We'll Do It Live

Warped Tour

06.26.10 | Mountain View, CA

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Right down to brass tacks: This was one of the most staggering assemblages of bad music I’ve ever experienced.

Because I’m not a total dick I’m not going to name names amongst the most wretched acts I witnessed. Most of them had large throngs bobbing wildly and chanting every word, so I’m not gonna be the one to piss on their parade. Most are perfect soundtracks for high school/early college hormonal rage, and one can hope the kids will find their way to Dead Kennedys, Public Image Limited, Roxy Music and the other root sources of the hounds yapping at Warped.

However, there were a few bright sparks amongst the dead kindling.

Right down to brass tacks: This was one of the most staggering assemblages of bad music I’ve ever experienced.

The annual corporate-sponsored punk traveling circus is always a great chance to gauge the pulse of young America, who seem largely oblivious to the fact that packaged counter-culture is really mainstream capitalism in wolf’s clothing. Increasingly, as evidenced by the 2010 installment, Warped Tour’s emphasis is on pop punk and metalcore with lesser emphasis on hardcore and classic punk or even ska, which has long been one of this one-day fest’s mainstays.

The Adolescents by Scott Dudelson

The Adolescents by Scott Dudelson

While overflowing with energy, most of these VERY young bands have only minimal technical skill or real artistry. It’s like being assaulted for hours by tattooed puppies, barking and nibbling at you and leaving your vintage U.K. Subs t-shirt smeared with spit and spilled nacho cheese. There’s no denying these bands make a splash and churn up the largely pubescent crowd but jeezus-on-a-boogie-board it makes a man tired to endure the leaping sameness on stage after stage. Self-important, whiny, sloppy, cutesy and obvious are some of the reoccurring adjectives that pinged around my head over the seven hours I spent wandering aimlessly at Shoreline Amphitheater. The organizers make attendees pay for a map and schedule, and while only a buck it’s indicative of the underlying thinking behind Warped these days – if a dollar can be wrung from someone it will be. I’m not totally demonizing the organizers – they’re only doing what every other outdoor shed summer tour does – but it’s still no fun to run the retail gauntlet in order to reach the main stage or constantly be barraged by do-dad mongers thrusting flyers and postcards into your hand. Aw shit, The Clash has sold multiple songs to TV ads so maybe this is just how it’s done now.

Because I’m not a total dick I’m not going to name names amongst the most wretched acts I witnessed. Most of them had large throngs bobbing wildly and chanting every word, so I’m not gonna be the one to piss on their parade. Most are perfect soundtracks for high school/early college hormonal rage, and one can hope the kids will find their way to Dead Kennedys, Public Image Limited, Roxy Music and the other root sources of the hounds yapping at Warped.

However, there were a few bright sparks amongst the dead kindling. I arrived too late to catch Dillinger Escape Plan but can vouch for their nouveau metal prowess from past experience, and one wild-eyed 20-something I shared a bowl with seemed thoroughly plastered by their set. One of the best bands I saw all day was the first one I caught, Austin’s The Riverboat Gamblers, whom I fell for after about three bars. Opening with a delightfully ragged version of the MC5’s “Kick Out The Jams,” the Gamblers showed they know their ancestors well but are smart enough to not bow too deeply. They make a real impression from start to finish, a band that’s a blast to watch AND makes catchy, punk-infused, classic rock aware music. Mid-set, lead singer Mike Wiebe rolled a condiments cart into the middle of crowd so he could kick and sing atop it. Security were not pleased but it did my heart good to see that even in something as structured and safe as Warped, chaos can still get a finger hold. Off the cart, Wiebe asked us to get low as just the bass rolled along, saying, “It’s like that episode of The Simpsons where Barry White sings to get the snakes out of Springfield. That’s what we’re doing here.” On cue, we all leapt up, an explosion of audience-band unity inspired by a group with the tunes, chops and stage presence to inspire further exploration.

Riverboat Gamblers by ScottDudelson

Riverboat Gamblers by ScottDudelson

The Casualties by Scott Dudelson

The Casualties by Scott Dudelson

Besides the Gamblers, the only younger band that fired my jets was The Darlings, who bumped sturdily in the Social Distortion/Bad Religion mold yet avoided being derivative and excelled at throttle-and-shift dynamics in their muscular playing. Beyond those two new acts, the rest of the day belonged to the vintage punk bands tucked into a far corner on the festival like some dirty uncle they trot out because they have to or certain members of the family will get upset.

NYC’s The Casualties may have started in 1990 but that’s old enough to get tossed in the with 70s/80s old schoolers – nostalgia is yesterday and the day before for the dominant generation at Warped. Rockin’ primo super glue-spiked hair and wagging a middle finger, they proffered metal screech-inflected hardcore that delighted the joint-passing punks in attendance. Brought me back to my own youthful adventures in the Bay Area, where I used to smoke out a long-haired Henry Rollins and the rest of Black Flag at tiny clubs filled with kids who looked surprisingly similar to this Warped bunch.

This wistful resonance with my teenage introduction to this music continued even more profoundly with The Adolescents, who exhibited as much swinging moxie as they did in the early 80s when they helped ignite punk’s second great wave. Singer Tony Cadena is a wonderful aging, paunchy glory, a dude that gives hope to aging, paunchy dudes like myself that punk doesn’t mellow with time, it just gets liver spots, gray hair and kids. With multiple songs featuring “Fuck You!” shout-alongs and tales of punk girls, The Adolescents were big, sweaty punk righteousness with cutting guitars, fab lyrics and the best mosh pit all day, where bumptious energy ruled over elbow throwing violence and bullying. The Adolescents have a new album arriving soon called The Fastest Kid Alive and my gut says it’s gonna be good.

The Dickies by Scott Dudelson

The Dickies by Scott Dudelson

The Dickies may have put on the most flatly entertaining show of the day. These Los Angeles vets were running partners of The Ramones and share some of that hallowed group’s propensity for pop moves and goofy humor, but also The Ramones’ ceaselessly right-on musicianship and strong songcraft. With a no-budget aesthetic, they tickled fancies with gorilla masks, scuba gear, blow-up dolls and a bassist in a cartoon Dalmatian costume. A vicious, sped-up cover of Black Sabbath’s Paranoid and a surreal tangent into The Who’s We’re Not Gonna Take It – complete with a penis hand puppet with giant testicles singing the “see me, feel me” section – were highlights. Towards the end of their set, remarkably spry, hugely engaging singer Leonard Graves Phillips remarked, “Seriously, you’re a great looking bunch of kids, and we’d love to go down on each and every one of you, but we just don’t have the time.”

Last up on the old leather ‘n’ spikes stage were U.K. survivors G.B.H.. After stomping all over the neighboring band playing on the stage next to them during their sound check, G.B.H. sauntered out with all the shitty attitude and ego one might expect from a Birmingham band that’s still rattling skulls after 30+ years. They’ve always been assholes so none of the spit-flecked antics and disgusted looks came as a surprise, and there’s few bands acts that play as fast and furious as G.B.H. A pleasure in a safety-pin-prick way.

And with the Brits still wailing away I walked out, worn out by the mediocrity and merchandising but glad there’s still some folks from my generation of punks still trying to stick a thumb in the establishment’s eye.

GBH by Scott Dudelson

GBH by Scott Dudelson

Photos by Scott Dudelson, taken at the Warped stop in Ventura, CA on June 27, 2010. We welcome Scott to the Impound family and will be showcasing more of his killer lensmanship in the coming months.

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