By Ed Thompson
The night was labeled “EPIC” months in advance. When you see two incredible bands like Anti Flag and Reel Big Fish billed together at the same venue, you kind of say to yourself, this could be an epic night of music. Then, you get there and get warmed up by two incredible bands like Direct Hit and then the great Ballyhoo! you just sit and smile and say “This IS going an epic night”.
All three bands truly complimented each other. The first was good, the second one better and so on and so on. Then you’re at the end of the night having got the chance to see four great bands all in one night. This was very much that case. And I must say, the price of the ticket for this shows was VERY affordable and at a great venue for seeing music live.
Direct Hit started the night off and was loud and brash from the start. All their songs were very punk-like and the lead singer Nick Woods really had a strong voice. He has some range too when he uses it correctly, Personally, I’d love to see him use his voice better and take care of it so he still has it in 5 years, cause he is truly a talented musician and singer. Guitarist Devon Kay really compliments Nick’s singing. Bassist Steve Maury and drummer Danny Walkowiak really bring this band into a great punk beat on all their songs. I do though still wish Woods would use his vocal range differently, thus prolonging its existence. Otherwise, I just don’t see his voice being in this for the long run.
Ballyhoo! was sn INCREDIBLER surprise. Thinking the night would be 100% punk; Ballyhoo! was a true surprise when they hit the stage. More along the lines of the rock genre, they came out rocking and rolling and really kept the crowd going crazy. It was a pleasant surprise. More so like I said an unexpected surprise. The band from Maryland really got the crowd pumped and ready for what the inevitable was. A heavy dose of punk from Anti Flag. But first, Ballhoo! Showed up and delivered. They ran through their set list led by singer Howi Spangler and not only got me pumped and in the mood, but also got the other 3000 fans going too. Their set list was strong and really highlighted Howi’s great voice. Very rock, very pop. Again, a great surprise on a night you thought you were getting 4 doses of heavy punk.
Next up was Anti Flag. A band that could be headlining just about anywhere in the world in the punk rock scene, but in Pittsburgh? I got the feel that the crowd was here to see Anti Flag and Reel Big Fish was just an added bonus. Yes, at this point in time, Reel Big Fish’s star is probably shining brighter, but Anti Flag is a Pittsburgh band and their fans were in the house so to say. The hit the stage hot and ready to rock, and left the stage the same. Very little change in their tempo or energy. They are and always have been” full tilt” from beginning to end. They were incredible. Both as individuals and as musicians. There are not a lot of bands that can go at Anti Flags pace for a full set like they do. Justin Sane hit the stage and bounced from one side to the other. Mostly staying at the middle mic, he still visited fans on both ends of the stage. “You’d Do the Same” was their set opener and set the pace for the night. Justin and Chrus#2 (Chris Barker) are like a dynamic duo. They feel off each other and truly push each other to perform better than the other. You couldn’t ask for a better punk duo than what Chris#2 and Justin give their fans each night. They ran right into the ever popular “Die for the Government”, followed by “Drink Drank Punk”, “Rotten Future”, “Davey Destroyed the Punk Scene”, and “Summer Squatter Go Home”. Never more so than in today’s world, is a song like “Fuck Police Brutality” so powerful. Crude I guess, but such a powerful and blatant message. Especially when anymore all you hear is about the brutality of cops and by cops. It was a special moment for the band and the Pittsburgh crowd. “I’m Being Watched by the CIA” and “ Kill the Rich …” were also powerful songs. For me personally, I think the most powerful song of the night was “Your Daddy Was a Rich Man, Your Daddy’s Fucking Dead” which is a powerful song about President elect Trump and his father. The crowd, obviously “unhappy” with the government and recent election, sang the song LOUD and PROUD. “This Is the End (For You My Friend)”, “The Press Corpse”, “Turncoat”, “All of the Poison, All of the Pain” and “1 Trillion Dollar$” were all great and LOUD as can be. All still very powerful for the crowd living through this bands set vicariously. The Clash’s “Should I Stay or Should I Go” was simply awesome. “Cities Burn” and “Brandenburg Gate” were a GREAT way to end their set. And like Is said. There was very little change in pace of this set from beginning to end. I’d probably bet that the band rocked all the way to Primanti’s following the set. They had that much energy. I feel I must throw out a mention to drummer Patrick Thetic. HE IS A MACHINE. There are punk rock drummers and then there is Pat. He never stops. He never misses a beat. Heck, he adds beats. Truly at the forefront of drummers in the punk rock industry.
Much like Anti Flag, Reel Big Fish hit the stage going 100 mph and left just about the same. Their colorful, happy yet “brutal honestly” type music was such a changeup from the anti government set from Anti Flag. However, they two truly can go hand in hand together. They are a perfect one-two punch and subsequent knock out for the tonight’s concert. The opened with “ I want Your Girlfriend To Be My Girlfriend”. A fast and powerful song, it really set the tempo for the night. Much like Anti Flag, the entire set was fast paced with very little talking in between sets. Many of the songs just ran right into the next which in my opinion is great. I’d rather hear 20-25 songs versus a REO Speedwagon type of night with Kevin Cronin and his 10-minute description of each song. “Another F.U. Song”, “Your Guts” and “Veronica Sawyer” all ran together. If you never heard the songs before, you’re have thought it was a 8 minute song. The next 20 songs rarely changed up the pace. “Sell Out”, “Join The Club”, “Snoop Dog, baby” and “Skatanic” were some of the highlighst from the album Turn The Radio Off.
“All I Want Is More, “Say ‘Ten’”, Everything Sucks and Beer/Self Esteem” were more highlights of the night. All were performed “perfectly” so to say. Aaron Barrett was in great control of his voice and the crowd. He without doubt can work the crowd and had them eating out of his hands all night. It’s always great to watch the other members perform in the background. Not necessarily “back ground performers”; they keep the action and energy going throughout the show. They are a “well-oiled machine” and really feed of each other much like Anti Flag does. Dan Regan (Trombone), Matt Appleton (Sax) and John Christianson (Trumpet) were INCREDIBLE. And much like Aaron, they really play to the crowd and keep them wanting more all night.
Reel rounded out the night with “I’m Cool”, Everyone Else is an Asshole”, “Where have You Been” and finally a powerful A-Ha cover “Take On Me” which left the crowd begging for me. It was a great set closer. And an end to a great evening of music.
All photos © 2017 Ed Thompson www.HyXposure.Photography