Live: Warped Tour 2011 at Cruzan Amphitheatre, West Palm Beach, July 30

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.

Critic's Notebook

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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