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You walk into the pounding sun and take it all in, the jagged rocks littering the hot concrete and the wall of sound hitting you from every side. Each tune that caresses or bombards your ears is unique. It's a land out of storybook lore; it's a legendary collection of all the most influential punk/pop-punk/hardcore bands of the last ten years; it's that time of year, time for the Vans Warped Tour, and it makes me feel like I'm in high school all over again.
This year's Warped Tour lineup was disappointing at first glance. The Chicago lineup boasted only a few bands with experience and industry cred; punk legends like Pennywise, Agent Orange, the Bouncing Souls, Fear, GBH, and the Germs were on other legs of the tour. Faced with a dismal reality, I was considering not attending this year for fear the tour had turned a big commercialized corner.
I decided to go anyway and cut ties for good if I'd been dragged into a big waste of time.
Boy, was I surprised.
I didn't get to the all-day festival until around 2 PM (being Saturday morning and all, I had to watch my cartoons). The schedule worked perfectly for the bands I wanted to see; unfortunately, a couple of notables that had been listed on the website were missing from the gigantic board: Protest the Hero and Forever the Sickest Kids.
The following is an attempt to recreate my day at the 2008 Vans Warped Tour.
2:30 PM: Entered the gates. Proceeded directly to the beer line and ordered a drink. Received massive bucket of beer. Wandered to the big schedule board and planned the afternoon.
2:45 PM: Found the Hurley Stage, where Chicago suburban locals Dr. Manhattan were rocking the early afternoon heat. The guitarist was definitely wearing a pair of over-sized tighty-whities on top of his shorts. Listened to a couple of recognizable songs from their Victory Records debut. Overall: 3 out of 5 stars.
3:00 PM: Made our way to one of the main stages, where Norma Jean had just begun a sonic onslaught of the still energetic throngs of eager hardcore kids. (Two bands later, the hardcore kids were skulking about, drenched in sweat and calling their parents for a ride home. (Just kidding.)). Norma Jean dominated the crowd for half an hour, delivering their own quirky brand of hardcore goodness with the momentum of their coming release, Anti Mother. I am no longer a Norma Jean virgin, and I'm happy to say that it was a pleasant experience for both of us. Overall: 4 out of 5 stars.
3:30 PM: On our way to the Smartpunk Stage to check out Four Year Strong, a familiar ditty hit my eardrums hard. We proceeded to the closest stage, where Protest the Hero was half-way through rocking album-quality renditions from their most recent offering, Fortress, and informing the crowd of the recent beheading in Canada. For all the musical talent on the tiny stage, the energy just wasn't there on that scorching Saturday afternoon. Maybe it was due to the shock of playing on such a small stage or the fact that the sun's rays had a direct avenue to the band. Either way, a disappointing: 3 out of 5 stars.
3:45 PM: We arrived at the Smartpunk Stage, where a riot had apparently broken out. Happy hardcore newcomers Four Year Strong were melting faces everywhere, causing an uproar in the crowd. Between the unparalleled energy the band was exuding on stage, the melodic vocals that were surprisingly flawless, and the ridiculous movement of the crowd, hardcore dancing and moshing their little faces off, the experience was simply incredible. For that, they get: 5 out of 5 stars.
4:00 PM: Stood in line for another beer. Walked back to the Smartpunk Stage and watched a little bit of Evergreen Terrace on the stage next door. I was unimpressed, but I was only half paying attention, so I won't give them an official star rating.
4:30 PM: Set Your Goals took the Smartpunk Stage. The band did not disappoint. Although their partners in happy hardcore had taken the crowd to another level, SYG competed like champions, stirring the crowd to an even boil and bursting the bubbles at all the right places. A whirlwind of speed, melody, and positive thinking, SYG earned their keep. Overall, 4 out of 5 stars.
5:00 PM: We had planned on checking out From First to Last, but ever since they lost Sonny, I've kinda lost interest. Walked by the main stage briefly and confirmed my suspicions. Checked out the tents and saw Norma Jean signing autographs. Got another beer.6:00 PM: The sun was still shining and the beer was flowing and Gym Class Heroes, the quirkiest pick for Warped Tour (honest, they run in music circles that are far outside of their style), had just taken one of the main stages. Patrick Stump's pre-recorded vocals blasted forth beneath the unique lyrical stylings of GCH's Travis McCoy. They made me want to dance on a day dedicated to moshing. GCH don't disappoint, even after seeing them five times. Overall: 4 out of 5 stars.
6:30 PM: There's something comforting about Reel Big Fish's refusal to quit amidst speculation that ska truly is dead. They're probably the reason I even started listening to underground music -- and it was all because they "sold out." I'm of course referring to the band's hit radio single, "Sell Out," because RBF is a band that has done anything but sell out. They've always played the same music, and they've always done it with a strict refusal to change. Between their hilarious, almost scripted, banter, they blasted out ska anthem after ska anthem, leaving this punk with a gracious smile on his face. Oh, they also inspired me to get another beer. Overall: 4 out of 5 stars.
7:00 PM: I had the unfortunate and distinct pleasure of visiting the other main stage for the Angels and Airwaves set. Tom DeLonge's post-Blink attempt at creating something beautiful has fallen horribly, horribly flat amidst the hyped fanfare. There's just something depressing about a 32 year old man shouting "Poo poo!" and "Pee pee!" to an audience of recycled Blink 182 fans, most of whom are pushing 30 themselves, in between some of the most contrived and pretentious songs I've ever heard. Shame on you, Tom DeLonge. Take up a hobby that doesn't require human contact, like crocheting. Overall: 1 and a half out of 5 stars.
7:40 PM: It was finally time for the band I'd been waiting all day to see, the band that has sprouted from the ashes of the pop-punk of olden days, the one, the only, Say Anything. We approached the main stage with the last of our energy and got ready to rock. But as soon as Max Bemis walked briskly out on stage on his own, I knew something was wrong. His scratchy voice explained that he was sick and unable to perform. I was about ready to pack up and head out disappointed, but he informed the crowd that other Warped Tour performing artists would be singing in his stead.
Each song of the set was sung by a different vocalist. It was pretty cool to see, although I would have rather had Max himself. Still, the concept was cool, and what really blew me away was how these singers knew the lyrics without referring to a lyric sheet. It was like watching legends pay tribute to the new bad boy in town. The show still rocked, so: 4 and a half out of 5 stars.
Just a last point before I end. Although Warped Tour has managed to block out most of the bands that were instrumental in forming it in the first place, they still make the shows, the bands, and the experience as accessible to the fans as it used to be (even if a sign at the Angels and Airwaves tent warned "DO NOT ask if the band is signing autographs today. They aren't and we don't know why.").
Bands I missed that I wanted to see: Cobra Starship, Forever the Sickest Kids, All That Remains, Street Dogs, The Academy Is..., Katy Perry (just kidding about that one, even though she was actually somehow on the tour, probably kissing every girl she saw). Oh, and we also saw MC Chris, aka MC Peepants from Aqua Teen Hunger Force. It was weird.
Summer rock. Word.
DISCLAIMER: This is the day how I remember it. Performance times are only as close to accurate as my memory is. Which is not very.
"Wake up, wake up, wake up / This is not a test."
- Underoath, "In Regards to Myself"