Chain Reaction celebrates unified love of loud rock

The venue’s 20th birthday emulates its integral role in loud music.


Maxwell Hellman/THE CHMES

Maxwell Heilman, Writer

Anyone from or near Anaheim with interest in music knows about Chain Reaction. An all-ages venue striving for positivity and community, it stands as one of Orange County’s most reputable hangouts. It gave a generation of angsty teenagers, including me, a place to vent their frustrations and find camaraderie. Indeed, the venue hosted the first concert I attended and the biggest crowd I ever performed for. Chain Reaction celebrated two decades as a bastille of youthful abandon this past Saturday with Chain Fest.

Not the poor man’s Warped Tour

The people lined up made it abundantly clear Chain Fest would not become the poor man’s Warped Tour. With the youngest patrons in their late teens yet many pushing 30, these people came to relive the glory days and reconnect with the bands that ignited undying passion for so many of them. This only became more apparent once the music started.

Located at The Observatory in Orange County, Chain Fest featured five major stations: merch tables, food tents, two indoor stages and a large outdoor stage.

Local upstarts Movements started the outdoor stage off with post-hardcore laced with spoken word. Most of their audience came to see subsequent acts, but their reserved melodrama stage presence and genuinely pained vocal delivery won the day, proving the scene I grew up loving still produces inspired bands today. The three stage’s schedules overlapped from here, so fans chose which performances they caught.

Like Movements, I had no knowledge of Norcal veterans Hail The Sun, but they solidified my perception of the strength of modern post-hardcore. Their technical post-hardcore, comparable to Fall of Troy, left everyone begging for more. Seeing bands garnering support while playing genres many dismissed after 2010 warmed my heart.

Most who stayed inside the Constellation Room for Jonah Matranga wanted good spots for Comeback Kid, but his emo-indie style pleasantly surprised, highlighting Chain’s innocent side. This contrasted with the ferocity of the latter act, who had fans jumping boots-first off the stage. Comeback Kid brought the violent positivity Xibalba shirt-toting madmen love. It looks like a 40-minute-long riot, but bro-hugs afterwards proved otherwise.

Obliterated expectations

Going outside to air-dry the sweat covering my body, I was just in time for emo-revival heartbreakers Title Fight. Those who threw elbows at each other minutes earlier now sang along to lovesick anthems alongside their hipster counterparts. I felt as much at home in this environment as I did before.

Tigers Jaw and Citizen’s performances provided top notch, if slightly predictable, music, but the progressive Chon obliterated expectations with virtuosic, jazzy flourishes. The crowd sat in awestruck silence, until reminded to mosh by frontman Mario Camarena.

The legendary Zao closed indoor venues out with a lethal dose of metalcore. While the faint-hearted fled to Portugal. The Man, the few and the proud stayed for a perfect set from musicians who paved the way for almost every other band at Chain Fest.

“If you’re ever feeling down,” said guitarist Scott Mellinger, surprised by the intensity of the crowd, “play a show in California.” Zao expressed as much excitement as everyone else for the next three bands.

Underoath, Circa Survive, and Coheed and Cambria, a trinity of groundbreaking bands in the Chain Reaction circuit, brought the festival full circle. Not an eye was left dry as people of all walks of life sang the lyrics to songs like “Writing On The Walls” and “Living Together,” played by bands that changed their lives. Hearing how Chain Reaction helped every band in the festival find their bearings truly encapsulated why their 20-year anniversary matters so much. Venues like this provide common ground for bands and fans alike, earning support with every show they put on.

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