12 things we learned at Atlanta's Wrecking Ball festival

Anti-Flag's Chris #2 (Image credit: Katherine Alex Beaven)

Alternative festival Wrecking Ball was first held in Atlanta in August 2015, to celebrate the 25th anniversary of fabled Atlanta gig space The Masquerade. Sadly, due to gentrification and the subsequent rise in rent, the two story venue will soon say goodbye to the turf it’s occupied for the past 25 years. Thankfully, though – in part due to the success of last year’s event – the venue won’t be shutting down but moving, so this year’s follow-up bash stands as both a celebration of all that has been and all that will come once the venue relocates. It was the final, blowout event to be held at the old location, and what a celebration it was – a deluge of awesome bands in a brilliant setting with an incredible atmosphere. Here are 12 things we discovered over the course of the Masquerade’s big final event.

12. The Masquerade has played host to most bands on the bill at some point

Whether it’s rising hometown stars like Big Jesus and Microwave, or more established acts like The Menzingers, Anti-Flag and Motion City Soundtrack – actually pretty much every band playing the festival – The Masquerade is (and forever will be) a venue beloved by bands and Atlantans alike. In fact, it was the talk of the town, and even people who had never set foot in it were mourning its loss and singing its praises and significance.

11. Reunions were the order of the day this year…

In much the same way that Chicago’s Riot Fest was dominated by classic bands performing classic albums in full, this year’s Wrecking Ball brought back a whole bunch of bands who had recently reunited after calling it quits, namely Rainer Maria, Hey Mercedes, Thursday, The Promise Ring, and Piebald. Some had played gigs before this weekend, some hadn’t, but all were brilliant reminders of why they were so revered in the first place.

10. The newer bands on the bill were fantastic too

Big Jesus opened the festival outside on the Saturday and drew plenty of people with their warm, fuzzy, ’90s-tinged alternative rock – and rightly so. They’re one of the most exciting new bands around. Pears were unbelievably wild and put on a reckless, insane show to showcase their bellicose, snotty punk rock, while Sorority Noise were also on top form, channelling everything into their haunting, expansive and emotionally damaged tunes. And then there was Microwave. Like Big Jesus, they also hail from Atlanta, and the hometown crowd meant there was barely any room to move during their set. Full of fiery rage and emotional energy, the four-piece played like the stars they deserve to become. A brand new Brand New in the making.

9. Anti-Flag are one of the most important bands in the USA today

It’s no secret that the USA is facing something of a political crisis at the moment. Thank fuck, then, for Pittsburgh’s Anti-Flag, who are still rallying against injustice and inequality with passion and fervour. During the breakdown of Fuck Police Brutality the band deliver a too-long roll-call of African-Americans recently killed by police in America, while Die For The Government remains, 20 years after they first recorded it, a vicious attack on the way corporations continue to influence the powers that be through big money. New cuts Brandenburg Gate and Fabled World were just as insurrectionary as those old tunes, while a cover of Fugazi’s Waiting Room was the icing on the cake of one of the most powerful and inspiring sets of the weekend that ended with the band playing their instruments in the crowd.

8. Joyce Manor are all growed up

One of the joys of Joyce Manor is just how sloppy and messy their songs are – they come off like Weezer covering the Descendents and are all about living recklessly and carelessly for the moment. 2012’s second album, for example was 13 minutes and four seconds long. Yet here they were playing a 50 minute set on one of the big outdoor stages, and despite running out of songs a little bit early, they pulled it off absolutely brilliantly. Bigger (and longer) things are surely beckoning down the road, and deservedly so.

7. Dinosaur Jr. do a mean cover of The Cure

Not to be outdone on the covers front, veteran alternative trio Dinosaur Jr. treated the crowd to their cover – originally recorded in 1987 during the You’re Living All Over Me sessions – of The Cure’s Just Like Heaven. As on that recording, the trio somehow managed to keep true to the original version of the song while also turning it into their own, Dinosaur Jr.-ising it into a beast of a song that was as grungy and heavy as it was poppy and uplifting.

6. Juliette Lewis probably should have stuck to acting

On the whole, the Wrecking Ball line-up was pretty damn stellar. But there are always exceptions to the rule, and in this case it was Juliette Lewis. There’s nothing wrong with her band or how they played, but the actress’ entire stage disingenuous demeanour was marked by affectation and insincerity. In fact, it felt very much like she was playing the part of a rocker – and coming up short. Which makes perfect sense, when you think about it.

5. Thursday are back!

One of the most anticipated reunions of the weekend was the live return of Thursday, who hadn’t played live since calling it quits in 2011. Frontman Geoff Rickly has been busy with No Devotion recently, but it’s clear that he’s just as attached to Thursday’s songs as ever. They played one intimate show inside on the Saturday night – their first in over four years – and a larger one outside the next day, which saw an entire field pour out their hearts to a band who, clearly, had been away for far too long. They ended with Understanding In A Car Crash, which was the only way they could have ended, and made the entire crowd very happy indeed.

4. The Bouncing Souls weren’t quite sure where they were

It’s must be hard keeping a tab on where you’re on the road for an extended period of time – just ask Bruce Springsteen, who earlier this year shouted “Party noises, Pittsburgh!” when he was actually in Cleveland. But on an occasion dedicated to the life, death and rebirth of The Masquerade, The Bouncing Souls probably should have remembered the venue’s name. Instead, frontman Greg Attonito, referred to it as the Marquee – a famous New York venue that’s now closed down – and then kept making jokes about getting it wrong. It was clear that he was trying to inject some humour into his faux pas, but instead of being funny it was just a little bit embarrassing.

3. Touché Amoré’s new songs sound great live

We’re fortunate enough to have heard the new record by Touché Amoré and can attest to its greatness. Nothing, however, quite prepared us for their powerful impact live. Known for their short, savage songs, both live and record, the band’s new album largely confronts the death of frontman Jeremy Bolm’s mother. They’re slower, more contemplative affairs on which Bolm often swaps out his visceral screams for spoken word ruminations. The new songs they played live – Displacement and Palm Dreams – were, unsurprisingly, incredibly powerful and intense, and sent visible chills throughout a room that was as hot and heaving as Hell itself.

2. Loads of other great bands also played great sets…

Namely Piebald, Drive Like Jehu, Hey Mercedes, Milemarker, Deafheaven, The Promise Ring, Chris Farren, American Football, Motion City Soundtrack, Rainer Maria, CIV and Gorilla Biscuits.

1. The atmosphere at Wrecking Ball was truly amazing

Wrecking Ball 2016 was a true celebration of music, of the venue and of the people who’ve been part of its history. And while people could have sadly ruminated on the fact that, after this weekend, it would be gone forever, the atmosphere was much more buoyant and upbeat – it was about looking ahead to the future and what’s to come as much as saying goodbye to the past. Here’s to next year!

Photos: Katherine Alex Beaven