I awoke on my friend John Vournakis’ couch with the sun peeking through the blinds, wreaking total havoc on my eyelids. The night before we had been up until four a.m., drinking Miller Lites in front of his record collection. We were doing our best to give ourselves a preview of what we would experience the next day, while also trying to keep our noise at a reasonable level so his girlfriend wouldn’t murder us. It was late, and Wrecking Ball was almost upon us.
By the time I reached the Masquerade late Saturday morning, the heat was already sweltering. This was my first time meeting photographer Bryce Center, whom I was partnering with on this assignment. While I’d admired his work from afar, I never had the chance to speak with him in person, let alone collaborate. But our planning sessions on Facebook had been productive, and I was excited for the opportunity. We linked up outside the gates leading into the Music Park and walked towards the outdoor stages while fighting the sun with the back of our necks and losing miserably.
First up on the Park South stage were local behemoths Big Jesus. Yeah it was hot, and yeah it was early, but the four-piece erected a tenacious set that drew heavily from their upcoming album, Oneiric. New single “Lock & Key” absolutely blew me away, and if the songs sound even half as heavy on record as they do live (and outside, mind you), the LP is going to be massive. After their Wrecking Ball performance, Big Jesus is headed overseas to Germany, the Netherlands, and the UK for a string of tour dates, and knowing how Europeans love their heavy music, I’m sure they’ll be welcomed with open arms.
Usually when you think of Purgatory at the Masquerade, it involves actually going inside the venue itself. But the festival’s creators decided to put a stage outside, which, honestly, was a pretty good move: as shows let out inside the building, the artists playing the Purgatory stage would get the additional foot traffic and the opportunity to grab the listeners while they were moving about.
Local lo-fi duo Femignome was the first band to play the stage and experience the “overflow effect” from the show in Heaven. Anna Jacobson and Roderick Davis gladly accepted their ears and put together a head-bobbing, toe-tapping affair that amassed a fairly decent sized crowd.
Bryce and I headed inside a little early for a reprieve from the sun and to prepare for Abuse of Power, who were the first group to occupy the surprisingly breezy Hell stage at Wrecking Ball 2016. Ten minutes before their set time, the Atlanta hardcore stalwarts had completely packed out the floor of Hell, and even handed out some donuts to a few people in the front row.
As soon as the band started playing the intro to their new song, “Secure,” the crowd started screaming and threw their fists in the air, aggressively restless and ready to explode. Frontman Kaleb Perdue commanded the attention of everyone as soon as the drums and vocals kicked in. “Thought by now / I’d be secure / facing, confronting each other / to make ourselves feel pure,” he growled with bodies flying everywhere.
Abuse of Power wasn’t the only local band to pack out a stage before they played. Microwave filled up much of Heaven 15 minutes before they even struck a note. It was really fantastic to see such a huge response for local artists, especially since they were playing early in the afternoon with many attendees yet to arrive.
With much of the crowd singing along to every single word, Microwave tore through a frenetic set filled with fan favorites. They also offered the rambunctious audience a pair of new songs: “Busy,” which was released on Friday, and “Lighterless,” which was unveiled in late July. Both cuts will appear on the band’s new LP, their first for punk powerhouse SideOneDummy Records.
After Microwave, Bryce and I headed back into the sun to catch the conclusion of Diarrhea Planet’s set at the Park South stage. We were only able to catch a few songs, most notably “Separations” (from 2013’s I’m Rich Beyond Your Wildest Dreams) and “Life Pass” (from their latest, Turn Gold), but the six-piece garage punk band from Nashville, Tennessee were true performers, running around the stage and climbing onto every surface they could reach.
“We can’t believe that Crosby, Stills & Nash reunited for this festival and we’re opening for them!” they mused at one point, providing some comic relief for the heat-battered audience.
After a short walk across the field occupied by the Masquerade’s booze tents, food trucks, and SmartPunk’s vinyl tent, we arrived at Park North for Juliette and the Licks. Even though she’s more known for her acting career, Juliette Lewis put on a show worthy of rock stardom and grabbed the attention of everyone while donning an Evel Knievel-style unitard.
The Menzingers reached Heaven’s capacity number 20 minutes before their 3 p.m. start and put together a set that spanned their entire catalogue, including favorites from On the Impossible Past and Rented World.
Black metal experimentalists Deafheaven shredded the eardrums of everyone in attendance, and also managed to scare off all the residents of the newly occupied AMLI at Ponce Park who thought they could get a free show from their balcony.
Touché Amoré was the highlight of the day for me. I’ve been a fan of them for quite a long time and never had the chance to see them in a live setting, so I was extremely excited. The band completely turned Heaven upside down with a strategically put together set that strung many of their songs in 5-6 minute blocks. During one of the breaks, vocalist Jeremy Bolm thanked the crowd and dedicated their new single “Palm Dreams” to Kevin Scheidt, a local photographer and musician who recently passed away under tragic circumstances.
The Joy Formidable brought their brand of Welsh shoegaze to the States on the Park North stage that ended with each member completely destroying their instrument of choice, including bassist Rhydian Dafydd smashing his head open. I’ve seen a lot of shows in my life, but I’ve never seen anything quite like that before.
Hardcore punks Turnstile kicked off their set in Hell with a line of about a hundred people still waiting to get in after the room was capped. Vocalist Brendan Yates and company were bouncing all around the stage, jumping into the crowd, and crushing crowd pleasers such as “Gravity” off their most recent LP, Nonstop Feeling. The Baltimore quintet also surprised their fans with a pair of brand new songs: “Come Back for More” and “Harder on You.”
Deerhunter were a surprise addition to the Wrecking Ball lineup. The groundbreaking Atlanta act had a few technical difficulties but fought through to deliver a pretty solid set overall. Lead singer Bradford Cox took the time to both lambast the cultural damage caused by the Beltline and to shout out the Little 5 LGBTQ community to which he dedicated a rousing rendition of “Helicopter.”
Performing on the Purgatory side stage, the New Paltz, New York duo Diet Cig uncorked their brand of brisk, propulsive pop-punk. Singer/guitarist Alex Luciano and drummer Noah Bowman’s songs may be simple, but they delivered them with plenty of heart and an unbelievable presence.
The Julie Ruin speak for themselves. Led by punk icon Kathleen Hanna, also known for her landmark stints in Bikini Kill and Le Tigre, the band delivered a fiery set worthy of her legacy. Hopefully, you’re starting to notice the incredible amount of badass female artists who played Wrecking Ball this year. I’m sure there’s a fair number of them who would love to thank Hanna for helping to pave the way.
Drive Like Jehu was another highlight of Saturday night’s festivities. It was pretty awesome to see so many people excited to see the band perform, especially the younger crowd who weren’t even born when their monster self-titled record came out in 1991. The band tore through their hour-long set, and also benefited from the “overflow effect” I mentioned earlier – Gorilla Biscuits, Cold Cave, and Sorority Noise all let out when Drive Like Jehu had about 20 minutes left, causing the crowd to swell near the end. The double punch of “Here Come the Rome Plows” and “Luau” was one for the ages.
Finally, L7 took the stage to cap off day one at Wrecking Ball. Their set seemed to start as soon as Drive Like Jehu left the stage, and the four females fed off whatever energy the crowd had left as they ran from one side of the park to the other. My colleague Bryce had quite an experience on the side of the stage while snapping photos as members of Gorilla Biscuits, Juliette and the Licks, American Football and many others bands gathered around to watch them perform to the massive crowd. Juliette Lewis herself even joined them on stage for an explosive version of “Shitlist,” sending the crowd into one more frenzy.
And just like that, Wrecking Ball’s first day was in the books.