When Chain Reaction announced they'd be hosting a festival to celebrate the venue's 20th birthday, people were understandably excited. It's not every day that one of the best (and tiniest) all-ages rooms in OC holds a monumental birthday party, and more than enough legendary bands have made their way through Anaheim to provide a huge day's worth of music.
Although there were no massive mainstream names on the bill, it fit Chain Reaction's primary vibe and audience almost perfectly. With the trio of Underoath, Circa Survive, and Coheed and Cambria closing out the evening, it certainly seemed like some of the venues' biggest alumni were happy to give back to a spot they played long before thousands of people would pack into a parking lot to see them.
With music starting at 12:30 in the afternoon on a warm Saturday, it looked like some folks were a little hesitant to stand on the Observatory's blacktop to watch bands like Movements and Turnover, but things began to pick up as Dance Gavin Dance rolled on to the main stage at 2:40. While plenty of people were just looking for shade in the parking lot, Comeback Kid drew a pretty big crowd in the Observatory's main room for their 2:30 set before Anthony Green packed every square inch of the larger indoor venue for his 3:15 solo set (even if he semi-jokingly criticized his fans for watching him perform instead of Title Fight's show outside).
The Constellation Room didn't start hosting bands until 2:00, but it wasn't long before Chain Fest's smallest stage was so full that people had stopped even attempting to enter or exit for the most part. But the rest of the festival was pleasantly — and surprisingly — not super crowded. Unlike most previous fests held at the Observatory, there was rarely a giant mob of people waiting to get in or out of the building, and you weren't rubbing shoulders with people any time you tried to move more than a handful of feet. Some people were surprised that Chain Fest didn't sell out ahead of time, but it ultimately made for a more enjoyable experience for those of us in attendance (and it wasn't anywhere near a disappointing turnout).
Perhaps the best summary of Chain Fest was the combination of main stage sets leading up to the three biggest names. MxPx brought their signature pop punk sound and lightheartedness just before the sun dipped behind the medical complex that oddly shares a parking lot with the Observatory, leading to easily the biggest circle pit of the day (and maybe one of the biggest in Observatory history) during “Chick Magnet” and “Punk Rawk Show.” A short equipment change later, Portugal. The Man took to the stage for a much more complex and less mosh-worthy sounding set. While both bands sounded great and put on very crowd-pleasing performances, there likely weren't too many people who own both Evil Friends and Life in General. The exception to that appeared to be Anthony Green, who air-drummed to his heart's content during MxPx and could also be found on the side of the stage for Portugal. The Man less than two hours before his second set of the day.
Underoath got the biggest and most excited audience of the night for their hour of metalcore mastery. “Reinventing Your Exit” was arguably the loudest singalong of the night, a wave of crowdsurfers during the first few minutes nearly collapsed the photo pit, and it's hard to imagine any of their fans leaving disappointed after the Florida-based band spanned nearly their entire catalogue over the course of the evening. In addition to the one-off show before they flew overnight to Riot Fest in Chicago, vocalist Spencer Chamberlain sounded like LeBron James rattling off how many championships he thought he'd win with the Miami Heat as he listed all of the upcoming years Underoath plans on performing in SoCal.
After filling the indoor venue for the performance of his solo record, Anthony Green and the rest of Circa Survive performed an electrifying penultimate set of the night. Although it left plenty of the Saosin shirt-wearing concertgoers a little confused, everyone who was smart enough to actually read the lineup rather than substitute one Green-fronted band for another was treated to as good of an indie-tinged post-hardcore set as it gets. Multiple times throughout the set, Green pointed out that the massive crowd gathered at Chain Fest reminded him of the rowdy bunch from the first time he'd played Chain Reaction. As the wise prophet of rap music once said, California knows how to party.
For most of the day, I couldn't help but think how weird it seemed that Coheed and Cambria was headlining the entire festival. It's nothing against Coheed — I actually like them better than almost any other band that performed on Saturday — they just don't draw the same crowd as many of the previous acts. It wasn't surprising when close to half of the crowd cleared out after Circa Survive, but those who stuck around were reminded of why Coheed was once viewed as one of the top rock acts in the world.
It only took about five minutes of “In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3” for frontman Claudio Sanchez and his majestic hair (no, really, Beyoncé would kill for that mane) to have the entire remaining crowd whoa-ing along in perfect harmony, and things only got better from there. For those who were concerned the band would primarily perform tracks off of their new album, the second tune was 2003's “Blood Red Summer” and everyone was pretty well hooked after that.