Merriweather Post Pavilion
July 20, 2010
Despite the encroachment of corporate sponsors (which in this case is not really as bad as it sounds) and the shift away from its old “punk rock summer camp” ethos that dominated my first run of attendance (1997-2002), the last three years have still been a lot of fun and I’ve seen far more good performances than bad. Warped Tour 2010 was no different.
Because there are so many stages (six) and they’re spread across the venue at Merriweather, there are always bands that get missed entirely. This year, I was disappointed to miss Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band and the Casualties in particular, but such is Warped Tour.
Anarbor opened the Teggart (main) stage with a solid set of good time tunes that walk the line between down to earth fan connections and arena-sized ambitions, proving that the sound they’ve cultivated in the studio works great on the stage. That being said, it’s good for them that they went on before Andrew WK and not after. Anarbor is a good band and they seem to be getting better with each release, but they aren’t masters of the game yet. Andrew WK is. While his party anthems are a bit far from where I’m at personally, I’d heard he puts on a great show, so I was sure to catch his set. His band is a motley bunch, including a sequined backup singer/aerobics instructor/cheerleader with perhaps more energy that AWK himself. His mix of hard rock and Elton John is about as far from Warped Tour’s punk rock roots as it could be, but the crowd responded. The thing that makes AWK such an amazing live performer goes beyond his music and beyond the surface of his “party hard” mentality. Beneath all of that is a love of life that, if you miss it in his music, he spells out in his words. “I want you to understand,” he said, “That I’m happy. I’m happy, because we’re alive.” Even more telling was, “Life is too good not to live.” If these truisms weren’t backed by his unabashedly fun show, they might have seemed overly simple. As it stands though, they were nearly profound.
This was probably the leanest year yet in terms of punk, but the sets I caught from Face to Face and Flatfoot 56 were great. Face to Face, on their first extended tour since 2004’s farewell trip, showed no signs of rust as they crossed the country with the Warped crew in anticipation of the Fall release of Laugh Now, Laugh Later. In fact, despite Trever Keith’s repeated remarks about being old and playful jabs at current hairstyles, they seemed anything but tired and worn out.
The price to see Flatfoot 56 over on the Kia/Kevin Says stage was high: I missed most of Dillinger Escape Plan (playing the Teggart stage). In fact the last few songs in DEP’s set of near complete madness made it quite clear just how high that price was. However, the boys of Flatfoot 56 made it just as clear that I chose wisely. Their old school hardcore mixed with Scotch-Irish folk (including bagpipes and mandolin) was full of the wonderful camaraderie that is present in punk at its best. Their raging good nature created fun based not just on good times, but on good people. I don’t know that anyone could have walked away not feeling at least a little better about being human. That they engaged a crowd of mixed faiths (and likely no faith in some cases) in a sing-along of “Amazing Grace” was nothing short of an amazing.
Every Time I Die, who was off-the-hook amazing at Warped 2008, didn’t disappoint. Few bands bring the same level of raw intensity and remain an incredibly tight, flawless unit. Guitarists Jordan Buckley and Andy Williams cover a lot of stage as they pump out the riffs while singer Keith Buckley’s hard rock stage presence grounds the performance. Any opportunity to see these guys live should not be missed.
While I was familiar with Pierce the Veil, their metalcore/screamo leanings didn’t really have them at the top of my list, but, just as the schedule means missing some bands, it also means catching some unexpected bands as well. So, Pierce the Veil ended up filling a lull in my day. From the Dia de los Muertos character that introduced them to their enthusiasm and chops, they proved to be much more exciting than I expected.
Despite my general misgivings about the last 20 years of ska, I decided to take a chance on Tip the Van. That chance panned out well as they mix ska, reggae, 80s-leaning pop and general fun into a surprisingly interesting mix. Strong vocals from Nicole Oliva, often harmonized with her rhythm guitarist/sister Simone’s voice, carried strong melodies over the band’s upbeat sound. The components of Tip the Van’s sound have been done many times by many bands, but they managed to make it fresh and fun.
The Warped Tour’s increasing reliance on corporate sponsorship has drawn flak from some quarters and, while most examples of corporate involvement in music justify the skepticism, tour organizer Kevin Lyman and company prove year in and year out that they are the exception to the rule. Reasonable ticket prices, the $5 double CD tour compilation and $10 Vans shirt/hat deals have been mainstays of the tours, but a great example this year is that the main stage’s “sponsor” wasn’t corporate. It was named for longtime Warped stage manager Stewart Teggart who passed away in March. Lyman seems to know exactly where to draw the line between the corporate money needed to put on a travelling fest like this and the need to do the right thing by fans, bands and all the people involved.