The Warped Tour celebrated its 15th year yesterday in the Flats with a 10-hour extravaganza featuring 73 bands on seven stages. The weather was perfect, with the heat rising off the asphalt grounds alleviated by a nice breeze off the river. Onstage, it was a typically Warped smorgasbord of acts running the gamut of punk and hard-rock styles, with brief glimpses of rap and the occasional forays into pop. But by and large, this year’s tour was a celebration of aggression with plenty of loud guitars, throbbing breakdowns, screeching vocals and angst-ridden subject matter.
In honor of the lineup’s often aggressive tone, I attended the festivities in a Your Favorite Band Sucks T-shirt, prepared to answer any queries by citing whatever band that might be flung my way with praise for their immediate antecedent. Less Than Jake? They suck next to Operation Ivy and the Descendents. Saosin? I liked them better when they were called Taking Back Sunday. The Devil Wears Prada? The movie or the Underoath rip-off? The point is naturally that expecting innovation from music aimed at those whose musical taste is still nascent and unsophisticated is a leap, and, in truth, the best you can hope for is a distinct recombination because just about anything’s been tried before. (Of course, nobody said anything other than to congratulate me on a cool shirt.)
Which isn’t to disparage the Warped Tour or their bands. The tour offers such a wide cross-section that you’re likely to find what you’re looking for whatever your musical tastes (within certain limits), and something interesting you probably weren’t expecting (if you’re open-minded enough). The only real complaint is that with so many bands, and a lineup that changes daily, you’re likely to find time-conflicts. For example, Anti-Flag apparently drew the short-straw, playing the first mainstage slot at 11:15 a.m., before many fans had even arrived (me included), or standard-bearers Bad Religion who unleashed their old school politi-punk during the same slot as exciting up & coming Florida folk-punks, Fake Problems, both of whom played around 1 p.m.
The mainstage drew most of the attention, and, by and large, it was justified. Perhaps the largest, most fervent crowd belong to Chiodos, which won’t come as any surprise who caught them playing to a huge outpouring on the second tier Hurley Stage two years ago. Their chunky Michigan metalcore acts rages like a bad teenage case of acne, their momentous breakdowns pimpled with electronic flourishes and plenty of melodic vocals to counter the guttural screams. The chest-thumping roar was even more feral live to the great enjoyment of the thousands packed under the main tent.
They were followed by a “Special Guest” that proved to be the quickly rising Paramore. Led by their fetching red-haired singer Hayley Williams, the Tennessee quintet wowed an audience dominated by teenage girls in obvious thrall to the rare female rocker. Williams called this one of her best days ever and hailed the Warped Tour where they cut their teeth for years. The 40-minute set not only rehashed tracks from their first two releases, but gave peeks at a couple tunes including the single “Ignorance.” While their albums favor mid-tempo pop-punk, their live performance crackled, highlighted by “Misery Business,” which had hundreds of girls shouted every line, and the onstage acrobatics of bassist Jeremy Davis who did a sideways somersault during one of the songs.
Other noteworthy acts included Flogging Molly — a staple of tour founder Kevin Lyman’s label, SideOneDummy — who delivered a typically energetic set of Irish folk-punk to a pretty sizable crowd (though many were over at the Hurley stage watching surging hard-edged pop-punks A Day to Remember). Like a more tuneful, less inebriated Pogues, the L.A. septet sampled from their four albums including crowd favorites “If I Ever Leave This World Alive,” “Drunken Lullabies” and “Devil’s Dancefloor.”
Old-school punk rockers the A.K.A.’s noted that none of the songs on their latest album, Animal Summer, are about breaking up with a girl or boy — an real feat on Warped. The guitarist wore a bowler — a clue to their ska-inflected old school punk, which was energetic enough to inspire a skanking circle pit. Tight and tuneful, they were one of the tour’s real finds.
Those who haven’t seen Minneapolis rapper P.O.S. were in for a treat. Abandoning the stage with the barrier for a equipment case on the asphalt in the middle of the crowd, P.O.S. made his case face-to-face. A part of the Rhymesayers crew, he’s been touring heavily for the last two years and it showed. His flow was skin-tight and his energy palpable, talking about life and its incumbent troubles, while dissing the thug pose and its lack of reality. He rapped over an interesting mix of dance beats and hard rock samples, displaying plenty of versatility.
Underoath closed Warped down, one of two acts with 8 p.m. slots (Sing It Loud was the other) as the other stages tore down. They continue to have one of the more impressive stage shows, highlighted by keyboardist Chris Dudley who headbanged nearly the entire time, while switching between the keys and a pair of drums locate nearby. The Christian metalcore act turn up the sonic heat, with blistering breaks, slashing guitars and frontman Spencer Chamberlains howling vocals. It was a typically incendiary performance, though one mainly for the converted, as many had clearly already left by the time they played for a dedicated audience of several hundred, who raised their arms and shouted on cue like true believers.
Easily the weakest act I saw were 3OH!3. The Colorado act rap as well as Fred Durst over baleful electro-beats like a shitty Joy Division cover band. A big clue to their success came when singer Sean Foreman asked how many in the crowd were 15 or younger and got a resounding answer from those up front. Clearly musical taste is an evolutionary process that’s just begun for their fans.
Another lowlight — if a rather entertaining one — came from the live music/rap group Down With Webster. One of several acts trying to mix rock and rap elements, they posed a pertinent question as to what constitutes theft. While they rapped over the verses, the pretty much wholesale use of Hall & Oates “Rich Girl” barely separated them from a cover band. It’s one thing when rappers work samples of several different tracks, but this was hardly more than a direct rip-off, complete with at least five times through the signature chorus. It was entertaining, honestly, but with a tight grip on someone else’s coattails.
Besides the bands, there were plenty of other outdoor spectacles from the Rock Band tent, starring the videogame of the same name, to the Guitar Center booth, which allowed kids to plug in different guitars and give them a test ride at several headphone stands. As usual, there was a half pipe, featuring dozens of skaters — some not much taller than their boards — performing an array of ollies, fakies and flips. Trojan condoms was there, putting rub-on tattoos of their logos on the bare shoulder blades of many haltered and bikini -topped girls. I suppose that’s sort of a positive message about safe sex. But in the end, isn’t that what Warped Tour’s really all about (besides the music) — branding a corporate message into impressionable teens. Hey, someone has to pay the bills. —Chris Parker