Our picks for the 15th annual Warped Tour

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Our picks for the 15th annual Warped Tour

Now in its 15th year, the Warped Tour has outlived just about every other touring festival. With enough corporate sponsorship to rival the budget of a small country, Warped is hardly punk, at least in the old-school, anti-authoritarian sense of the word. But that hasn't stopped the promoters from continuing to put veteran acts such as NOFX and Bad Religion on the bill. Of course, the tour still features a slew of up-and-coming emo and screamo acts, as well as those amazing BMX riders and skateboarders. Here's our guide to the bands that are worth checking out.

ANTI-FLAG

Pittsburgh's Anti-Flag have railed against social and political injustice for over a decade. The band's lyrically aware, fast-paced songs only recently found their way to RCA, just as major labels started recognizing political punk as a viable commodity. But now, after two major label albums, the band has signed to SideOneDummy and just released its ninth album, The People or the Gun. The new songs are contemporary and — as with most of Anti-Flag's music — highlighting the crumbling American economy and the current state of American politics. It's hard to believe Anti-Flag is now one of the oldest bands playing Warped Tour, but it's not so hard to believe that it's one of the only truly punk bands still playing the tour, screaming about politics alongside young bands that have probably never read a newspaper. — Emily Zemler

BAD RELIGION

At this point in its long and storied career, it would be understandable if Bad Religion were as irrelevant and passé as the rock dinosaurs it railed against when it began almost 30 years ago. Thankfully, with the return of BR founder and Epitaph honcho Brett Gurewitz three albums ago, the SoCal quintet roared back with some of the most visceral and political material in their legendary catalog. In many respects, their latest album, 2007's New Maps of Hell, is the completion of the circle that began with 1982's How Could Hell Be Any Worse, with BR tossing out jagged and abbreviated shards of garage-y punk that rail against the status quo. Of course, in 1982, BR had its collective backs up over the Reagan administration, and its last three albums were inspired by the criminal ineptitude of the Bush regime. But regardless of the source or the era, Bad Religion's outrage finds its release in full-throttle punk anthemics and garage-forged blasts of rock. Brian Baker

THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA

This hard-rock group's latest album, With Roots Above and Branches Below was released in early May to rave reviews. It debuted at #11 on Billboard's Top 200 Chart. It also reached #2 on iTunes the day it was released, second only to Bob Dylan. In the midst of a bunch of screaming heavy-metal songs like "Sassafras," "Dez Moines" and "Assistant to the Regional Manager," one song, "Louder Than Thunder," stands out. It's the one tune that lead singer Mike Hranica actually sings rather than screams, and it's also one of the best on the album. The piano in the background, combined with Hranica's singing, works very well for this track that's become a staple in the band's live set. Julia Kazar

GALLOWS

In the UK, Gallows have been heralded as the last truly dangerous band on the planet. They might just live up to the billing. Their new album, Grey Britain, combines Clash-like politics with pummeling punk riffs and snotty lyrics. Think Motorhead if Johnny Rotten fronted the band. Produced by Garth Richardson (Rise Against, Rage Against the Machine), the guys took a much different approach on Grey Britain, their second disc. They lured Richardson out of his Vancouver studio to record in London and attained a much harsher sound. Singer Frank Carter's acid-reflux problem created a bit of a delay after he blew out his voice. But that also had its benefits. "We're ready to die," he screams on "The Riverbank," the album's opening tune. His hoarse vocals give the album a grittier texture, something that comes across in tunes such as "London Is the Reason" and "Misery." Pretty tough stuff from a bunch of guys from Hertfordshire, the same English county where Elton John and George Michael lived. Jeff Niesel

IN THIS MOMENT

In This Moment's blend of metalcore and arena rock plus frontwoman Maria Brink's soaring vocals and extremely short, low-cut dresses have taken them from tiny club tours to opening the 2007 Ozzy Osbourne/Rob Zombie tour. Now, they're bringing metal to punk kids as part of the Warped package. Their almost ridiculously hooky second album, The Dream, a brilliant mix of power-pop and power-metal, has just been reissued with three bonus tracks, one of which is a cover of Blondie's "Call Me." Brink marries a vocal style that's equal parts Pat Benatar and Berlin's Terri Nunn to a crunching disco-metal arrangement. Her ability to remain aloof and alluring at once is doubtless the result of years on the road, fending off horny apes in the audience. But the band behind her writes killer songs and performs them with skill and flair. Phil Freeman

NOFX

NOFX is still going after all these years. Except now, instead of riffing on tongue-in-cheek songs that were both fun and influential, the California foursome just mocks for the sake of mocking. The band's political stand in 2003's War On Errorism and the creation of the Rock Against Bush movement showed that the group had the capacity to deride those who deserved it while still making fast-paced punk songs that appealed to their fans. Their world tours in 2007 revealed musicians with a desire to change the world through satire. But this year, with the release of Coaster, NOFX proved that they aren't joking — they are the joke. The gay-bashing, homophobic "Creeping Out Sara" leapt over the line of productive satire. There's a difference between a joke that helps and a joke that hurts, and NOFX clearly has lost sight of that difference. Still, they're punk icons and certainly worth checking out live. Zemler

P.O.S.

Stef Alexander, a.k.a. P.O.S., is a rapper who has been able to transcend the genre, at least when it comes to touring. He's played the Warped Tour on several previous jaunts, opened for Gym Class Heroes and Atmosphere, and sold out headlining shows in venues that typically book indie-rock bands. He doesn't spit rhymes about money or cars or ladies; he samples songs from bands like Fugazi and the Bouncing Souls, and enlists guest singers like the Hold Steady's Craig Finn. He also plays electric guitar onstage while rapping. Plus, Alexander's from Minneapolis (where he co-founded a hip-hop collective called Doomtree), which makes him even harder to classify. P.O.S.'s third album, Never Better, came out in February and helped garner Alexander and his original style more attention and this slot on the Hurley.com stage. Zemler

SHOOTER JENNINGS

As the only son of country icons Waylon Jennings and Jessi Colter, Waylon Albright Jennings — known to various and sundry as "Shooter" when he allegedly soaked a delivery-room nurse after his birth — has an incredible legacy to fulfill. In a childhood of endless road trips on his parents' tour bus, Jennings absorbed the histories of rock and country. Jennings left Nashville after high school in the late '90s and relocated to Los Angeles where he started a rock outfit called Stargunn. The band gained a loyal following, but Jennings eventually sensed what was lacking in his music: his father's influence. In early 2003, Jennings dismantled Stargunn and moved to New York for a brief period of contemplation and germination. Jennings then returned to L.A., put together a new band that he christened the .357s and holed up for six weeks to create his debut, Put the O Back in Country. Jennings has obviously struck a chord with country, rock and his father's fans alike. The single "4th of July" (featuring a brilliant cameo from George Jones) was a hit, and Jennings has been on the road constantly since, releasing his third album, The Wolf, in 2007. Baker

music@clevescene.com

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