the stars or crash back down to a horrible demise. Luckily, and deservedly, The Menzos appear to steer clear of the latter. The band plays to their strengths, delivering a set containing songs from both ‘On the Impossible Past’ and ‘Rented World’. Sure you could moan about wanting to hear earlier material, on the other hand why would you? These are terrifically good tunes that sweep you off your feet! ‘Good Things’ cuts you in two with a tear filled chorus, then there’s ‘I Don’t Want to Be an Asshole Anymore’, an optimistic fist raising pleaser. All in all, The Menzingers are bonafide punk fuelled rock ‘n’ roll band who’ll always deliver a solid performance.

At the beginning of this review we began a trip down memory lane, now we shall end with it. Rounding off the second and final night of Pre-Fest 2 are the one and only Less Than Jake. Tonight, they’ll be playing the album which established them as lovable pop meets ska punk favourites! Yes, we’ll be witnessing the Gainesville legends play ‘Losing Streak’ in its entirety, and hopefully, they’ll be some surprises along the way.

Nostalgia takes us by the hand, gives everyone a youthful vigour and skank the night away without a care in the world! Less Than Jake are older now, but with age comes experience. The band knows how to cater to the crowd, enthusiastically playing from points A to Z and by making this a fun show. That’s how these songs should be played, and speaking for myself, this is probably the most fun I’ve had in years! ‘Automatic’ ignites the giddy memories, with ‘Happyman’, ‘9th at Pine’ and ‘Sugar in Your Gas Tank’ keeping them afloat. By the time ‘Johnny Quest Thinks We’re Sellouts’ jolts into the fast tempos, along with an addictive chorus, the crowd throttles the skank-o-meter to light speed in a drunken manner. The energy ceases to stop from there; as an audience, it’s what we all want. This is simply half an hour of stupid nonsense, the crowd, us, forgetting all our problems and issues, having fun, intoxicated with alcohol or air, and dancing in a circle pit. The band feed off this scene giving later tracks like ‘How’s My Driving, Doug Hastings?’, ‘Dopeman’ and final song ‘Lockdown’ passionate substance.

As soon as Less Than Jake finishes the album, you’d expect the unexpected. Indeed, this is received in the form of a hat trick of classics. ‘All My Best Friends Are Metalheads’, ‘Plastic Cup Politics’ and  ‘Look What Happened’, Less Than Jake drive the party bus off that cliff leaving us all in perpetual enjoyment. It’s a terrific bow out to a great performance, as well as being a fine finish to our Pre-Fest adventure in Ybor, gearing us all up for the next three days in Gainesville.

Words by Aaron Lohan (@ooran_loohan)

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