It would always have taken something extraordinary for me to even consider letting the Warped Tour into my peripheral vision. Describing it as a money-gathering experiment donning a cloak stitched together with the skin of a thousand shit, generic punk bands — well, you might as well call U.S. policy “imperialist,” or discuss the triangularity of triangles (as Chomsky once put it). But, though little more than a happy accident, this year they crept in, by including my old genre-ruffing Manchester buddies Sonic Boom Six on the lineup. Following this thread of youth I find some half-a-dozen acts that might be worth watching, actually, and before I know it I’m trapped, without re-entry benefits, facing eight hours of blazing sun and twelve-dollar gnatspiss beers and wondering what the holy fuck I’ve stepped into.
It’s almost that quick at least. Some organisational incompetence leads to a single person directing the incredibly long entry line to move to the other side of the street, which needless to say, they interpret by moving themselves from the back half to the front. In more raucous times it might have led to a riot. The line is only so long because the sweatshop-utilising shoe companies that purport to run this circus (with their ridiculous names that are supposed to imply soul-fulfilling motion) don’t release schedules before it begins, forcing everyone to show up to the cage early lest they miss who they bought tickets for.
Then once you get in there is a big balloon wall indicating that they do in fact have a schedule, but the bastards expect you to fork over two dollars for a paper timetable. I’m reminded of the mighty video critic Jim Sterling, railing against triple-A game developers who continue to increase the presence of microtransactions in full-priced games. I have already paid for the full experience, which should include an easy way of knowing what is going on and when. Most people take pictures of the wall, but that they would even try and charge for something so traditionally considered integral starts the day off on a pessimistic note. *
My predictions of who might be playing at what times turn out to be suspiciously and totally wrong, with an established band like Strung Out getting things rolling. I’d accuse them of stringing out the big names, but since there are so many younger bands whose popularity levels I know nothing about it’s hard to spot a pattern. In any case, Strung Out skate-spawns one of the first pits of the day, lasting about half the length of the song ‘Velvet Alley’ before retreating. As people still pile through the entrance gates the crowd grows from a few dozen to about a hundred by the end of their set.
Strung Out are a good start, but for sweaty cobweb blowing of the serious measures kind, my next act of interest is Sick Of It All. As punk continues to age, it becomes ever more important to distinguish your fast music credentials through the litmus test that is when you chose to start existing. Frontman Lou Koller does it in a friendly way, introducing 1994’s ‘Scratch the Surface’ as the “hit that came out before you were born,” and wondering where all the first-time viewers have been. (For my part in keeping punk crotchety, I last saw SOIA at Reading Festival 2004. Also Goldfinger, who are on this year’s Warped Tour, but sadly didn’t come to St. Pete.) Koller has always sounded like he was on the bigger and older side. Back when the internet was practically empty and all we had to go on was sleevenote thumbnails, I had pictured him (and similar hardcore singers) as something of a broad-shouldered, post-human giant, in fact. Yet here he is, muscley and gruff-voiced perhaps, but handsome, all in black and barely breaking a sweat as the band makes as much satisfying ragey noise as ever. Any superhumanoid or youth tonic theories are sadly squashed though when Koller brags about getting back to his air-conditioned room. And organic fruit slices and skin-toning massages (my brain made those up because AC sounds that good right now).
Contemporary hardcore in a revisionist old style is how you might convolutedly describe Baltimore’s War On Women, performing at the Skullcandy stage. Skullcandy not eyecandy! May we all be judged by the sugary sweetness of our brains, rather than bodies. That’s a thought I take away from War On Women’s style and their accompanying Safer Scenes tent, travelling with the tour and providing useful intervention advice for everyone looking to make music welcoming to all regardless of gender. Y’know, unity and shit. Like the traditional TV news model, the constricting festival slot isn’t really structured to allow for in-depth discussion, so to spread their views WOW need some punchy thrash bangers, which they happen to have brought with them. There’s the catchy and trans-inclusive ‘Second Wave Goodbye,’ and ‘Roe V. World’ with its repetitive All-O-Gistics-style wind-up riff and laundry list of points (and hey, Descendents, maybe break your own rules and do some laundry — it’s been getting done, and not by magic pixies). (Curiously, I gave some mild Descendents criticism last time I reviewed these lot.) On the subject of safer scenes, how about demands for women only portable toilets, or just more hygienic ones in general? I’m not one for hoping to solve problems through theoretical future technology, but I refuse to believe that travelling shitholes have not made advancements beyond the horrendous receptacles that we continue to see at festivals.
Speaking of the throughput footprint of urban debris, immediately next-door and next is former WOW tourmates Municipal Waste. While exactly half the age of SOIA in band years, Municipal Waste are determined to show that they are as punk and authentic as anyone birthed in the dark fires of the (Iron) Reagan years. They tell us, surprisingly, that there’s no autotune in their thrash, oh NO! “I don’t even know what a computer is!” proclaims Tony Foresta. Their performance is as audibly violent and entertaining as you’d expect from a band whose principal imagery of late is of Donald Trump shooting himself in the head. How’s that for skullcandy? The partially local band even came to the aid of Kathy Griffin recently when every mainstream pundit failed to give them credit for the idea of depicting violence against stupid White House occupants. So obviously they perform their Dubya-Bush-era ‘I Want to Kill the President.’ Another appropriate cut is ‘The Thrashing of the Christ’ as Foresta pays homage, not for the first time today, to a sweaty Jesus slamming in front of the Hard Rock stage.
When there’s plenty of Trump hate to go around because it’s so easy, bands with more overt politics should step up and provide something deeper. Anti-Flag — on this tour at least — fall short of this. Acknowledging again the limits of festival slots, we get a well rehearsed display of anger, complete with an upside-down flag, ‘Turncoat,’ ‘Die for the Government,’ and ‘Fuck Police Brutality.’ We get ‘This Is The End (For You My Friend)’ with the hook that sounds just like ‘We Can’t Rewind’ by Feeder. During all this, any semblance of overcasting goes away, allowing our brains to be fried fully so that we might absorb the one-dimensional radicalism on offer. It’s frustrating because Anti-Flag cover topics that are broad rather than simplistic, not often sexy enough to be featured in music or even the news, and that contain explanations for how in the hell things ended up here (free trade and consolidated media, for example). I have to imagine that the way Anti-Flag view their on-stage persona is how most respectable bands view an event like Warped. Sure, it’s obviously clownish bollocks, yet it at least provides something of a way to give kids insight to progressive thinking. Guitarist Chris Head is wearing a War On Women shirt, and that band has made no secret of the fact that this is basically why they joined the tour. But is it really all that helpful, working long term as we must, to simplify so much, when fans will likely discard the band and possibly their faux-radical bathwater a few years later? I know that I’m hoping for too much from an older act like Anti-Flag, and probably punk music in general. With the current state of things I’d love to be proved wrong though.
Speaking of window dressing-politics, it’s great that there are so many animal rights tables here. But for god’s sake, what is the use of having three vegan literature pushers and not a single remotely
veggie-friendly food stand? I settle for a Greek place that doesn’t have any falafel, but does have amazing sweat-absorbing napkins. The first indication that the heat might have peaked comes with the surprising appearance of Save Ferris, touring off the back of their first release since the 90’s, Checkered Past. Maybe the mental-sensation of cooling comes from seeing all their breezy wind instruments or Monique Powell’s air-filtration fishnets, or maybe, like she says, it’s nice to see something different to most of the other acts. Powell lightly makes fun of the screamy-feeling bands, and SF show that they too can do emotionally-charged hardcore, with a welcome rendition of ‘Too Drunk to Fuck.’
I nip back into the norm though to see part of Hatebreed’s set. Vocalist Jamey Jasta asks us to respect the security guards and their important jobs, urges all to remember Chris Cornell, and then waxes romantically about punk and hardcore becoming a family-friendly affair now spanning three generations. Hateful! Maybe being nice soothes his throat (when he’s not soothing it with new MUTANT DRINK of course, occasional sponsor of Jasta’s podcast and this occasional stage). Right after Hatebreed come some group called Hundredth, but I’m just disappointed when I realise it’s obviously not Hundred Reasons. I wander past some funnyheads singing songs about Mexico in the style of a celtic chiptune and about force feeding hot dogs to other dogs. This is not the only backlash to all the animal rights booths that I will hear today.
Attempting to be open minded, I watch a band that a younger friend recommended to me, Neck Deep. No, not Mobb Deep (R.I.P. Prodigy), although the crowd for these Welsh pop-punkers does have the potential to become a mob, being one of the largest I would see throughout the day. If they had all been as clueless as me, they might have descended into violence demanding to know the whereabouts of singer Ben Barlow, and who the old man dressed like a NASCAR driver is onstage. I’m half expecting a Cobain at Reading ‘92 type stunt where Barlow rips off the costume to reveal that he’s actually okay (because apparently, “it’s okay not to be okay”). Nice as it is to see a home-nation band doing well, I’d prefer it if the kids here weren’t going nuts for an act that sounds like they’re from American suburbia circa 2003, even going so far as to use what seem like forced mid-atlantic accents. It’s not bad but for me they need to go deeper than neck deep in the history of the genre, being very much in the New Found Glory vein. The neck vein.
Wanting to hear slightly earlier and genuinely American pop-punk is an easy stroll away, with The Ataris playing to a rather smaller crowd. Kristopher Roe is here presumably with a touring band as he’s currently the only member of the Ataris proper. All seems well and mellow though as he tells us his grandparents were from Largo, they do great favourites like ‘Boys of Summer’ and the epic ‘Your Boyfriend Sucks,’ and White Jesus continues to hard rock within the confines of this particular corporate corner. I missed the very start of their set but I could’ve done with a few tracks from End is Forever, and an old song called ‘Peel Session’ that appears on their newest releases would have been great (even though John has nothing to do with it and it’s actually about, yes, a girl). Roe’s final words to the crowd are that he doesn’t “know who’s playing [immediately after us] but they’re probably awesome.”
Yes they are, Kristopher. If I had to pick a single band to come to Florida as a UK punk scene care package for myself, it would be Sonic Boom Six. In the time that I’ve lived in this godforsaken former swamp the band has continued to evolve, with a setlist of songs that adequately spans their varied incarnations despite long track times, short slot space and Laila K charm offences. I will now list them all because it gives me pleasure: ‘Meanwhile Back in the Real World,’ ‘Sound of a Revolution,’ ‘No Man, No Right,’ ‘The Road to Hell is Paved with Good Inventions’ (Tampa Bay needs to heed this one), ‘For the Kids of the Multiculture’ and ‘Piggy in the Middle.’ To fund this tour SB6 put out a brilliant EP (review forthcoming), but the machinations of the ultimate city of thieves still prevented Barney Boom from attending most of it, which makes me sad. Despite her best efforts, English Laila cannot help but comment on the “fuck me it’s hot” weather and pregnant potential for thunderstorms pissing on their meet-and-greets. While the crowd is on the small side today there’s photo evidence of huge audiences on other dates, and it seems safe to say that the Boomers are having a blast.
By now the jokes and paradoxical observations of a genre that was never intended to grow up having done so have been well and truly made. But I genuinely admire all the youthfully-monikered bands such as Adolescents for their perseverance, as well as their music. Like so many “Lil” hip-hoppers, Tony Reflex and co carry the collective glory days in their hearts even as their collective ages round 250. And hooray for that, because ‘Who is Who’ and ‘Amoeba’ sound as top as ever, and unlike the semi-unfortunate souls who seem condemned to merely tour until they die onstage, Adolescents are still putting out cool new material. Also unlike some of their peers, they’re capable of distinguishing actual rebelliousness from keyboard warrior-pleasing vitriol. Reflex speaks little, except to slow clap The Dickies’ Leonard Graves Phillips for his “well spoken and thoughtful” views on women at a Warped date a few weeks prior. (Noodles, the thick arsehole that he is, can also fuck off back to the punk old boys club.) The ‘ardcore assembly here again seems disappointingly minimal, but I would learn in short order that it wasn’t exactly a snub towards the Adolescents.
Depending on your musical preferences I suppose. A huge and exhausted crowd is waiting for the light relief of GWAR, sunbeaten into a desire for the weird and in an eerie silence till ‘War Pigs’ introduces the band to cheers. One suspects that an additional reason for Gwar playing so late in the day is that, like the handful of UK artists who all performed post-afternoon, an attempt is being made to preserve the lives of these foam-cladded space mutants (we’re back at the Monster Energy zone, fittingly). Between things resembling songs, the luckier residents of “St. Peepeesburg” are coated with fake blood spraying from neck stumps and jokes about fucking dolphins. Then, to the sound of AC/DC’s ‘If You Want Blood (You’ve obviously Got It),’ a walking Donald Trump effigy is ripped to shredded pieces. (Gwar have invited Kathy Griffin to join them onstage for this ritual, with no known response from her lawyer.) As dumb as it all is, it’s an appropriate illustration on the curious filth and madness of both this festival and Trump’s America. President Fart doesn’t observe any respectable interpretation of reality, and frankly doesn’t deserve to be treated in the context of it. Because this reality TV character being where he is still doesn’t seem real. It seems kind of, well… warped.
* Sterling also finds himself being pitifully grateful when a company acts in a manner that would have been considered the norm a few years prior, essentially praising them for not moving completely in lockstep with the latest creeping corporate pushes against human dignity. So thank you, shoe-shovellers of car country, for allowing us to bring in a single, sealed plastic water bottle, and then providing a tiny area where we can get them freely refilled during this scorcher, rather than charging for every sip of the human lifeforce. And some misting tents. Some basics for patrons to not die. Truly, you are forward thinking.