I wasn’t at the first Warped Tour back in 1991, so what do I really know? Maybe there have been corporate sponsorships since day one. It’s got to be pretty expensive moving that punk-rock circus from town to town nearly every day for two months in the summer so I’m sure Kevin Lyman and his people are happy to get all the financial backing they can. I’m also not a leather jacket-wearing anarchist punk who believes every corporate affiliation is inherently evil. But I am an observer of irony and there was plenty on display at Warped Tour 2010’s stop in San Antonio on July 1. The corporate blitz within the festival-grounds was just one of these instances.
In addition to heaping plates of irony, Warped was heavy on the rock this year. From lightning-quick math-metal to screamo to acoustic pop, the festival had something for everyone. More for some than others.
I think the only thing stronger than Greg Puciato’s monstrous biceps is Greg Puciato’s monstrous voice. The man shrieked, squealed, growled and crooned during the Dillinger Escape Plan’s 40 minute set and he never missed a note. Even when guitarist Ben Weinman playfully pushed Puciato into a microphone stand and the singer stormed off the stage in what appeared to be a sincere rage, he pounced back on stage just in time to finish the song. Weinman and fellow six-stringer Jeff Tuttle could compete in the synchronized shredding event at the next Olympics (I’m still crossing my fingers that that will make into the 2012 games). While Weinman and Tuttle’s finger acrobatics are enough to make most guitar players shiver in their Chuck Taylors, these two are not content to sit still and focus on their playing. They have to nail every single note and crawl onto and jump off of the 6 foot stage monitors. Billy Rymer’s drums also managed to stand out among the hodgepodge of virtuosic performances taking place on the stage.
The most refreshing thing about the band was their willingness and ability to throw themselves around the stage. Although I’m sure the band has played to bigger, more enthusiastic crowds in the past, they didn’t lose an ounce of passion playing for the early arrivers at Warped. From Puciato’s scissor-kicking to Weinman’s guitar-throwing practice to Tuttle’s willingness to jump off the stage and walk into the circle pit while playing guitar, Dillinger’s performance matched (and possibly exceeded) the energy of their recorded material.
The crowd’s response was at times tepid, as during the aggro-pop number “Black Bubblegum,” and at others rabid like during “Milk Lizard.” The crowd formed a sparsely populated circle pit for most of the band’s set and at one point I looked back and saw a kid dressed up like Paulie Bleeker from Juno. Bleeker was often the only person in the pit, alternately thrashing around like one would expect from a Dillinger Escape Plan audience member, and busting out dance-moves a la John Travolta as Tony Manero in Saturday Night Fever.
Dillinger was a great way to open the day, partly because their music is jarring enough to shake off the effects of sleep deprivation and partly because it was raining outside.
As soon as Dillinger wrapped up, I decided to take my chances with the rain and younger crowd rather than stick around for Motion City Soundtrack.
It was about 1:20 p.m. by now and the menacing rain clouds that had been hanging around all morning threatening to ruin the festival for everyone delivered nothing more than a small drizzle that was surprisingly refreshing. Nothing during quick walk among the stages set up in the parking lot caught my attention so I headed back inside to hear Motion City Soundtrack close their set with the only song of theirs I know or like, “Every Is Alright.” That song has one of the most unbelievable vocal hooks and after hearing it live, Justin Pierre’s voice floated around in my head all day.
Andrew W.K. was up next on the Main Stage. The hard-rocking party-ologist took the stage backed by his spandex-clad wife and his band of dudes who look like they belong in Street Fighter. The band launched into “It’s Time to Party,” from I Get Wet and the crowd lapped it up.
In my mind, Lady Gaga and Andrew W.K. are not so different. Both have been accused of being products of some corporate think-tank, created for solely economic purposes. This may or may not be true, but an even more alluring similarity is in their dedication to the performance. Gaga refuses to drink water when she’s on stage for fear that it will take her audience out of the moment. She works to create an alternate universe during her hour-and-a-half performances where her fans can indulge in a little escapism. W.K. is no different. This is the man who played a series of shows from the seat of a wheelchair after breaking his leg. His mortal bones presumably just couldn’t take the massive dose of partying he indulged in. Between songs, W.K. was all smiles and compliments. “Wow San Antonio, you know how to party,” became the mantra of the set. I have a feeling his whole family could have died but he is so dedicated to providing the audience with fun, the enthusiastic yells and smiles would never end.
A.W.K. closed the set with the band’s umpteenth anthem about partying hard, “Party Hard.” The band’s set started to run together but an Andrew W.K. set is never really about the music. It’s about cutting loose for 40 minutes and full-body spazzing to some of the cheesiest riffs written on this side of 1987.
As soon as A.W.K.’s set was over I knew I had just seen the only two bands I was really pumped to see. I wandered back out to the drizzle to be with the million kids wearing shirts with bubble-core lettering and neon monsters splattered across them (I just want Creed to make a shirt like that so it will no longer be cool and then bands will stop making them) and tents peddling the CD of some label’s latest buzz-band.
I posted up at the Altec Lansing Stage and sat through a set by Connecticut’s Emmure, whose singer at one point rap-screamed the refrain “I don’t need anyone.” During Andrew W.K.’s set I thought the good times would never end, but it took about two minutes of Emmure to bring me back to reality. And not even the good kind of reality like on Jersey Shore where a bunch of orange people with bad haircuts force me to ponder important issues like whether the world is in need of another plague or at the very least some sort of system of population control. All I’m saying is that that show would never happen in China. It’s one kid per couple so as soon as your spawn starts showing an interest in a tanning salon membership, you remind them that it’s one living kid per couple. But that’s neither here nor there. The point is, Emmure sucked.
Next up was Set Your Goals. I had pretty high expectations for the San Francisco six-piece. I am by no means a Set Your Goals fanatic but I’ve casually listened to a few of their songs in the car with my friends and I won’t say the band’s set disappointed. But it was kind of ho-hum. Matt Wilson’s and Jordan Brown’s vocals careened into and collided off of each other which created a pretty good (albeit cliche) version of the yell/sing good cop/bad cop archetype. I was entertained throughout most of the set but toward the end I was ready to check out what else Warped had to offer.
Back inside the AT&T Center, The All-American Rejects were serving up heaping loads of their sugary power-pop. I was quickly freaked out by how strange Tyson Ritter has become. He prowled the stage in between songs, breathless and muttering things like “Oh yeah, you’re a bunch of naughty bitches” in his best I-hang-out-in-the-parking-lot-of-Chuck-E-Cheez-scoping-on-fresh-meat voice.
I considered my options, and for a while slamming my head into the concrete wall next to me seemed like a pretty good alternative to hearing Ritter’s uber-creep stage persona (man oh man, I hope that’s just a stage persona). Ultimately I decided that if I slammed my head into the wall, no one would ever be able to tell of the trials and tribulations of Warped. I was only thinking of you, dear reader.
Polar Bear Club was next up on the Alternative Press Stage but I had to wait for Ace Enders to finish his set on the neighboring stage. The best part of Ender’s set was when he played the Early November’s “Ever So Sweet.” The second best part of the set was when it was over and Polar Bear Club’s guitars immediately began swelling from their amps. I had never listened to these guys but they came highly recommended from friends whose musical preferences I normally agree with. Their set did not disappoint. It was my first time hearing these guys but their blend of hardcore, early-90s emo and rock somehow came across free of the cliches which most of the Polar Bear boys’ peers fall victim to. Jimmy Stadt’s voice was brutal but with more than a hint of melody to it. Chris Browne’s and Nate Morris’ guitar riffs were tasty and utilized more (much more) than bar chords and avalanches of distorted, detuned chugs. I’ll definitely be in the audience the next time these New Yorkers come to Austin. And I’ll probably be singing along to every song.
It was about 7:20 p.m. by the time PBC was done and things were starting to wind down outside so I decided to head back into the arena and ride out the rest of the night from the comfort of a cushioned seat in an air-conditioned room.
Bring Me The Horizon was on by the time I got inside and I quickly lost interest in their metalcore maelstrom of screams and breakdowns. The best part of the band’s 40-minute set was when guitarist Jona Weinhofen and bassist Matt Kean walked off the stage and strutted to the opposite end of the AT&T Center, climbed the stairs to one of the higher levels and faced their bandmates who were nearly a football field away. It was a pretty cool stage antic made possible by wireless transmitters. This was only the beginning, though. The band closed the song out with another earth-rattling breakdown and as Weinhofen and Kean were walking down the arena steps to get back to the floor of the AT&T Center and back to their bandmates on-stage, I was thinking about how annoyed I was at the band’s repetitiousness. They sounded like every other chugtastic band I had heard that day. I kept thinking about how much more technically talented the Dillinger Escape Plan guys were and yet how much bigger of a crowd this cookie-cutter band garnered just a few hours later on the same stage. Some things in life just aren’t fair.
As soon as Weinhofen’s feet touched the ground of the general admission area 20 rows in front of me, who should come out of nowhere with a right hook but Paulie Bleeker! Yes, the breakdancing, thrashing Michael Cera-impersonator from Dillinger’s set earlier in the afternoon socked Weinhofen right in the face. It only took the stunned Aussie a second to regain his composure and get Bleeker back with a right hook of his own. The police quickly broke up the fight and pulled the feisty little Cera fan out of view and, presumably, threw him out of the venue. Bleeker may have gotten bested by the cops but I’ll never forget how for those few seconds, that kid wearing short shorts, a headband and a tank-top did one of the most punk-rock things I have ever seen.