If you know anything rock, you know the Vans Warped Tour. Since 1995 the Vans Warped Tour has been the biggest touring punk rock music festival, hosting as many as 100 bands per show. Tens of thousands of music lovers show up for this event year after year and congregate approximately 10 different stages.
It's been a long ride since 1995. What started as a punk rock and ska tour, now features mostly pop punk and alternative rock. This change is disappointing to Warped Tour Veterans, but good news for corporate sponsors and popular media.
The New York show was this past Saturday, August 5th, and I could be found leaning against the barricade, front row, during the Bouncing Souls set. The Warped Tour is a bittersweet experience, hard to describe. You arrive with the intention of catching all of your favorite bands, and then you realize how nearly impossible it is. There's a blowup billboard with the lineup and schedule, and the chances of your selected bands not having conflicting set times are very slim.
Band favoritism aside, it's blatantly apparent how forced advertisements and commercial corporations overshadow the original and long-forgotten mission of the Warped Tour –pure music. Now, you have to have Cingular Wireless to cut lines or get updates via text messaging. You've been standing in blistering heat for hours and guess what? You have to pay four dollars for a bottle of Aquafina or Gatorade. "Scene" kids lurk by the myspace tent, a website that has defined their entire lifestyle and robbed them of any fiber of originality left in their bone.
After checking out the blow-up lineup, I went to watch The Academy Is perform. They played their classic "Slow Down" followed by a cover of Gnarl's Barkley's "Crazy," which had all their fans confused as to whether they should be shocked and upset, or just dance along to William Beckett's crooning.
Not five minutes into the set, the first mosh pit of the day was full under way, and I witnessed a kid kick-flip and land on his head (on concrete, mind you). He passed out and was carried away, beady eyes and all, by two nearby male fans. You gotta love them emo kids, they'll watch you break your neck in the pit but they'll wisk you away and take care of you immediately (and maybe even shed a tear or two). Had this been Ozzfest, that guy would've been mercilessly trampled.
I caught a glimpse of The Sounds, and also watched Motion City Soundtrack, Hellogoodbye, and the Pink Spiders. I am thoroughly confused by this new electronic wave taking over the Warped Tour. Ten years ago, bands with that kind of sound would never be considered to play. Now, it's the new fad. Long Island girls could be seen dancing to these bands in their miniskirts, singing every word, and calling out to their favorite member in desperate shrieks. Since when did Warped become the new Tiger Beat?
Then there are the more "hardcore" bands; Aiden, Underoath, 18 Visions, From Autumn To Ashes, Rise Against, and Thursday. Aiden was headlining this tour, and why a hardcore band is headlining Warped Tour is incomprehensible to me. Underoath was a no-show, they dropped the tour due to "friendship issues," which is speculated to be a cover-up to the possibility they were offended by rude and crass comments made by Fat Mike of fellow Warped Tour band NOFX.
18 Visions is metal, and this is not Ozzfest. From Autumn To Ashes, Rise Against, and Thursday are all hardcore-type screamo, and no one associates punk music with screamo, ever. Although, I was impressed by Thursday's performance, when lead singer Geoff broke his nose after bashing his face in with his microphone while swinging it, and continued the song and screamed his heart out all while forming a blood bath on stage, on his face, and on the mic in true rockstar fashion.
Then, I found it. The reason I had came, the reason Warped Tour was made. The last traces of original punk rock roots on this tour. No strangers to Warped Tour, Less Than Jake took the stage with a huge following. It was one of the few bands I had come to this show specifically for.
Chris Demakes, guitarist and vocalist, made the comment, "It seems that bands today don't sing anymore. All they do is whine about their life and then scream uncontrollably." Chris then proceeded to comically demonstrate the hardcore screaming found in bands like Underoath. "But we're Less Than Jake, and me and Roger are going to sing you a f**king song." For their last song, Less Than Jake formed an enormous circle pit, and had the crowd more energized than I had ever seen.
Soon after, the most appropriate band to follow up came on the same stage — The Bouncing Souls, another original band (1987 and still going strong) keeping up with the punk rock roots. They performed classics and new songs off their album The Gold Record. Front row was the place to be, and every kick to the head and blow to the face by crowdsurfers was worth the most amazing show at Warped Tour. Michael McDermott, drummer, had the most adorable daughter, who would come out with Bouncing Souls headphones to block out the noise, and a super-soaker to spray the fans with much appreciated water.
Bands with the same values still remain, they're just harder to find. Anti-Flag held it down, The Buzzcocks weren't at the NY show (but they will always be punk rock grandfathers, no less), and The Casualties played like it was the punk rock peak of the '80s. Joan Jett had the hugest audience, and kept the essence of rock and roll alive with an amazing set. 47 years old and still rocking out strong. Against Me! is half there — if you look hard you can start to see the band becoming jaded ever since they signed on to a major record label. They performed a highly ironic song– "Reinventing Axl Rose" — with lyrics as follows:
"We want a band that plays loud and hard every night / That doesn't care how many people are counted at the door / That would travel one million miles and ask for nothing more than a plate of food and a place to rest / They'd strike chords that cut like a knife / It would mean so much more than t-shirts or a ticket stub / They'd stop at nothing short of a massacre / Everyone would leave with the memory that there was no place else in the world / And this was where they always belonged / We would dance like no one was watching / With one fist in the air / Our arena just basements and bookstores across an underground America / With this fire we could light / Just gimme a scene where the music is free / And the beer is not the life of the party"
This is obviously not what they're about anymore, in fact few bands found on this tour are. The point is, the band's music is losing meaning and they're just becoming part of what they once were trying to fight.
I skipped NOFX, because although I am not a fan of hardcore music and therefore don't really listen to Underoath, I was offended by the anti-religion comments they made at their Wisconsin Warped Tour. They told people to leave their show if they were Christian and believed in Jesus. They made fun of Underoath for having Christian band members, and proceeding to dedicate their song "Idiot Son of an A**hole" to Jesus Christ.
Yes, punk rock is best when it's offensive, but when you single out a specific religion and alienate all of your Christian fans while personally attacking a fellow band, it's going too far. Especially when you can barely play your instruments.
Evidently, it's clear the Warped Tour of today is marketed to be accommodating. It covers all bases. It's got metal; it's got punk. It's got that preppy nerdcore electronic dance band on a stage not too far from a depressing slit-your-wrists black make-up clad goth band. And it's not going to change anytime soon, so just pick your entrees and be prepared to get force-fed a side of crap to go along with it.