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GURNETT: Forever Came Calling highlights Mohawk punk-pop lineup

On March 27th, Mohawk Place hosted a bonanza of talented pop-punk bands, with Forever Came Calling and In Her Own Words headlining the bill. Fans of the genre (and even those who may not have been) were treated to a night full of upbeat, entertaining bands who kept the crowd moving.

Ghostpool performed first and was an exciting start to the evening. Alec Westover’s booming, intricate drums introduced  vocalist/guitarist Jake Amadori, who burst to the mic to open the set. The entire band had great energy, a trait shared by all the performers that night. Active and engaging, Amadori impressed whether singing, supplying a throaty deep yell, or playing pretty, melodic leads on guitar.

Guitarist/vocalist Nick Jones provided plenty of sweet vocal harmonies, as well as some lead vocal with his thick, strong tenor. I’d like to see Jones match Amadori’s energy level when he takes over on lead vocal, but that’s a really minor complaint. Bassist Aaron Gordon provided a slick, crisp low tone and some fun, progressive bass lines.

Westover’s drumming went above and beyond. He laid the beat as you’d hope but also included lots of intricate fills and cymbal hits that defy the genre and give Ghostpool their own sound. You can tell he’s a well-disciplined, technically proficient drummer. Ghostpool had the crowd singing along, and the anticipation for each coming song was palpable. They were arguably the most impressive band of the evening.

Kill the Clock played second. I reviewed their 2016 EP "To All My Friends and Family" and was excited to see how they had grown in the time since. While I had a fun time watching them, I left with some of the same gripes I had when I first reviewed them.

Their set started out strong with another fantastic drummer, Mike Tomasula, setting the tone. Vocalist/guitarist Dan McCormick and lead guitarist Joe Morganti complement each other well, with Morganti playing cool, soaring guitar leads. Bassist John Vaughn rounded out the sound with well-placed backing vocals.

Eventually, though, some cracks started to show. Kill the Clock’s brand of pop-punk can most simply be described by naming Blink-182 and Good Charlotte, and they don’t seem to deviate from that sound much. Vaughn provided solid backing vocals and steady bass work, but many of his bass lines seemed boring and over-simplified. Playing root notes is fine, but eventually you need to liven up your parts. While McCormick’s playing and singing was also fine, he seemed to lack the onstage presence to draw all to eyes to him, and that’s something every band needs. In a night filled with compelling lead vocalists, he didn’t stand out the way I think he can.

I want to like these guys more, I really do. They are clearly talented, but in a sea of pop-punk bands, you need to do something to stand out. Kill the Clock plays decent pop-punk, but it feels very vanilla at times. Instead of furthering the genre by adding their own twist, it they tread the same path we’ve already been down countless times.

Hopeless Records’ Hold Close kicked off the out-of-town bands. The Springfield, Missouri band combines the sounds of Fall Out Boy, Midtown and (if anyone remembers them) Samiam.

Vocalist Braxton Smiley has a big, resonant voice and electric stage presence dancing around and gripping the microphone with both hands. Guitarists Charlie Edel and Jessee Everett both played with less distortion than the genre usually demands, letting the intensity of their playing do the work and providing a cool, different feel to the genre. Unfortunately, the sound wasn’t perfect for Hold Close’s set, making it hard to hear bassist Devon Edwards and some of the backing vocals.

Edwards had the expression and body language of someone who didn’t want to be there. I’m not sure if that’s just the way he performs, but it was a bit of a distraction at times. Outside of Smiley, there wasn’t much audience engagement from the rest of the band. Lucky for them, Smiley makes up for it with his boundless energy.

Hold Close sounds best during their quieter moments. When the dynamic shifts softer, the bass can be heard, Smiley’s voice shines even more, and the terrific interplay between the two guitars stands out. Either way, loud or quiet, it was a fun set led by an entertaining performance from Smiley.

Los Angeles’ In Her Own Words were up fourth. The first thing you’ll notice watching In Her Own Words is vocalist Joey Fleming’s presence onstage. Whether singing or screaming, he shows off his great set of pipes, manically pacing around the stage while the rest of the band lays an aggressive groove that gets the crowd dancing. Fleming oozes talent and makes his work look near effortless. The whole band was energetic and engaging, moving to the music and feeding off the crowd’s excitement.

Guitarist Ian Berg chimed in with some nice backup harmonies and call-and-response parts, in addition to his impressive guitar work. Berg is able to fill the room usually taken up by two guitarists, playing interesting chords and inversions as well as switching over to some impressive lead parts.

Bassist Eric Ruelas’ playing was the best of all the bassists that evening, with a crisp tone that cut through the boomy low end all five bands had to deal with, as well as some tasty progressive bass lines to keep things interesting and jumpy bass lines that got the crowd grooving.

In Her Own Words’ songwriting is also solid, with shifts in dynamic and tempo that transcend the genre and match their unbridled energy. Fleming’s energy filled the room and set the tone. He interacted with fans, letting them take the mic for a second or two and encouraging the crowd before many songs to “have some fun.” By the end of the set, everyone in attendance was getting into it, and rightly so; In Her Own Words left it all on the stage and wowed everyone in attendance.

To finish off the evening, Forever Came Calling took to the stage with their powerful melodic music in support of their March 23rd release Retro Future. The first thing you notice about Forever Came Calling is the large, imposing figure of vocalist Joe Candelaria. He began by calling everyone at the bar up to the stage and implored that the crowd dance along (they happily obliged).

Candelaria has a great voice. I don’t think he missed a single note. Bassist John Swaba was clearly having a blast, boogying down while providing crisp bass lines with lots of slides (something I love and don’t see enough of).  Bryce Esquivel’s drums were rocksteady. He wasn’t flashy like many of the drummers that evening, but he provided a steady pulse, and his parts fit in perfectly with the rest of the band. Tom Lovejoy delivered some interesting leads but was a little low in the mix, which led to some trouble hearing what he was playing.

Highlights from the set included my personal favorite, “Indebted,”; “Kansas City,” the first single off of their new album; and “Front Porch Sunrise,” an older favorite. By the end of the set, things were starting to feel a little repetitive, with songs bleeding into one another. But  Forever Came Calling managed to throw in enough variants -- like hardcore elements and noise rock-y dissonant guitar parts,along with big, anthemic choruses -- to keep things interesting enough.

Hats off to Mohawk Place for putting together such a fun lineup. Cramming in five bands before 11:00 p.m. is no easy task, but the quick turnaround between bands helped keep the crowd engaged and the party going. Hopefully we’ll be seeing all of these band return to Mohawk Place soon.

Ryan Gurnett has a B.S. in Music Industry from The College of St Rose. He has worked as a studio engineer, live sound engineer, producer and sound editor and has been a musician for 25 years. He is currently the bassist for The Lady, or the Tiger?. Email him at SirWilliamIdol@gmail.com or find him on Twitter @SirWilliamIdol.

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