I assume most people on Punknews don't give much of a proverbial rat's ass about the Warped Tour anymore--at least publicly. I, however, am not one of those people.
I missed the 2009 incarnation for a few reasons beyond my control, but I didn't care as much as I would've in the past because I stopped giving a tad of that proverbial rat's ass myself. After all, the last time I had a truly great time at Warped was 2005, which is starting to seem like a long time ago. This year, however, I decided I was going no matter what, as: there seemed to be a number of bands making the price of admission worthwhile; my girlfriend really wanted to go; I love getting dangerously close to sunstroke; etc. I had debated about whether or not I should go to the date in Uniondale, NY (which is on the 118-mile long cesspool know as Long Island) or Oceanport, NJ. In the end, Uniondale is a hell of a lot closer to me and the thought of sitting in Jersey shore traffic on a Sunday sickens me.
So I woke up early at 11 a.m. on the morning of July 17th and we were in the car by 11:30. There was no traffic before the Throgs Neck Bridge but when we arrived at the exit from the Meadowbrook Parkway to the Nassau Coliseum, traffic stalled to a brutal stop-and-go pace that made moving less than a mile take over an hour. Then came the lazy shits who were collecting the parking fees as slowly as a person can do such a thing. Suffice to say that people are morons and this was not starting well.
Once we got inside, though, everything got better. Since we didn't actually get in until about 1:20 p.m. we missed a few bands. The first stage we found was what is apparently the main stage, known this year as "Teggart." Alkaline Trio was playing and, surprisingly, they didn't suck. They had drawn a huge crowd and were as energy-less as ever, but they didn't suck. Hell, I wouldn't have much of a problem saying they were downright good. Aside from some crap-crusted new song that I don't know, they played a nice little selection spanning their career. "I Lied My Face Off" was being played as we walked up, followed by "Dine, Dine, Dine My Darling" (a new song I actually enjoy), "Private Eye," "Blue Carolina" and, best of all, "My Friend Peter."
As much of a nice surprise as that was, I had no idea what goodness was waiting for me next. We moseyed on over to the AP Stage and Fake Problems, who I had never seen before, and Hoe-Lee-Balls, were they ever fucking awesome. After playing an insanely on-point version of "Diamond Rings" they went into "Don't Worry Baby." Then came one of my favorite songs of the past five years, "Born and Raised." It was sheer audio bliss. Obviously I didn't think they could get any better from that high point, so they had to prove me wrong by introducing Jeff Rosenstock (!!!!), who then rocked the fuck out on the saxamaphone for "Heck Yea Summer" and "1234" [although he had been hiding in the back and playing all along - Observant Ed.]. All in all, an incredibly epic and unique set full of catchy energy and the kind of jumping around that doesn't involve spin kicks. Oh, and an aside on Fake Problems: How did I never realize how much Casey Lee (guitarist) looks like Janis Joplin. I mean, just crazy Jackie Jormp-Jomp shit.
While walking over to the Altec Lansing Stage (goddamn I hate these dumbass ad-revenue stage names) to see Set Your Goals, we stumbled upon Flatfoot 56 playing an acoustic set in the Keep-A-Breast charity tent and, for a band I don't know much about who play a genre of music I usually consider to be audio Viagra for Massholes, they were damn good. Chelsey (my girlfriend) reminded me that the brand new song they played had "Peaches" in the title and apparently was about some nutjob they met while driving through Georgia who had a revolver taped to his thigh as he sold peaches outside a general store. The only song I know the name of that they played was "City on a Hill." My aside about Flatfoot 56? The frontman is fucking ENORMOUS. I'm nearly 6'5" and this dude towered over me. We met him later and on and he couldn't have been nicer. Good thing, too, 'cause his arms are the girth of my legs.
As nice as it was to be in that tent, since temperatures were flirting with 100 degrees and well over 90% humidity at this point, we walked the 20 or so yards to the aforementioned stage and prepared for Set Your Goals. Is SYG popular here in Orgworld anymore? Were they ever? Who the shit cares? I loved Mutiny!, though my feelings on last year's followup are best summed up as "this album kinda sucks." Still, it has a couple great songs and I was looking forward to hearing their old stuff. This was, after all, our first time ever seeing SYG. They didn't disappoint, especially with their onstage presence. Opening with "Gaia Bleeds (Make Way for Man)" wasn't the best choice, but they made up for it promptly. "The Fallen," "This Very Moment," "Summer Jam," "Goonies Never Say Die," "To Be Continued..." and "Echoes" were next. The final two songs were the ear-coitus: "Dead Men Tell No Tales" and "Mutiny" fucked my aural cavity hard and well. No real asides about the physical stature or any SYG members, though I gotta wonder if their sound tech was napping, as Matt's mic was off the whole time. Thankfully, most of his parts were picked up at least partially by other mics, but this detracted from the whole experience slightly.
We decided to see Dillinger Escape Plan next, but after being ear-raped by "Sunshine the Werewolf" and having to be entirely too far away from the stage to really enjoy it (Teggart might be the main stage but there wasn't enough real estate in front of it) we instead went over to where the Casualties were playing. Chelsey tells me they played "Punk Rock Love" and "On the Front Line" while we were there. I'm not a Casualties fan at all but they were pretty damn proficient and had some decent energy. Still, we didn't stick around; I was starting to fade in the (literally) hotter-than-balls heat and needed a $6 Gatorade badly.
On to the Kevin Says stage to watch Left Alone, who were quite good, if a bit too happy to just stand around. The organ sounds work great in person and it was really nice to hear something resembling a ska song at Warped again. The band played mostly songs from their new self-titled album, including "Low Fidelity," "Porcelain" and, my favorite, "Sad Story." A few older gems were thrown in as well: "She's the Only One" and, very appropriately (including a story about their first ever show here), "New York City," which caused most of the crowd to start running laps--well, skanking laps, around a tent. All in all, they were pretty awesome and made it feel like it was the early 2000s.
After sitting down for a few minutes to rest up before the two bands I was most excited for, I heard a song that I knew but I couldn't place. It was "Jamie All Over" by Mayday Parade. I'm sure there's zero respect for them around these parts but they sure can play live. There was an enormous crowd and they sounded great. Fuck what anyone says, that's a great song.
At this point I realized how insanely dehydrated I was and, after fighting off one hell of a dizzy spell and spending $5 for the right to pour ice cold water all over my head, we went to double check on the next band's correct set time (as the inflatable board was obviously wrong saying they would only be playing for 10 minutes). We found the Flatliners' booth just in time and headed back over to Kevin Says to see that only about 15 people were there to witness their brain-melting awesomeness. Blame it on the board I guess, but it was everyone else's loss; they didn't even get to see the Riverboat Gamblers' "MEL GIBSON IS AN ASSHOLE" shirt, worn by Chris Cresswell. Opening with "Mother Teresa Chokeslams the World" and thus putting a huge smile on my face, it made it that much harder for me to leave after their next song "The Calming Collection," and run over to the nearest stage where Four Year Strong were playing five minutes later. Arriving just in time to hear the opening chords of "It Must Really Suck to Be Four Year Strong Right Now" I pushed my way through the crowd to stand by the pit alone, as my girlfriend stayed behind for the Flatliners (she has better taste than me). Jumping directly into "Bada Bing Wit a Pipe," they gave me a chance to realize how many moronic meatheads were in their enormous crowd. I had to help another guy knock down some skinny asshole who was spinning around, trying to kick everyone he could in the chest like some sort of pissed-off, mentally challenged, undersexed donkey. As much fun as that was I fought back though everyone again as FYS played "What the Hell Is a Gigawatt?" and ran back to the Flatliners. I had just missed "This Respirator," which made me the world's saddest Ailuropoda melanoleuca for a moment. "Filthy Habits" was the next song and, not being a huge fan of it, I ran back to Four Year Strong who were in the middle of a remarkably half-assed version of "Maniac (R.O.D)". For some reason I stayed for the duration of it and then back to what might be the best band from Ontario right now. I hadn't missed any other songs and, much to the delight of the much larger crowd that had gathered as it got the listed set time, they played "Fred's Got Slacks," "July! August! Reno!" and ended with "The Eulogy," which is about as amazing a trio of songs as exists. Jogging back to the Altec Lansing stage for FYS, this time with Chelsey, we caught their last two songs; "Wasting Time (Eternal Summer)" and "Heroes Get Remembered, Legends Never Die." The latter featured an incredible sing-along and inspired a rather awe-inspiring amount of pogoing. Say what you will about these bearded Massholes--you won't be able to convince me that they're not fantastic. Of the two bands playing simultaneously though, I thing I have to give the ever-so-slight edge to the Flatliners, but that might just be due to the fact that their set was so much more intimate.
We went to see if we could talk to Mr. Cresswell and company but were told by their merch guy that they were goin' to see the Riverboat Gamblers. Well smack my ass, so were we. After killing some time wandering around and buying myself a shirt we pressed ourselves against the barrier at the Ernie Ball stage, which wasn't at all necessary since there were only 25-30 people there. Mike Wiebe and friends took the stage and I realized the year between seeing them with Rancid and Rise Against last summer was far too long. A mic check--for all five mics, of course--consisted only of demands of "turn it up...no, more...all the way" before jumping right into "DissDissDissKissKissKiss," and as amazing as that rendition was, we all had no fucking idea what we were in for.
Managing to be drenched in sweat by the end of the second song, "Biz Loves Sluts," the band charged right into "A Choppy Yet Sincere Apology," "Alexandria" and a new song which they said was called "Waiting for You" (I think). Then came "Hey! Hey! Hey!" and this is where the trademark Riverboat fucking greatness started. Apparently it's not enough that they jump around on stage more than any other band ever. It's not enough that they leave every last tiny morsel of energy they have on that stage for every single song. It's not even enough that they play with more heart than 99% of bands out there. No, Mike has to jump off the stage, go sit next to a few girls who were sitting on the wall to the left and putting his arm around them while serenading them. He then dragged himself (dragged being the most accurate term) onto the top of a Porta-Potty to finish the song, and it's a good thing that didn't take too long, 'cause that roof was gonna collapse. Mike returned to the stage to perform "Catastrophe," "On Again, Off Again" and a ludicrously good version of "True Crime" with the rest of the band. Then came the most personal, intimate and downright fuckin' awesome thing I've ever seen at a show. After playing the first minute or two of "The Art of Getting Fucked," Mike had me and the guy to my right help him over the crowd barrier and wandered to the middle of the crowd to start telling us a story. First he explained that he had learned some geography and knew that Staten Island wasn't on Long Island but was close, then he told us that Staten Island was important because, of course, that's where Wu-Tang is from and they're his favorite group ever, which is apparently true. As a steady bassline was plucked on stage he asked us all to get down on the ground, which we all did, so that we could "feel the bass in our genitals." After a short dissertation about how orgasmic bass can be, he told us that maybe, just maybe, the bass would go underground and underwater to Staten Island where the RZA would hopefully be having sex with a lady, "his wife, some other girl, who cares?" and maybe it would go up into his genitals while he had an orgasm and a half-Wu-Tang, half-Riverboat baby could be conceived. All of this was said with the greatest tongue-in-cheek sincerity of all time. To make sure the show was capped off as well as it could be, he asked us all to chant along with him and the band began the end of the song with everyone screaming "G - A - M - B - L - E - R!!!!" at the tops of our lungs as he ran around the inner circle of the crowd like a maniac and sang along. Most people who were there when they began playing didn't know who they were or, at the very least, didn't know most of their songs. By the end they'd not only managed to attract a decent-sized crowd, but every single person there was as into it as a human being can possibly be. I could write a few pages about this set alone and I'd still never find the words to describe how remarkable it was or how pumped up I was when it was over. Mike had no problem shooting the shit and taking pictures with me after it was over; very few people in bands are as gracious and interested in what you have to say. I still couldn't stop talking about the whole Riverboat experience hours after we had left.
A Wilhelm Scream may put on an unbelievable live show; the Lawrence Arms, spectacular as well. Strung Out may be energetic beyond belief and so technically proficient you'd swear they were just playing one of their albums over the speakers. None of these bands, however, can touch the Riverboat Gamblers live. The most prodigiously incredible band I've ever had the pleasure of seeing live. If you've never seen them, do it. Immediately. They were worth the price of admission on their own and if you can make it to one of the remaining Warped dates, they're the best reason to go. Period.
At this point it would've been impossible for any other band to be nearly as good, but it was only 7:20 or so and we decided to stick it out til the end. I love the Travoltas and to this day I wish they'd get back together. That probably won't happen, but in their place we have Fight Fair. Yea, they're all about partying and cheesy beyond comprehension, but they know they are and I love it, goddamnit. If their new album doesn't make you happy as hell that it's summer and put a smile on your face, well, I really do feel sorry for you. The biggest "scene bands" were playing at this point, including what was undoubtedly the biggest crowd of the day for Bring Me the Horizon (who sounded good, at least on a technical level...on a musical level: meh) so there weren't many people for Fight Fair to play for. Still, they did a great job. Playing "Settle the Score," a sing-along-filled version of "California Girls," "San Diego" and "Party Girls" and throwing all sorts of merch into the crowd, they were a shitload of fun. Music doesn't get much less serious then pop-punk Beach Boys wannabes. They finished with "Brain Freeze" and all in all I was damn surprised at how good they were.
The only band even remotely worth watching as the sun set was Reel Big Fish. I was shocked at how big their crowd was, rivaling the Offspring in 2005. They seemed to be thoroughly enjoying themselves, which is nice to see since they stopped caring about making good albums 10 years ago. They played a great version of "Everything Sucks" and then an amusing, pantomime-filled version of Metallica's "Enter Sandman." "Thank You for Not Moshing," my personal favorite RBF song, was next. It was the most nostalgia-filled moment of the day for me and I enjoyed it immensely. With less than 10 minutes left I figured it wasn't gonna get any better than that, so we started walking towards the car, hearing RBF play "She Has a Girlfriend Now" and a huge cheer from the crowd as we went. We saw the Flatliners breaking down their tent as we got near the gate and they talked with us for a few minutes; maybe because they liked that my girlfriend is Canadian. Even though Scott dropped my camera they were great to us and it was a perfect way to end the day, although parking in the cheap lot and thus avoiding all the traffic on the way out was an excellent bonus.
The Warped Tour, like everything else in life, is what you make of it. People love to bitch and moan about all the crappy bands that play while ignoring the good ones. There were at least 18 groups that I thoroughly enjoy on this year's incarnation and I didn't even have time to see them all. At $40 per ticket that's a pretty damn good deal to me, even if each set is only 30 minutes.
Of the nine years of Warped I've attended, this was the best. You can sit on your high horse and bust my balls if you want. You can argue that The Fest or any other weekend mega-concert is better, and on a lot of levels you'd be right, but you have to travel to them; they don't come to you. In the end, all that needs to be said is this: I'm well over $140 poorer for the whole experience; I'm painfully sunburnt as I sit here writing this; I didn't even get to see the Swellers, AM Taxi, Far from Finished or Face to Face (bands which were a big part of why I went); and I can feel the phantom sweat of hundreds of greasy, pungent people all over me...and I can't think of a single thing I would've rather done.