Review: Reel and Restless Fest (Days Two and Three) at Churchill's Pub, Miami

This past weekend, South Florida played host to one of the most historically significant events the hardcore-punk community has witnessed in recent memory. Bands that have spent years dormant, bands that ended with a firm "never again," and bands that have influenced the hardcore scene on an international level convened in Miami for a weekend of flying pigs and reunions.

See also:
- Blast From the Past: Powerhouse Reunion at Reel and Restless Fest

One look at the action -- from the parking lot reunions, to the mic-dives, and flailing goings on within Churchill's innards -- was enough to show that everyone in the vicinity had been transported to another time. The rigors and stress of life left for a while, and, for three days, the "CBGB of the South" served to unite a scene around its history and its future.

Both days of the event were jam-packed full of current bands, as well as those risen from the ashes for the weekend. As such, our coverage focuses on highlights of both days. 

On Saturday, the currently super-hyped band, Foundation, from Atlanta, GA, played to an audience that was seemingly on the verge of losing control. The band had what might have been the strongest crowd response of any currently active group playing the fest, though there was quite a buzz about Jacksonville's Captive Bolt and their Bikini Kill cover.

Following Foundation, local Miami band Aversion performed on Chuchill's back patio. The group was forced to play their set in the dark as the patio's electrical wiring faltered from the burden of amps, a PA, and jerry-rigged lighting. Oddly enough, the patio's lighting returned during a cover of a song by Christian hardcore band, Strongarm, spurring forth jokes about the presence of God somewhere amongst the barbed wire and grime of the patio. 

The next notable group to hit the patio was Dance Floor Justice. They formed around 2002 in Miami, and featured an ex-members of list longer than Crowbar's food rider. As fans sung along with frontman Richard "Chip" Walbert's inimitable upper-register scream, it was hard not to visualize the karate kicking of the average mid-'00s mosh-pit. 

Back indoors, legendary California-based straight-edge band, A Chorus Of Disapproval -- also known as XChorusX -- set up their gear and were ready for their first set as a band in ages. The group came out to the Godfather theme and proceeded to prove beyond a doubt that dudes in their 40s do not have to grow complacent. The set was intense, the dance floor churned, and frontman Isaac Golub and co. appeared to call upon the same rage that fueled the band in their youth. 

South Florida's own answer to the militant straight-edge movement, Culture, was next to perform on Churchill's indoor stage. This performance marked the members of Culture's first time on stage together since 1995. Culture's contribution to South Florida's scene was immense, and from the instant the band kicked off the title track off of Born of You, Churchill's was engulfed in bodies leaving mosh-retirement for the first time in years, or on the other end of the spectrum, getting lose to a band they might have never before been afforded the chance to see. While there was discussion of the band being reluctant to play based on changes in personal ethics and reverence for the militant message Culture was built upon, the members of Culture poured everything they had into a performance that properly ended a sentence in desperate need of a period. 

Ending Saturday's fun was the kinda sorta re-activated Trial. As the band began their set, it appeared as though the time machine they arrived in had ripped a hole in the time/space continuum through which moshing bodies from the mid-'90s fell through. The place simply segued into immediate chaos, with men and women from all age groups diving for Bennick's microphone to take their piece of songs like "Unrestrained."

Throughout Trial's set, frontman and hardcore-punk elder statesmen Greg Bennick spoke on the importance of community, how it applies to hardcore, the ills of growing numb, and how nihilism can overcome and addict us. Bennick and Trial are from an era when hardcore wasn't entirely self-referential, or rooted in scene politics and mosh calls. The universally applicable sermons Bennick provided were invigorating where most soapbox speeches tend to be regaling and energy sapping in the context of hardcore. 

Sunday was the final day of the fest and provided a day of reverence and history for some of South Florida's most influential hardcore bands. Reunion sets by Powerhouse, the Believers, Bird of Ill Omen, and Shai Hulud featuring defining vocalist Chad Gilbert (of New Found Glory fame) saw the madness continuing indoors.

Bird Of Ill Omen and Powerhouse's set were met by the same sort of energy that Saturday's bands enjoyed. On a comical note, Powerhouse frontman Ivan White donned a T-shirt that read "Old," playing off of an iconic shirt produced by the band Bold. 

California's Mean Season had the most notable set of the early evening. The group brought a megaton of metallic-tinged hardcore to Churchill's stage, and while the music was heavy, mosh hectic, and head bobbing viscous, the highlight of Mean Season's set was absolutely the on-stage marriage proposal that occurred toward the end. 

After a song, guitarist Brian Manry requested his soon to be fiance bring their 5-month old son up the front of the room. The infant was wearing isolation headphones to protect his hearing, and after the guitarist introduced his boy, he took a knee and popped the question. She said "yes," and following a massive round of applause, the guitarist wore a huge grin for the rest of the set, which included the band performing a snippet of Slayer's "Raining Blood" and a cover of Integrity's "Darkness." 

Following a set on the patio by Miami's own Out of Spite, By the Grace of God performed indoors. The set was high energy and brought with it all of the outrage and vitriol one would expect from such an outspoken band. Despite singer Rob Pennington having one of his arms strapped to his body via bandages due to recent shoulder surgery, the frontman gave everything he had to the set. 

After BTGOG finished, the surprise guest performance took place indoors. Michael "Popeye" Vogelsang of the hallowed melodic hardcore band, Farside, sang a set of the band's heartfelt songs with his acoustic guitar. While an acoustic set in the middle of a show like this might appear out of place, it was a welcome reprieve from the maelstrom that had taken place for the majority of the weekend. While Popeye recanted some stories from his time in Farside and played, the crowd was granted a minute to recharge before what was without a doubt the highlight of the weekend for most. 

Former South Florida hardcore titans Shai Hulud took the stage to close the event out. The performance was the first full set of Shai Hulud songs played in Florida featuring Chad Gilbert on vocals since his departure, and as Gilbert put it, the show was his version of a high school reunion. 

The minute the band hit the first chords of "Solely Concentrating on the Negative Aspects of Life," the room erupted. Cries of friends sharing in the long awaited return drowned out Gilbert's vocals as a mountain of humans constructed and deconstructed in an endless cycle at the foot of the stage. All shouted the lyrics that have meant so much to so many back at the man responsible for them. 

Gilbert gave shout-outs to his hometown of Coral Springs, the obligatory Hialeah calls were heard, and even the bar Cheers -- former stomping grounds of many in the room -- got its due. Band leader and guitarist Matt Fox put it best when he explained between songs that the event was so much more than a show, and these sentiments were seemingly felt by all taking part. 

Footage of the show can be found at this link, courtesy of Joshua "Chip" Shomburg 

Critics Notebook:

Personal Bias - Proud member of the South Florida hardcore community

Overheard - "Mean Season had the hardest mosh of the night. So serious" - Gino Latino

Random Detail - There were hotdogs provided by both TNT Dogs, the standard in Little Haiti based food carts, and Frankie Dogs, the vegan alternative with a twist. 

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