Long Beach—specifically the Queen Mary—has been without fail the place to be this summer, becoming seemingly overnight ground-zero for the hottest summer festival series in recent years. With the last of the summer months drifting in, Alt. 98.7 hosted its annual ALT Summer Camp in the shadow of the Queen Mary once more—offering its heavy-hitting lineup of alternative-rock giants as an unofficial finale to what has been a spectacular festival season on the bay.
In a lot of ways, the festival was a tribute to the bands and artists that found their first audience amongst the listeners of Alt. 98.7 and its sister stations across the country. From Walk the Moon’s “Anna Sun” to Of Monsters and Men’s “Little Talks,” the festival was a reminder of the role alternative radio plays in the growth and success of up-and-coming bands.
Much of the day was bathed in the nostalgia that comes with reminiscing on the first time you heard Phantogram’s heady-synth rock hum through your car radio—or the countless summers soundtracked by Grouplove’s “Tongue Tied.” There was even the burgeoning hometown pride in seeing Cold War Kids—a band that grew-up and cut its teeth playing in Long Beach—unveiling old hits like “Hang Me Up To Dry,” and new ones in “Complainer.” But Summer Camp was just as much about making new memories tucked deep into the emotionality of these bands, as it was highlighting the ones that had already been.
There was the moment when—after delivering the high-octane, feel-good anthem of “Colours”—that Grouplove’s Hannah Hooper and Christian Zucconi dived into an especially sublime cover of David Bowie’s “Major Tom.” Or when Walk the Moon, led by Nicholas Petricca, let rip a wild couple of minutes of pure rock bombast—all manner of inane shredding and blistering riffs thundering from the normally synth-pop inclined outfit—and the cherry on-top: a couple of bars of “Kashmir” rumbling through the stage’s speakers. All the band’s present in some form or another emphasized the growth and distance that they’d traveled since their first releases.
Even those that had been on hiatus for some time, like Phantograms’ Josh Carter and Sarah Barthel—occupied with their side project Big Grams—returned to the stage with an unimaginable thrills and new songs ready for fans. Teasing new music from a yet to be announced album, the duo were the only electronics laden presence at the festival and they took that weight on their shoulders with substantial gusto—offering all the moody atmospherics of their colossal soundscapes to a rejuvenated crowd.
And right there with them was The Head and the Heart, the large instrumental collective started by Josiah Johnson and Jonathan Russell, who emerged as one of the biggest anthem carriers of the night. Bolstered by the angelic croons of violinist Charity Rose Thielen, The Head and the Heart sent goosebumps and tidal waves of emotion through the crowd with their larger than life rock pieces.
But one of the biggest moments of the night came with Of Monsters and Men, whose performance that night marked the first time they’d gone onstage together in three years and since the release of their new album Fever Dream. Led by Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir and Ragnar “Raggi” Þórhallsson, Of Monsters and Men have continued to prove themselves the banner carrier for all the kind of anthemic indie-rock that first emerged in the early 00s. Traversing from elegant folk-rock inspired by their homeland of Iceland and into the sleek, electronic-infused sounds of their newest pieces—it’s clear that the group still have the kind of massive breadth of sound and feeling infused in their songs that won them the battle of the bands competition in their home country that eventually launched them onto the international stage.
There really was no better way to end such a rollicking event than with the angelic cries of Nanna and Ragnar’s soothing sails on “Six Weeks,” with each thunderous drum gallop hammering away the neon sights and colorful sounds into your mind forever.