Vans Warped Tour Gexa Energy Pavilion, Dallas Sunday, June 15, 2014
If I were younger or were a newcomer to the Vans Warped Tour's annual Dallas stop, I suppose getting there at 10:30 a.m. when the gates opened and staying until the last barre chord decayed into the dusk would've been a feasible proposition. But I'm about to be 36, and I've gone through this particular set of motions enough to know the routine. By this stage, the significance of coming back over and over again lies in the way of details.
I make my way to Gexa's amphitheater, where the stage is divided into two halves, one sponsored by shoe retailer Journey's, the other by sour candy brand Warheads. Some pop punk band called Secrets is on the Journey's side; I join the crowd during the "thank you from the bottom of our hearts" portion of their set. Is there a contractual obligation requiring bands to say this line? Because they all seem to say it; maybe a few even mean it.
However grateful the Secrets singer, who looks like he might manage a Banana Republic when he isn't thanking a crowd of 300 sweaty teenagers, may or may not be, the crowd eagerly answers his gratitude with applause. "Thanks guys," he goes. "Now we're all gonna jump around together!"
Maybe it's the disconnect formed from my age and what is probably a low-level distaste for fun, but Secrets are the corniest band I've ever seen, and that list includes Loverboy at a county fair. Out of the corner of my eye, a dude even older than I am gives Secrets the finger, as if they could even see him and his tattered Germs T-shirt from a half-mile away.
I wander through a marketplace (craft beer, Bob Marley supplies, merch from bands named in cryptic dependent clauses) into the other half of the festival, through an even more confusing and crowded bazaar. The kids these days, when not clad in band T-shirts (whoever Motionless in White is, their shirts are as ubiquitous as seagulls at a garbage dump), are smeared in streaks of decorative Zinca, the thick, neon sunscreen I absolutely hated having to wear when I was young. Sometimes the Zinca patterns approximate war paint, but mostly they resemble long fingerprints, swaths of electric blue and orange beneath the red and pinks of pimply, sunburned cheeks. More than any band, it's the kids' Zinca that makes me feel old.
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At the ends of this corridor of T-shirts, belt buckles and $8 beers are the Kevin Says stage and the Monster Energy stage, but it's at the Kevin Says stage where I notice the biggest difference between the Warped Tour of 1997 and the one that's happening right now: There's literally a sign advising against crowd-surfing and moshing because the two lead to injuries and tour-killing lawsuits. No wonder that old crusty dude in the Germs shirt was so mad! Having said sanitization spelled out in huge letters on a giant vinyl banner on every stage really drives the point home. Of course, so do bands like the Devil Wears Prada, a band that blends hardcore breakdowns with EDM bass drops. Up close, I don't understand it, but from farther away where all you can hear is kick drum, low-end and vocals, it sounds like Limp Bizkit.
Let that sink in for a second. Because if you think about it, the Warped Tour only plays what the kids are listening to, which means that the kids are basically listening to Limp Bizkit now. Or worse, they're listening to the Summer Set.
The Summer Set, who went on immediately following Devil Wears Prada, are a four-piece fronted by what looks to be a Mormon missionary who cut out of his two-year obligation early. Imagine if Starship had covered "God Gave Rock 'n Roll to Us" and then Justin Bieber covered the Starship version. That's what the Summer Set sound like, and it's a far cry from the mid-afternoon main stage acts I remember like Bad Religion and the Vandals, but as it happens, the Summer Set's set is followed by Florida ska punks Less Than Jake, who announce that this particular date is the 365th Warped Tour show. They are probably the most old-school of the entire 2014 lineup, and as such, let loose with snide remarks about the kids not knowing who Rancid is.
I stick around for one more band, a hardcore act called the Ghosts Within. The kids go ape shit, and I try to tell myself this band, with a sizable bro contingent in their fan base, is basically like watching Pennywise in 1998. But it's not the same, because after I moshed to Pennywise in 1998, I went and watched people skate a half-pipe next to the stage; now there's no half-pipe, only a first aid station. As I walked back to my car, I wondered what the Devil Wears Prada fans would be griping about when they're 36.