"We're gonna play 'til they kick us out." Nobunny spoke to the crowd at El Corazon Saturday night, clad in a bunny mask and black briefs with a white poof tail. "Nevermind, they already locked the doors. None of us are getting out alive. This is it. Welcome to Hell, this goes on for your life." If Hell consists of dancing in the front row, screaming along to a kickass garage punk band led by a creepy (but kind of sexy?) bunny, then count me in. If Hell is the best sweaty, cheese-and-beer soaked punk party of the summer, even better. Welcome to Pizza Fest.
Earlier that night, fans had arrived at The Funhouse (El Corazon's lounge), ready to get sweaty. It was almost 80 degrees outside, and the tiny clubs were sweltering. Night three had arrived, promising the famed Pizza Eating Contest. A variety of bands were slated to play, and DJs Ruben Mendez, Travis Ritter, and Jermaine Blair were bringing the tunes between sets. Read on for my favorite moments, and the official breakdown of the Pizza Eating Contest from the judge of all things cheese, Pete Capponi himself.
The pizzas for the contest were provided by Wicked Pies, who had been selling slices all weekend. I spoke with Capponi to explain the rules:
"The six contestants get ten minutes to finish one large cheese pizza. They can use whatever substance they want to help them choke the stuff down. It's not easy to get all that matter in your guts, so the way I see it, if they wanna use water/beer/whiskey/whatever it's just more stuff going down. People get sore about others using water, but I don't give a crap and I'm the boss."
There was also a clarifying question on Facebook regarding what happens if someone vomits afterward, and the organizers responded, "Any competitor whom upchucks, barfs, pukes, spews, sprays, launches, or tosses their 'cookies' must then reingest said recycled matter for any possible chance of victory."
Incidentally, Travis Ritter has tried for the pizza victory year after year, failing many times to legend Owen Straw, and seems to have resigned himself to pizza mediocrity. He hasn't entered the pizza eating contest since 2012, despite the pleas of his supporters. It seems that memories of his most recent effort, when he was disqualified for puking, still haunt him. Ritter recalls the experience vividly:
"2012 was the beginning of the end for me and pizza eating. Owen Straw had moved to New York City so he wasn't going to be competing. He offered anyone $100 to the person who would beat me... I saw that as an opportunity to fail even harder. When the competition finally arrived, I had nerves of nylon. A British girl [Harriet] was shit talking me all night up until the event, and I just brushed it aside. We began eating and I was sitting across the table from Carlos Ruiz, who just did it because he didn't eat dinner. And boy, his technique was disgusting, making me gag more than usual. On top of that, I had eliminated dairy from my diet four months prior, but started eating pizza again about two weeks before the competition, so all that pizza wasn't sitting well. I was making good headway, but noticed [Harriet] was annihilating hers. I knew I couldn't hold it down, so I quickly ducked under the picnic table and regurgitated everything... I came back up and signaled to the organizers that I puked, and chose to watch the British gal destroy it for the victory rather than suffer."
The words of a fallen warrior.
I asked Capponi how he made the difficult choice to name 2015's champion.
"The winner this year was Forest Telford. His buddy Ryan Kuehn was initially crowned winner, but then I caught him hiding a slice on top of his head. To quote the greatest professional athlete of all time, Nature Boy Ric Flair, 'It ain't cheatin' if ya don't get caught!' Well guess what, Kuehn got caught, and he had to pay the price!"
Capponi continued, "... So I don't wanna hear no bellyachin' from NOBODY about controversy, or how scandalous and crooked the Pizza Fest official Pizza Eating Contest officials are, ok?!?! We make the rules according to the International Pizza Eating Contest Bicontinental Book of Laws and Regulations, which have been in place for centuries. Also, according to whatever I think is going to be the funniest thing that needs to happen, which is actually more important than anything now that I'm thinking of it for the first time. Does that make sense?"
Sounds like a fair fight to me!
But before the Pizza Eating Contest, there was a full night of excellent bands. Starting out were Wolfgang Fuck, an abrasive, shocking-on-purpose hardcore band from Seattle. Wearing a shirt that said "Die Yuppie Scum," Alex Means donned a werewolf mask and clambered around the stage. At one point, a man in the front row brought him a shot. The singer leaned in, looking determined, and french kissed the redheaded fan. After a long and passionate embrace, he explained, "I've been eating Fire Balls all my life." One can only assume that the drink of choice was Fireball Whiskey. Means asked the crowd, "How many of you are gonna party tonight? Buy some drugs and shove them up your ass?" When barely anyone reacted (probably out of shock), he said, "This song's called Cocainus." This and other such themes bombarded the early crowd at El Corazon Saturday night, a sign of the debauchery to come.
Retro psychedelic garage rock Uh Bones were next on the menu. This band of boys from Chicago transport their listeners back to the '60s. The organ player, Nathan Johnson, finished four tall boys in the length of their set, leaning back in his seat with a carefree, confident attitude, his SF giants hat slightly askew. At times I worried he might topple backwards, but he seemed to have things under control, and his playing didn't suffer for it. Singers Luke Trimble and Kenny Alden were the perfect yin to each other's yang, with fuzzed-out vocals and jangling guitars. On top of being great musicians, they were super friendly people to boot. Alden wore a shirt from fellow performers Wimps, and could be seen crowding surfing and dancing side stage later that night. His absolute joy for Pizza Fest was inspiring. Check out their recently and first LP, Honey Coma, out now on Johnson's Randy Records.
Baus are loud and experimental punk from Oakland, CA, and have seemingly perfected the "wild out." They're abrasive, but remain melodic and fun. Their song "GOT3" is ostensibly about Game of Thrones Season 3, but it starts with a silly rendition of the opening of the Lion King's "Circle of Life." During the chorus, singer Mike Morales sings a quick line, and in the brief silence before the next, bassist Sierra Wendt lets out a little scream. It's completely random, but it's inexplicably catchy. Thomas Jackson rocked the drums and an awesome shirt, stating "Science is the new rock 'n' roll." Bummer alert: Baus had all of their money from tour stolen out of a backpack that night. They were able to raise some of it back during the next day's show at Office Space, but it was a real letdown to think that someone would disrespect the inherently supportive environment of Pizza Fest. Hopefully, they can enjoy the rest of their Pacific Northwest tour and at least make back some of their funds.
Affectionately nicknamed "Seattle's favorite children," Steal Shit Do Drugs (SSDD) capture the simmering evil side to everyone. It's that gut feeling of disgust at certain subjects, yet a strange fascination with the very things that make you squirm. While Kennedy Carda sings about crashing cars, doing coke, and passing out in front of local bar Cha Cha (hopefully not on the same night), crowd members of all ages and lifestyles nod their heads in unison. Carda is known for his explosive live performances, remembered by many from his time with the now-defunct Monogamy Party. Many of their shows would culminate in him crowd surfing as a sweaty, destroyed mess. SSDD is slightly more refined, but only slightly. Carda's more extreme physical antics have been traded for an even darker, enigmatic stage presence.
Carda's voice drips with cynicism in "Good Agitations" when he sings, "What's the point of all your concern? In the end I think we all will burn." The verses build up to a quick chorus which fires off like a gun, and the song clocks in at only a minute and 47 seconds. It's the first track on their recent EP First Comes Money, released on Help Yourself Records, and segues to the sinfully catchy "Money Spent." This one is slower, but Carda's attitude never wanes, drifting seamlessly between a high wail and low grumble. The rest of the EP follows suit, a roller coaster of anger and self-aggrandizing declarations.
Ringleader Pete Capponi plays drums, making him the only person to have performed in every year of Pizza Fest. That low, badass bass comes from Erika Mayfield, and Kimberly Morrison provides the anxiety-inducing screech of guitar. Their first EP sounds fantastic, but to really feel them in your guts, it's best to see them live. If Pizza Fest was Hell, SSDD would be the band at reception, welcoming you to your doom.
Oakland's Courtney and the Crushers drastically lightened the mood, playing lo-fi punk with vocals reminiscent of a stripped-down, crunchier Best Coast, especially on the track "In My Bed." Frontwoman Courtney Castleman joked, "Pete, I told you I sweat more than you!" The set also included tracks like "Burnside Street," "Mystery Date," and "Oh, Chevelle" from their self titled album of 2012.
Zig Zags brought the old school heavy rock. They're from Los Angeles, and maybe it's coincidence, but many of their songs are inspired by movies (like the aptly named "Total Fucking Recall"). A big sign was emblazoned over the El Corazon crowd, stating, "NO STAGE DIVING," but Kenny Alden from Uh Bones did just that, taking his thick glasses in hand and rocking that same Wimps shirt as he leapt from the stage. Zig Zags continued the sense of humor of the night, as vocalist/guitarist Jed Maheu joked, "I'm gonna do a three hour impersonation of Jello Biafra. Which is about half as long as a real Jello Biafra speech." Their Slime EP is brand spanking new, out August 11th on Famous Class.
Alex White and Francis Scott Key White are a pair of siblings from Chicago, whose magnificent powers combine to form the unstoppable White Mystery. The duo are awesomely sexy, rocking all denim with plenty of exposed skin. Alex unleashes high kicks in hidden-wedge Converse, headbanging with her shock of curly red hair (a trait both siblings share). Their fiery blend of rock 'n' roll is like an empowering, feminist response to Wolf Mother, with just as many shredding gimmicks, but more heart. According to the Pizza Fest website, "Francis likes deep dish and Alex likes cracker-thin crust."
Uh Bones' Alden emerged yet again to air guitar, guzzle beers, and crowd surf. He was quickly becoming Pizza Fest's first cheerleader. White Mystery were unperturbed, Alex playing her guitar held high one moment and kneeling on the ground the next. "Birthday" from Blood & Venom cheered, "This is the best day I remember. Whether it's May, June, or December." Her flawless voice raised the crowd's spirits, pumping everyone up for the big competition.
After the debris of beer cans, bits of crust, and probably a little vom was cleared away, Wimps brought everyone back to the music. Maybe it was that they were opening for Nobunny, or maybe it was their love of Pizza Fest, as long time veterans. Either way, the threesome were having a blast, grinning their way through a great set of their best. Singer and guitarist Rachel Ratner stopped a few notes into "Party at the Wrong Time," saying "That sounds weird. Does that sound weird to you guys?" She tuned, played the opening notes again, and still felt off. She launched into the next track like nothing had happened, chuckling at her own confusion. It's this down to earth, easy going nature that makes their live show (and the moments on their records where it shines through) so endearing. It's impossible not to sing along to their simple-yet-wise lyrics, and as the show continued, many shouted along.
Ratner reflected on the Bacchanalian feast the crowd had just witnessed. "You can't eat that much food without it coming out somewhere," she remarked, making explosive motions with her hands in front of her mouth and her butt. "It's coming out a hole, that's all I'm saying." The Pizza Fest website exalts them, saying, "Wimps are entirely made of pizza. One time Dave Ramm played drums while eating a pizza. "
Their finest moment came during "Stop Having Fun," when a man in a full hot dog suit climbed on stage, miming as though he was riding a skateboard back and forth. The gesture was in reference to the cover of their Party at the Wrong Time EP, which bassist Matt Nyce created. Ratner pretended to be surprised, yelling, "What the fuck is going on here? This is Pizza Fest, not fucking hot dog party!" The conspicuous hot dog left, and the band played the title track off their first LP, Repeat. Their wit knows no bounds, right down to the gesture of ending their set with a song called "Repeat."
Nobunny, a.k.a. Justin Champlin, sprang into action around 12:45 am. Playing on a stage covered in the sweat and beer of eight bands before them, the Tucson, AZ singer and his three bandmates spewed bubblegum punk. Champlin sauntered around, playfully putting his hands (and the mic) down his pants. He prefers to stay anonymous in his performance as the sinful bunny, and most information about the band is equally opaque about their origins. They proclaim they're "Nobunny" from "Nowhere," and this faceless front makes them all the more intriguing. It was hard not to recognize Trevor Straub of Oakland band Pookie and the Poodlez on bass however, with his signature sugar-coated sass, pink bunny ears, and Hilary Duff t-shirt.
The band played favorites like "Mess Me Up," "It's True," "Blow Dumb," and "Live it Up." The crowd screamed for "I Am A Girlfriend," singing along and bopping to the song's loopy, high-pitched hook. Before their last song, Champlin called for Capponi to come up on stage. The first Pizza Fest included San Francisco band Personal and the Pizzas, and Champlin paid homage for his last song, covering "I Don't Wanna Be No Personal Pizza." The chorus chants "PETE-ZA" and with every fist bump, Capponi danced around, wiggling his butt and shimmying the mic cord against it like a towel, bonking his fist against his head in feigned stupidity. The whole crowd chanted along, giving Pete the celebration he deserves for throwing the best punk fest in town. Afterward, enthusiastic fans chanted, "Extra Cheese! Extra Cheese!" to no avail. It was just too damn late, and the band couldn't play another.
The weekend had been an epic extravaganza, and fans got their money's worth with three bills packed to the brim with punk. Pizza Fest VI had come to a close. See the rest of the photos from the final night here.
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