It's hot. You're sweaty. Dozens of bands are showing off their raw skills on more than ten stages. A plethora of teenagers and young adults, wearing their punk-or-nothing personas, surround you. A ministry of radio stations has staked out their own spots within the vast parking lot to distribute their hope, wisdom, and free swag to the fastest growing consumer age market in the world.
It's the only place where a reclusive Misfits fanatic, a Hollister-clad, tennis-playing prima donna and a forty-something business owner with a passion for up-and-coming music can join forces to become one of the most sought-after audiences in the nation. Where are you? You're at Vans Warped Tour 2006!!!
Yes, most of the concert-goers were about five years younger than my sidekick Aaron and me, and yes, it was hotter than Al Roker's armpit in a wool sweater in July, but it all comes with the territory. The July 29th Detroit date for Warped Tour brought out droves of fans, and with good reason. The tour itself has expanded over the past 11 years, showcasing talent since 1995 and this year boasting more than 100 bands. In Detroit, the Comerica Stadium parking lot caged thousands of spectators, with stages lining the pavement.
Woven throughout the crowd, various booths offered everything from anti-smoking information to autograph signings from one of the performing acts. Each band's merchandise tent filled the halls inside Comerica Park, where foot traffic was treacherous to say the least. Fans could take a load off in the shade on stadium seats that normally make room for Detroit Tigers fans' butts. There was never a lack of something to do, or see, or hear, and although it was a bit unorganized, it worked.
Or at least, mostly it did; my one complaint is that I couldn't find one of the stages. At all. I troved through the entire lot and simply never found it, hence missing one of the acts I'd planned to cover. I did have a little chart of which band played when on what stage, but that's only because I was a member of the media; and I did see a huge billboard-type wall half-slated with showtimes and stages, but if I were a regular concert-goer, I would be pissed not knowing exactly where the bands I wanted to see were playing, and at what time.
Only a couple of the stages were marked clearly with their stage names, and there was no map to the locations of these stages at all, so it was pretty time-consuming just finding where you wanted to go. It all seemed as though it had been hammered together that morning, but that was honestly the only major downfall I could find. Of course I got sick of the eighth-grade girls and sweaty, shirtless punk boy-men, but like I said, it comes with the territory.
(Sweaty, shirtless boy-men alert! A typical Warped Tour audience)
User-unfriendliness aside, though, what I really love about Warped Tour is the fact you can just wander to a stage, listen to a band you've never heard of before, and leave completely head-over-heels about your new discovery. Hardly anyone knows all of the bands that play there, and it's awesome to see the event is not only a chance to hear a band you've loved for years, but also an opportunity to find a new style, group, or genre you love.
Also a key element to the tour is seeing how these bands can impact an audience. Stage presence is so key to live performances, and it's kind of innate that if a band is on Warped Tour, they must possess some sort of band-to-fan chemistry through their act.
Unfortunately we couldn't cover every act, but what we did cover, we for the most part loved. Here's the skinny:
The Living End: This is a perfect example of one of those bands who you don't really know, and then you go to check them out and they're completely awesome. Aaron and I kind of stumbled onto their set about halfway through, but what we saw during the rest of the performance was fantastic. The group, whom I'd heard of before but never really listened to, definitely held the attention of the crowd. Their bass player even worked his magic on an enormous, lipstick-red double bass, unique to a punk band. In all, the Scottish group had great energy, great vocals, and really lived up to their name during the show.
Helmet: So, I'm not all that into hard, angry, violent rock music. I do like angry, "I'm kind of wounded so I'm screaming about it" music, but I'm not so keen on mannish growls and such. But, if I had barrels more testosterone and were about ten years older, I would totally have been into Helmet.
The genre isn't really my bag, but the band was pretty good; they know how to put on a show and the vocals were strong and unyielding. You didn't find any teenyboppers here – the crowd was filled with men. Hardcore men. Hardcore men with their hardcore ladies, and a pretty hardcore mosh pit, where my friend broke his watch. Yeah. It was that hardcore. Helmet's grand for the real man in all of us.
Rise Against: My absolute favorite set of the day. Spectacular. I was completely overwhelmed by their talent because I've always had a mediocre attraction to Rise Against, but never really thought they would be good live. Boy, was I wrong.
Frontman Tim McIlrath is amazing. He's kind of a small guy, but delivered such energy and precision to cater to one of the larger audiences of any set that day. The whole band was never off-step and kept their momentum going, which is phenomenal considering Detroit was toward the end of the tour and it was a bitch-ass hot, long day.
I now kind of love this band. The crowd went wild, and at one point I think I even saw McIlrath walk out into the audience (like, on top of them), but maybe it was a mirage. I couldn't see too well from where I was at, but in any case, go see Rise Against live. You won't be disappointed.
Against Me!: Weird how we kind of bopped right from Rise Against to Against Me!, but once again we find another great performance. I'm afraid these tight reviews are sounding a bit repetitive, but rest assured each set had its own wily way of charming me. Against Me! is another band that's pretty hardcore and manly, but not as brutish as Helmet. The men played with their shirts off (because that's how real men play the guitar), and had a cumulative vivid energy.
Their performance of "Losing Touch" was flawless, and the crowd appreciated it. The audience was a bit more diverse than Helmet's, too, and the vibe was lighter. It was very laid-back and comfortable, with a good beat, not pent-up "I want to kill you" frustration. Still, although I did totally fall for the entire set, it seemed to lag a bit toward the middle. I lost some interest at that point, but the tempo picked up later on in the performance and I was hooked again.
The Sounds: Aaron made me listen to some of the Sounds' songs on the way to Detroit, and I was kind of bewildered as to how they got on Warped Tour. They sound a bit New Wavish, and I couldn't see any sign of actual punk rock – more like dance, fun, party time music. But, it wasn't bad, just not what I would expect at Warped Tour.
In any case, the Swedes invaded the stage and jumped right into their performance; there were a couple of Sounds fanatics in the audience, but I think many just kind of wandered in and weren't ready for a lighter band.
Lead singer Maja Ivarsson seemed a bit overbearing, straddling the microphone and crouching, exposing her white, cotton underwear for all the world to see. She kind of scared me a bit, but the rest of the band was completely endearing. To finish out their set, guitarist Felix Rodriguez and synth player Jesper Anderberg performed a hypnotic, synchronized beat, absolutely captivating and a bit unexpected from this dance-type band. The set was pretty good; the crowd wasn't that into it, though. But, I will say that the Sounds had the best merchandise tent of the entire tour.
Valient Thorr: Okay. We only sort of listened to one song from Valient Thorr, and that's just because it was on the way to our next set. But oh, how I long to be best friends with every member of this band. These bearded, gruffy guys are my heroes, and not just because their band name is Valient Thorr. What I heard of their music wasn't bad, but it was kind of like Helmet, in that it totally wasn't what I would normally listen to. Again, very testosterone-driven.
The reason I love Valient Thorr, though, is because in doing some pre-Warped Tour research and stalking through some of these unknown bands on MySpace, I found Valient Thorr's page. It was okay, not my style again, but I looked at some of their pictures, and man, these guys are c-r-a-z-y! One picture got me hooked, and that's where a band member is playing the guitar, hanging upside down from a WIRE!!! Wow. Also, we ran into them down merchandise alley, and Aaron shared a handful of Good & Plentys with them as I confessed the roots of my new obsession.
Saves the Day (acoustic set): At this point in the day, Aaron and I were both a little strung out. If the heat hadn't gotten to us, the crowd had. So Aaron and I both rolled our eyes at Saves the Day singer Chris Conley's hot pink hair, and I could hardly see what was going on, but I did hear.
What I heard was the same old Saves the Day. I don't hate Saves the Day – I kind of like them, actually, but the one complaint is that every song sounds kind of the same to me. You know, kind of droopy, kind of whiney, but I like the vocals and I usually like what I hear.
What was weird about this set was it's supposed to be acoustic, and it was, but it sounded exactly like every other song I've heard from them. No surprise, I suppose, but I anticipated hearing something more raw and maybe a bit different. It wasn't. They did a good job of sounding how they always sound, which has alotted them their fair share of fans, but they need to branch out a bit more.
Motion City Soundtrack: I was waiting all day to see Motion City. Apparently everyone else was, too. I've seen the band live before, and what I remember from that set was great intensity, a great performance, and energy through the roof. I was a little disappointed with what I got at Warped Tour, however.
I understand they were one of the last sets of the day and the tour is winding down, and I think that really seemed to get to them. The performance was tired and the fans were out of it, not just because they'd been there for probably a good eight hours, but also because the band just wasn't that into the show.
Also, I'm much more familiar with their older stuff, and I was surrounded by the young'uns who knew the band from their 2005 release, so we were kind of on two different levels. I didn't know the words to the new songs, and they didn't know the words to the old songs, which made me feel a bit out of place. The performance still stood – it wasn't absolutely horrible – but comparatively it was weak.
Joan Jett & The Blackhearts: Blackhearts who? Joan Jett completely kicked ass. The headlining act delivered, and was absolutely on par with the rest of the tour. Jett wore leather pants and a string bikini top. Her muscular figure was completely frightening, but just added to her phenomenal performance.
She opened with "Bad Reputation," and then smoothed things down with her classic cover of Tommy James & The Shondells' "Crimson and Clover." She played some new songs and finally took things over closing time with her trademark "I Love Rock & Roll." Her set catered to the audience, but that was a good thing in this situation, because most of us were about to keel over from exhaustion and she managed to command our attention throughout her 30-minute performance.
She iced the cake like a firework display rounds out Independence Day. In short, Jett was the perfect act to finish out an almost perfect Warped Tour.
(See ya next year, kids!)
Reviewed by Laura Misjak
Photos by Aaron Kahn