Just after commenting on the profligacy of marijuana smoke in the audience at Bamboozle Left festival on Saturday, Circa Survive singer Anthony Green had a stoner revelation of his own.
“Look over there, it’s the moon and the sun, both up there at once,” he said, to the general bemusement of the experimental rock band’s fans. “It’s a battle, and the darkness is winning.”
The encroaching bleakness of night seemed an apt descriptor of the state of emo at Bamboozle Left. The genre has, in recent years, become shorthand for pretty much any kind of earnest, fashion-addled rock music made for teenagers (heck, even the rapper 50 Cent headlined last year’s installment).
But with a few exceptions, the first night of the weekend-long sugar rush at Angel Stadium felt wearily monochromatic. Anaheim fans might have reason to feel especially begrudged. The version of the festival hitting New Jersey in May has, quite simply, a vastly more interesting lineup, with headliners including Paramore, the rapper Drake, prog-synth weirdos MGMT and bespangled pop tart Ke$ha. As fan-beloved as veterans like the operatically self-loathing Say Anything and glam-goth stalwarts AFI are, the Anaheim edition felt like it was curated by an emo algorithm. And a seriously uninspiring undercard left little reason to show up before sundown, save for the ever-peppy street punk of the Bouncing Souls.
But once Bamboozle turned itself over to wanton arena-rock impulses, things got a bit better. Circa Survive was the find of the festival, and its forthcoming major-label debut “Blue Sky Noise” feels like a crossover hit. Even if Green vastly overestimates the appeal of his falsetto, his band plays a fanged and freaky take on hardcore that pulls from prog-rock, metalcore, early D.C. punk and a dozen other micro-niches to be fought over on message boards. They lack the acidic sex appeal of the Blood Brothers, but they share an omnivorousness and attention to detail.
Max Bemis, the singer of the L.A.-based sextet Say Anything, has been opening his veins on record for a half-dozen years. His absolute inability to self-edit in sharing the travails of his sex life earned him a devoted young following, and his ambitions on record have only grown since his 2004 breakout “…Is A Real Boy.” Last year’s self-titled album tapped a well of power-punk black comedy on songs like “Hate Everyone,” and now that Bemis seems to have his well-documented drug ad psychological demons under control, he’s become a smarmily engaging frontman.
But there was not a nickel bag of irony to be found during Angels & Airwaves electronica-besotted, U2-aspiring stadium rock. Singer Tom DeLonge, also of Blink 182, is pitching Angels as a kind of experiment in band-as-venture-capitalist with its own social-networking portal. In that way, its set was a pretty convincing initial public offering for new album “Love” -- even if the quartet’s eager, sci-fi-inspired lyrics would make hipper eyes roll, their M83-influenced synthscapes held up better.
The Bay Area-based headliner AFI remains one of the most kinetic voices in punk nearly 20 years into its career. They’ve long dabbled in Danzig-friendly goth imagery that never quite jibed with their skate-able hardcore. But on recent albums they’ve aimed at the bleeding heart of the Billboard charts with singles like “Miss Murder” and “Beautiful Thieves.” Its great latest record “Crash Love” is a trashy lipstick kiss that could even win some converts at this late stage. Singer Davey Havok flailed and pirouetted across the stage, in a glittery coat, mocking the masculine impulses of many thick-necked peers.
The set was a lesson for those worn down by the rest of the day. The best cure for unremitting darkness is a gold-sequined blazer and an arched eyebrow.
-- August Brown
Photo: AFI lead vocalist Davey Havok performs at the Bamboozle Left festival at Angel Stadium in Anaheim. Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times