Warped Zone

Reasons why the Warped Tour is better (and worse) than a trip to the dentist.

click to enlarge THE IN CROWD: An onlooker pops a zit on his head while taking in the sounds of Every Time I Die. - Scott Harrell
Scott Harrell
THE IN CROWD: An onlooker pops a zit on his head while taking in the sounds of Every Time I Die.

Look, we all know I love to make fun of the kids, and the kids' sometimes dubious tastes in whatever the newest trends in edge-of-the-mainstream music might be. And the Vans Warped Tour, with its habit of shamelessly exploiting that eddy where the tides of punk rock and youth-marketed commerce mix, has traditionally been a favorite target of mine.

But it's really all in the name of fun and education. Hell, I liked Smashed Gladys and Skid Row when I was 17. (Also, if you're fragile enough to get all bent out of shape when a writer mocks a band you love, you might as well go ahead and kill yourself.) And to be fair, Warped is often as laudable as it is questionable, a place where music fans of all ages can forge friendships and get turned on to at least a band or two that isn't horrible. I hit last Friday's installment in St. Pete for the first time in a couple of years, and in the name of equality, decided that I'd say a good thing about the experience for every knock.

So here are five reasons why attending Warped Tour is preferable to spending the day at the dentist's office ...

The old-school heroes. This year's Warped Tour broke away — a little — from its conspicuously trendy and youth-focused program and offered not just a lot of what might be considered pre-TRL punk, but also some of the bands that influenced the bands that influenced the bands that played last year's tour. Lifetime Achievement Award recipient Joan Jett displayed supreme attitude and showmanship, winning over a skeptical crowd from one of the two main stages, and groovecore progenitor Helmet played Warped for the first time in its 16-year-plus career. Hell, you might literally bump into somebody who helped shape your band's sound on any given Warped outing, if you're lucky.

The Bouncing Souls. Older than Helmet and still punker than most, Jersey's The Bouncing Souls are almost always the best band on any bill they choose to grace. This year's Warped Tour was no exception; the group's material adeptly splits the difference between balls and hook, and the luck of the draw had them playing early enough to rock their shades while they rocked the crowd and self-deprecatingly vied for the "douche bag of the day" award.

The idiot fashion show. Dude with stars dyed into his buzz-cut? Check. Dude wearing not just a white belt, but a white belt with the Star Wars logo and iconic images from the movie inked onto it? Check. Girls not yet old enough to drink sporting the stenciled message "I cock" on their bare backs? Check. Dude wearing skin-tight stovepipe black jeans, black T-shirt and black motorcycle jacket — in 90-degree heat? Check. Some suffer for fashion, and God bless them; the crowd is often more fun to watch than the featured attractions. And remember, if you and your buddies are going to get identical Mohawks for the occasion, put some sunscreen on that baby-ass-bald scalp.

The doppelgangers. Was that Zach Braff, star of Scrubs and Garden State auteur, with a buzz-cut and running sound? Was that Jason Black from Hot Water Music and The Draft dodging journalists while cruising pell-mell between tour buses on a bike? Was that Juliette Lewis, or just some other emaciated crazy chick who might or might not be in a band that sucks, riding the crowd?

The corn dogs. I've never had better. And I go to fairs, like, all the time. Thank you, Bored Middle Aged Black Dude And Sarcastic Constantly Dancing White Tween With Deep Fat Fryer.

... and here are five reasons why a trip to see the dentist is better than going to The Warped Tour.

The heat. This year's installment happened to fall on a breezy, sometimes overcast day — and it was still too fuckin' hot after a while, particularly if you got creative with your parking and had to hoof it nine or 10 blocks in a heatstroke semi-daze while the hoopla was winding down. The mist-tents were a thoughtful and practical resolution on paper, but they were mud pits by 1 p.m.; the guy in the Carolina Skiff who kept swimming just off the sea wall with his dogs had the right idea, and he didn't even have to buy a ticket.

The scheduling. It's a classic case of a nice problem to have: While the two main stages alternated with efficiency, if you wanted to wander back to the "Warped Tour ghetto" to watch a lesser-known band (like, say, the incomparable Every Time I Die) on a side stage, you almost always did so knowing you'd miss some or all of a set by another band you really wanted to see.

Senses Fail. I'm sorry, but I've got to get my digs in, and this one's totally justified. Kids, you're wrong; Senses Fail sucks. A proliferation of smart, talented rhythm sections has engendered an army of emo guitarists who'd rather throw their instruments around and look tortured than learn to play outside the studio (knowing the drummer and bassist will hold it down), and Senses Fail is a perfect example. Plus, I don't care that he knows a Charles Bukowski poem, "singer" Buddy Nielson hasn't the wit, charisma or talent to front a rock band. Now I have an answer for the 5-year-old question, "have you ever seen a worse live band than Finch?"

The unrealistic expectations of exposure. The Warped Tour has always touted the fact that unknown and regional bands get to play its stages; in fact, local acts in every town fight over slots. But whether or not there's a payoff for those unsigned groups that play the smaller of the eight-or-so stages that aren't right up front is a very valid question. There are 90-plus bands playing any given date, and based on my observations, the two main stages hold the attention of about 75 percent of the crowd about 75 percent of the time. A Warped date looks good on any local band's bio, but do they actually play to more people than they would at one of their own hometown shows?

The corn dogs. Oh, my achin' gut. Oh, well; you pays your money, and you takes your chances.

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