Slam Dunk Festival North 2022: Review

Slam Dunk Festival North 2022: Review
Words: Dan Barnes
Photos: Rich Price

Regardless of the fact that last year’s show was pushed back to the beginning of September and has now been returned to its more traditional Whitsun Bank Holiday slot, it still does not feel anything like nine-months since we were last in this field and getting giddy to NOFX.

The early withdrawal of Rancid was a blow – not going to lie to you on that score – but the prospect of The Bronx, Pennywise, Alexisonfire and, of course, the mighty Dropkick Murphys somewhat softened that particular blow. So, with my festival pants freshly pressed and my boots gleaming, it’s an early Bank Holiday Friday start for the first outdoor show of the season.

Hopes were dashed a little when I got up on Friday morning to see the heavens had opened and it was lashing down. But, faint heart and all that, I headed out ready for the worst the conditions could throw at me only to find – and much as it pains me to say it - the weather was far more pleasant in Yorkshire than at home. By the time I’d got my wristband and had a wander around the site it was more akin to a day on the Mediterranean than one in Leeds.

First up on the Jagermeister Stage is Cassyette, who I was very much looking forward to catching up with again after her impressive support slot on the Frank Carter tour last November. The early slot has not diminished her performance as she prowls the stage like the Punk-Rock Goddess she is, ripping through a high-energy set with ease. Ms Ette alternates her sound so that one moment she is singing you to sweet sleep and the next damning your very soul to the fire of Hades. Mayhem is dedicated to an ex who she doesn’t seem to have much time for anymore, Sad Girl Summer sees the sizable crowd bopping away and Dead Roses goes for a mid-set jump-da-fuck-up moment. She ends with Prison Purse’s additive chorus and lays down a marker for the day ahead.

Mine is a day to be spend shuttling between the Dickies Stage and the Jagermeister and so it’s back across the field for The Bronx’s unnaturally early set time. Following a long trip from New Zealand, the Cally natives’ luggage and gear have gone AWOL, leaving the band to borrow equipment from the other bands on the bill. You wouldn’t know it though as the boys smashing into some of the most aggressive music heard at such an hour. They open up a pit for 15 seconds of madness, pull out a 12-bar blues progression for Shitty Future and unleash an almost unstoppable desire to smash everything in sight during Heart Attack America. The Bronx’s performance is like an out of control Kaiju destroying everything in its path as the relentless carnage continues through Two Birds, Superbloom and Knifeman. Phenomenal set as ever from The Bronx.

Counterparts have already taken the stage by the time I arrive and, if I thought The Bronx were aggy, then they are nothing compared to the first of the many Canadian bands on the bill today. Vocalist Brendan Murphy prowls the stage like a fighter awaiting a knock on his dressing room door, as the last full-length, Nothing Left to Love, dominates the early parts of the set. Counterparts match the frontman’s raw-throated assaults with sharp, stabbing riffs and explosive breakdowns. New song, Unwavering Vow, is a taster for the forthcoming new album, Eulogy for Those Still Here, and sees the band continuing in the same direction. No Servant of Mine and The Disconnect closes out the show in a barrage of guitar and drums and I feel lucky to have been able to walk away from Counterparts with some skin not having been removed.

One of the great things about festivals is being able to discover new bands who you wouldn’t necessarily happen across in your day to day listening and my takeaway from Slam Dunk 2022 is Hot Water Music. Twenty-eight years and nine albums into their career, the Floridans should be feeling at home under this swelling sun. Vive Le Rock issue 91 gave the band some love recently on the back of the new record, Feel the Void, they add three tracks from that album into the show. Built around a fat bass sound and some driving rock rhythms, mixing in a few off-kilter moments and some of the Americana favoured by the likes of Bruce Springsteen and Brian Fallon. Killing Time thunders along with a hint of the epic, while the anthemic Trusty Chords – one of four tracks from the twenty-year-old Caution album – closes out the set. On recommendation I’d already been spinning Feel the Void, but on this showing, I think a deep dive is mandatory.

Back to Jagermeister for Silverstein where a thumping Ultraviolet pummels from the PA. I recently reviewed the band’s most recent record, Misery Made Me, and singled out that this track was destined to become a live favourite; looking at the mass of bodies in front of the stage, that was an understatement. Smashed into Pieces, from the 2003 debut When Broken is Easily Fixed follows and demonstrates that even though the band have evolved over the intervening nineteen years they have never strayed far from their core sound. Boppy riffs and huge breakdowns, this is Silverstein doing what Silverstein do.

A rare UK appearance by veteran So-Cal punks, The Vandals is a particular highlight of the festival and from the get-go long-time vocalist, Dave Quackenbush and guitarist, Warren Fitzgerald’s comedic and self-deprecating double-act is an engaging as their music. Being of the Bad Religion and Descendants school of music, The Vandals’ tunes are short and snappy, and both pop-infused and groove-ridden. And, as with Descendants, The Vandals have a knack of writing songs about the most-mundane of topics - such as mullets - the seemingly irreverent, My Girlfriend’s Dead, and the lyrically playful, Live Fast, Diarrhoea; the latter featuring a host of Country & Western motifs like whoops and ye-haas. Underscoring it all is a serious message and Anarchy-Burger (Hold the Government) is played without any need to preach a point of view and, rather, let the music do the talking. It all ends with Warren and Dave swapping places for an insane cover of Queen’s Don’t Stop Me Now – for the Platinum Jubilee – with Warren delving into the space between stage and crowd as a roadie frantically feeds out microphone cable. As an intro to the band’s performance, onstage MC, Matt Stocks, tells the crowd if they haven’t seen The Vandals before they were in for a treat; and he wasn’t wrong about that.

The slimmed down three-piece of Psychic Jailbreak line-up has been augmented by guitarists Stephen Harrison and KT Lamond for Cancer Bat’s live show and their addition has reinvigorated the Canadian crews’ commitment to delivering the most devastating set of songs possible. Those guitars crunch away with hardly a concern for the necks being strained as a result; instead, the continued relentlessly punishing assault hit the crowd in wave after wave of fierce riffing and pummelling rhythms, with more than a little grooving to soften the blow. Every time I see Cancer Bats, they make me think they have picked up the mantle laid down by Chimaira, which is no bad thing.

I’m having a wander and momentarily make my first foray into the Rock Scene stage where Knuckle Puck are serving up a raging set. Arms are held aloft and bodies move as one as the tent feels more like it’s hosting a religious rite than a rock show.

Out on the Dickies Stage and people are having a blast to the Ska-punk of New Jersey’s Streetlight Manifesto. The octet reminds me very much Brass Against, who opened for Tool last month, with the five-piece brass section taking centre stage as the traditional instrumentation takes a step back. I’ve never been the biggest Ska fan, to be honest, but their inclusion after the unfortunate withdrawal of The Mighty, Mighty Bosstones seems to have hit the spot with the hundreds of revellers dancing away at the front of the stage.

On Rich’s recommendation I check out Electric – formerly Eskimo – Callboy, unprepared for the German electropop meets banging riffs that was on offer. Poppy synths combine with a big low end to effortless generate the sort of tune for which dancing is mandatory and fun, fun, fun is the order of the day. Heck, there are even a couple of My Chemical Romance fans bopping away and, generally speaking, you do well to get so much as a smile from those folks.

It was a great shame that Pennywise withdrew from last year’s show but they’re here now and that’s all that matters. The Hermosa Beach natives have not only brought the So-Cal grooves but also the Californian sun as they set about dismantling everything around them. Unrelenting from start to finish, Pennywise play a perfect festival set, comprising of oldies, Rules, Same Old Story and their namesake track, Pennywise; (relative) newbie Live While You Can and a few mid-era favourites to demonstrate the breadth and consistency of the legends. They even manage a few cover versions, including Nirvana’s Territorial Pissings, AC/DC’s TNT and Bad Religion’s Do What You Want. Society prompts plenty of pit-action while Live While You Can invokes a thirty-year reminisce. To show that the band haven’t lost their edge over that time, Jim Linberg reminds us all that the politicians work for us, resulting in middle-fingers and crowd-surfers taking to the skies for Fuck Authority. The last cover of the set is Ben E King’s Stand By Me which brings one of the biggest singalongs of the afternoon. As ever, the obligatory Bro Hymn closes the show in dedication to everyone who has lost someone in the last two years.

I’m having a wander again and find myself back in the Rock Scene stage where, due to the withdrawal of Motion City Soundtrack, The Wonder Years have copped double-duties and have agreed to play both their The Upsides album from 2010 and its successor, Suburbia I’ve Given You All and Now I’m Nothing record from the following year. I arrive to see the Pennsylvanians halfway through Suburbia with an attendant crowd hanging on every word. I hang around for a while, appreciating what the lads are on with and, seeing as they appear to have everything under control, I head out again.

Another Dickies Stage band and another Bad Religion cover. This time Sorrow, performed by The Interrupters, the Los Angeles Ska troop featuring the three brothers Bivona on guitar, bass and drums and the really quite marvellous Aimee Allen on vocals. I mentioned earlier that I’m not the world’s biggest Ska fan, but I make an exception for The Interrupters. From the opening bars of Take Back the Power to the closing notes of She’s Kerosene, the four-piece take to the Slam Dunk stage like festival headliners. Such is the support in the field that few would disagree as the infectious PMA barrelling out of the PA sweeps across the grounds of Temple Newsam. The brothers are locking in tight as Aimee skanks away, leading us through multiple catchy singalong choruses with the likes of Title Holder, Judge Not and an awesome rendition of She Got Arrested. New album In the Wild is scheduled for release later in the summer and we get a couple of early peeks at In the Mirror and Anything Was Better, both being played live for the first time. With a UK tour pencilled in for just after the release date and some rescheduled February dates with a little band from Boston to look forward to, then I better get my skank on – and fast!

Up in Rock Scene, The Wonder Years have ended their stage-hogging and let someone else have a go. That someone is The Story So Far and they are kicking it when I arrive, with hundreds of voices looking to put Parker Cannon out of a job.

Now, with ten years under their belts, Beartooth have earned the right to demand top(ish) billing and this being their first UK show since lockdown seems to imbue a new steel into the band. Amid the onstage pyros vocalist Caleb Shomo announces he has been struggling but has made it to six-months sober, which is an achievement to be applauded. Beartooth cull their show from the band’s whole discography and preach a positive attitude to the gathered acolytes.

Not content with rocking it up earlier in the day with Hot Water Music, Chris Cresswell is pulling a double shift with his other band, The Flatliners, on the Key Club Stage Right. Sadly, due to clashes I don’t get to see much other than opener Hang My Head, which is a shame as I am fond of their Dead Languages album. Hopefully it won’t be too long before our paths cross again.

Difficult to be wholly impartial about this as The Dropkick Murphys are one of my favourite bands, but journalistic integrity and threats from the Editor-in-Chief mean I must remain unbiased and give a fair and balanced assessment of the performance. So here goes: They were Awesome! Following chants of Let’s Go Murphys the band open with the threesome of The Boys are Back, Blood and State of Massachusetts. Ken Casey is handling vocal duties alone tonight as Al Barr has remained at home due to a family emergency, but he brings the infectious fun enough to cover his missing bandmate. Queen of Suffolk County is dedicated to all the beautiful women of Boston, MA, while Barroom Hero – the first song the band wrote back in 1996 – still sounds as fresh today as it did back then.

The Turn Up That Dial album is well represented but, as Ken tells us, this is the first UK show since February 2020 and, even though the Dropkicks have barely had time to play these tracks live there will be a new acoustic record coming soon. They manage to get Good as Gold, Middle Finger and the title track played too, alongside a newbie, 99, and a cover of Gerry Cinnamon’s The Bonny from the expanded edition of the last record. Rose Tattoo seems to get more poignant with the passing of time and the massive influx of bodies to jig away with I’m Shipping Up to Boston ends the set on a high.

Heading back to the Jagermeister for final time as the evening slowly starts to fall and Alexisonfire have taken stage to a huge crowd and are pummelling through the frankly fantastically titled Drunks, Lovers, Sinners and Saints with a reckless abandon. That ferocity is replicated throughout the show in songs like Old Crows, .44 Caliber Love Letter and Pulmonary Archery to the point that you start to feel concerned for the vocal chords of George Pettit. Things regain some compose through The Northern but normal service is resumed for We Are the Sound, featuring a no holds barred gallop from Messrs Green and MacNeil on the six-strings. As a cited influence from many of the bands sharing this stage with Alexisonfire today, the Ontario natives continued commitment to their cause is admirably demonstrated through such a high energy and crushing performance.

And, so it’s come to this – so soon as well – as Sum 41 take to the Dickies stage and deliver a pop-punk masterclass of how to get a crowd moving. My advanced years mean I was too old for the band when they broke in the millennium. But, through their inclusion on the American Pie soundtracks and frequent appearances on MTV I was aware of songs like In Too Deep and Fat Lip. They even impressed me greatly on the only other occasion I’d seen the band, across town at the Leeds Festival back in 2003.

It's impressive that the band have largely remained together for quarter of a century and even though their recorded output hasn’t resulted in a prolific or extensive back catalogue it has seen them ticking over enough to not become a relic of a time gone by. Judging by the number of Sum 41 shirts on site, both new and old, the last Canadians of the day are in friendly company; and with Satan himself overseeing the show from a prime position at the back of the stage, Deryck Whibley and company craft a thumping hour and a bit, worthy of bringing Slam Dunk North to a crescendo.

Again, Slam Dunk Festival was a triumph and even better than last year’s show. Great bands, great atmosphere, great sound and great weather make for a perfect day of live music. I look forward to seeing who they have lined up for 2023.

All photo credits: Rich Price Photography.

Check out the full Slam Dunk 2022 Gallery here.

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