Festival Review: Chain Fest 2021 at FivePoint Amphitheatre in Irvine, CA

Kicking off an incredible day at Chain Fest was The Summer Set. Although it may have been their first show back in several years, the Gomez brothers, backed by the incredible drumming of Jess Bowen, could not have more perfectly complemented Brian Logan Dales.

From classic fan favorites like “Chelsea” (I dare you to not sing the rest of the chorus in your head) to newer singles like “Street Lightning,” it’s as if they never skipped a beat. And if that wasn’t enough, there’s a brand-new album coming spring of 2022, and I think we can safely expect more from the former scene staples in the future.

As the first representatives of Long Island, NY took the stage under the warmth of the sun—I’ll admit I was less enthused for Envy on the Coast’s performance, but that quickly changed once they stepped on stage. From the second Ryan Hunter’s gorgeous voice hit the mic, I was entranced. I’m not going to check Spotify and wax poetic about songs I never let emotionally hurt me, but the band was tighter than ever and for a show, not two hours old, it became clear that the veterans on the bill were being given a run for their money.

There was another spectacle at the event giving me a run for my money too … the overpriced alcohol. And by the end of the show, I wished I’d spent the funds on a Chain Reaction hoodie before they sold out of my size.

With 20-minute set changes, it didn’t leave much time to stand in the long lines to grab merch unless you pulled yourself away from the performances, and with Cartel next on the bill- well it wasn’t happening. Celebrating the 15-year anniversary of the band’s album, “Chroma”, Will Pug delivered a near-flawless performance that gave fans a glimpse at perhaps what’s to come—a reunion tour and one can only hope for new music!

Anberlin quickly hopped on stage with a familiar excitement shared amongst the artists throughout the day. There was a clear sense that this was a group of people in their element, thrilled and grateful to share their passions with the world. Unlike other bands playing full albums, Anberlin turned out awe-inspiring greatest hits set, including classics like “Feel Good Drag,” old-school throwbacks like “Never Take Friendship Personal,” and even their newest single, “Two Graves.”

Stephen Christian indeed was right when he sang, “They lied when they said the good die young.” The crowd, chock full of mostly millennials, were in rare form that night, excited for every note from each band with flailing arms and screaming voices.

Throughout the entire day, there was one real tragedy—which would be Mayday Parade’s set. Because they fucking killed it, despite not having enough time to play A Lesson In Romantics truly cover-to-cover (though they got close). Derek apologized for this at the beginning of the show, letting fans know if they didn’t play your favorite song, they were sorry.

The band were as high voltage as ever, with Brooks spinning around like he’s tearing down the Glamour Kills stage at Warped Tour, and Alex’s solo to “Black Cat” sounding more on par with Slash & GnR headlining SoFi Stadium than FivePoint Amphitheatre. As their set drew to a close, the band launched into “Jamie All Over,” and suddenly the world felt right again. I set my AIM away message on my Sidekick to the sounds of the chorus fading out and decided $8 cotton candy was a good idea. (It was not a good idea.)

Circa Survive was a highlight for many fans attending Chainfest 2021; fresh on the heels of the band’s release of the A Dream About Love EP, Anthony Green took to the stage to a near-full amphitheater of self-proclaimed “elder emos” and fans alike. Cloaked in heavy mood lighting Circa launched into the hour-long performance of back-to-back songs from there, “Blue Sky Noise” album in what California fans can say is a firsthand taste of what the up-and-coming nationwide tour will be all about.

And now for the main event—Taking Back Sunday and Jimmy Eat World. The pair, fresh off a short west coast co-headline tour, felt primed for the crowd as the sun set on the full Amphitheatre. Adam Lazarra came out swinging … the mic, that is. His signature tricks were in full form, coiling the long cable around his neck while singing lines like, “You won’t ever get too far from me.”

John Nolan’s raw energy and vocals filled out the sound, and not once sounding out of place on tracks during the tenure of Fred Mascherino. The rhythm section, rounded out by Mark O’Connell on drums and Shaun Cooper on bass, was the perfect complement to the dueling vocals of Lazzara and Nolan.

Ending the set with an absolute classic, “…A Decade Under The Influence”, the seasoned vets perfectly tee’d up Jimmy Eat World to shut it down. And shut it down they did. Welcoming the crowd, the band wasted no time dispensing with rock. Futures, into Pain, into Bleed American. Damn, Jim! Warn me next time, sheesh.

After getting the lighters out for “Hear You Me,” they dished out a treat in the form of b-side “No Sensitivity” which makes a very rare live appearance. Touring through their rich catalog found us seeing appearances from Sure and Certain and Big Casino, before giving us all what we need with Lucky Denver Mint and For Me, This Is Heaven.

Not a single person headed for the gates early, and the packed house sang along to the final words of Sweetness and The Middle. From the sweet older security guard on the way in who asked me if I knew where Jimmy Eat World’s name came from, to the polite ticket takers, patient vendors, and support fans—the second Chain Fest felt like a huge success.

Congratulations to everyone involved in producing this event. We’re looking forward to hopefully many more years of Chain Fest.

Words by Mathew Barletta with contributions from Heather Koepp. Photography by Heather Koepp.

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