Van's Warped Tour 2017 - Live in Detroit (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review

Van's Warped Tour 2017

Live in Detroit (2017)

live show

Last year, my 15 year old daughter Alex begged me to take her to the Van’s Warped Tour. I took one look at the lineup and promptly dismissed the idea. Luckily, the date conflicted with my work schedule so I was able to use that as an excuse. This year, I got a little excited when I saw the lineup. There were a lot of good old man bands. There was even one that has been high on my bucket list for years. I rushed to tell her the good news. Her response to that same lineup? Meh. That was that. I certainly couldn’t go without using her as an excuse. Honestly, I was a little bummed that I was going to miss Sick of it All, Municipal Waste, The Suicide Machines, and most importantly, Adolescents.

A couple of weeks later I had a dream that Alex and I were at Warped. Municipal Waste was playing and the crowd was separating right down the middle into an enormous wall of death. We were frantically backpedalling trying to avoid the coming onslaught of crashing bodies. I woke up in a cold sweat, not really sure if we escaped. Suddenly it came to me that it was more than a dream. It was a vision. It was even more than a vision. It was a prophesy. I was Moses leading the Israelites to safety just ahead of the pursuing Egyptians through the parted Red Sea. I knew I had to go to the Warped Tour. The next day I told Alex, and she agreed that we needed to go.

In the same way that Moses and the Israelites spent 40 years wandering the desert, we spent a hot summer day wandering around a parking lot in suburban Detroit. Specifically, the day was Friday July 21st. The city was Auburn Hills, home of your three time NBA champion Detroit Pistons. Also like those former Hebrew slaves, we had a dangerous trip to get there. Alex is now 16, but does not yet have her license. She has a learner’s permit but is still in need of plenty of practice, so she was behind the wheel for the two and a half hours each way. At times it was a white knuckle ride, but ultimately we made it there and back in one piece.

By the time we got our credentials and got into the show a little after noon, the early bands had already started. We made a beeline to the Hard Rock stage, where we would spend most of the day. We caught the last two songs of The Ataris’ set, including “Boys of Summer”. I’m not necessarily a big Ataris fan, but it was a pretty cool way to start the day. For those of you who don’t know, at Warped there several sets of stages right next to each other. One is setting up while the other plays, so the music is pretty much nonstop. Every act, no matter how big or small, gets a half hour. Next to the Hard Rock stage, where most of the older bands played, was the Journeys Left Foot stage. That stage featured a wide variety of crappy acts, one worse than the next. After The Ataris, we decided to wander around a bit. We didn’t want to get too far away because Municipal Waste was on at 1pm.

It was obvious from the start that my prophecy was off the mark. The individual band’s merch tents were only 40 or 50 feet back from the front of the hard Rock stage, so the huge wall of death I envisioned was not even a realistic possibility. On the plus side, Alex got a photo pass, so she was able to go behind the barricade and shoot photos for the first three songs of any given set. It was one of those rare times where it actually seemed cool that dad has this weird hobby/volunteer job. She also was able to get some really great pics. We stood right up front as Municipal Waste ripped the crowd a new one. They mostly stuck to classic material, but threw in the title track and “Breath Grease” from their just released Slime and Punishment LP. The newly added second guitarist really beefed up the live sound.

I had been to the Van’s Warped Tour twice before. I was at the Chicago stop in ‘97, and Detroit (this same parking lot actually) in ‘98. (Looking back, those lineups were sick.) I had a certain idea of what to expect. Back then, the established punk bands played on the big stages and you were lucky to get within a hundred feet of them. Now the those same bands play on the smaller stages, and you can get right up close. Valient Thorr played their typical blistering set for maybe a couple hundred people. Singer Valient Himself worked the crowd like a rock and roll evangelist. The congregation sat down on the hot concrete while he walked among them. Meanwhile, next door Attila pulled a huge amount of people with their horrible metalcore.

Next we watched Andy Black for a few minutes. He drew a big (largely female) crowd, but he was still on one of the smaller stages. His music certainly wasn’t my thing, but I didn’t hate it nearly as much as a lot of the other acts. Bad Cop/Bad Cop’s highly entertaining set confirmed the previous trend. The Hard Rock stage was not drawing big crowds. I had heard a lot of good things about these ladies, but hadn’t had a chance to check them out. I really enjoyed their spunky pop-punk. They all wore Valient Thorr T-shirts and played Reverend (made in Detroit) guitars. Of the female fronted (or in this case, all female) bands we saw, they were far and away the best. So, who was drawing the big crowds you ask? Mostly the metal bands.

I Prevail, from nearby Southfield, played next on the sister stage. There were so many people packed in a small space that walking traffic about ground to a halt. Alex wanted to get some pictures, but it was such a cluster that they wouldn’t let her in. I know she was a little disappointed because they were the band she was probably looking forward to the most. I thought they were awful. They had two singers in Tigers/Pistons jerseys and reminded me of a cross between Linkin Park and A Day To Remember. They also shot confetti all over the place and made a huge mess. I usually want to like Michigan bands, but no thanks. We listened to I Prevail and then Anti-Flag from a distance while we grabbed a little lunch. I’m usually only lukewarm on Anti-Flag, but after I Prevail they really hit the spot.

I had planned to skip War On Women after the whole Dickies vs. Safer Spaces incident, but I couldn’t resist swinging by for a few minutes. Apparently a lot of people were boycotting WOW. The small crowd that was gathered was treated to some decent hardcore and a mini sermon before every song. Lead singer Shawna Potter was the guest minister, and it definitely seemed like she was mostly preaching to the choir. The thing is, I agreed with a lot of what she had to say. Unfortunately, it was so humorless and heavy handed that it was virtually unlistenable.

Sick Of It All was almost the polar opposite of War On Women. It was organic, energetic, celebratory hardcore. SOIA was probably the most surprising set of the day. It was inspiring watching these old guys tear it up. They never stopped moving their feet. (Especially guitarist Pete Koller, who is truly an ageless wonder.) More importantly, they never for a second came across as condescending or insincere. Watching skaters in the background on the nearby halfpipe only added to the old school ambience. Sick Of It All gave me goosebumps.

6pm was the moment of truth. That was when Adolescents took the Hard Rock stage. They were the real reason I drove all the miles, and spent all the time and money. They're the type of West Coast band that could never tour the Midwest without some financial backing. They’re also the type of band that that occupies most of the spots on my punk bucket list. They opened with a raging version of “No Way”, and things were off to a great start. From there they proceeded to play songs from throughout their 35 plus year career. (In my dream scenario, they would have just played the entire 1981 blue self-titled album.) The band definitely sounded great, with original members Tony Reflex (vocals) and Steve Soto (bass) joined by three younger guys.

They sounded great, but weren’t the easiest to look at. Reflex and Soto are definitely showing their age. Reflex might remind you a bit of Keith Morris. He’s got that disheveled, shoeless, homeless person kind of thing going on. That had no negative impact on his singing or entertaining storytelling. I was surprised how much I enjoyed their newer stuff, and will have to put some effort into hunting down those (mostly import) records. They played a few more songs from the blue album including “LA Girl”, “Amoeba” and “Rip It Up”. I was able to stand right up front to take it all in. It was definitely worth the effort it took to get there.

While we were waiting for The Suicide Machines, we heard a few songs from CKY. They were juvenile like the Bloodhound Gang, and entertaining, also like BHG. They even played a cover of GG Allin’s “Bite It You Scum”. Detroit natives The Suicide Machines drew a pretty respectable crowd, and singer Jay Navarro took a couple of minutes to talk to the audience before they started. He spoke of how the last couple of stops had very few people. He mentioned how sad it was watching GWAR play to nobody. He thanked Detroit for showing up. He mentioned that when it came to Detroit punk, Negative Approach, Cold As Life and The Suicide Machines are all we’ve got. He later added Against The Grain and SNAFU to that list, as there were members of both bands in the audience.

The Suicide Machine’s set was one of the most energetic I saw all day. (Second only to Sick Of It All.) It was also probably the most fun. Jay spent most of his time at the barricade sharing the mic with the folks in the front row. They stuck mostly to their early crowd pleasing material, but also managed to work in a couple of special requests. It’s always interesting to see who’s watching which bands from the side of the stage. Municipal Waste, Valient Thorr, Sick Of It All and Adolescents all had quite a few fellow musicians on stage observing, but The Suicide Machines seemed to draw the most peer onlookers.

Alex was a really good sport about watching all the old man bands. I offered several times to let her pick some bands (as long as they didn’t conflict with Adolescents), but she seemed content to hang with me at the Hard Rock stage. At one point I felt guilty enough that I told her I’d take her again next year, knowing full well there probably won’t be any bands I want to see. When we weren’t watching bands, we were exploring and shopping. There was actually some cool stuff to be found among the various record labels, clothing companies and band merch tables. I got an Adolescents T-shirt, some cheap sunglasses and music from Municipal Waste, PUP, Adolescents and Masked Intruder (who was one of the few bands worth watching last year). Alex got a Vans hat and T-shirt, along with music from some bands that I don’t remember (and almost certainly wouldn’t like).

The last band we saw was the almighty GWAR. In Detroit at least, they drew big numbers. We were treated to a half hour of fake bodily fluids, though I never did catch on to the convoluted story line. The last time I saw GWAR, in 2015, they were pretty uninspiring. This was much better. They decapitated a rubberized version of our current Commander in Chief, and shot blood from a fake dead dog. They closed their set with a killer version of the AC/DC classic “If You Want Blood, You Got It”. It was a nearly perfect ending.

So, did we make it to the punk rock promised land? Sort of. The relatively small crowds at the Hard Rock stage allowed me to get really close to the bands I wanted to see, and they were great. It almost had the intimacy of a club show. The signs of poor attendance were obvious elsewhere too. There were no lines for anything, except for autographs and free water bottle refills. I must admit it was nice not having to wait for the bathrooms. I heard a rumor that the tour was hemorrhaging money, and I believe it. It seems that the grand experiment to engage two generations was a flop. The problem is, most people my age (I’m in my 40’s), just don’t go to shows. I see it in the clubs too.

I actually had a really nice day with my daughter. Who knows how much longer she’ll want to hang out with her decrepit old dad? I’m glad I went, and might even do it again. According to the biblical account, Moses and his generation were not allowed to enter the Promised Land. When all of the adults that escaped Egypt were dead, their children were finally allowed to enter. Maybe that’s the case for me and the Van’s Warped Tour. Even though it started when I was young, perhaps it was never really meant for me.