Vans Warped Tour 2011
Cruzan Amphitheatre, West Palm Beach
Saturday, July 30, 2011
Better than: Sunburn for nothing.
Now in its 17th year of operation, the Vans Warped Tour's continued popularity is a testament to its ability to evolve with musical trends and what one might call "youth alternative lifestyle." With so much music -- 85 bands playing in nine hours across eight stages -- it
felt indulgent to see a whole set, and the conscious impulse was to keep
moving and see what else is going on.
What this stop at West Palm Beach might have lacked in a genuine core of
Warped stalwarts (a band like Pennywise would have been nice), it
certainly compensated for with a conscious move toward eclectic variety. It was a disorientating
experience: One could go from seeing Less Than Jake storm through "Johnny
Quest Think We're Sellouts" to Winds of Plague's ultra-militant
deathcore via a high school punk-pop band seemingly playing to no one
and finally reach the crowd waiting for Yelawolf all within the space of
a few minutes on a predictably hot-as-hell day at Cruzan Amphitheatre.
The imposing Advent Stage was all about the screamy metalcore double
bass-drum beatdown sound -- complemented suitably with the dehydrated
kids in a circle-pit aesthetic -- that has become the dominant modern
punk metal fusion. But wandering around the other smaller stages, within
the compact arena, you could just as easily check out some hip-hop, dub
reggae-rock, alt-country, and even dubstep with a bit of planning.
One could cynically wonder about the validity of some of the current
crop of bands, seemingly appearing from nowhere -- via Hot Topic -- with nearly identical mall-metalcore material and stylized haircuts to play to a
readymade crowd. But in fairness, bands like the Devil Wears Prada and a
Day to Remember have all played consistently during the past four
years and used the platform to garner a loyal merched-up fan base who
were out in force Saturday. Within a lineup of primarily young
artists, punk-poppers the Simple Plan and Gym Class
Heroes are viewed as relative veterans -- and Less Than Jake is practically
If any Warped 2011 band exists as a reminder of the glory days of the
tour, then it's Gainesville ska-punk legends Less Than Jake. Doing the
Tour for their seventh year, having first jumped aboard in 1997, no band
playing had their natural sense of infectious fun and stage presence.
They pulled a big Main Stage crowd and blasted through tracks from their
long career, interspersed with irreverent banter about how no one buys
their CDs anymore and gently goaded security in the most cordial way
In many ways, Less Than Jake proved to be the exception, however. Although compelling from a musically voyeuristic point of view, the tour raises questions of the disposability of live music.
With so many similar-sounding bands only playing for 25 to 30 minutes to
sparse crowds on tiny stages, a summer of Warped could feasibly become a
disheartening experience. With this in mind, respect is due to punk-pop
band Patent Pending, which played on the tiny and oft-ignored Dzambo
Stage. After sound-checking and seeing a noticeable lack of people, the
singer broke into a straight-faced a cappella version of Meatloaf's "I
Would Do Anything for Love" that instantly drew people in, then --
crowd acquired -- they seamlessly broke into their set.
Yelawolf had even more command of his audience, and it takes no time at all to see why Mr. Marshall Mathers recently
signed up the Gadsden, Alabama, rapper to his Shady Records stable.
The only real straight hip-hop artist on the bill, he controlled the stage
like a rock star and was musically compelling -- moving between rapid
rhymes and memorable hooks and backed by propulsive, bass-heavy
production. In true crunk style, he spent a healthy portion of his
short set stage-diving and crowd-surfing, giving off a rare
idiosyncratic energy. Dodgy haircut aside, he seems destined for big
things. MC Lars playing with Weerd Science had the difficulty of
following this and struggles to elicit the same sort of response. It's a
shame, because he's a consistently brave performer, and his cerebral
dissection of pop culture is eminently entertaining and humorous.
British trance-hardcore purveyors Enter Shikari got an enthusiastic early crowd at the Advent stage. Despite their relative youth, they have the swagger you'd expect from a band that averages more than 100 shows a year and sound so tight that you can't help but wonder if it's not just the trance samples that are getting triggered all over the place. Either way, they brought a storm, and loads of kids used the band to break sweat and get the first of many circle-pits going.
Big Chocolate was the token dubstep artist on the bill, over at the eclectic Skullcandy stage; while he was an interesting addition, his midrange aggressive sub-Skrillex sound seems to lack any sense of "dub" and more scraped with a metal vibe. Also, his tendency to frequently grab his phone and video the crowd at isolated points, particularly when people started jumping, seemed slightly unnecessary rather than endearing.
Throughout the day, the vast amphitheater was the de facto hang-out place. Its huge stage was split between two different setups ensuring constant live music, providing a strange vibe, since there are loads of people around, many of whom have no discernible interest in the bands. Melodic emo/indie-rock band the Dangerous Summer exhibited a fine sound redolent of the great Jade Tree and Deep Elm bands of the '90s but seemed a bit too sincere for this cavernous environment. In contrast, the next band up -- the Wonder Years -- seem to be going places and brought a flood of kids streaming in as their brand of New Found Glory-esque punk-pop hits the spot.
Within it all, there was the genuine chance to discover bands literally in passing -- as was the case with all-girl Minneapolis indie-rock/power-pop band Sick of Sarah. With a natural sense of indie-pop cool and a collection of tightly melodic tracks, they were clearly out of place in this environment yet provided a genuine sense of poise and sonic refreshment.
Eventually, the day became truly sweltering, and there were angry sounds emanating from the Advent Stage. August Burns Red delivered a furiously precise and intense set of emotional metalcore -- bodies flew everywhere during the visually and ambiently impressive display. Even this Christian metalcore nonfan enjoyed their show. Major label Canadian beatdown crew Abandon All Ships followed suit and ripped it up with the dynamic edge of mixing the screamed vocals with trancey electronic samples and epic soaring choruses. This sort of thing will probably never get big enough to keep Universal Records happy long-term, but plenty of kids seemed to be completely down with them.
Orlando's Blood on the Dance Floor was the perfect antidote to the tough-guy posturing: Somewhat of a revelation, its eccentric blend of over-the-top glam, electro-pop, punk, and rap felt strangely subversive within the confines of Warped. With a shrieking legion of cult fans down front, they acted like they were playing a huge stadium -- rather than a makeshift stage -- and, particularly in the figure of frontman Dahvie Vanity, brought a sense of wired charisma as the day began to wind down. In the amphitheater, Lucero seemed largely ignored by the masses -- but their honest alt-country/punk-infused Southern rock felt serenely reflective within a relatively intense musical environment.
It's noticeable that the vast majority of attendees at Warped seemed to be having a great time, and the artists were genuinely happy, even privileged, to get the chance to play. Most bands finished playing and immediately held hugely popular signing sessions by their tents, and this sort of band-fan engagement seemed pretty real and appreciated on both sides. While the artistic focus is by definition on quantity, not specifically quality, in terms of value and attendee enjoyment, Warped was much easier to appreciate than to deride.
Personal bias: I didn't get to see Californian hardcore band Of Mice and Men; as a Steinbeck fan, I wanted to see whether they could musically express a tragic Great Depression migrant worker story.
The crowd: Young, mostly 14 to 18, suburban and living the dream; a few parents looking hot, flustered, slightly worried, and sunburned in the amphitheater.
Overheard in the crowd: "These sound the same as the other ten bands" -- muttered dismissively by a 14-year-old kid wearing a red Black Flag T-shirt while We Came As Romans were throwing it down on the Advent Stage. Good ears, sir, and nice T-shirt as well.
Random detail: Warped doesn't seem to really be about extreme sports anymore. The single half-pipe
is marginalized on the arena perimeter, and most attendees just want
to see lots of their favorite bands play together, hang out in the sun
with their friends, and maybe discover something new.
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