Ah, Warped Tour. While last year's pickings were slim over at the Pittsburgh stop, I was surprised that even after all the acts I was looking forward to most dropped off (Gatsbys American Dream, mewithoutYou, the Fall of Troy, others I'm sure I'm forgetting), this year's lineup looked much more consistent. Sure, there was the usual repeats, but I'd take familiarity over (to some, even more) watered down crap.
- I watched the Distance for shits and giggles, and it turned out they only filled just under half their set with their questionable new style. The laughable "Inspired by You" opened the set, but luckily it was almost over by the time I'd arrived at the Hot Topic stage. That side also brought "Let It Rain" (I think). On the other side of the coin, the solid inclusions were their cover of "Anything, Anything," "Drowning in Details," and "Phase Two." So, not quite as bad I'd predicted -- good work, fellas.
- The Bled was the first real anticipated act of the day for me and my 3 cohorts, however. I've noticed that even in the festival circuit, the band is a quality act to witness, properly releasing their intensity in frenetic but prolonged bursts. They kept a raucous crowd constantly hovered around a loose, misshapen hole in which the usual kung fu antics were practiced. One fellow in particular wearing a Hulk mask and gloves was called on stage, even letting Bled frontman James Munoz don the mask for the first minute of one song -- an entertaining site, obviously. While the set seemed to lean ever so slightly on the first of the band's 2 full-lengths, Pass the Flask, I can nearly promise the following was played: "Red Wedding," "You Know Who's Seatbelt," "Get Up You Son of a Bitch, 'Cause Mickey Loves Ya," "My Assassin," and "The Last Great American Cowboy." And even for "My Assassin," here's where the day's full, brodown display of push moshing began. Ah, Warped Tour...
- You know, I did give Against Me!'s Searching for a Former Clarity quite a bit of shit last year by naming it my overall disappointment of 2005 -- however, I did stress it wasn't a bad effort, and I'm glad I did that, since it becomes more and more obvious these songs are much more welcomed in the live setting. Mid-tempo stomp-alongs like "From Her Lips to God's Ears" just feel a lot more easily grasped when put in front of you rather than when you place it yourself in front of you for some odd reason. In any event, that wouldn't be a problem since the band's set on tour has drawn from all 3 full-lengths quite respectably. The band was loud, tight, and to the point -- again, as on all their past sets this tour, barely a word was spoken to the audience between songs. It was a straight-forward set of rousing folk-tinged punk, and I wasn't going to complain. Other staples finding its way into the set as well: "Don't Lose Touch," "Cliché Guevara," "Sink, Florida, Sink," "Americans Abroad," "Rice and Bread," "Pints of Guinness Make You Strong" (with extended intro, of course), "Reinventing Axl Rose," "Miami" (with horn cameo from a member of High School Football Heroes), "Problems," and one other new song using a water metaphor and something about soul-splitting. Less talk, more rock.
- Wow, so, I knew Motion City Soundtrack was big, but not that big. Garnering one of the largest crowds of the day, I watched them from quite a distance perform competent versions of "Capital H" (opener), "A-OK," "The Future Freaks Me Out," "Make Out Kids," and probably a few others from their new album I didn't much care for. Of course, I have to throw in the requisite "they were better back in the day," but it is true -- it seems like the restraint in the songwriting has caused the band to do the same for their live sets, not nearly matching the energy they once had. And no "Don't Call It a Comeback" or "My Favorite Accident?" Boo-urns.
- Considering they had multiple hitmakers writing songs on their new album, Less Than Jake putting "Johnny Quest Thinks We're Sellouts" on their Warped Tour set seems awfully...you know, I don't even know what the word would be. Is this the band re-experiencing bitterness by resentful fans? Who knows, but I only let them play through this and "Ghosts of You and Me "and cut my nostalgia short to secure a decent spot for a band who hasn't (yet?) dropped a massive disappointment.
- Thursday had an extra-long set, the majority of which I caught. They played a fairly predictable set, but one very mildly unusual cut was "Autobiography of a Nation," which seemed way more succinct than the studio version, its presence welcomed regardless. Also finding its way into the set was "Understanding in a Car Crash," "Signals Over the Air," "For the Workforce, Drowning," "Into the Blinding Light" (worst song on the new album, but it's a Warped staple so they must love it), "The Other Side / Over and Out (Of Control)," "Counting 5-4-3-2-1," and the ferocious "At This Velocity," as well as 2 others I think I missed. The band was solid, but I was aching for a good spot for...
- Moneen, who quite simply tore it up. As they were playing a few minutes earlier than scheduled, I arrived halfway through the firestarter of "Start Angry...End Mad" -- while I would've liked this to close the set, at least it meant I got to catch all of the absolutely flawless "Don't Ever Tell Locke What He Can't Do," which followed it up. While I do love The Red Tree, words cannot express how much of a fantastic opener it possesses. "If Tragedy's Appealing, Then Disaster's an Addiction" seemed to get the biggest rise out of the small crowd, of which a few devoted fans stood sporadically amongst the front. The epics of "Tonight I'm Gone" and "This Is All Bigger Than Me" provided great contrast, while other energy packed numbers, "Are We Really Happy with Who We Are Right Now?" and "The Passing of America" brought smiles. While I would've loved to hear "The Frightening Reality...," due to sheer energy and passion Moneen was responsible for the set of the day, easy. (And yes, this means I missed the Bouncing Souls, and while Greg actually looked to be having fun for once at the Pittsburgh set, I'd watched the entirety of it and only one and a half Moneen songs there, so I was more than willing to make the sacrifice.)
- What I saw of Biology's set wasn't terrible. Atmospheric mid-`90s emo with a bit of shoegaze to it, frontman Fran Mark's voice is a liiiittle irritating, but not enough to completely shun potential enjoyment.
- Saves the Day will always be one of my favorite bands. While I may not care for one in particular, they've put out 5 distinctly different sounding albums and thus written a crop of great, fun and/or emotional songs. That was more or less the makeup of the expectedly Sound the Alarm-heavy set here. I'd managed to get an up-close spot in a big crowd for the first time that day and I'm not sure if it was the best decision -- the crowd was obviously made up largely of non-fans (a normally duh circumstance that somehow initially evaded me), and this resulted in one shirtless fellow -- probably thinking he was an inspiration for the crowd to get energetic -- without hesitation or permission, taking me by the hips and launching me into the air. I was carried several feet until my pleading to be let down was acknowledged. What the fuck? In any event, a set list the likes of this wasn't going to be ruined by obnoxious bros: "All-Star Me," "Rocks Tonic Juice Magic," "At Your Funeral," "Firefly," "Anywhere with You," "The End," "Shattered," "Say You'll Never Leave," "Bones," and maybe another one or two I can't think of.
- I then began running around headless chicken-like looking for the stage that would uphold Every Time I Die's ferocious...sarcasm. I wasn't entirely keen on Gutter Phenomenon, but hot damn if Last Night in Town and Hot Damn! aren't 2 of, if not the, best albums to come out of metalcore in the last 5 years. Unfortunately, by the time I finally found the stage, tucked way in the front of the layout by the entrance, they were halfway through the 3rd-to-last offering, "Off Broadway" -- but what a jam it was. I hadn't been nearly that enthused all day, but the band's intensity, roll and vicious swagger intact made it a highlight. Afterwards, the iffy cut "Bored Stiff" from Gutter was played as Keith Buckley urged the crowd to form a considerably sized circle pit, even stopping the song initially at his disappointment of the first attempt. These antics were amusing, but it was the explosive "I Been Gone a Long Time" that really set things off before the cowbell-laden finish.
- I'm starting to lose hope I'll ever hear Rise Against play "Alive and Well" again -- or more than one of Revolutions Per Minute's standouts in the same set, for that matter. Thank heavens for "State of the Union," though -- if that's not the most intense song the band's written, I'm missing out on some top serious B-sides. A rather large, apathetic looking crowd looked on as that particular one opened it up -- a friggin' fantastic opener at that. Following it up was another of their best songs, "Black Masks & Gasoline" -- and that would just about do it for the best 1-2 punch of the set. One slightly offending statement was that Rise Against proudly proclaimed that this, Warped Tour and the gathering of people coming together to witness these bands, "was punk rock" -- whuhhh, okay dudes, whatever you say. We all know the band is one of the only genuinely close socially/politically aware bands on the tour, but I think their presence doesn't exactly invalidate a tour slightly oversaturated by cell phone and energy drink companies, huge electronic chains and one other questionably present organization. That one potentially inaccurate conclusion aside, the rest of the set was relatively solid if not really predictable, including "Life Less Frightening" (bar none one of their best choruses), "Chamber the Cartridge," "Ready to Fall," "Give It All," and probably a few other melodic hardcore cuts I fail to recall ("Anywhere But Here?" "Dancing for Rain?").
Oh, and once again, in the midst of the set, I suddenly feel and see hands around my hips -- I sigh, realizing what's next, and am launched into the air. What's funny is only minutes before I heard a brodude mention "We need to start clearing this area out!" I guess my small stature made me an easy target. Struggling to avoid kicking innocent kids in the head, it made it nearly impossible to get back down to the floor before I was carried to the barricade -- thus, I was embarrassingly scooped up by the muscular security guards and sheepishly walked behind the gate to the side. Picking some random dude up and throwing him into the air? Seriously, who does that? Am I watching a band I enjoy perform or participating in the throwing end of a dwarf tossing event?
- I watched Gym Class Heroes' last few while waiting for Saves the Day's acoustic set. They brought out the dude from the Academy Is... for the second most obnoxious song on their new album, but unfortunately I also heard the most obnoxious song off the album that preceded it ("Cupid's Chokehold").
- You probably have to be a fan of Saves the Day to actually enjoy their acoustic set, and rather open-minded to embrace Chris Conley's newer, confounding vocal style. Nevertheless, I fall in line with both of these criteria, and thus feel preeeeetty fanboyish when I see them play in this style. The double-time beats of "You Vandal" were reeled in so it could be played first, and my did that chorus resonate with those devoted fans in the crowd. The low points might've been the overplayed "Freakish" and "What Went Wrong" with its devastatingly awful verses, but those were minor bumps in a pretty comfortable mattress. "Three Miles Down?" Expected, but embraced. "Certain Tragedy," "This Is Not an Exit" and "Jessie & My Whetstone" were all great jams. One great moment was the surprisingly melancholy, minimal "Don't Know Why," which felt even more heart-wrenching in the live setting as the often self-deprecating Conley sat on the stage alone with his guitar and pleading lines. Overall, a set I knew I'd love, I loved.
- As I'd already seen most of their set at the aforementioned Pittsburgh stop, I felt like the 500-foot trek wasn't exactly worth it for 5 minutes of Anti-Flag. Their new album is quite good, but having witnessed them a few times this year I didn't feel to be missing out on much.
- NOFX has been trying some pretty amusing conceptual set lists on this tour, and this one, simply titled 'Set List,' would be like its title: every song began with the letter 's.' No shit. While this ambitious, risky procedure brought out pretty raw, so-bad-they're-good inclusions like "Six-Pack Girls" and "Screamin' for Change," it also meant great ones like "Seeing Double at the Triple Rock" and "Separation of Church and Skate" (the title of which the band emphasized) were played. As well, the solid deliveries of "She's Nubs," "Scavenger Type," "Soul Doubt," and "Stickin' in My Eye" were first class. Notable was White Trash's "Straight Edge" -- that is, their blues cover of the Minor Threat classic with El Hefe's roughed up BB King impression. As a whole, the band was surprisingly energetic on some songs, but El Hefe especially looked to be having a good time with his skatepunk jumps.
Oh, and the Underoath thing was mentioned briefly -- they simply cleared up the rumors by saying they were thrown off the tour for doing heroin and having anal sex with Less Than Jake. Makes sense.
NOFX is as NOFX does. An undeniably enjoyable and hilarious set from the veterans, and rarely can you really ask for more.