Live Review: Less Than Jake and Guests Pack Out the New Masquerade

Review by Daniel Karasek. Photos (at the end of the article) by Shaun Krisher

The night of February 24 was graced with the presence of The Attack, Bunny Gang, Pepper, and Less Than Jake at the Masquerade. This was my first show at the new Masquerade location. To be honest, it was my first adult adventure to Underground Atlanta as I haven’t been there since I was a kid over 10 years ago. On first impressions, the new location seems to be a great fit as the vibe of modern Underground Atlanta really blends well with the classic rock culture embedded in Masquerade. The stages are now split between three different rooms in the alley at Underground, much different from the traditional vertical stack where the stages got their name sake. I thought it would be jarring to not have the traditional Masquerade layout, but I was wrong. The open layout makes for a large yet cozy venue.

Now to discuss the show. To start the evening, Florida-based band The Attack rocked the stage with their unique sound that is true to the roots of punk rock. They really make their shows about their sound and not about their looks, which were also on point. The fast riffs of Brad Palkevich really got the crowd hyped while Tito Esquiaqui and Mikey Cortes held down the beat with their respective drums and bass. And we can’t forget the mad vocals of Charlie Bender blasting the world to get on his hype level. This band is a true punk band that any rocker can jam to.

Next on the set list for the night was The Bunny Gang, a rag tag group of dudes who jam out like no tomorrow. This was The Bunny Gang’s cherry pop for playing at Atlanta’s iconic Masquerade. Their self-proclaimed “Revolution Rocksteady” sound is truly a band not to miss when in town. It combines punk rock with reggae in a ska concoction that is smooth on the ears. Nathen Maxwell, the lead singer for The Bunny Gang, showed off his crisp chops as he rocked the stage. He has that rockstar persona with infectious energy that spreads like wildfire in a crowd. Backing him up were the killer keys of Levi Garrett and the hot horns of trombonist Keith Larsen as well as the rest of the motley crew. On asking for comment about the new Masquerade, Levi said “the venue had good sound” and Keith said “the venue was cool with the atmosphere”.

In the slot before the headliner was San Diego’s own Pepper, a feisty ska group very reminiscent of Sublime in their groovy sound. The band’s origin of Hawaii is obvious in their showmanship as they bring a little bit of the island culture to their show. The crowd lit up with noise as Pepper took the stage, and by the second song the walls of the Masquerade were even vibing to the music. The deep, gritty vocals of Kaleo Wassman really stood out to make the music shine. The vocals matched with the slick bass licks of Bret Bollinger and catchy beats of Yesod Williams made for one popping performance. When Kaleo and Bret broke into an acoustic duet of “Point And Shoot” the entirety of Masquerade joined in making for one hell of a singalong, in Heaven none the less. The band definitely lived up to the reputation built around their 20 year career.

As the headliner for the evening, Florida’s own Less Than Jake killed it. There was insane hype from the crowd from the moment they took the stage. To start the show, as Less Than Jake are known for their stage antics, confetti canons blasted the audience alongside the first notes that brought the audience into a roar of excitement. From note one, Less Than Jake showed why they have been kings of ska for nearly 25 years. Their second song ushered in a storm of crowd surfers that continued throughout the show. As the band continued into their set, the lead vocalist and guitarist Chris DeMakes remarked that he “never saw a better crowd” at Masquerade. The energy Chris and bassist Roger Lima put into each song was tenfold reflected by the crowd that night. They both definitely put the show in showmanship. Drummer Vinnie Fiorello kept the tunes in line with his highly danceable and contagious beats. Goldfinger and JR on trombone and tenor sax respectively added the pizzazz to the show that only horns can bring to the table, especially horns in such talented hands. The show these guys put on, riddled with the craziness and mischief necessary for a ska show, is a sight to behold. After a solid encore, Less Than Jake brought the night of great music to a close with more energy than they started their set with.

This great night of ska and rock had the Masquerade packed out. I’d recommend catching a show at the new Masquerade location, especially if any of these acts roll through again.

Photo Gallery – Less than Jake

Photo Gallery – Pepper

Photo Gallery – The Bunny Gang

Saying Goodbye with The Wrecking Ball

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by David Feltman, Photos by Epic Photography Atlanta

The second annual Wrecking Ball was a memorial service honoring the passing of the Masquerade. Not one of those dour Presbyterian services, but a raucous New Orleans-style affairs. Grim reapers and punk effigies duct taped to wrecking balls adorned the sidewalks and venue. The courtyard was lined with vendors offering t-shirts, corn dogs and “Free Shit Haircuts.” Long dead bands resurrected to eulogize the memories of the dearly departing venue.

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This year’s lineup was packed with more than 60 bands, including several presumably last chance reunion and farewell shows. Even with bands in such close proximity, it was possible to migrate from stage to stage every 15 minutes and still not be able to see every performance. If at any point there was a gap between bands on your “must-see” headliner list, you could always be rewarded by poking your head in the Hell or Purgatory stage. Someone somewhere was always playing and they were always worth a few minutes of your attention.

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Many bands traced their history across the entire festival. Taking the stage after Rainer Maria, The Promise Ring’s Davey von Bohlen recalled that the band had opened for The Promise Ring’s first show. “Perhaps we’ll have to get Samuel or Texas is the Reason if we do this again,” said von Bohlen. Later that evening von Bohlen played again with his current band, Maritime. Hardcore band Give Up the Ghost performed under its original name, American Nightmare, and band member Wesley Eisold trotted out his solo act Cold Cave. Anthony Civarelli brought both of his occasionally reunited punk acts, Gorilla Biscuits and CIV, to Wrecking Ball and his band mate in both bands, Walter Schreifels, played a headliner slot with his other, other, other band Quicksand.

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The Wrecking Ball boasted less a lineup than a community. The bands were like old high school friends brought together for a wake, paying respects and making small talk in the hallway. Bands that hadn’t played in 15 years were back and playing with the same groups they were playing with before they disbanded. These bands were fans of each other and they were as excited to watch the other sets as the rest of the audience. Drug Church expressed excitement about seeing Piebald and jokingly asked the crowd if they should play “When Life Gives You Lemons and Venetian Blinds” or “You’re Part of it” before launching into a cover of “American Hearts.” Motion City Soundtrack lead singer Justin Pierre sat just off stage to watch The Promise Ring and after his own band’s farewell performance said, “I haven’t seen Dinosaur Jr. in 25 years. I can’t wait to see them again.”

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The festival was overflowing with attendees. Event security sat at the entrances of Heaven and Hell carefully monitoring and regulating the number of people at each stage. Some of the bigger names like Hey Mercedes and Piebald that didn’t make it to the outdoor stages drew lines that wrapped around the block. With the smaller indoor stages supporting capacity crowds and hardcore acts like Trapped Under Ice and Gorilla Biscuits rousing fans to attack the stage, the Masquerade was definitely showing its age. The floor in Heaven felt rickety and rumbled under the stress of punks plummeting from the stage to the floor in acrobatic bounds. Pushing past crowds on the narrow, shaky stairwell, it became apparent that it was time to say goodbye to the venue.

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Quicksand was the perfect closing act for the event. The band’s low-end punch sent vibrations through everyone near the stage, shaking their innards. The set could be heard for miles and people in the condos the next block over sat on their balconies to listen. It was enough to revitalize the sun burnt and exhausted crowd and give them enough energy to make it to their Ubers waiting outside. The Masquerade will be reborn at its new location and Wrecking Ball will be there again next year. But for dedicated music fans in the area, this was still a goodbye to a landmark venue and a concert experience they will long remember.