The Garden Amphitheater in Garden Grove has quickly become one of OC’s most popular music venues. With an abundance of seating, an amazing sound system, and an intimate atmosphere that accommodates high-energy performances, The Garden Amp is the new obligatory stop for touring bands that may have otherwise been selling out venues like Chain Reaction.
The first act of the night was Tennessee’s own Leanna Firestone. I admittedly wasn’t looking forward to sitting through a solo-acoustic act I was unfamiliar with, however, I was immediately captivated by Firestone’s performance.
With her emotionally charged lyrics that sometimes feel as though they were plucked from the pages of her high school diary, Firestone’s songs offer some compelling commentary on the tumultuous ups, downs, and harsh realizations that we all experience in our late teens and early 20s. With her sometimes sad and bitter words, which are regularly sung through a giant smile, Firestone’s facial expressions and bubbly personality are an ironic contrast to the melancholic songwriting.
Kicking off her set with the bilingual single “Google Translate,” Firestone immediately grabbed the crowd’s attention and the venue began to rapidly fill. “Google Translate” is a brilliantly written song that focuses on the flirtatious minutiae of a failed high school relationship.
Firestone’s energy and charisma kept the audience engaged as she powered through her incredibly catchy songs “Least Favorite Only Child,” “You Just Didn’t Like Me That Much,” and “Reincarnation.” Firestone’s beautifully trained vocal stylings are unique in their delivery and have obvious mainstream potential. Her songs “God and the Government,” “Right Person, Right Time,” and “Smitten” closed out her set and it was clear to me why New Found Glory had brought Firestone out on tour with them
Scattered across the stage were several acoustic guitars, a few chairs, and other various instruments. As someone who prefers to watch shows amidst the rowdiness of a mosh pit, I rarely find myself at acoustic shows, but I was still very excited to see New Found Glory live again.
As the band casually walked on stage and greeted the crowd, my excitement began to rise and I couldn’t keep the giant smile off my face. Drummer Cyrus Bolooki took to a chair at the front of the stage and assumed rhythm guitar duties for the first chunk of the band’s set.
The band went right into “Get Me Home” off their recently released acoustic album. I was surprised and relieved that singer Jordan Pundik opted to perform standing up rather than seated, as most musicians do during acoustic gigs. The crowd participation during the “take me home” moments of the song served to be a great warm-up for what was next in the set.
As the band jumped into the intro to the second song of their set, the crowd began to cheer. I regretfully hadn’t yet familiarized myself with the new acoustic album and didn’t recognize the reimagined intro to one of New Found Glory’s most popular songs, “Hit or Miss.” Again I found myself smiling ear to ear as the entire crowd sang along to the opening lyrics. Sometimes you find yourself falling in love with a song, listening to it on repeat, learning all the lyrics, and inevitably getting tired of it because you listened to it too much. This describes “Hit or Miss” for me.
It’s funny how your love for an overplayed song can be completely rejuvenated after seeing a great live performance of it. This describes what happened to me after seeing New Found Glory perform “Hit or Miss” live again.
When the band went into their third song, it took a moment for the crowd to realize what they were playing. As Pundik went into the opening lyrics, it only then became obvious that it was yet another huge radio single, “Understatement.” “Understatement” had some of the loudest sing-along moments of the night.
After “On My Mind,” guitarist Chad Gilbert introduced touring guitarist Will Levy of The Story So Far to the stage, who remained on rhythm guitar for the rest of the set. The band went into another new song, “Mouth to Mouth,” followed by of my favorite songs, “My Friends Over You.”
“Reasons” off 2009’s “Not Without a Fight” was next and served to be the only song off the album that the band would perform in the set. It was an awesome acoustic rendition of the song and I urge you to seek out a recording of it on YouTube.
Going as far back as 1999 they performed “Broken Sound,” followed by “Too Good to Be” from 2006. The remainder of the pre-encore set was a well-balanced mix of old and new songs with some of the most memorable moments occurring during “All Downhill From Here,” “Dressed to Kill,” and “Ready & Willing.”
Before saying their goodbyes, the band performed their cover of “Iris” by Goo Goo Dolls and closed the set out with “Kiss the Floor.” After a short absence from the stage, the band returned and gave out a custom Taylor acoustic guitar which they were raffling off each night of the tour to raise awareness for pheochromocytom, a rare type of tumor which Gilbert underwent surgery to have removed last year.
“Sonny” and “I Don’t Wanna Know” were the first songs of the encore. The band then brought opening act Leanna Firestone back out to play keys during the last three songs of the night, “More and More,” “I’ll Be,” an Edwin McCain cover, and “Dream Born Again,” which is arguably one of their catchiest songs.
It was an amazing night and it was so cool to see such a high-energy band successfully pull off a highly entertaining acoustic show.