The Westward Music Festival returned to Vancouver for its third year on Thursday, Sept. 12 to kick off four nights of local and international talent. This year’s genre-blending lineup had something for the indie/alternative crowd (Yukon Blonde), the post-punk rockers (Titus Andronicus), the folk-heads (Mt. Joy), the pop stans (Honors), and for the more hip-hop/R&B oriented (Joji).
The three bands that took to the stage for the early show Thursday night at The Vogue held a crowd that you likely wouldn’t find at the other concerts throughout the weekend. This was Vancouver’s pop-punk scene, and they came together to welcome back one of the genre’s most aggressively emotional staples, The Wonder Years. Providing an outlet for teenage (hell, it continues into adulthood) angst for over 10 years, the Pennsylvania sextet has put in the work to become a well-respected act in sad boy pop-punk.
Joining them on stage Thursday were two of Vancouver’s favourites in the scene, Chase Your Words and Chief State. It’s safe to say a chunk of the crowd was there more for the local openers than the headlining act. It was certainly apparent Chase Your Words had some diehards in attendance when they took to the stage. The trio has garnered a fabulous online following over the years and has worked closely with notable names like Kellin Quinn (Sleeping With Sirens) and Derek DiScanio (State Champs).
Chase Your Words’ pop-rock teenage anthems hit at the heart for fans of acts like All Time Low and Marianas Trench. They’ve established a great studio performance and have secured a loyal fanbase, but the question holds on how many new fans they can bring in from a live performance. While no shortage of charm from the camera-friendly trio, there was some room to tighten up the performance. While playing to a click (or backing track) is nothing abnormal, it shouldn’t be apparent, and there were moments of gaps between songs as the band cued the next track on the laptop. A minor nitpick in what was otherwise a strong showing from the boys behind Chase Your Words.
Chief State came next, and while the five-piece doesn’t hold close to the online following as their friends who played before, there was an air of experience to their performance that was not felt from CYW. They instantly had the growing crowd’s hearts beating faster when they rushed onto the stage exuding energy and encouraging the same from the audience. The band started playing before vocalist Fraser Simpson plowed on stage and burst into a set that holds a much more punk taste than pop. The frontman, originally from the U.K., owned the stage and carried the influence of bands like The Story So Far and Knuckle Puck. It was a powerhouse of a set that had the local following singing and moshing along and was sure to have grabbed the ears of some new listeners.
Finally, the main act of the night, The Wonder Years were gifted with a mostly filled floor at The Vogue when they took their place at the front of the room. Dan “Soupy” Campbell is the beloved leading man of the band and he was certainly at home behind the mic. Opening with the title track off their 2018 release, “Sister Cities” surprisingly sounded a bit underwhelming after the raw set from Chief State. This may have been in part to do with the somewhat lacklustre reception from the crowd that didn’t fully come alive until the following track, 2011’s “Local Man Ruins Everything.” This continues the trend of old over new that all too many bands face during live shows. Throughout the set, anything off the band’s latest release was swept under the rug when put next to their older material.
11 songs of the 14-song set, however, were devoted to material from 2011-2015 and the Pennsylvania band got to see the love Vancouver has for their music as the crowd sang along word for word. Thursday night was a fantastic opportunity for Vancouver’s pop-punk fans to come together (literally arm in arm at one point) to witness these groups keep the scene very much alive.