This year's Bamboozle — a three-day parking lot party at New Jersey's Meadlowands Sports Complex — boasted a diverse lineup that reflects the way most young fans consume music these days: no genre barriers, volume levels cranked high, little (if any) attention span required. Hip-hop, indie, metal, punk, emo, hardcore, and R&B (plus whatever the hell you call Insane Clown Posse) were all on display at this year's edition, and while the festival was unintentionally historic for a totally different reason — the news about Osama Bin Laden's death swept through the crowd moments after Lil Wayne wrapped up his headlining set Sunday night — there were plenty of hot musical highlights from Bamboozle 2011. Here are our picks:
BEST SURPRISE: TAKING BACK SUNDAY
For Long Island's Taking Back Sunday, what's old is new. They've reassembled their original lineup, the one that produced the trendsetting 2002 album Tell All Your Friends, for a self-titled record due out in June. The quintet decided to play Tell All Your Friends, front to back, during their mobbed headlining set on Saturday night. Backed by a giant sign that read "Exit 152," marking the spot off a Long Island highway where they grew up, singer Adam Lazzara finally revealed their setlist plan midway through the album's third song, "Cute Without the 'E' (Cut from the Team)," in case people hadn't caught on. It was the equivalent of pouring gasoline on the fire, and things just exploded on the subsequent number, "There's No 'I' in Team," which Lazzara said he once swore he'd never play again.
MOST CARBONATED: INSANE CLOWN POSSE
I.C.P.'s Sunday night crowd rivaled the size of Mötley Crüe's, and the Detroit shock-rap duo rewarded their fans (a mix of die-hard Juggalos and curious newbies) by dousing them with a virtually endless supply of their own Faygo soda, which they sprayed, air-cannoned, and hurled at an unfathomable rate. With the projectile soft drinks, clown makeup, and their crew of costumed goons, you could almost forget that Violent J was spitting unsettling raps about cooking and eating dead bodies, or strangling someone with their own tongue.
WORST PARENTAL NIGHTMARE: LIL WAYNE
"Put your triggers in the sky!" shouted Weezy midway through his Sunday night headlining set. Sigh. It was just a small diversion to the throng of mostly teens, who bumped, grinded, and rhymed along to every one of his filthy rhymes ("She wanna fuck Weezy / She wanna rape Weezy!"). A few terrified dads were spotted dragging their resentful kids out of the crowd. But at least Wayne was appreciative. "I've got three things to tell y'all," he said. "One, I believe in God. Two, I ain't shit without you. And three, I ain't shit without you." A nice sentiment, for sure, but no solace to concerned mommies and daddies.
BEST ROLE MODELS: EISLEY
Earnest, stylish, polite, and super talented, the sister-led band of Texans braved the chilly evening air on Sunday and were Bamboozle's most PG-rated group. That's not to slight the well-crafted songs on their new album, The Valley, and their oft-forlorn but genuine tales of heartbreak. But you'd feel much better taking your little sister to sing along to swoon-worthy songs like "Smarter" than having her rapping Lil Wayne songs on the car ride home.
BEST FACE SAVE: TOKYO POLICE CLUB
Crowd participation and sing-alongs are standard set tactics for many bands in the Bamboozle universe, but it's only effective if your audience knows the words. Singer-bassist Dave Monks overestimated the crowd's familiarity with his band during their Saturday set, and got next to no response when he asked for crowd-sourced backing vocals during "Tessellate." "I have a suspicion that this is the first time many of you have seen us," Monks quipped congenially afterwards, as his band tuned up for the next song. Instead, he offered simple instructions for participatory handclaps to the peppy "Bambi," with better results. Now further engaged, the crowd lapped up the lilting midtempo gem "Breakneck Speed," and "Wait Up (Boots of Danger)," where Monks' sly delivery slipped into a charming, Tom Petty-esque drawl.