Bamboozle Gets Caught in Between: 19 May 2012

Ideally, over the past decade, The Bamboozle has been a showcase for both new talent, as well as world-beating headliners on their victory lap after another successful album. It has also typically been staged at North America’s premier sports complex, the Meadowlands in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

This year, however, Electric Daisy Carnival took over the swamplands and The Bamboozle — for what’s rumored to be only a year — returned to its roots in Asbury Park, New Jersey. Everything was centered (geographically) around legendary, beautiful Convention Hall, with the main stage just a short walk away, actually touching the beaches of the New Jersey shore. It was a lovely setting, but it wasn’t in a controlled environment like the Meadowlands provides, so everything tended to be a bit up and down.

The side stages saw better luck, with one of the best pair of performances of the day going to Minneapolis’ nerd-punks Motion City Soundtrack. Despite having a new album ready a few weeks from now (Go) they were relatively scant on new material, reaching back for fan favorites like “Lets Get F**ked Up and Die”, “The Future Freaks Me Out” and “This is For Real” and the bouncy “Everything is Alright” (with the ironic-for-the-location lyrics “I hate the ocean / theme parks and airplanes”). I’ve seen Motion City three times in the Bamboozle setting, and they are always the band I would want to spend $30 for a ticket to one of their own shows more than any other.

One misstep turned out to be the Bamboozle Beach Party, which was just that. The stage featured acts ranging from solid buzz-rapper A$AP Rocky, to the Ke$ha-on-steroids (seriously) aesthetic of Iggy Azalea (or, as we’ll know her in two years as, “Who?”). Largely, it was a spot for DJs to spin everything from contemporary pop, to dubstep, to an impromptu Beastie Boys tribute. Bamboozle’s become more of a dance festival in recent years, drawing the jocks and frat set and well as the usual bunch of freaks and geeks.

Everything centered around the main stage, which is another spot where Bamboozle got caught in between in perhaps a bit of an err booking-wise. Not that the bands weren’t entertaining, but a huge chunk of the headliners, both Saturday and the rest of the weekend (Foo Fighters, My Chemical Romance, Jimmy Eat World, Incubus, Brand New, Bon Jovi), were not only at least a year away from their last new records, most had already toured behind them. There’s nothing more awkward than seeing a big band with nothing really new to offer, but the featured players Saturday did their best.

Earlier in the afternoon, The All-American Rejects did have something to promote, their most recent record Kids in the Street. However, they mostly stuck to the hits (“Swing, Swing” is eight years old now, and I am therefore somewhere around 75 or 80). Fans were indifferent to deeper cuts like “I Wanna”, but Tyson Ritter (who might want to cool it on a few improvised sexist invectives — if the lyrics refer to the girl in your song as “love”, why did it change to “b**tch?) got everyone bouncing along with former Top 10 hit “Gives You Hell”.

Jimmy Eat World followed them up, and continued to ride the waves of nostalgia from the 10th anniversaries of their two best records – Clarity and Bleed American. The band only played one song from 2010’s Invented (there’s rumored to be a follow up by the end of the year) and mixed in a couple of hits from Chase this Light, Futures and the aforementioned emo touchstones the band used to reach big success at the turn of the century. With the group headed towards their 20th anniversary together, it should come as great comfort to fans that they appear to have a renewed energy and fierceness, and that people still love singing along to “The Middle”.

The most curious case of The Bamboozle were New Jersey homeboys My Chemical Romance, who are nearly 18 months away from Danger Days, and got called in to play their first show in three months when Travis Barker came down with tonsilitis, forcing Blink-182 to pull out (the beach was littered with “who cares if the drummer got tonsilitis?” jokes). My Chem, having done a great deal to help build The Bamboozle in its earliest days, then using 2007’s fest as a giant victory lap for The Black Parade, acquitted themselves wonderfully, owning the crowd as much as any band not called the Foo Fighters did. They, as did Jimmy Eat World, mixed in something from every record, and “Teenagers” is still a total jam. Given the short noticed, you couldn’t have asked for a better performance.

But, then again, we are all currently living in the world of the Foo Fighters. The Foos were always big, but now it just seems like they’re the biggest band on the planet (they were two hours away from an SNL duet with Mick Jagger when their set ended) and we’re merely living in their world. The Foos brought a bit of an older crowd, but no age of people are immune to the awesomeness of Dave Grohl. The band did their typical schtick — funny, relatable everymen who will strangle every last note out of their songs for maximum enjoyment. I was a tad worried the crowd would be too young, but people were even singing along to early album cuts like “This is a Call” or “Hey, Johnny Park!”. The scene ended in fireworks, and whatever quips people had about the rest of the day, you couldn’t deny you’d been entertained.

Overall, for a year stuck in the middle a bit — location-wise, and in terms of “it moments” for the headliners — Bamboozle still stood strong. It manages to remain rock’s most reliable, unabashed freak show. Anything can happen, and usually does. There are clowns and wooden giraffes hanging around. It’s only rock and roll, but we like it, yes we do.