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Halloween Meltdown brings wicked fun to Oakland’s Mosswood Park

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OCTOBER 26, 2022

With a nip in the breeze and something eerie in the air, Halloween Meltdown brought the ghosts of punk past, present and future to Oakland. Tucked into the back corner of Mosswood Park on Oct. 8, festivalgoers gathered in the skeleton-studded amphitheater for a day of unearthly elegance and punk particularity. 

The festival grounds were small but packed a mighty punch. Local vendors stocked with vintage clothing, vinyl records and band T-shirts found a home among the oak trees peppering the park. In the center, a haunted house promising the inexplicable elicited screams of terror and joy that rang through the festivities. 

While the day began with young families and plucky teens making up the audience, as night fell, the ghoulish came out to play. Attendees were encouraged to come in costume, conjuring up a crowd of zombies, witches, aliens. Halloween Meltdown had a bubbling all-inclusive sense of community, as high spirited attendees chatted between sets in an atmosphere of ghastly and outré fun. 

Hosted by the ever-spooky and legendarily kooky John Waters, the festival was a love letter signed in blood to all things anomalous. 

Fake Fruit 

Bright and bitey, Oakland’s own Fake Fruit has carved out its place in the post-punk scene. Its songs are quick and punchy with a certain kind of self-aware wit that easily snagged the attention of the early afternoon crowd.  

Dressed in a bright orange bodycon in line with a general halloween spirit, lead singer Hannah D’Amato carried with her an ambiance of ease punctuated by sunglasses on and a drink in hand. Early on in the set, she got down on the stage, leaning casually on one of the center speakers addressing the audience with the tone that was more ranting best friend than peacocking rockstar. 

However, this is not to say its sound was laid back. Fake Fruit’s songs are punched up by D’Amato’s banshee screams about relationships gone wrong, shrieking lyrics such as “You made me look psychoover drummer Miles MacDiarmid’s striking rhythms. 

“You ever been mad?” D’Amato quipped after a particularly ragey song. “Me neither.”

Even with lyrics fueled by young adult angst, the band’s charm came from an acute self awareness and lack of self seriousness. Its music came with a sense of humor, seen most vividly in the B-52s-esque “Milkman” and when its members noticeably started giggling between harmonies as the set neared its end

During the final songs, the band invited saxophonist Judith Horn to the stage. Paired with guitarist Alex Post’s tonal legwork, the added woodwind dimension transformed Fake Fruit’s sound and the festival grounds into something grand — swirling harmonies and tonalities were blown up to an epic scale. During the closer, D’Amato brought out a slide whistle, staying true to the band’s spirit of real emotion charged by absurdity. 

Fake Fruit is bubbly in an every-soda-in-one-cup sort of way. It’s clear that the band is young and still honing its craft, but it has nailed down a tone that is infectious to watch. 

Demolition Doll Rods

Flaunting a black leather bikini with thigh high boots to match, lead singer Margaret Doll Rod began the set with a benediction. “May God bless your sweet everloving a—,” she proclaimed with a rasp sculpted by years of rock. 

Hailing from the ’90s, the Demolition Doll Rods commanded the stage with all of their scantily clad force. Where the contemporary Fake Fruit performed with an impression of personability, the Dolls were unabashedly performers through and through. Their origins began in the Detroit garage rock scene, lending to their particular flavor of grungy, glamourous panache. At any given moment, Margaret was swaggering around the stage, flourishing a riff with a high kick or head bang. She could be spotted literally bending over for her backwards for the crowd’s boisterous clamor. 

Yet, even with the experience under the band’s belt, the performance felt messy at times — and not in the way a punk show should. If it wasn’t a faulty amp or dropped drum stick, Margaret’s mic would be falling off the stand from a little too close of a guttural yell. Not all of the issues could be entirely blamed on the band itself — mistakes happen. But with a 35-minute-long set, these blunders unfortunately detracted from the overall showing. 

Lydia Lunch 

As the host of Halloween Meltdown, John Waters introduced each act with a half-poem, half-ramble that often left the crowd just as tickled as it did confused. Lydia Lunch, a performer who Waters made clear was an old friend, was gifted with a preamble fit for the monster from the black lagoon. Pronounced by him as “scary sexy,” she began her set with the response, “Scary? You’ve got no f—ing clue.”

Lunch’s vicious veracity displayed how she was quintessential to the ethos of Halloween Meltdown. She could stand still on the stage and embody everything the event stood for with a presence that screamed that punk isn’t dead. In fact, it’s very much alive and has a thirst for blood. 

After performing her first song, Lunch quickly shut down the applause coming from the audience. “I need that applause like I need a trepanation,” she scolded. After the third round of shut-down applause, the audience seemed to understand.  

Lunch’s crowd work was unique to say the least, streamlined by remarks about her age in the scene and sexual history. Armed — note the word choice here, because they were weaponized — with the backing of a bass, guitar and drum set, Lunch was more head artist than lead singer. With a gruff and gravelly voice, she spat out each lyric as if it was forged in acid, dipped in tar. 

As her set came to a close and the sun finally dipped below the horizon, Lunch finally welcomed the applause.   

Amyl and The Sniffers 

If other musicians can be classified as bombshells, lead singer  Amy Taylor of Amyl and the Sniffers is nuclear war. In her tiger-striped two-piece, she was tongue-in-cheek hellfire incarnate with a spunk rivaled only by a bolt of lightning. 

The headlining Melbourne-based punk band was magnetic, leaving a ringing in your ear that you would still want to headbang to. Having cited Dolly Parton, Cardi B, AC/DC and Minor Threat as their influences, Amyl and the Sniffers have perfected an standard of devil-may-care fury that makes it surprising that they have only released two albums as of writing. 

Whether it was forcibly popping a crowd-hopping beach ball that was repeatedly passed to the stage or crowd surfing to the assertive “Got You” from their debut album, Taylor’s presence was infectious. As a vocalist, she pushed every pithy lyric to its zenith with adjectives. As a performer, her bleach blonde mullet and vaunting charm was mesmeric. 

Infected by the drum licks, guitar riffs and bass lines that scratch the itch to burn it all down, the crowd was quick to mosh and stage dive under the fiery red LED lights. “Maggot” and “Guided By Angels,” two songs from the band’s latest studio album, fanned the flames of a sort of spirited bacchanal, a cathartic revelry. 

As the band closed with the crowd-pleasing “Hertz,” Taylor took a moment to flex her muscles before the adoring audience. Hubristic and brash, Amyl and the Sniffers performed with a vigor that no one should dare try and slow down.

Contact Afton Okwu at 


OCTOBER 26, 2022