The Los Angeles hard-core quintet the Bronx had an interesting take on the potential of punk rock during the Vans Warped Tour's kickoff show Friday at the Pomona Fairplex. "There is no revolution," howled singer Matt Caughthran during the track "Heart Attack American" in a ferocious early afternoon set. FOR THE RECORD: Warped Tour: A review of the Warped Tour in Monday's Calendar section said that it's in its 13th year. The tour is in its 14th year. —
The Vans Warped Tour, the longest-running traveling music fest going today, has never really been about bona fide upheaval -- see the corporate sponsorship in the festival's title. Still, the nihilism of Caughthran's lyric seemed oddly apropos for this 13th installment, where technical problems, murderous heat and the lack of any fresh headliner took the moxie out of the teen-heavy punker audience. Plenty of young side-stage acts were worth the gas prices to go there, but if this year's attendance figures were telling (down to 16,000 from 20,000 last year), it might behoove Warped's bookers to rethink what constitutes punk rock's elite in 2008.
The stalwart Hermosa Beach skate-punk quartet Pennywise, a late addition to this year's Warped, was the day's ostensible headliner. The 20-year-old combo's breed of galloping, hyper-masculine metallic punk was a defining sound of the Warped Tour's nascent years, and its recent album "Reason to Believe" might be its most high-profile record yet (and its first for MySpace Records). But the band's vintage-leaning set and pointed criticism of the sound techs from onstage were, warranted or not, certainly derailing for the day's biggest act. Any Warped veteran has probably seen Pennywise before, and its Warped set didn't leave much reason to try again.
Pennywise wasn't alone in technical snafus. The inaugural Warped set of the L.A.-based Say Anything, one of contemporary emo's leading lights, was hobbled by mix problems that left singer-songwriter Max Bemis with little recourse other than to grab a guitar and try to scrape together a solo show. He apologized profusely, but the bombastic nakedness of songs such as "Baby Girl, I'm a Blur" and "Walk Through Hell" was, in a weird way, only aided by his desperation to finish the show alone. Most of his fans were probably more excited to get a rare solo set anyhow.
The headliners' problems meant that there was plenty of leeway for newer acts to have breakout sets. This year's Warped had the unlikely distinction of sporting an artist, Katy Perry, with a current No. 2 pop single in "I Kissed a Girl." Her sassy electro-pop seemed an improbable fit for a punk-leaning tour, but her wink-nudge charisma won over skeptics of her hit song's maniacally "Girls Gone Wild"-pandering lyrics. The similarly auspicious set of the Malibu rapper Shwayze proved that the Warped Tour need not shy away from the Billboard charts in finding compelling, reinventing acts in the future.
The spunky all-girl Japanese ska group Oreskaband and the smarmy rap duo 3 Oh! 3 were worthy diversions as well, but Warped's kick-in-the-teeth spirit wasn't entirely absent. The Gainesville, Fla., folk-punk quartet Against Me! proved that despite a recent (and controversial) move to a major label, they're the current flag-bearers for righteous punk anger. Songs such as "White People for Peace" indicted themselves as much as the Bush administration for current military misadventures, and the merciless self-doubt of the band's recent album "New Wave" was offset by the sheer vigor of frontman Tom Gabel's toothy, gut-wrenching delivery.
Atlanta metal-core quintet Norma Jean also made a convincing case for rock's potency, as the riffs from its forthcoming album, "The Anti-Mother," lived up to singer Cory Brandan's claim that it's "so heavy, it'll make you want to punch a dolphin in the blowhole."
Warped's best moments weren't quite enough to balance the wheel-spinning of the festival's goals in 2008, though. It's a shame, because Caughthran's blood-curdling yelp was almost enough to convince the crowd otherwise. Eclectic pop has a welcome place on the Warped Tour. Too bad that revolution doesn't seem to as well.