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Signals Midwest
Show Review

Signals Midwest, Bong Mountain, & More at Fat Guy Fest 4 in Kalamazoo, MI

Beer, pizza, and the best of the Great Lakes.

Photo: Zack Jacob

Every August, a small basement bar in Kalamazoo, Michigan turns into a thumping hotbed of punk, metal, doom, and more during Fat Guy Fest. Now in it’s fourth iteration, this year’s takeover of Shakespeare’s Lower Level delivered.

What makes Fat Guy Fest unique from the plethora of festivals popping up around the country is the genuine camaraderie and a real sense of place. The festival began as an homage to a local punk house, and the organizers have managed to translate a lot of that house show spirit into the three-day weekend.

The organizers also have a knack for curating some of the best Midwestern-and-then-some acts around. From Great Lakes staples Signals Midwest to the up-and-coming Bong Mountain, FGF has a real sense for what people want to see. The venue serves as a punk and rock spot in Kalamazoo, so rest assured these folks are taking notes all year long.

Friday night was a heavy rotation of Great Lakes-style punk: lots of gang vocals, emotionally-tinged lyrics and the kind of tunes that make you want to crush a PBR (or in our case, Dayblazer) and sing along to. Instead of giving you a crummy, not thought out synopsis of every band here’s a bit about the bands that stood out for me each day.

Toledo’s Shitty Neighbors ripped through a melodic, gang-vocal heavy setlist on day one. It was my first time seeing these guys live, and I’m surprised we haven’t seen them dotted along lineups in the area more. They’re a band I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw on a FEST lineup in a few years.

I’m whole-heartedly in love with The Penske File. I first saw them a few years ago at Fat Guy Fest 2, and have been hooked ever since. The Canadian threesome takes the stage with a ton of energy, which is absolutely infectious. It’s literally impossible to not scream-sing along with lyrics like “I hope you get to feel the sun / Not four walls and a loaded gun.” Supposedly the band is working on new material, so I hope we’ll be seeing them live again soon. Luckily, these Canadians are close enough to be honorary Michiganders and stop through often.

Bike Tuff is a Kalamazoo band you can find on every Western Michigan bill. Their years of hard work and opening shows are paying off: Their set was easily one of the most hype over the weekend and they’ve landed a slot at this year’s FEST. Another high-energy band with lyrics you can’t help but to sing along to: “Hopeless, rejected, pathetic / Did you forget about me?”

You’ll find a theme of discovery for regular FGF-goers. Bong Mountain was another band I first heard and saw at Fat Guy Fest 2, and since then they’ve exploded in popularity around the region. No one can resist their bong-laden merchandise, gravel-filled vocals and post-punk guitar, myself included. It’s been great to watch them evolve into their sound and stage presence between FGF2 and this year.

Signals Midwest closed out the night. The band was slated for last year’s festival but didn’t make it due to a van issue. As the crowd soaked in their performance, it was obvious that folks had been genuinely thrilled they made it to town this time around. One of the best things about watching Signals Midwest perform is watching them all sort of light up on stage. Max Stern’s huge grin is infectious, and even though the hour was late that perceived bliss was reverberated around the crowd.

See photos from Zack Jacob of Day 1 below:

I was most excited to see Nightmarathons leading up to the weekend. I had the very-fancy-music-journalist privilege to hear a demo version of “Damascus” and loved it. It’s been on a steady rotation for me, but years passed and I feared the worst. So when the track showed up on the band’s self-titled EP, I was pretty ecstatic. The Pittsburgh-based foursome didn’t disappoint

Day Jobs were a brand-new band for me. Before the weekend I’d only seen their name on the Fat Guy Fest 4 bill, but they were a pleasant surprise. Driving, full of melody and faster than most of the night, it’s easy to see why they were at FGF. I’m excited to see them grow into their sound more and play at future Fat Guy Fests.

See photos from Zack Jacob of Day 2 below:

Day three’s biggest surprise came in the form of the festival’s only ska-tinged act, Pittsburgh’s Lawn Care. I’d casually checked out their most recent release Replacement Therapy, but it wasn’t until I saw their live energy that it really clicked with me. Ska tends to get a rather cold welcome these days, but these dudes rely less on predictable upstroking and more on using horns as melodic accentuation.  The result is incredibly energetic, frenetic and melodic music with thoughtful lyrics. If this is the future of ska, I’m all in.

I’ve heard a ton of buzz about The Eradicator from our Chicago team, but FGF was my first encounter.  I was a little leary because I didn’t really get it, but I also love a good schtick. The Eradicator is fucking weird and kooky and great entertainment. He played along to a computer, which probably doesn’t have the same effect as a whole backing band, but it certainly got his squash-loving message across. I’m not sure that I’d jam out to The Eradicator on my way to work or anything, but he’s definitely worth checking out for the sheer entertainment value.

Detroit’s Cheapshow was a last-minute add onto the line-up, but one that thrilled me. A regular name on the Detroit area’s punk bills, their party-punk vibes are quickly becoming a staple. Their crunchy guitar and real-life-reflective lyrics are some of my favorites in the area right now.

See photos from Zack Jacob of Day 3 below:

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