As my Uber pulled up to The Masquerade, all I could see was a sea of black obscure band tees and black skinny jeans tucked into Docs, Chucks and Vans. Everyone was out in their punk-best. I picked up my wristband and headed straight to the outdoor Purgatory stage where I was just in time for Daddy Issues. They were in Atlanta last just about a year ago at The Drunken Unicorn. It was an awesome show then and an awesome show now, though perhaps a little suffocating in full exposure of the summer sun. Daddy Issues is a band even other musicians love, as evidenced by multiple shout outs at other artists' sets. Definitely keep an eye on this bad-ass band of charismatic musicians.
Past a long, winding line of folks waiting in line to get into the (air conditioned) Heaven and Hell stages, were the North and South stages and all sorts of vendors. At the North stage was The Joy Formidable, a energetic and enthusiastic band. A few fans at the front were moving their lips along with the lead singer and dancing in place. And at the South stage, jokester band The Bouncing Souls were clearly eating up their time on stage, talking with the audience about The Masquerade and lamenting its final months at 695 North Avenue. It's always a show worth watching when you see the band up there having a good time too.
Heading back to the North Stage, Deerhunter was still going through soundcheck. They took set-up very seriously, and it was a bit intense to watch them prepare, but I could tell why once they began playing. Deerhunter sounds as good live as they do on studio recordings, maybe even better. It was a treat to hear such respected musicians live.
Around again to Purgatory, a crowd was waiting for Diet Cig to start. This was a show I was really looking forward to, as I keep missing this band at every festival and each time they've come to Atlanta. It was such a fun performance to watch. The lead singer is so spunky, jumping around, twirling across the stage with a blue guitar decorated with a rainbow sticker. It was pop-punk at its finest. It was difficult not to fall in love a little bit. The crowd agreed, cheering enthusiastically, singing along, and groaning when they announced the end of their set. It was so fun I almost managed to forget how much I was sweating.
The second day started out significantly less packed than the first day. All the punks must have been recovering from all the late night shows, yet to shake off their Sunday-morning hangovers. The mellow angst of Young and Heartless carried from the North Stage to the South Stage where a crowd was building. Nashville band Bully was just starting soundcheck, and despite the sweltering heat, the crowd welcomed them with cheers. Earlier this year, Bully played to a packed stage at Bonnaroo complete with a decent mosh pit, but the sun was a little too intense and the crowd too chill to build one this time. But that didn’t stop a few guys from trying! The frontwoman, Alicia Bognanno, has a fantastic energy and charming presence. Her voice is absolutely perfect for a grungy punk band: raspy and soulful even when yelling.
Back at North Stage, Lumeria was just starting their set. They had a lot of strong bass for a pop punk band. Even if pop punk isn’t your thing, it was definitely music I just wanted to dance to. They sounded a bit like if Pat Benatar sang for The Killers. It was really cool to see so many bands with female leads represented at Wrecking Ball.
Direct and intense sun made it necessary to seek out some A/C. Inside at the Hell stage, Looming was already underway with their set. Everyone's favorite joke of the weekend was, “it's cooler in Hell!” And so it was. It was packed inside compared to the outdoor stages, but luckily without the lines wrapping around the building this time. Looming was another band with a female lead singer. Everyone listened attentively, their arms crossed, bobbing their heads to the beat. The singer had a strong voice, with a true rock presence. Plus, there's something so loveable about an artist who plays guitar with her shoes off.
Next up was Culture Abuse. As their set started with a slow, metal build, everyone hurried forward and I could tell we were in for an intense show. An agitated audience nodded along to what was now a fast and heavy beat. Maybe Atlanta's just not a mosh-loving city, because anywhere else would have had a respectable pit by this point. One of the band members threw a water bottle in the crowd, and they began running around the stage, dancing, leaning into the crowd. The singer ended one song by dissecting the lyrics “kill cops, f*#k Donald Trump.” Then finally, some crowd surfing! It was a super fun, I-wanna-body-slam-somebody show. We also got great (sic) advice from the singer, such as be nice to one another, put out good vibes, and to kill a cop if we can get away with it. Right…
Then back to Hell for Pears, talk about a show. A foreboding, story-like voiceover, worthy of a Vikings or Game of Thrones narrative, prefaced the entrance of the most theatrical singer I've ever had the pleasure to see perform. Soon enough I was pushed out of the way by the big kids. At last, a proper pit! But these guys outsized my short stature and limp arms quite a lot, so I resigned myself to the inner circle, pushing the stragglers back in. It was too good of a performance to miss, anyway, with the singer’s insane faces, and the way he flailed his arms, fists punching the air. This is the best part of festivals: checking out a band you don't know and ending up having a great time.
Back again in Hell was Potty Mouth before wrapping up my time at Wrecking Ball. The Masquerade has a strong legacy of events like this, and we will be sad to see this legendary Atlanta institution go, but this was a fantastic send-off and tribute to the many years of punk rock that have passed within its walls. Wherever The Masquerade lands next will never be the same, but we will always hold fond memories in our hearts of sweaty, smoky, drunken nights with flailing limbs and bruises from having too much fun fighting for our lives on a dance floor.
Photos by Missy Stowell