Gexa Energy Pavilion, Dallas
Saturday, June 27, 2015
Warped Tour is a survivor. After 20 years of putting on festivals, there's no other way to put it. The festival is just about old enough to drink now, and when it passed through Dallas on Saturday to set up camp at Gexa Energy Pavilion it put on one of its best shows in years.
It helped that the weather was virtually ideal, much better than typically comes with a Texas festival at the end of June; thanks to the storms Friday night, it cool and dry come Saturday morning, with the high for the day only around 90. But the bigger reason for Warped Tour's success comes down to a simple secret: There are 15 year olds in every city every year, and now many of those people who went back in the '90s have their own kids who want to go.
The most noticeable difference with this year's festival was how many more parents there were chaperoning their kids. They were everywhere, being patient with bands they might never understand but saw the enjoyment in their kids’ eyes. (They even had a tent called Reverse Daycare set up.) But what was refreshing to see were parents who were not afraid to wear a Propagandhi or “Satan is My Spirit Animal” T-shirt or a denim sleeveless jacket with patches.
The lineup was better too. Warped Tour has always focused on a young, paying audience, but in recent years lineups were filled with acts that you would be embarrassed to admit liking once you got out of your teens. This year’s edition had plenty of those bands, but there was a better variety over the course of the day on its eight stages. (Once you'd gotten familiarized with where each stage was, seeing how they change every year based on the brands they're named after.)
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Amongst the metalcore, punk rock and synth-pop all around, there was the Acoustic Basement tent. The tent would prove to be a safe haven for people that wanted to rest their eardrums and get some shade. Solo act/activist Koji gave a refreshingly honest performance of new and old songs, while also talking about hot-button topics between songs. He talked about how terrorism affected him personally, why fracking is bad and how Friday’s Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage was a wonderful decision. Another act, Grey Gordon, was not afraid to share how isolated he felt on this tour between songs. The heavily-tattooed singer/songwriter comes from the straight edge hardcore world and he retained the messages of positivity and speaking out about internal struggles. He even covered Big Star’s “Thirteen,” which was a nice touch and fit his presentation.
The reality about bands who play Warped Tour now is that bands who played it only 10 years ago are considered old, but respected at the same time. Whether it was Senses Fail, Matchbook Romance or Metro Station, they had great crowds. Family Force 5, a band that’s getting to that classification, followed Senses Fail with a set of dubstep-tinged Radio Disney pop.
As the afternoon reached its mid-point, the large Shark and Unicorn stages featured too much of the same thing. Asking Alexandria and Memphis May Fire might have some differences in their sound and image, but when both bands prominently feature stylized screaming, thrashing guitar lines and drumbeats, and backing tracks, they torpedoed each other out. Interestingly, the act that broke up the monotony was Never Shout Never; they lightened the angsty mood with goofy folk pop and jokes between songs.
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Per usual, tents were taken down as nighttime approached, but there were still some great acts playing. Silverstein delivered a set of what’s painfully missing from other bands who blend punk, hardcore and metal. The five-piece has never shied away from their roots of the Get Up Kids, Grade and pioneering American hardcore bands, yet they have enough melodic variety to match the aggression they put out. They are a band that continues to get stronger with age.
The Dirty Nil was an incredible trio that fused big, glammy riffs with a fervent pop-punk energy. Their cover of the Misfits’ “Last Caress” was excellent, too. Moose Blood, a band that hails from England and is touring the United States for the first time, gave a splendid performance as the day wound down. Recalling a sound of Saves the Day and Hey Mercedes, they cruised through a number of enjoyable tunes. Warped founder Kevin Lyman even stood on the side and smiled while they played.
For all the flack Warped Tour gets from people who don’t go to it, the festival shows no sign of slowing down. It's managed to last where so many other touring festivals that started (and ended) in the '90s, like H.O.R.D.E. and Lilith Fair, didn't. Sure, not every year has been a winner, but it has continued to draw in generation after generation. And if the fans aren't getting any older, then at least the folks running it seem to be getting a little wiser.
Personal bias: This was my sixth Warped Tour overall and probably the best one I’ve experienced as a reviewer. I know at 36 years old that I am not the primary demographic, but it sure is nice to watch bands that I genuinely like, being around people half my age that feel the same way.