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Live Report: Scion Rock Fest in Pomona, California

Power Trip

Whatever controversy initially boiled when Scion, the car-manufacturing child of Toyota, started sponsoring metal artists has long since dissipated. Scion Rock Fest, held again in Pomona, California’s quaint downtown district, is the kind of partnership generally ending with everyone happy. It wasn’t even hard to see: the common expression of passersby was satisfaction. And, why wouldn’t they be satisfied? These free fests work. Groups are paid, fans don’t pay, and Scion’s esteem is raised in the minds of all. No scuzz, no fuzz, no danger. To have a promoter primarily in the business of positive public perception seemed to lead to a smoother running everything. This is a tough truth if you’re renting DIY moral pillars, but it’s hard to deny that the bands play on time.

So, the pleasant walk between the fest’s four venues — the conjoined Glass House and Acerogami, the stacked Fox Theater and Sky Fox Lounge — was often rewarded, though it made for tough decisions during the day, turning attendees into appraisers of live set rarity thanks to scheduling conflicts. One had to weigh whether Japan’s Coffins or Cleveland’s Midnight were the greater spectacles, for instance. (Will Crowbar return to California? was another.) Agreed, these barely measure as inconveniences, a mouse fart on the Richter scale of crises. Instead, it set up a posi rewrite of a Choose Your Own Adventure tale: If you’d like to skip a good band to see a good band, please turn to page ‘win.’ Maybe there was a perfect route to calculate and maybe someone took it, although maximum happiness metrics were probably solely Scion’s concern.

King Buzzo began the bill at the Fox with a strong thwack of his acoustic guitar. This was no cafe hour strumming session. He yelled, growled; hammering the same gut-bucket progression past flushness. His grey hair spun out in spirals, whipping the air. He was Woody Guthrie in a nightmare. The audience watched reverently. Next song: an apocalyptic cover of “Ballad of Dwight Fry.” “That was from Alice Cooper,” Buzzo cheerfully cited. The crowd applauded. “Well, he’s not here. I have to do this by myself.” That solo concept will be the subject of his next release, an album of spare acoustic numbers. “It’s called This Machine Kills Artists.” He drove the nail: “You know what that means, right?”

At the Glasshouse, Speedwolf motöred along, loosening up a crowd from their commute-caused, mid-afternoon lethargy. “This is a song about last night,” singer Reed Bruemmer quipped, cuing “Out on Bail.” The quartet rumbled like the bikes adorning their album covers. “This is a song about doing last night again tonight.” “Up All Night” charged out of the Scion-provided PA shared by every performer. Speedwolf had an easy presence, matching the feel-good traditionalism of their compositions. “Let’s all pretend this is Europe,” Bruemmer said, building up closer “Denver 666.” He added that security must’ve been bored, due to the lack of stage invaders. During the finale, a single banger accepted the invitation, commandeered the mic, dropped it, dove, and tumbled through the audience onto the floor. Reed playfully smiled, winking at the staff: “Where were you on that one?”

Pins of Light‘s bassist/frontman Shane Baker carried a different demeanor, looking as if he hunted for a fugue state. His eyes were rolled back. He hunched slightly over the microphone, screaming out, bottom teeth bared. Intense. It ran counter to his environs. The Acerogami is a bar with an open floor plan. People watched from couches placed twenty feet from the performers. It could be the Brady Family’s sitting room if the show was rebooted. Pins of Light didn’t pay any mind, pumping out noisy, punky rock touched by psych. Their memory surely lasted, magnified via the relative immediacy that small stages provide at big fests. Google searches for ‘pins of light bandcamp’ must have spiked.

Pins of Light

Back to the Fox, Orchid doomed the room. Their sound reached to the rear walls of the large theater. Theo Mindell’s chest tone avoided getting swallowed by Scion Rock Fest’s largest performance area on the basis of pure lung strength alone. The outfit was tight, confident, unfazed by drawing the largest throng of the day to that point. They could’ve preened, should’ve strutted. Instead, they were grounded. Mindell: “This is a great fest,” he beamed, using the same voice one would use to compliment their friend’s parents’ deck. It was genuinely ingratiating. The crowd ate it up. One could say Orchid will be big, but, by all accounts, they already are.

If there is a fest staple, it’s the ‘unexpected haymaker.’ Enter Power Trip. No other band did more to win future listeners. Their core-splattered thrash invigorated thanks to their energy-altering vibe. Riley Gale leapt from stage to crowd and back again, inspiring a large contingent of fans to flood toward the audience barricade. Efforts were fairly compensated by calorie-burning breakdowns. In fact, Power Trip’s endurance defied reality. They exhibited no hint of exhaustion, despite their hectic touring pace. (“We’re going to look for a red-eye so we can play New York with Discharge.”) Oh, and then there were the extracurriculars: “Somehow we ended up on the Vegas strip at 4 AM, tripping on acid,” Gale confided. “It has been a long week.” Didn’t seem like it.

In fact, no one seemed particularly stressed, lest of all Windhand, who played the narrow confines of the Sky Fox Lounge. Situated three stories up, the bar has an open balcony. It’s picturesque, the kind of place where movies think underground shows are held. It provided a relaxed air, mainly because of the actual flow of unimpeded oxygen. Windhand were the right band to soak this in, lighting incense as part of their soundcheck. Suddenly: THUMMMmmm, their thick doom submersed the capacity crowd in warm distortion. Wrench: one guitar amp cut out. Then, Asechiah Bogdan’s rig was thwarted by Murphy’s law. Windhand were unexpectedly a power trio. No matter, they navigated excellently. Everyone, crowd included, smiled. “That was the remix,” singer Dorthia Cottrell gently lamented.

Bl’ast, the ’80s hardcore band’s hardcore band, were also putting a different spin on their material. Original members Clifford Dinsmore and Mike Neider have taken on a new rhythm section consisting of Nick Oliveri and Joey Castillo. In the press, they’ve said they’re refreshed. Their actions ring louder. Neider roamed the stage as if he needed to test every inch to see how conducive it would be as a base to rain torrential dissonant abuse upon the audience. Oliveri towered, the alternate punk universe version of Randy Johnson. Castillo ate fills alive. Dinsmore channeled his discomfort into cathartic rage. “Fuckin’ With My Head” brought old faces and new together in a scream along. A single thought connected all. Old: I can’t believe I’m seeing Bl’ast again. New: I can’t believe I’m seeing Bl’ast. They were a gift.

Bl'ast

In the Glass House hall, while deciding which four finales to partake in — Machine Head, Midnight, Coffins, or Aqua Nebula Oscillator — two teenagers chatted:

“What’s the one movie where they actually killed the turtle?”

“They killed it for a movie?” said the other, horrified. “That’s messed up.”

At the door, a stream of thrashers presented their wrist bands and were granted entry courtesy of the amiable security staff. Outside, one of the bouncers hung out with fans. Literal fans. A portion of the pit citizens chanted his name earlier, punctuated by a mosher yelling, “Thanks for keeping us safe!” The religious flock that previously passed out fliers and blasted come-to-Jesus music in a last ditch effort to save souls had departed (or were escorted away) before many took notice. A comforting breeze blew in through the open doors, cooling the hall down. No one was sweating. No one was tired. No one complained.

— Ian Chainey

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