After repeated rescheduling due to COVID, Chain Fest 2021 finally took place this weekend and included Jimmy Eat World, Taking Back Sunday, Circa Survive, Saves The Day, Anberlin, and Cartel.
The “Chain” in the festival’s name comes from the tiny Anaheim club, Chain Reaction, which launched the inaugural Chain Fest in 2016 to celebrate its 20th year in business. The first Chain Fest was headlined by Coheed and Cambria, Circa Survive and Underoath at the Observatory grounds, but has grown to be held at the larger FivePoint Amphitheatre.
This larger venue was built and opened in 2018 after the Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre closed in 2016. I have to say I really enjoyed the relatively new venue. Although it definitely has a temporary feel to it, as FivePoint is just a placeholder while a new permanent amphitheater is being built in Irvine, the seating and sound is surprisingly great.
The opening acts were strong and started the day off right. The first act to the larger crowd was Anberlin. The alternative band came out to a large ovation and launched into the title track off their album, “Never Take Friendship Personal.” Before moving into “Impossible,” Anberlin lead singer Stephen Christian commented, “A lot of times at festivals like this, I’ll never be able to see people’s faces, but this is amazing! I love this.” I have to agree; the pit area in front is very close to the stage. At one point, I was at the very back of the pit and still had a great view of the stage. The band closed their set with the radio hit, “Feel Good Drag,” to a packed house singing along.
Mayday Parade was up next, and there was definitely a huge crowd reaction. It was clear this was a hugely-popular band in Southern California, and the band has played Chain Reaction several times in their career. The show flyer had advertised that the band would be playing select hits from their debut album, “A Lesson in Romantics.” The fact that they played rarer tracks off this album, including “Miserable at Best” and “When I Get Home, You’re So Dead,” made this a special treat for fans. Derek Sanders, lead singer of the pop punk emo band, was energetic as ever, leaping high in place as co-lead vocalist and guitarist Jake Bundrick sang.
A large cheer, including several screaming females, erupted as Circa Survive took the stage. While most of the day’s lineup was pop punk and emo acts of the early 2000s, Circa Survive includes influences of psychedelic and prog rock. Like Mayday Parade, Circa Survive played an entire album, theirs being the critically acclaimed and popular 2010 release, “Blue Sky Noise.” The band had actually planned on doing a 10-year anniversary tour last year, but again, due to the pandemic, it has been rescheduled to next year. Fans were treated to an early preview by seeing the set live, and some fortunate fans were able to attend the band’s set on Thursday at Chain Reaction. At certain points in their songs, lead singer Anthony Green would stop singing to let the crowd join in, and he was not disappointed as a choir of vocals going as far back as the bleachers sang back every word to him.
When you think of Chain Reaction in the early 2000s, one of the bands that come to mind is Taking Back Sunday. Drawing arguably the biggest crowd all day, the band delivered an explosive 60-minute set, perfectly setting the stage for Jimmy Eat World. The five-piece opened their set with “What’s It Feel Like to Be a Ghost” before launching into the popular, “A Decade Under the Influence.” Some things never change, like lead singer Adam Lazzara’s mic-swinging, which involved the cord wildly wrapping around everything, including but not limited to, his own neck. The co-lead vocalist/lead guitarist role has been filled by several musicians, but fans of the original lineup were excited that founding member John Nolan had rejoined the group in 2010. The dynamic and banter between Lazzara and Nolan, both during songs and in between, exemplified the chemistry between the two.
The setlist of 14 songs provided a great glimpse into the band’s catalogue, including “Liar,” “You’re So Last Summer,” and “Timberwolves at New Jersey.” Taking Back Sunday then played a cover of Weezer’s “My Name is Jonas” before finally concluding with “Cute Without the E (Cut From the Team),” and the radio-friendly hit, “MakeDamnSure.”
As the clock struck 9:45 p.m., the day’s headliners, Jimmy Eat World took the stage and opened with the “Futures” followed by “Pain.” The band then launched into a heavy rendition of “Bleed American,” the title track off their monster 2001 album that launched their career. “Bleed American,” led by the success of its MTV and radio hit “The Middle” eventually went platinum, selling nearly two million copies. The band saw critical success with their first two albums and established a large cult following, but what started off as moderate success cannonballed into an explosion of success with “Bleed American.” The album spawned four successful singles and their songs being used in countless movies and TV shows. And here they were two decades later proving they are still one of the most solid go-to bands for terrific live performances. They alternated between fast-paced songs like “Pain” and stripped down piano-driven ballads like “Hear You Me,” when lead singer Jim Adkins commented, “We’re trying to play songs we don’t normally get a chance to.”
The band played another fan favorite, “Lucky Denver Mint,” followed by “Blister,” which features lead vocals by guitarist and vocalist, Tom Linton. Bands typically do not do encores at music festivals, but had this been an individual concert, the band would have left the stage after playing “Night Drive,” and then come back on stage to finish with three of their biggest hits, all off of the “Bleed American” album. As Adkins announced, “This is the final stretch. If you’ve been holding something back, now’s the time to let it go,” drummer Zach Lind began playing “A Praise Chorus.” The band then launched into “Sweetness,” and I don’t believe they have been able to play a show without “The Middle.”
Another Chain Fest is in the books and the bands all gave amazing performances. Here’s to next year!