Typically I run away screaming when it comes to the happy-go-lucky, candy coated music that defines “pop punk” these days. Upon arriving at this year’s Warped Tour I was thrown into a mix of screamo, emo, hardcore angst and old school punk. The crowd was extremely energetic as was the music, regardless of the 90 degree heat. Kids were everywhere, and it sometimes felt more like a high school fashion show than a concert.
The first thing that caught my attention was the commercial aspect of the tour. Rows upon rows of flea market style tents and booths from big time cell phone companies, popular clothing stores and no name dealers were on parade, selling and pushing their wares. After I emerged from the sea of booths, I was greeted with two main stages set up side by side and a large half pipe ramp for the skaters. As soon as one band finished on one stage, another band started on the other. The timing was fantastic and the crowd seemed to move in perfect rhythm, back and forth from one stage to another. With over 70 acts and two stages, there was never a moments rest.
The highlight of the show for me was Joan Jett and the Blackhearts and hard rock veterans Helmet. Joan’s voice. resounded powerfully over the crowd and her band sounded tight and strong. It was a nice escape from the raucous frenzy of pop punk guitars that had been blaring all day. Helmet easily put on my favorite performance; they opened up with “Unsung” and flew full force into a steady, aggressive delivery. The crowd seemed to be a bit lackluster with Helmet at first and I suspect it was because these fresh faced newcomers of the punk world were not familiar with them. However, by the end of the set I think they departed with some new fans as the crowd slowly warmed up.
As for the newer punk bands I had been dreading, I found myself tapping my foot and bobbing my head to many of them. I was particularly taken with Motion City Soundtrack. They displayed their tunes to a dedicated and enthusiastic crowd, with nearly every manic-panicked fifteen year old singing along. I was impressed with their ability to lay down a heavy beat and still maintain their poppy harmonious sound. Underoath was another band that held my attention. What lured me in was the crowd and its dedicated fervor for the band, regardless of the sweltering heat and fifty other previous bands they had already seen. AFI, one of the most notorious and well known punk core bands out there also delivered an aggressive performance that rocked the Warped crowd.
On the down side, I was disappointed to see the turn punk has taken these days. It seems as if the sharp piercing edge of punk rock rebellion and what it stands for has been replaced with a soft MTV friendly sponge instead. Vans made up for it by putting punk rock vets such as Anti Flag and The Casualties on the bill. Even pop punk pioneers such as NOFX and Less Than Jake still have that razor edged jab that punk is notorious for. Regardless, every band put on a dynamic show and I left the tour with a new outlook on some of these so-called “cookie cutter” nu-punk bands. Talented and enthusiastic, these bands are paving the way in hardcore, punk and screamo today. The Warped Tour started out as a small indie punk infested tour and has quickly grown into one of the largest and most popular summer tours of our time. I see no sign of it winding down and the kids are happily following, every Vans skate shoe step of the way.