About two years ago, Cub Rat hosted the first ever RatFest on the Sundial Lawn just mere steps from the restaurant which granted the concert its namesake. The original event brought together two New Jersey pop-punk tastemakers of different eras- the stalwarts in Saves the Day and the up-and-coming face of the “Defend Pop Punk” rebirth of the genre Man Overboard- as well as promising Los Angeles based indie-pop songwriter Allison Weiss into one impressive lineup which rocked the campus until long after sundown.
This second edition of Cub Rat’s outdoor extravaganza then, would be the “Die Hard 2: Die Harder” to the original event’s “Die Hard.” RatFest 2.0 was a bigger, bolder, and, surprisingly enough, even more enjoyable affair than the inaugural event.
Cultivated to celebrate the impending closing of the legendary campus eatery The Rathskellar due to the imminent Student Center renovations, Rat Fest brought together four bands of varying hometowns and genres to celebrate the punk ethos and commitment to musical talent that has allowed the Rat to survive as a proving ground for artists for so long.
The first band on the bill was Buffalo’s fresh-faced alt-emo torch bearers Head North. The band, fresh off the release of their new EP Bloodlines on March 24, ripped through a few of the tracks off that EP as well as some old favorites from the band’s split with Connecticut’s A Will Away (who will be playing The Rat on this Friday with Aaron West). Set highlight “Brave Hands” the opening track off Bloodline’s shows off Head North’s penchant for heart-wrenching emo as well as drummer Benjamin Leiber’s impressive rhythmic flair. The band closed with fan favorite “In The Water,” and by the end of the set it was clear that they had turned a few heads from Rat Fest attendees who may not have listened to them before.
As we reached the hottest portion of the day on one of the nicest Spring days of the year thus far, Worcester, Massachusetts’ Four Year Strong ripped through an incredibly dense 12 song set of the band’s staple hardcore influenced pop-punk. Nicknamed “Easycore” by fans, the band’s trademark sound has kind of fallen out of favor as of late among bands- but if there is any band that can revitalize the genre, or single-handedly carry it forward, it is these guys. The band flew through a set that was unsurprisingly heavy on their comeback EP, last year’s “Go Down In History.” The crowd reacted favorably newer songs “Tread Lightly,” “What’s In The Box,” and the title track, “Go Down in History,”- the latter of which, it was recently announced, will be the closing track on the band’s new self-titled album, due out June 2 of this year.
Four Year Strong
Four Year Strong’s live set is unmatched in terms of the relentless energy among both the performers and the crowd. The band got undoubtedly the largest crowd movement of any of the bands on the bill, with several songs prompting mosh-pits and one even giving birth to an impressively large circle pit. The most pleasant surprise in the set was the addition of “Catastrophe”- a deep cut from the band’s breakout album Rise or Die Trying. The band, along with Head North, will also be playing the Skate and Surf Festival next month in Asbury Park, so this Rat Fest should be a good preview of what to expect from that festival performance.
Taking the stage to the unmistakable shrill of the opening riff of “I Don’t Want to Be An Asshole Anymore,” The Menzingers were the next band to grace the stage, as they ferociously tore through an hour long set. Joking about their propensity for breaking their sunglasses every time they play outdoors and jokingly referring to the Mister Softee ice cream truck stationed nearby, the band seemed incredibly comfortable in the communal Rat Fest atmosphere. The band were actually veterans of the Rathskellar stage, having played there back in the winter of 2012, after their instant-classic third record On the Impossible Past was released.
The band recently finished up a long stint opening for Taking Back Sunday on a US tour. The setlist was quite similar between that tour and this one-off appearance- with the majority of the songs coming from the aforementioned On The Impossible Past and last year’s Rented World. But whether they were playing songs from these two albums, or more unknown tracks like “Irish Goodbyes” from the Mixed Signals compilation, they retained their ability to sound intricately rehearsed and yet transversely unbridled at the same time. They’re shows maintain a steady thrum of energy, yet the cohesiveness of their performance never once wavers. Simply put, The Menzingers are one of the best currently active punk bands, and no time makes that more apparent than watching them burst through the climactic conclusion of set closer “In Remission.”
Title Fight closed out the festivities with a rousing performance as the sun went down. The band recently released their new album Hyperview to significant critical acclaim, as well as just recently wrapping up a co-headlining tour with La Dispute. What better way to celebrate than by taking the lush soundscapes from Hyperview and transposing them to an outdoor stage as the first true spring night began? The band played an hour long set- primarily of song’s from their newest record, with fan favorites from their previous three albums sprinkled in throughout.
As the last notes rang out over the crowd at RatFest, it seemed harder and harder to believe that in just one short month, the space for which this festival was named, which has been a communal gathering for so many bands and fans, would be closing down for the final time. It is fitting though, that Cub Rat and the College Union Board- gave The Rathskellar the send-off it deserved, one that will remembered long after the lights have been cut.
(If you like the pictures Donald took, you can take a look at more of them from the show here!)