Warped Tour - Live in Cincinnati, OH (Cover Artwork)

Warped Tour

Live in Cincinnati, OH (2016)

live show

If you guys are anything like me, you’re getting older and it’s been years since you’ve been to Warped Tour. Once a cornucopia of who’s who in the punk world, the traveling music circus has devolved into a list of whiney/screamy/irrelevant bands you’ve never heard of or cared to see live. Until this year that is. Maybe it’s nostalgia. Maybe it’s financial. Maybe Kevin realized what used to make Warped Tour great. Whatever the reason, the lineup this year contains several bands from the glory days of Warped and I figured it was time to break my 10 year hiatus on what used to be a punk training ground.

My 104-degree (heat index) day at Riverbend Music Center in Cincinnati, OH began like any other Warped Tour: finding that big ass inflatable with the schedule, the same as it was back in 2002 at my very first Warped. Thankfully, printed schedules were available for $2 so I didn’t have to keep referencing the picture I snapped on my phone. Turned out that it didn’t really matter as almost all the bands I wanted to see were playing the same stage anyway.

Of course only one band I was interested in played on the shaded stage. Four Year Strong kicked off the day and embodied live what has frustrated me about them for years. Rise or Die Trying is a damn-near perfect pop-punk album and one of my favorites but for whatever reason after it they dropped the keyboard and moved towards more gruff/yelling vocals. No album before or since from them has come close and their live show included mostly post-RoDT songs and didn’t really do it for me. No big deal, I had to leave their set early for Reel Big Fish anyway.

Across the venue at the Journey’s Left Foot stage, Aaron Barrett marched out his fresh-faced Reel Big Fish in obligatory hawaiian shirt and sporting facial hair his evil twin would be proud of. They launched into a set of classic ska/punk tunes with barely any time for what are normally “funny, funny jokes.” Aaron did his kicks and spins and behind-the-head guitar solos, but through it all the band seemed joyless compared to the days of old, like they were simply playing the parts expected of them. Sadly the band hasn’t been the same since little Scotty Klopenstein moved on and left Barrett with a gaping hole where his wingman used to be. By the time the band’s most famous song (even though they didn’t write it) was over I just felt sad for them. Their last album wasn’t bad but one has to think they can’t keep limping along like this forever. Just typing that makes me feel sad/old.

Speaking of sad and old, Hawaiian ska party band Pepper was up next. This was my first time seeing them and my first impression was of three Jersey Shore rejects playing Sublime covers on the beach to get laid. I was surprised to find out that these guys are in their late 30s and have been around for two decades; you’d never know based on their energy and personalities. Looking past all the weed and sex banter, I’ll admit I really enjoyed their set and had fun, though I don’t know how well that translates to their recorded material.

During a gap in interesting bands I returned to the shady shelter of another stage to cool off and half-listen to the generic-sounding punk rock of Teenage Bottlerocket, a band I never really got into. They made the easy joke about local Skyline Chili and had a song about Burger King, so whatever.

Next up was a band that’s cool to hate: Good Charlotte. I was big into their debut album in high school but had only vaguely kept up with them from a distance so I thought they’d be worth a listen. As expected, the songs I knew were interesting and played with enthusiasm while their newer material made me question why I was there. They had probably the biggest attendance of any band I saw with a range from kids to people about my age, probably there for the same reason as me. Though lead singer Joel’s look reminded me of a cleaner Tim Armstrong and his banter was on par with a wedgie in terms of uncomfortableness and shittiness, I gotta say he at least had energy and seemed to believe in his words.

Fun fact: the first band I ever saw live was New Found Glory in 2001. This is another band I kinda lost track of midway through their career and have casually listened to recently but I really admired their set. Jordan was a whirlwind of activity and really kept the crowd moving. The band played with a vigor and zest for performance that I haven’t seen in a long time, renewing my faith in them moving forward. They played all the songs you’d expect and had tons of crowd singalongs (too many if you ask me). NFG is still legit; go see them if they come to your town.

Finally the main reason I returned to Warped Tour: Less Than Jake. LTJ always has been and always will be my favorite band. They have literally changed my life by opening me up to new styles of music and always having the right lyrics for the period in my life. I could wax poetic about the importance of this band for pages, but in the scope of this show I’ll just say they killed it. Sure, they played many of the same songs that they’ve toured on for decades, but they did so with such intensity and fun that I had chills during songs I’ve seen live 10 times now. Nobody but Chris and company could pull off their political theme with such goofiness that nobody in the crowd could possibly be offended. Their live show is always a treat, this year complimented by Chris’ America Suit, Evo Kid crowd surfing in a blow-up raft and fishing pole, unloading hundreds of Twix bars at the crowd, and of course the toilet paper gun and confetti. Less Than Jake was fun incarnate, an unstoppable force slapping grins across even the most sceptical faces in the crowd (I literally saw the demeanor of a girl in front of me change as the show progressed, moving from grumpy face to taking pictures of the band with a smile at the end). They easily put on the best show of the day for me and proved why they will always be my favorite band. They got bonus points for reppin’ local Cincy bands as well, with a Dopamines shirt on an amp and having Ryan from Mixtapes on the side of the stage.

My last set of the day was Sum 41, which put out some awesome albums early in their career then faded away for me but I figured I’d catch them before leaving. They put on a good show, but by that time of the day I was so worn out from the heat that I called it halfway through. It wasn’t the end of my day at Warped, though. On my way out Less Than Jake was having a signing at their merch booth so I figured I’d stop by and say hey. Earlier in the day I had bought an LTJ toddler shirt for my upcoming first baby and wanted to get it autographed. Further cementing how awesome they are, each band member took the time to congratulate me and even talk fatherhood for a while. Chris is also expecting his first child later this year and Roger had new dad tips and encouragement for me as well. Many thanks to the band for providing my unborn child a cooler shirt than I ever had growing up.

With the day wrapped up with a bow on top I left Riverbend glad that I returned to Warped Tour after ten years. The weather was brutal but seeing the bands I grew up on again was well worth it. I just wish the organizers had planned the set times differently; I had to miss Ballyhoo!, The Interrupters, and Masked Intruder due to schedule conflicts (why pit ska against ska?). Next time Warped Tour comes to your neck of the woods don’t automatically dismiss it; there’s still room for relevance even for older punks.