Review and photos: Who rocked the Warped Tour?
The Vans Warped Tour, now America's longest-running touring festival, celebrates its 15th anniversary this year. And that makes me wonder -- which acts on the 2009 card will be relevant in another 15 years?
Here‚Äôs why I ask.
Flash back to 1995. The very first Vans Warped Tour was host to breaking bands like No Doubt and the Deftones. The following year it was NOFX, Pennywise, Beck and Blink-182. All of these acts, some recently reunited, are still wildly popular today.
So, in 2025, will it be Underoath that‚Äôs still screaming? The Millionaires still squeak-rapping? Hardcore favorites Chiodos, above, still exploding? Lights still rocking Korgs and a keytar? (My money‚Äôs on the latter, but we‚Äôll talk about her later).
Anyway, off we go.
Going in, I could have made a few predictions about what the scene might look like: a sea of skinny jeans and side-swept haircuts ‚Äì- average age, 18-ish.
But not so.
Maybe when you‚Äôve got elder statesmen like Bad Religion and Big D. and the Kids Table sharing a bill with Saosin and Brokencyde it makes for more diversity. (Because the scene was in fact diverse).
First up, the aforementioned Millionaires. If song titles like Just Got Paid, Let‚Äôs Get Laid, Alcohol, or Take Off Your Shirt don‚Äôt give it away, this isn‚Äôt a reticent bunch. The ladies kinda-sorta sang and kinda-sorta rapped over bass-heavy electro and pop. And the lyrics? Straight up trashy, done with an unmistakable squeak. (One part Minnie Mouse, one part Tila Tequila, perhaps.)
After Martinis and Mixed Feelings, they announced ‚Äì- ‚Äúthere was our nice song for the day.‚Äù It was middle finger waving and stripper talk from there on. Considering no instruments are played, and there‚Äôs no vocal ability here, it might not come as a surprise to know the Millionaires have been booed off the stage on a handful of occasions. The ladies seem unfazed, though. In fact, they admitted boldly that they‚Äôre ‚Äúno talent, just lucky,‚Äù and ‚Äútotally ruining music.‚Äù And that kind of won me over in the end. If nothing else, the music was almost exactly like their album.
Next, adorable Canadian Lights took the stage. She was grateful to be spending her last day on the tour amidst palm trees, the ocean and the Florida crowd, she said. After only a few high notes and some snazzy taps to the keytar, I was coming to drastic conclusions: Lights is a star in the making. See Lights, before it‚Äôs too expensive. Lights is the next Feist. And so on. In other words, I really was blown away.
‚ÄúI need a savior,‚Äù she sang gently over an atmospheric riff. Ice was a more dance-worthy number, performed with a multi-tiered Korg sampler setup. Her current EP does her no justice. Lights has got great range and real charm. She asked us, ‚ÄúYou holdin‚Äô up in the heat?‚Äù A gentleman to my left then held up a sign that read ‚ÄúMarry me Lights.‚Äù She asked the crowd if she should go for it. Lights‚Äô first full length album is due in September, which I‚Äôll now be looking forward to.
Anti-Flag was taking on the establishment across town on the main stage. Dressed in all black ensembles with skinny ties, they denounced bailouts for the Wall Street types and asked when we, the hardworking, honest folk, would receive our bailouts. They called on the crowd to open up the circle and tore into Press Corpse.
I caught Senses Fail just in time to hear frontman Buddy Nielsen‚Äôs speech about emo. He told an attentive audience how the term had been destroyed by bands like Fall Out Boy, whose music, he claimed, has no little to no emotion. Nielsen said he was proud to be emo, making honest, emotional music, and that he‚Äôll stand up for the label any day.
The hardcore act from Jersey then crushed Can‚Äôt Be Saved as crowd surfers floated about. They chanted with Nielsen, ‚ÄúI am stuck in a coma, stuck in a never-ending sleep.‚Äù Emo indeed.
Shortly after, Westbound Train offered fans a little lighthearted fun with some bubbly ska and reggae. They covered Stand By Me and Sony Curtis and the Crickets‚Äô I Fought the Law (made famous by the Bobby Fuller Four and by the Clash).
At this point, overcast skies were no more. The sun was in full blaze just in time for nutso punk act Gallows. No question, this band of Brits was the craziest of the day. Skinny red-headed singer Frank Carter and his guitarist performed the entire set in the pit with the crowd while the rhythm section played from the stage. The blistering London is the Reason had the guys inciting a near-riot in front of the vert ramp.
‚ÄúWe hate you, we hate this city,‚Äù Carter sang in a raspy but powerful tenor. He‚Äôd dedicate the next song to ‚Äúall the religious people out there,‚Äù saying that no matter what your religious beliefs are, your body is going to rot in the ground. Ouch. The band then burned through a one-minute sludge fest -- utter destruction. At some point, Carter was knocked over by a mosher. He congratulated the fan, saying that this was the first time in five years he‚Äôd landed on his back. Overall, this was intense chant-rock, heavy on the power chords, but not without melody ‚Äì it‚Äôs no wonder these guys get lots of love from Bad Religion. Definitely a band to watch.
Back over on the main stage, Chiodos had garnered what looked to be the biggest crowd of the day.Alternative Press cover boy Craig Owens hasn‚Äôt risen to top the top of hardcore ranks for lack of talent. He‚Äôs a charismatic frontman with a helluva set of pipes.
Baby You Wouldn't Last a Minute on the Creek exploded with jagged guitars and soaring vocals. Next, Owens told the crowd that approximately 60 people per minute crowd-surf at a My Chemical Romance show. He asked that the sweaty St. Pete fans beat that today. And it was close.
In most cases, the band named for filmmaking Chiodos family (Killer Klowns from Outer Space) sounds similar to Circa Survive and Alesana, though Chiodos might jump from punk to metal and even grunge most adeptly. When Owens asked that the crowd ‚Äúopen it up for a wall of death,‚Äù that was my cue to exit. I watched Is It Progression When a Cannibal Uses a Fork from the safety of the lawn. (Check out the Chiodos fans below.)
So, have you seen Black Tide? The teens from Miami were perhaps the most technically proficient of the new, young bands at Warped Tour. No gimmicks here. Just solid rock. The monster Shockwave recalled Metallica and Guns N‚Äô Roses. Guitartist Alexander Nunez‚Äô hair even rivaled Slash‚Äôs famous do. Expect big and badder things from Black Tide soon.
Now for a little break. Because the grounds of Vinoy Park were littered with merch booths, some bands went the extra mile to get noticed by passerbys. A sign read, "Do you like cookies?" The band was More Like the Movies and because I do, in fact, like cookies, I gave them a listen. Other companies peddled their wares ‚Äì sunglasses, t-shirts, etc. I found it refreshing to see just how many non-profits were in the house: Invisible Children, which supports the children of Northern Uganda and To Write Love on Her Arms, which provides outreach to suicidal or depressed youth, were among them.
Even parents who escorted their kids to Warped had an oasis. Dubbed the ‚ÄúReverse Daycare Tent‚Äù (love that), an air-conditioned chill zone was available to parents seeking a break.
Alexisonfire, who hold two platinum records and a Juno award (kind of like a Canadian Grammy), are one of Ontario‚Äôs most unlikely success stories. Generally speaking, the group grinds a relentless blend of screamo and metalcore. Though recently, including today‚Äôs date in St. Pete, frontman George Pettit‚Äôs screaming took a backseat. (Pettit‚Äôs been quoted saying he doesn‚Äôt want to be the one to end screamo, nor does he want to be its savior.) Boiled Frogs, which discusses a life slipping away with each punch on a time clock, was tight and therapeutic for the mass of jumping fans.
Switch gears for a little third wave ska courtesy of Big D and the Kids Table. The band, which first appeared at Warped in 2003, came up with the term ‚Äústroll‚Äù recently to describe its new angle -‚Äì playing ‚Äúhopscotch, double-dutch, soul-ska-reggae.‚Äù Super-silly bleach blond frontman Dave McWane explained that when the band got their first van, Florida was the first place they headed to play. Hell On Earth with lyrics ‚Äúlet the smokers smoke/let the politicians lie/let grandma be a b*tch/athletes be filthy rich/let the stoners get high,‚Äù was especially well-received by fans.
I caught Saosin (pronounced "say-o-sin") briefly. Their hit ballad You‚Äôre Not Alone was expertly performed and received lots of crowd participation. A harder Seven Years had singer Cove Reber‚Äôs dreadlocks all aflutter.
Off to the Main Stage for one of the biggest events of the day -- the homecoming of Tampa‚Äôs O.G. Christian metal act Underoath.
Shortly before Underoath‚Äôs set, keyboardist Chris Dudley answered a few of my burning questions in a brief interview. What about this supposed beef with NOFX, I asked. (In 2006 it was rumored that Underoath left the tour because of NOFX‚Äôs incessant jabs at them).
‚ÄúIt‚Äôs not true,‚Äù Dudley said. "If you know anything about NOFX, you‚Äôd know that‚Äôs just their thing. We‚Äôd be bitter too if we were 90 years old,‚Äù he said with a laugh.
But it‚Äôs all in good fun, Dudley explains. The two bands have gotten big laughs at one another‚Äôs expense. They have even created tour t-shirts that trash each other. (Dudley bought two of the NOFX tees himself).
In response to NOFX‚Äôs Fat Mike calling them ‚Äúthe kind of Christians that don‚Äôt even believe that dinosaurs existed,‚Äù Underoath‚Äôs tee reads ‚ÄúUnderoath Loves Fat Dinosaurs.‚Äù
In other news, Dudley had Perkins for breakfast and hoped it ‚Äúwouldn‚Äôt be making an encore.‚Äù Apparently his Chik-Fil-A sandwich had ended up back on the stage a few days before. After seeing him perform live, I can see why ‚Äì the dude twitches, twirls and headbangs as if exorcising demons. He also mashes on an extra set of toms beside drummer Aaron Gillespie, as if things weren‚Äôt loud enough already.
Onstage, and just a couple bars in, I wondered how Underoath singer Spencer Chamberlain even has a larynx left. His screaming is merciless. And it‚Äôs the band‚Äôs fourth time as a headline act at Warped Tour.
I‚Äôve heard Underoath called ‚Äúheavy music‚Äôs equivalent of Radiohead.‚Äù On the enigmatic Desperate Times, Desperate Measures, I picked up a little of that as the group tested sonic barriers. Anomaly went out to all the longtime fans as lightning illuminated the backdrop. Quite a sight.
At the set‚Äôs conclusion, Chamberlain said proudly, ‚ÄúWe‚Äôre up here for Jesus Christ.‚Äù He made it clear, however, that he was looking for neither a cheer nor a middle finger from the crowd. He was merely happy to have God in his life and hoped that they too could ‚Äúfind something that makes you happy.‚Äù
Last but not least, Warped veterans Bad Religion stormed the main stage. The sky opened up as the band blasted 1994 hit Infected from the Stranger Than Fiction album. Soaked fans chanted every word, and pumped their fists in unison. It was a gloriously wet end to my long, but satisfying, Warped Tour experience.
A side note: I didn‚Äôt catch any of our local/regional bands‚Äô sets (shame on me), but Tampa pop-punk group Select Start, Clearwater five-piece Set It Off and Ocala‚Äôs A Day to Remember were among the performers. The Ernie Ball stage also hosted local Battle of the Bands winners Dodging Cathrine, the Divine Process, Chilled Monkey Brains (Tallahassee) and Idol's End (Orlando).
-- Text and photos by Carole Giambalvo, tbt*.
For good measure: One more photo, of Meg & Dia.