Alternative With Modest Ambitions


For five years, Lollapalooza was the definitive alternative rock music festival, but when its organizers announced that heavy-metal heroes Metallica would be headlining this year's tour, the term "alternative" and perhaps the festival itself seemed stretched to the breaking point.

The lure of the Warped Tour--whose second annual edition rolled into the Velodrome in Dominguez Hills on Saturday--is that it seeks to go back to the punk roots of alternative rock.

The eight-hour show was engaging, though there was nothing about the event itself--or the individual bands--that suggested the ambition and scale of Lollapalooza.

Almost by definition, Warped is a more culty, underground proposition.

Saturday's program was highlighted by Goldfinger, which lit into its ska-punk set with style and speed, swerving from one tune to the next like Rancid--only with a sassier sense of humor and operating at Ramones velocity.

On a couple of occasions, the quartet slowed down enough to allow some subtler guitar textures and percussion flourishes to come to the fore, but it couldn't hold back for long.

During "My Girlfriend's Shower Sucks," the band sped out of the mid-tempo lull with a hilariously reckless rendition of Duran Duran's "Rio," which singer John Feldmann wryly converted into a song about one-time Black Sabbath singer Ronnie James Dio. Yet no matter how breakneck their approach, the music was never sloppy.

A certain sense of sloppiness, however, was part of NOFX's scruffy punk charm as the band cavorted through its set, joking about the smell of the sweaty, sunburnt crowd wafting over them.

More distinctive sounds came from the Deftones, who infused their hefty blend of beefy rock and deep grooves with an unusually trippy vibe. Red Five's noisy pop and spitfire attack led by Betty Carmellini and Jenni McElrath, who shared vocals and guitar duties, had more to do with the Pixies than traditional punk.

Rocket From the Crypt was another of the day's high points, thanks in part to their festive stage presence and flashy matching outfits, but mostly because of their astounding mixture of rock elements--everything from Elvis Presley and Bruce Springsteen to Thin Lizzy and the Sex Pistols.

Though New York's CIV had plunged into the hard-core realm earlier in the day, Pennywise proved to be smarter, leaner and meaner, relying more on top-notch playing and sharp songwriting than posing. Unfortunately, about halfway through Pennywise's set, a crowd surfer suffered a neck injury, and the group prudently paused until he could be removed to safety. To tide the audience over, the band slipped into a mellow but scrappy rendering of the Ben E. King hit "Stand by Me." It then resumed at full-force with its own raucous take on the Beastie Boys' "Fight for Your Right (to Party)."

Though the festival went off fairly smoothly, losing only 30 minutes between the crowd-surfing injury and Dick Dale's extended and evocative set, there was an edgy undertone to the proceedings. Sporadic fights erupted and the tangled tempers even extended to the stage when audience members heckled Goldfinger, Red Five and San Diego punk vets Fluf about their punk credentials, prompting terse retorts. Fishbone, the eclectic Los Angeles funk-rockers, closed with a short but rambling set.

At the end of the day, the verdict on Warped was mixed. While the event certainly gave a forum to a lot of bands, too few of those bands had anything truly worthy to give.

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