If the first rule of punk rock is to never trust anybody over 30, the kids at Bamboozle Left on Saturday should have been awfully suspicious of the main stages. The weekend-long blowout at Verizon Wireless Amphitheater in Irvine of more than 100 bands plying every permutation of pop punk was striking not for any rising stars or inventive updates of a vintage (well, vintage '90s) sound. Instead, the day felt like a victory lap for grizzly forefathers such as Face to Face, Alkaline Trio and the Bouncing Souls cq all three .
Pop punk is fundamentally about distilling music to its essences of speed, energy and hooks. The assembly lines at Victory and Fueled by Ramen records churn out screamy bands whose names combine seasons, girls' names and objects on fire. Maybe the kids are looking backward because so few contemporaries are looking forward.
The early sets of Bamboozle had the charmingly distracted air of a high school homecoming game, where the onstage action was less important than flaunting T-shirts lauding obscure members of My Chemical Romance.
The Starting Line's Kenny Vasoli touted his band's first tour with the grooving, spy movie-inspired Rx Bandits, who played after them, as "my best memory of the road," setting the tone for homages to the old dudes (and aside from Paramore and Automatic Love Letter, Bamboozle's stages were nearly exclusively dudes).
Jersey vets the Bouncing Souls were around when cheerful pop punk was an antagonistic sound in the scene, and their rakish pep was a perfect foil to Alkaline Trio, the emos emeritus, whose goth iconography and noirish lyrics informed many younger Bamboozle bands. But there was a whiff of resentment between the old guard and new. Face to Face's Trever Keith ended his set thus, "This concludes the punk rock portion of the event. Now the boys can put on their sisters' jeans and poof up their hair." Plenty of bands here played faster and angrier than Face to Face (and unlike Keith have never had a major-label record deal), so what were his criteria for measuring punkness?
Of Saturday's players, Paramore's Hayley Williams has the best possibility of long-term stardom, in part because her gender makes her stand out. Her Pat Benatar-sized voice carried her band through KROQ standards "Misery Business" and "Pressure" with military precision (and an occasional backflip).
Paramore is touring with Jimmy Eat World, which no doubt found its own rabid reception at Bamboozle bewildering. The veteran band is great at twitchy, precision-cut singles such as "The Middle," but the crowd equally swooned for ragged tunes off "Clarity." To see the bands side by side proved that, despite Pete Wentz's assertion that the scene is an arms race, the groups with the sharpest tunes or riveting charisma usually still win. Headliners All American Rejects had neither, but their smarmy stadium emo underscored the tricky relationship between pop punk's scruffy past and world-conquering present. Sometimes, the old dudes can help them navigate it.