Friday, March 2nd
Rock music and tattoos fit perfectly, like peanut butter and jelly. To the mainstream, the combination is synonymous with living life on the edge. And to those close to their gods, the tandem is a sign of the great Satan himself. However, no such presence could be found at MusInk 2012 — gathering at the Orange County Fairgrounds was, instead, an enthusiastic and diverse mix of people who share a common bond: a love of ink and rock music.
MusInk held its first gathering back in 2008 with the help of tattoo artist and star of TLC’s “LA Ink,” Kat Von D. After a successful first run, the festival has been going strong since. Now in its fifth year, the fest (which no longer has an association to Kat Von D) returned for another three days with bands including Tiger Army, Guana Batz, A New Found Glory, Yellowcard, Against Me!, and Alkaline Trio. In addition to featuring some top-notch musical acts, the festival has also attracted more than 300 world renowned ink-slayers like black and gray maestro Mark Mahoney, color aficionado Nikko Hurtado, and famed Sublime artist Opie Ortiz.
As you enter the tattoo expo hall, you are immediately hit with the buzz of countless tattoo guns going off, like a swarm of angry bees, and the smell of cleaning liquids used to wash away excess ink fills the air. As you walk among the booths, you pass by people being worked on, as well as photos of the featured artists’ previous work. Amid the tattoo artists are retailers selling various products, including tattoo supplies, fine art, and other rock n’ roll-related goods. I was especially impressed with the work of David Lozeau and his Dia De Los Muertos-themed artwork.
The parking lot on Friday night was oddly quite empty — or, at least, not as full as I expected it to be. However, with Tiger Army and Guana Batz as the Friday’s headlining acts, there was no shortage of pompadours and pegged jeans. The underwhelming crowd size was no problem for trailblazing UK psychobilly outfit Guana Batz. The Batz are regarded as one of the pivotal bands that helped to create the psychobilly sound in the UK along with The Meteors. Their impressive half-hour performance was brimming with energy and bravado. Their set consisted of a mix of original material and cover tunes, including a really cool cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m On Fire,” Billy Idol’s “Rebel Yell,” and Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll.” The use of the double bass for some of these covers made the end product sound quite interesting, though due to horrible acoustics, the bass sounded flat and tinny, rather than full and bold. The band ended with one of their most notable tunes, “King Rat.”
It wasn’t long before Tiger Army took the stage to a crowd that seemed to swell following the Guana Batz performance. The crowd went wild with the opening number “Prelude: Nightfall,” and the enthusiasm level remained high through the entirety of the hour-long performance. This was Tiger Army’s second time performing MusInk, and their first since the inaugural 2008 festival. The set contained a mix of music both older and newer, including many cuts off their latest album, Music From Regions Beyond. I personally enjoy their material from their first two albums, which were represented by songs including “FTW,” “Cupid’s Victim,” and Eddie Cochran’s “Twenty Flight Rock.” A three-song encore concluded the show with “Devil Girl,” “Valley of Dreams,” and “Never Die” in that order.
Saturday, March 3rd
Day two of MusInk brought with it not only new bands, but also an entirely different kind of crowd. With A New Found Glory and Yellowcard headlining Saturday’s musical entertainment, the dynamics of the festival took on a totally different feel. The event was far more crowded, and the butterheads and Betty Page knockoffs were replaced by Orange Country bros and an overall younger crowd.
Yellowcard’s energetic performance was met with a mostly enthusiastic crowd, as hardcore fans packed themselves up to the front of the stage and fully enjoyed Yellowcard’s set. The majority of the tunes they performed were from their newer albums, and the band played nothing older than material from their 2003 release, Ocean Avenue. Fans sung along with lead vocalist and guitarist Ryan Key to tunes like “Hang You Up,” “Way Away,” and “Light Up The Sky.” New bassist Josh Portman seemed quite comfortable, which is impressive considering that he’s only been with the band for less than a month. As expected, Yellowcard ended their set with their 2003 hit, “Ocean Avenue.”
To end the night of nostalgic pop-punk acts, A New Found Glory also came out to a mixed crowd of diehard fans and curious spectators. Unlike Yellowcard’s set, A New Found Glory really attempted to dig up those nostalgic feelings by playing a ton of older material, most of which was from their 2000 self-titled album. They opened up their set with “Understatement” from 2002’s Sticks and Stones, and also included “Dressed to Kill” and “Hit or Miss.” The band also mixed in some newer tracks, including “Truck Stop Blues” (from their 2009 release Not Without a Fight) and covered the Ramones “Blitzkrieg Bop” and Green Day‘s “Basket Case.”
One has to admire the nonstop energy put forth by the members of NFG. Even if you can’t dig the angst-ridden lyrics and the sugar-coated tunes, you should appreciate the fact that these guys are still going strong. Some might say pop-punk is dead, but it was very much alive and well in the hearts of those in attendance at MusInk.
Sunday, March 4th
As I arrived at the fairgrounds on the third and final day of the festival, I seriously anticipated a protest by the Westboro Baptist Church. Seeing as how Alkaline Trio’s Matt Skiba is a card-carrying member of the Church of Satan, I thought this was a prime opportunity for everyone’s favorite hate-mongering group to show up and give us a sample of their protesting skills. Nope, no protesters were to be found.
Against Me! took to the stage in front of a crowd significantly smaller than the previous day’s. The Florida natives have risen from the indie punk scene to become a successful mainstream punk act, much in the same vein as Rise Against. Their set was intense and impressive. In addition to having an amazing stage presence, Against Me! managed to play their entire hour-long set without taking a real break between songs. It’s quite possible they played nearly 15 to 20 songs in an hour, something most bands who chatter between songs could never even think of doing (NOFX, I’m talking about you!).
I was especially blown away by drummer Jay Weinberg. He’s the son of Max Weinberg, the drummer for Bruce Springsteen (and the former leader of Conan O’Brien‘s house band), so you know the kid’s got chops! The crowd sang along with vocalist Tom Gabel to such songs as “White People For Peace,” “I Was A Teenage Anarchist,” “Thrash Unreal,” and “Black Me Out” — but unfortunately, the acoustics in the expo hall were so bad that most of the music came across as jumbled noise, and vocals were extremely hard to decipher (the band was nearly halfway through “White People For Peace” before I recognized which song was being played). Despite the acoustics, the set was one of the best performances of the entire festival.
Looking to top — or at least live up to — Against Me’s performance, Chicago’s own Alkaline Trio soon appeared onstage to close out MusInk. They opened with “Cringe” from their 1998 album Goddamnit, which was surprising, as it had been publicized on several websites that they were going to perform their album Maybe I’ll Catch Fire in its entirety at MusInk. Clearly this wasn’t the case, and I was fine with that, as it’s not their best work.
The acoustics suited Alkaline Trio better than Against Me!, as their music is more toned down than Against Me!’s mix of loud, melodic punk rock. Unfortunately, once again, the vocals were lost in the instrumentation. Luckily, Skiba and bassist Dan Andriano had a loyal crowd to back them up as they belted out tunes that spanned their entire career, such as “Hell Yes,” “Crawl,” and “This Could Be Love.” “Madam Me” was dedicated by Skiba to Orange County legends Social Distortion.
During the set, a fan tossed his Derrick Rose Chicago Bulls jersey at Dan Andriano, and he threw it on. Skiba brought the fan onto the stage during the last song during their encore, “97,” to end an amazing night of music, as well as an unforgettable weekend of music and art.