Words by Nick Porcaro, Photos by Keeyahtay Lewis & Jesse Murch
Saturday at Skate and Surf started with a whimper and ended with a series of prolonged bangs. Delays in setting up the main stage, occasionally unenthusiastic concertgoers and frequently uncomfortable volume levels (save for Emmure, oddly enough) were swiftly conquered by a plethora of quality music and kinetic performances.
The pop-punk hooks and prog-rock chops of Science won over the early crowd at the Loud stage. The New Jersey upstarts strung together intricate chord changes like a more technical version of Coheed and Cambria. Every band member brought serious talent to the table but it was their virtuosic bass player who tore it up beyond belief, providing us with the first “holy shit” moment of the day as he bent over backwards while shredding a freakishly syncopated lead melody. They also performed a song about Mega Man. Bless those crazy dudes.
The World stage played host to the first, second and third place winners of The Break Contest, an annual event aimed at exposing the finest unknown acts in the Tri-State Area. These hard-working bands entertained a paltry crowd but managed to impress nonetheless. InCircles tore it up with breakneck punk riffs, stony grunge grooves and one hell of a kamikaze drummer. First place winners Wyland disrupted the festival’s steady stream of pop-punk, screamo and metalcore, as they put a fresh indie pop spin on the tried-and-true acoustic sound of bands like Mumford & Sons, The Lumineers, Of Monsters and Men, etc. The band’s low-key cover of OutKast’s “Hey Ya!”, punctuated by gorgeous male-female harmonies, was a real treat.
Gritty pop-punk held the Game stage hostage for most of the day. Knuckle Puck rocked out at a breakneck pace highly reminiscent of The Story So Far. The Pop-Break interviewees saw one of the strongest crowd responses of the day; seemingly everyone in the first few rows knew all the words to their impassioned songs as fans incited circle pits and moshing galore.
Back on the World stage, What’s Eating Gilbert charmed the pants off a steadily growing audience. The side project of New Found Glory guitarist Chad Gilbert graced the day’s aggressive lineup with a much-needed taste of sunny ’50s and ’60s rock ‘n roll. Before long even the toughest of hardcore kids were skanking through the streets with glee. Believe me when I say there’s nothing quite like watching a tattooed burly man sing and sway along to a stellar cover of “The Shoop Shoop Song (It’s in His Kiss)”.
Asbury Park’s finest two-man band Brick + Mortar brought the house down with some supremely danceable indie pop. Reggae rhythms, crunchy synth samples and thunderous drumming colored every fat groove the band laid out. Vocalist / guitarist / bassist Brandon Asraf had the audience laughing at his on-stage antics as he brandished a “HEY!” sign and called out individual concertgoers who weren’t standing close enough to the stage. The band seemed truly gracious of the rapturous response they received from their hometown.
The Early November made a fan out of me almost instantly, cranking out an über-tight set with singalong hooks aplenty. Frontman Ace Enders had charisma to match his powerful vocals, for sure, but bassist Sergio Anello stole the show with his constant goading for louder participation. Anello dominated the stage, and if he wasn’t flinging himself across the floor like a member of the Mars Volta he was leading the audience in handclap after handclap. I have no idea how he managed to play bass through all that but, amazingly enough, Anello hit all the right notes.
After what seemed like an eternity, Saosin hit the stage with original vocalist Anthony Green and everyone went NUTS. The band only had so much material to play, since Green was estranged from the California quintet for over ten years, but every song from that era is a total barnstormer. Although their mix was unbalanced and the musicians were a little rough around the edges—no surprise, considering they only practiced together once before this series of gigs—none of that mattered in the presence of Green. He immediately got up close and personal with his adoring fans as we all stood in awe of his gut-churning vocals and high-octane performing style. Green provided the second “holy shit” moment of the day, leaving the show by crowd-surfing toward the exit like the king he is.
Being a reckless glutton for punishment, I ventured toward the Aquarian South stage in search of pummeling breakdowns and barking vocals. Despite all the crap Emmure frontman Frankie Palmeri gets for being a misogynistic, ignorant Neanderthal, his band is a ton of fun to watch! Emmure’s notoriously monotonous, uninventive brand of songwriting actually works to their advantage because the set was one big jump-up-and-down, brain-melting mosh fest. Their music is certainly not for everyone but the live act is very tight. A fight almost broke out between a would-be crowd surfer and the security guard who put an end to his moment of glory, yet aside from that near-incident the brocore crowd stayed civil.
Recently reunited headliners Midtown had a smaller crowd than Saosin. I don’t think anyone expected that. The pop-punkers sounded quite good—especially for a band that hadn’t played together in nine years—but by that point in the day I was pooped. Sorry guys!
Overall, I’m happy to report day one of Skate and Surf was a triumph of good vibes, cheap food and satisfying sounds on the Asbury Park oceanfront.