Live Review: Groezrock 2015 – Meerhout, Belgium – 01/05/2015

It genuinely feels like spring when Groezrock rolls around, and this year, despite a monumental hailstorm while pitching the tent, is no different. The beer’s flowing freely, 40,000 punks from across Europe have converged on the tiny village of Meerhout, approximately 50km east of Antwerp, and some of the finest punk, hardcore and emo bands are scheduled to play across 5 stages.

Kicking off proceedings on the main stage, Joyce Manor are the ideal wake-me-up following Thursday’s chaotic campsite party. Drawing largely off of their self-titled 2013 album and 2012’s ‘Of All Things I will Soon Grow Tired‘, the likes of ‘Beach Community’, ‘Derailed’ and ‘Famous Friends’ are all appreciatively received from an impressively large crowd considering the time. However, following the success of last year’s ‘Never Hungover Again’, the biggest sing-along I reserved for the excellent ‘Heart Tattoo’, while a cheeky cover of Weezer’s ‘You Gave Your Love To Me Softly’ ensures Groezrock 2015 gets off to a grin-inducing start. (3.5/5)

Talking of grins, Beach Slang’s James Snyder is beaming from ear-to-ear. Bassist Ed McNulty would later tell me that they were warned not to expect much of a crowd due to the early hour they were playing, but the tent is filled to capacity and beyond. It seems the word is out about just how good the Philadelphia mob are – and those with any doubts would soon have them dispelled. In fact, expect the hype around the group to only increase after delivering one of the finest festival sets I’ve ever seen.

Looking like he’s off to an interview at an Ivy League university (complete with jumper and blazer), Snyder does not look like a rock star. He sure as hell throws himself around stage like one though. A blur of kinetic energy he barely stands still, wielding his guitar like a weapon. I imagine catching The Replacements in their 80s pomp would have been a similar experience, and it’s what festivals are all about. The set is simply thrilling viewing and the crowd responds in kind. It helps they have the tunes too, with ‘All Fuzzed Out’, ‘Filthy Luck’ and ‘Punk or Lust’ all sounding like they’ve come straight from the college rock radio boom and dressed up in 90’s alt-rock clothes. Midway through ‘American Girls and French Kisses’, with the pit singing back every word, Snyder looks up and drinks it all in. He looks bemused, perplexed and elated all at the same time. It’s something he might have to get used to. (5/5)

Someone else going through a range of emotions on stage is The Swellers’ Nick Diener. This is the Michigan Group’s last ever show, and the group are determined to go out on a high. Fans are out in force too, and although a mid-afternoon set is far from ideal, they go at it from the off. By the time Diener screams “Thanks for letting me into your home” on their penultimate song, ‘Running Out Of Places To Go’, it seems a beautifully fitting end to a bittersweet set. That they followed it up with ‘The Best I Ever Had’, they ensure it was a triumphant end to a challenging and emotional set. (3/5)

Unbelievably, this is Gnarwolves first ever appearance at Groezrock – but it’s clear the kids down the front have been clamouring for this to happen for the last couple of years. The tent is heaving – although the circle pit is big enough down the front you could drive a truck through the middle of it and still have room to spare. Naturally, Gnarwolves feed off the energy and deliver a raucous, high-octane set to show Groezrock what they’ve been missing. It culminates with a frenzied ‘Melody Has Big Plans’ which descends into stage-diving, finger-pointing and slam-dancing chaos. (3.5/5)

After all that carnage, Masked Intruder represent a more sedate way to spend the afternoon – although they face their own challenge in getting away from their brilliant hype guy/cheerleader Officer Bradford. Proceeding to run around and pretend to hit the intruders during ‘I Fought The Law’ – and giving the audience an officer’s eye view of police brutality thanks to his helmet camera, he’s a high-kicking, high-camp addition to Masked Intruder, adding a whole different dimension to their linear punk rock sound. Despatched into the crowd, and with Officer Bradford’s camera linked to the big screen, it’s hugely entertaining snapshot of the fun people were having during the Masked Intruder set. Combined with a guest appearance by Not On Tour’s Sima for ‘Heart Shaped Guitar’ and Masked Intruder very nearly got away with stealing the show over the weekend. (4.5/5)

The Hotelier were perhaps the biggest underground success story of 2014, and The Revenge tent is again busy to see if the band can justify the hype. The moment hundreds of voices join in the opening line, “Open the curtains”, from ‘An Introduction to the Album’, the answer is a resounding “Yes!”. Vocalist Christian Holden holds notes and emphasises different phrases compared to the record, which makes for an interesting watch, but the band have honed their act to get every bit of emotion out of the material, including elongating songs such as ‘An Introduction…’ to increase the tension. That said, they rip through crowd favourite ‘Your Deep Rest’ with ferocious speed, while ‘Dendron’ is the perfect closing number to an emotionally draining set. Like Beach Slang, you’ll be mad to miss them when they head to the UK. (4.5/5)

Against Me! are old hands at this festival lark, and it’s consequently a bit of a surprise to find them so low down on the bill. Not that Laura Jane Grace and Co. are bothered as they tear into ‘I Was A Teenage Anarchist’ to the delight of a bumper crowd at the main-stage. Despite their set feeling all-too-brief, it’s packed with audience sing-alongs, with both ‘Unconditional Love’ and ‘The Ocean’ really standing out. (4/5)

The Smith Street Band are also experienced festival performers and Groezrock favourites, and a late afternoon slot on the stage-diving friendly Revenge stage was the perfect recipe for a stellar set. Combined with a rabid support – you couldn’t walk 10 foot all weekend without seeing someone in either a Smith Street Band t-shirt or bobble hat – then you have festival gold. And so it proved after a low-key start with ‘Something I Can Hold In My Hands’. ‘Don’t Fuck With Our Dreams’ was the soundtrack to a cavalcade of bodies throwing themselves off stage, while the triple whammy of ‘Sigourney Weaver’, ‘Young Drunk’ and ‘Throw Me In The River’ ensured everyone left the tent deliriously happy. (4/5)

Go back two years and I could safely bet that there wasn’t a single person in the Revenge tent who would have expected to have seen Knapsack perform again. That this is their first ever European show after first splitting in 2000, means the tent is fittingly rammed to capacity and there’s a palpable excitement and tension in the air. Considering their last full-length, ‘This Conversation Is Ending Starting Right Now’, came out the best part of 18 years ago, it feels weird to say this, but it was very much worth the wait.

As a fanboy side note, Blair Shenan remains one of my all-time favourite lyricists and vocalists, both with Knapsack and The Jealous Sound and to witness him sing in person for the first time was a real privilege. That voice – by which I mean THAT voice – really is something to behold, switching from poised and graceful to this raging, powerful maelstrom of emotion is something else, and he absolutely delivered. Interestingly, each of Knapsack’s albums show such growth in terms of style and ability, it was remarkable how cohesive it all sounded live, with the likes of ‘Thursday Side Of The Street’ sounding a little less rugged than they are on record. But for me, seeing ‘Change Is All The Rage’ and ‘Katherine The Grateful’ live was worth the journey to Groezrock alone. (5/5)

Mineral are another band which took an eternity to get to Europe, making their debut appearance in February this year. Back for Groezrock, they were so good a few months back, it was clearly a no-brainer about watching them again. Last time, vocalist Chris Simpson was struggling with a throat infection and cough, but gamely battled through. But this time, fully fit, they were even better. Drummer Gabriel Wiley is still just as mesmerising, however, and it is astonishing the dexterity with which he drums and, like last time, I find myself getting drawn to his performance alone. If you ever want to a masterclass, he’s your man. Regardless, Mineral are again fantastic and ‘ForIvadell’ and ‘Palisade’ both showing just how second-wave emo will always have a special place in my heart. (4/5)

After a long day Title Fight offer one last chance of no-barriers fun on the Revenge Stage – only it seems no-one told Title Fight, who play a somewhat fractured set, flitting between the downbeat, shoegaze post-punk of last full-length, ‘Hyperview’ and their more punked-up earlier sound. It’s a funny juxtaposition, as the likes of opener ‘Murder Your Memory’ and ‘Rose of Sharon’ get met with appreciative applause but little gusto, while ‘Shed’ and songs from ‘Floral Green’ are greeted with flailing limbs and numerous stage-divers. It means Title Fight are caught between two sticks when it comes to playing live, resulting in an interesting, if somewhat downbeat, end to the first day’s proceedings. (2.5/5)

Words by Rob Mair (@BobNightMair)

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