95X Debuts Its First Ever “Big-X-Cuse Festival” In Syracuse With A Huge Slate Of Killer Alt. Rock Acts Review: 95X Big-X-Cuse! feat. Cold War Kids, Dashboard Confessional, Judah and the Lion & More 6/16/18
SYRCAUSE, NY- Bringing together some of the most popular names in alternative rock out there, Syracuse’s 95X debuted it’s first ever Big-X-Cuse Fest! With a line-up featuring both seasoned veterans and newcomers to the alternative rock scene, 95X’s lineup was very impressive considering it was the radio station’s first year hosting this event.
With the sun shining down on the Chevy Court stage, and barely a cloud in the sky, the festivities kicked off around 1pm with Spirit Animal taking control of the reigns early on. Unfortunately, I was not able to make it in time to see these guys open, but judging from the size of the crowd that was dispersing, it seemed that they were the perfect way to get the crowd hyped up early on.
Singer-songwriter and producer, Two Feet, was the next act to take the stage. A native of Harlem, Zachary “Bill” Dess, better known by his stage name Two Feet, has an intriguing sound that intricately blends elements of blues, jazz and indie ambient tones with a smattering of some classic alternative rock sprinkled on top. With his smooth vocals and some snazzy guitar playing, I was eager to see this still-rising talent perform.
After some slight technical difficulties involving his kick not triggering, Two Feet opened with “Quick Musical Doodles” off of his debut 2016 EP from, First Steps. Consisting of some heavily synthesized bass in the background followed by some fresh guitar rips all culminating together around his buttery vocals, Two Feet was dishing out the Hendrix vibes from the get-go. I particularly enjoyed when Two Feet played his classic, “Go Fuck Yourself”, because it’s such a raw and relatable track that almost anyone whose been screwed over by their significant other can relate to. Also, not to mention the fact it’s an absolute banger with it’s bass drops and Two Feet’s light and airy vocals. For such a great display of technicality and stage presence early on, I was beyond excited to see what the rest of the day had in store for me.
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Slated to go next were indie pop sweethearts lovelytheband, a trio that has seen quick recognition since the release of their debut hit single, “broken” back in July of 2017. Primarily serving as direct support on past tours for notable acts such as Awolnation and the Neighbourhood, lovelytheband is no stranger to warming up large crowds early on with their infectious flare.
With frontman Mitchy Collins’s suave demeanor and fully capable support by guitarist John Greenwald and drummer Sam Price, lovelytheband’s staple really is their ability to create fast-paced, indie alternative rock. Music that really swings heavily. Much like Two Feet, another sizable crowd came out to play early on for lovely’s thirty minute set. With only a limited time on stage, the boys from LA came out fired up.
It was great to see these new names in the industry make such a splash and impact on the Chevy Court stage, considering they were tasked with supporting some very high-profile names that were on the same bill. The dancing in the crowd was unrestrained throughout much of lovely’s time on stage and you could tell the dudes appreciated the love by displaying some rambunctious energy. I know I’m not one to dote too much on any artist I’m not too familiar with, but lovelytheband definitely made a fan out of me with their live take.
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As the day stretched on, and as the gates continued to flood with a plethora of eager fans waiting to hear some more killer music, it seemed like each act tried to outdo the other with enthusiasm. This became evident to me with the arrival of Moon Taxi.
Moon Taxi was the first band to take the stage that I wouldn’t considered a newcomer to the music scene. Moon Taxi is a three-piece band hailing from Nashville, and I’ve been a fan for a pretty long time. Much like the music that surrounds the city where these musicians are based out of, the way Moon Taxi blends together Southern influences into their indie rock sound has always been something I’ve been about.
Coming out strong and guns blazing, I was pleasantly surprised by just how heavy Moon Taxi’s live set was. With frontman Trevor Terndrup acting as the main catalyst with his long hair flying around while he shred on his Gibson, the crowd filled up considerably to watch Moon Taxi do their thing. Playing primarily their most popular tracks from their entire discography, nothing was better than watching the boys rip up the main stage.
“Make Your Mind Up” and “All Day and All Night” are personal favorites of mine because of the way they make you just want to shake “it” out. Tie those grooves with an especially rambunctious performance, and Moon Taxi sure made a handful of new fans that day. Closing out their set with “Two High”, arguably their breakout hit off of 2018’s Let the Record Play, the Nashville trio proved to all those in attendance why they should be praised not just down south but across the country in all states.
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With four acts down and four more to go, the festivities were only just beginning. With Moon Taxi stirring the energy pot, I had a feeling that AJR’s following performance was going kick it up a notch. The prospects got me giddy with anticipation that AJR’s performance was going to be a blast to document.
Young musicians who have garnered much attention with their ability to concoct synth and bass heavy bangers, AJR are a band of brothers: Ryan, Jack, and Adam Met. Showing their youthful energy through their live sets, the largest crowd of the day formed for the three brothers who were nothing short of spectacular.
It seemed like AJR was pulling out all the stops with Jack running wildly around stage as they started things off with “Come Hang Out” off their critically acclaimed sophomore album, The Click. With their fans lining the barrier and singing along to virtually every word out of Jack’s mouth, AJR’s set definitely rained supreme when compared to the three that came before them (which is saying a lot). Interestingly enough, their sound strongly reminded me of a more lighthearted Twenty-One Pilots; their stage presence as well. For the amount of time they had on stage, like the other openers, AJR absolutely owned it.
A highlight of their performance was when they played “Sober Up”; an incredibly catchy track. Although it’s one of the more lighter songs the dudes have put out, the acoustics add a nice touch to the light atmosphere of the song. I also enjoyed how personable AJR’s set was as well. In a human moment, they accepted a young fan’s drawing with words of thanks and advice about life and how we should all just be happy to be alive on this “gorgeous day”. From busking around New York City to playing some of the biggest festivals and stages in the world, AJR’s success can only be attributed to their talent as both performers and musicians. Only being in their early 20’s, the future for this band of brother looks to nothing but boundless.
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After the crowd was left reeling from AJR’s killer performance, they were then greeted with Judah & the Lion’s introduction an hour later. Having previously seen these guys play once before when they came through the area on their last headlining tour, I was well aware of just how much these Western New Yorkers love their fix of Judah & the Lion.
As what can only be described as “bootie poppin’ banjo music”, Judah blends a wide variety of genres such as indie pop, bluegrass, rock and a little hip hop. Another Nashville band to take center stage, Judah Akers, Brian Macdonald, and Nate Zuercher came flying out as they rapped along to “Booty Wurk” by T-Pain. This really exemplifies the goofy and relatable nature that Judah & the Lion radiates; coming out and dropping it low all with a smile on their faces just showed that they were all about having fun and not taking themselves too seriously.
After this perfect opening, frontman Judah Akers and the rest of the gang kicked up a tune to “Twenty-Somethings”. Much like AJR, the energy that the Nashville dudes were displaying was absolutely infectious and had the audience members jumping and screaming along with Akers and the guys. I’ve seen these guys two times before, this being the third, and every time they continue to exceed my expectations.
Although all the originals they played had each audience member hyped from the start, nothing could compare to when Judah & the Lion covered the Killers’ classic, “Mr. Brightside”. Not only did they cover probably one of the most well-known songs of the 21st century, they nailed it to a T. It was difficult not to sing along with Akers and the crowd while trying to capture all the great moments coming to life on stage. To close out their set, the dudes went all-out. Encouraging a wide-spread “dance party”, both Judah & the Lion and the crowd were dancing hard without a care in the world which perfectly describes what their type of shows are all about: Forgetting about life for a bit by dancing and having fun in the moment.
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Next up, the king of Emo alternative rock, Dashboard Confessional. Primarily consisting of singer/songwriter Chris Carrabba, the brainchild of Carrabba has been churning out music since the early 2000’s.
Having remained relevant since their conception back in 2001, Dashboard Confessional is one of the few Emo rock bands out there who continue to stay at the top of their game despite the appeal of their genre fading a little over the years. Fads come and go but Dashboard Confessional has stayed, much to everyone’s delight. With Carrabba’s ability to write heartfelt and deep lyrics, Dashboard’s music has been an important part of any music lover who grew up listening to the mainstream airwaves throughout the 2000s.
Now, every Emo lover’s wet dream hit the Chevy Court stage when Carrabba played new and old material to a swooning cadres of adoring fans. Arguably the most high profile name on 95X’s bill, the crowd stretched from the barricade all the way back to the street for Dashboard Confessional’s hour set as Carrabba opened for headliners, Cold War Kids. A setlist that comprised of their most popular hits such as “We Fight”, “Vindicated”, and “Hands Down” along with some new material off of his 2018 released LP titled Crooked Shadows, Carrabba’s ability to entice a listener’s ears with his heartfelt yet mournful voice really stuck with me. It reminded me of a time when I was younger, whether it be listening to some blink-182, the Cure, or the Smiths, it was the perfect blend of “sad boy” music a lot of people my age grew up listening to. Mix in some rock overtones with Carrabba’s vocals, and you’ve got one of the better sides of the Emo rock genre that has become slightly oversaturated. Overall, Carrabba’s and his band’s time on stage was one of captivating showmanship. It was with heavy hearts that the crowd of 1,000 strong had to say goodbye to the guys of Dashboard Confessional after their riveting set, but at least it paved the way perfectly for the day’s main attraction, Cold War Kids.
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Finally, Cold War Kids were ready to close out the massively successful Big-X-Cuse. The Long Beach, CA natives who create a soulful blend of indie and blues rock, have always been a personal favorite of mine ever since I first heard “Hang Me Up to Dry” off their debut album back in ’06. I’ve also appreciated their aesthetic and album artwork, especially their newest studio album, LA DIVINE.
Nathan Willet, lead vocals, has a voice that crackles with raw emotion and feel that really sets the mood for Cold War Kid’s tracks perfectly. Willet and the rest of the guys sounded just as fulfilling and rich live as they do when popping in a pair of headphones and listening to your favorite CWK’s album on repeat.
As Cold War Kids opened up with their catchy tune of “All This Could Be Yours”, the colorful lights and blocks on stage added a warm glow to the already perfect summer night. Much like all the bands before them, the suave demeanor and flare that Cold War Kids projected was radiating throughout the packed outdoor amphitheater. This reigned especially true only three minutes into their set when they played “Miracle Mile”, another classic. Matt Maust, bass, and Nathan Willet were especially energetic as the packed Syracuse audience sang along.
Like I said before, each band seemed to bring more and more energy to the table and such was the case with Cold War Kids. They were the perfect end to a seemingly perfect day of music, dancing and smiles all around. Whether it be covering Rhianna’s “Love On the Brain” and absolutely slamming it out of the park, or closing out their encore with “First” (their most popular and my all-time favorite song they’ve put out). That familiar opening guitar and Willet’s voice which belts out relatable, post-breakup lyric after another is just the icing on what can be described as a perfectly well-crafted song by a well-rounded band.
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All the work and preparations that went into making the debut of 95X’s Big-X-Cuse so successful was easily apparent judging by the amount of fans that came out to support some of the biggest and best names in alternative and indie rock. Special thanks to the team over at 95X and Cumulus Media Syracuse for letting Blurred Culture cover such a great outing!
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