The concept was simple: Six bands from the same record label, one tour, great music, and lots of fun. But the reality was slightly different. Brad Wiseman, Pure Noise Records Tour Booking Agent, had to scour the label roster to find bands that would in his words, “make sense sonically”. Although the music styles and genres differ from band to band, they have to complement each other and appeal to a diverse audience. It was a gamble, but Pure Noise Record founder, Jake Round stated, “It gives the label a chance to brand an entire tour and handle all the marketing aspects. It’s been a lot of work but I think it’s been worth it as the tour is already shaping up to be one of the most successful tours our bands have ever done”. The packed house at the Agora Theater in Cleveland proved him right.
No introduction needed. At some point, the musicians have all toured with each other before. There were none of the awkward moments in getting to know individual personalities or stage requirements. Being from the same label removed much of the competition, and left a supportive environment that makes this tour a family reunion. Like any close family, if one person needs something, others will share so no one goes without. The transitions between acts moved swiftly and efficiently as the band members pitched in to change over instruments and equipment for each other. Many times throughout the evening, one band would extoll the virtues of another band, freely praising each other, because they are fans of each other. However, it did not stop with the musicians. The audience picked up on the vibe, sharing their enthusiasm, because they were part of the family too.
Normal is not normal. From South Carolina, Brigades, Darren Young (vocals), Charlie Jackson (guitar/vocals), Frank Bryant (guitar), Tyler Wilson (bass), and Damien Johnson (drums) opened the show. They have tried the “nine-to-five” route in life with success, but felt there was always something missing. Lyrics from the song “Traditions” say, “Are these traditions all that we’ll ever need/ We spend and consume/We slave and repeat” highlight the struggle to find artistic outlet in a lifestyle that has little room for creativity. Young believes that we have one life and one chance, his reason for following his dream. Watson describes that he was attracted to music because, “No one claps when you do your job right”. Their new EP Crocodile Tears is a powerful musical outline of the normal (and not-so-normal) journey through life.
Do what you want. Heart to Heart, with Nick Zoppo (vocals), Mike Davis (guitar/vocals), Mike White (guitar/vocals), Justin Bratcher (bass), and Blaze Blanke (drums), hit the stage next, wowing the crowd with stunning harmonies set to a hardcore/punk beat. Zoppo sees touring with his label-mates as a chance to grow together musically. The song “Firefly” says it best, “Let’s trust the fates/And see if they align”. He expressed concern for others who cannot or do not pursue their aspirations, “I feel that anything is possible if you work toward it”. Their album, Dulce, is compelling with driving rhythms and engaging melodies that starts on replay and stays there.
That song is about me. The solo, acoustic performance by singer/songwriter Jake Mcelfresh can be summed up by his professional name, Front Porch Step, because his music is like hanging out with your friends at home. Each song could have been written about my life (or yours) and evokes an entire spectrum of sentiments in one set. Words from the title track of his album, Aware, suggest that, “So when the years go by and you forget how much I care/Put in this song and sing along/so your heart will be aware”. The song reminds listeners that no matter how much time goes by, true affection will remain. Mcelfresh believes there is much to learn about music and would like to be more proficient on guitar. His lyrics driven music is paired with melodies ranging from pleasant to haunting and relatable to every person who listens.
Sometimes music finds you. John Swaba did not set out to play bass, but seized the opportunity when it came his way. In high school, a band he knew had just lost their bass player and he responded, “I didn’t even know how to play bass. You can teach me how to play bass, it shouldn’t be that hard, right?” Although it was not as easy as Swaba thought, he discovered that he had a talent for the bass guitar and liked it. The self-described “dudes in a band” of Forever Came Calling take the stage by storm. Their fast paced, dynamic lyrics are the epitome of what punk rock should be. Joe Candelaria (vocals/guitar), John Swaba (bass), Bryce Esquivel (drums), and Isaac Taylor (guitar) generate a high energy performance that leaves the audience breathless. The song “Mapping With a Sense of Direction” says, “Common sense ain’t common/When you’ve got common men commenting/On everything you ever did” motivate anyone who has been subjected to unwarranted criticism from all sides to jump up and down. Their new album, What Matters Most… is the most cohesive collection of punk rock music you can find.
A story set to music is a better story. On a scale of one to ten, Handguns started their set at twelve and drove the energy higher with each song. The band, Taylor Eby(vocals), Brandon Pagano (guitar/vocals), Kyle Vaught (guitar/vocals), CJ Wilson (bass), and Ryan Pyle (Drums) weave tales of triumph and woe that connect to fans through shared experience. Words from “Anvil” describe Eby’s life on the road, “With everywhere I’ve been and everything I’ve seen/this place finally feels like home to me. Musicians have a nomadic life that actually becomes where they feel most comfortable. The journey began for Eby when he attended his first concert, but it was not smooth sailing. Eby explains, “You go through (steps) when you start your first high school or middle school band. It’s trial and error”. Although Eby has reached the level of success he desired in the beginning of his career, he has since learned that there is so much more Handguns can achieve. Their new album, Life Lessons has received rave reviews for the solid musicianship and revealing lyrical narratives that resonate with listeners everywhere.
But is it worth it? State Champs, Tyler Szalkowski (guitar/vocals), Derek Discanio (vocals), Tony Diaz (guitar), Evan Ambrosio (drums), Ryan Graham (bass), closed the show in traditional punk fashion, with crowd surfing, circle pits, and stage diving. At one point, the crowd drowned out the music, taking over with their own rendition of the songs. For Szalkowski the time spent on stage each night is what drives him to go on. With so many reasons to avoid the music industry, Szalkowski says, “(Being on stage) is when I feel the best. That’s when I feel the greatest, like the most alive”. The the long days of driving from one venue to another, constant hauling of heavy equipment in extreme weather conditions, and hours of practicing all disappear when the music starts. Summing up those feeling, poignant lyrics from the song “Hard to Please” say, “It only matters if it’s worth it/I think I’m just afraid to fall”. Hardship and sacrifice mean nothing when you are doing what your heart tells you is right. State Champs followed their wildly successful album The Finer Things with an all-acoustic EP The Acoustic Things, featuring some old favorites and new surprises.
It was a daring move to sponsor a tour exclusively with Pure Noise Record artists. Round stated, “I expect that our bands have a good time and that kids come out and enjoy the show. Anything past that is bonus”. The bands had a great time in Cleveland, the kids came out in record numbers, and we all enjoyed a sensational show. I am not sure what Round would consider a bonus, but for me it was a chance to hear music from six of my favorite bands all in the same night.