On the Warped Path

Clockwise, from top left: A Faith Called Chaos, Yellowcard, mud wrestling after the rain, Rise Against, Juliette and the Licks
All photos by Sarah Hepola

Among the things flying through the air just before the Bad Religion show at last Saturday's Vans Warped Tour were these: a sopping-wet newspaper, an old flip-flop, a black bra and one economy-size Old Spice deodorant can, which landed with a clatter next to the tattooed guy beside me. He took one look at that thing and chucked it into the crowd. Soon after, a beer bottle came whizzing back.

Bouncing Souls were playing on a nearby stage, and one side of the crowd--the Mohawked, cigarette-dangling side--wasn't happy. The band was lame. It was starting to rain (again). "This one's about music, how it keeps us alive," said lead singer Greg Attonitoi, wearing a pink button-up and tie. Somewhere, on the opposite end, a teen dressed in Abercrombie & Fitch was singing along to every lyric. Here, on my side, a pair of wet jeans just flew through the air.

The Warped Tour, once a niche festival for skater punks and burnouts, is now, simply, the music festival for teens. This generation's Lollapalooza. And this year's lineup reflected that, packed with sweet-natured emo bands like Taking Back Sunday, sweat-slinging screamo bands like Thursday and A Faith Called Chaos, and, of course, a slew of Green Day wannabes playing fun, three-chord party music. What the lineup didn't have--or didn't have much of, at least--was actual punk, the music on which the festival was based.

"It's what, us, Bad Religion and the Casualties?" Guttermouth front man Mark Adkins asked the crowd. "This is all a swindle. It's all about taking money from your pocket and putting it into mine." Then he spit on the crowd.

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Slotted on a side stage in late afternoon and armed with an arsenal of lame, potty-humor songs, Guttermouth didn't have too many onlookers at first, just some teens milling around like they were killing time. But Adkins came out swinging, leveling the crowd with such a homophobic, offensive fervor--calling them faggots, making fun of everyone for wearing black--that by the end, he had a throng of kids crowd-surfing and flipping him the bird.

"If you like us," he said, "show some appreciation. Throw shit at us!" A plastic beer bottle struck him on the knee. "Well, next time make it a full one!"

It's old news that all-day festivals can be lame, corporate clusterfucks. (Anyone remember Rockfest?) But Vans Warped Tour really isn't so bad. Yeah, water still costs as much as a stiff drink, but the ticket is a mere $25 for, what, 50 bands? Eighty? (Sorry, I stopped counting.) Plus all the product booths, rides and various distractions, not the least of which was girl-on-girl mud wrestling on a lawn squishy with mud from the afternoon's rain. As far as I could tell, Vans Warped Tour was like summer camp, field days and the mall all in one. Most of the music lacked tooth, sure, but they had one hell of a delivery.

Juliette & the Licks have a gold mine in front woman Juliette Lewis, a singer with not-bad pipes and one of the only females on the entire tour. I know, I know: Nothing is lamer than an actor-turned-singer (see: Patrick Swayze). And Lewis' material needs work (sample lyric: "It's a mad, mad world/Watch out, you might get burned.") But she's the perfect rock chick--sexy, fearless and bonkers.

"You're gonna make love to me," she purred to the crowd, strutting around in a red micro-mini, "and I'm gonna make love to you."

Eww, the audience is, like, 14.

Instead of ending the set, Lewis simply laughed cryptically into the mike and threw it onto the ground, leaving the stage without a word.

There was a long beat as everyone looked around, wondering what just happened.

"Awesome," a kid finally said.

Rise Against had the kind of anger and intensity of Rage Against the Machine, a band whose sound and politics they copped a few lessons from. Activism is core to the band's ethos, with shrieking protest songs like "Blood Red, White and Blue" and "Black Masks and Gasoline."

But best-band-of-the-day honors go to the old guys. Bad Religion sounds better and rocks harder than anyone else. That's surprising, not only considering their bald spots but also how badly the show started.

"Houston's show was canceled because of rain," vocalist Greg Graffin told the crowd, as the drops started to fall harder. "So this is the first show of our Warped Tour." But only moments into "Sinister Rouge," off their Empire Strikes First album, a PA blew. Soon after, the mike went out and Graffin looked to the sky as if to see what was cursing him. But everyone stuck with it, and the problems cleared, even if the sky never really did.

Bad Religion is one of those bands every generation finds, and even though the group's music has been around for two decades, most of the kids in the audience hadn't. Still, they knew every word to every song, chanting along to the anti-government lyrics with all the fever of a Dashboard Confessional concert. Suddenly, the crowd didn't need to throw things anymore. The water bottles stopped flying. The wet jeans stayed stuck on the ground. The only things in the air were fists and, of course, middle fingers.

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