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Vans Warped Tour 15th Anniversary Celebration Wrap-up

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It was time to get my nostalgia on. VANS Warped Tour 15th Anniversary

That’s what happened when I heard several musicians and Kevin Lyman, founder of the Warped Tour, were throwing a 15th anniversary satellite-streamed “one-night event” of the summer music tour. It was taking place in select movie theaters on September 17 after being recorded in Los Angeles on September 6. SPIN Magazine referred to it as a “Warped documentary.”

Though I only had one ticket, four lanky teenagers came with me, sneaking past security and up the UA Riverview’s (the movie event was also held at the Bridge Cinema at 40th and Walnut) long escalator. They were almost unrecognizable, but eventually, it came to me: Those four dudes were me at 14, 15, 16 and 17 years.

The 14 year-old in me remembered his first noontime mosh pit to the Swingin’ Utters alongside what were likely 40 other suburbanites. The 16 year old was all like, “Dude, remember your first and only crowd surfing experience during Green Day? That was awesome.” For many teenagers in the 90s (that’s what I can speak to), the Warped Tour was a one-day world of frustrated adolescent punk rock, something many of us took as authentic in the faux world of suburbia.

That nostalgia quickly dimmed with the theater’s lights and the four awesome dudes went their respective ways. What I was left with was a virtually empty movie theater playing an annoyingly broken satellite feed of what could have been any music awards show – not much different than the MTV video music awards that’d aired of four days earlier. It’d soon become obvious that this 15th anniversary documentary concert would be showcasing exactly what’s wrong with the Warped Tour as it stands today.

On screen, fans were brought into a convention center to view sets from the following bands: All American Rejects, the Aggrolites, Bad Religion, Pennywise, NOFX, Underoath, Ozomatli, 3OH!3, The Decaydance All Stars, Ice-T with Body Count and Katy Perry.

The movie was set up as a revolving stage concert, showcasing the aforementioned acts with quick interviews minutes before short performances – very little archival footage from concerts over the years, no archival music footage.

The Warped Tour was started by Kevin Lyman after having done a Board Aid show in California, in which bands and skateboarders would entertain viewers to benefit victims of AIDS. After watching Porno for Pyros, Kevin sat down next to his friend Greg and, according to an interview with University of Southern Alabama’s student newspaper, said the following: “Dude, all this stuff that we’ve grown up with, all these things we’re doing out here, for the rest of the country, it’s just going to start connecting.” It was around this time (early 90s) that pop punk music was moving into the mainstream with bands like Green Day, The Offspring, and Rancid breaking out through radio air play and MTV. The X-Games were also becoming popular. Both countercultures were now being looked at in a new light, and there was an opening to move it out of California and unleash it on the masses.

“We’ve got to do this ourselves,” Kevin told Greg, “or we’re going to end up working for Coca-Cola doing it.”

The first tour, in 1995, featured bands Face to Face, the Deftones, L7, No Doubt, No Use For A Name, and Sublime. Over the next 14 years, bands from every walk of life have played the Warped Tour: The Dropkick Murphys, The Bouncing Souls, Eminem, Beck, Rancid, NOFX, The Specials, H2O, Limp Bizkit, Long Beach Dub Allstars, Hepcat, Sugar Ray and the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, among hundreds of others.

Though started as a punk and third-wave ska tour, it quickly affiliated itself with hip hop, reggae, and now features mostly pop punk. Because of this, it’s been criticized by those “in the know” (and formerly in the business, like Keith Morris of punk band The Circle Jerks) for booking too many Christian rock bands (like Underoath) and not staying true to its punk rock roots. Recent years have showcased 3OH!3 (an electronic music and hip hop group), The Ataris (a pop punk band best known for their cover of Don Henley’s “Boys of Summer” in 2005), and rock band Thrice.

Some of the sharpest criticism of the tour has come from Joe Queer, lead singer of melodic punk band The Queers. He told The Wire Magazine in October 2006, “You play music because there’s something inside of you that says you have to play music. Now you get bands like Fall Out Boy that are basically created in the studio. The Warped Tour changed it…All the guys in the bands remind me of the jocks I hated in high school. To me, a punk gig is a small sweaty club with the audience right in your face knocking over the mic stand and boogying off the energy.”

To Queer’s credit, he’s rejected several offers from both the Warped Tour and major recording labels, after the band’s acclaimed 1996 breakout surf rock album Don’t Back Down.

Other condemnation has come from punk band Propagandhi who, in their song “Rock For Sustainable Capitalism,” lash out at the tour for its Vans sneaker sponsorship due to the company’s use of foreign labor.

The tour serves as both a concert venue and extreme sports venue, with roped off ramps showcasing BMX bikers, skateboarders, and in-line skaters entertaining audiences.

As mentioned in the movie, there are several traditions amongst bands, including nightly barbecues and a tongue-in-cheek “awards ceremony” at the end of the tour. (In the film, Katy Perry complains about receiving the “Lazy” award because she was never around when the other bands were partying. According to her, this is because she was breaking out as a mainstream act and had to do radio gigs and publicity.) Ice-T claims through interview that the Warped Tour is where he learned of a sun shower, where you fill a garbage bag with water, tie it shut, then throw it up in a tree. The garbage bag rips and there’s your shower for the day.

So, in my opinion, the strange tone of the show was set about 20 minutes into the movie and devolved throughout. This is about the time All-American Rejects performed (immediately after NOFX). But that tone was reiterated with two other acts: Panic! at the Disco featuring Pete Wentz, and Blink 182. All American Rejects, best known for their song “Swing Swing,” came out with lead vocalist Tyson Ritter covered head to toe in purple glitter, wearing no shirt and white, skin tight pants, quite possibly ready for his next gig as a runway model.

Panic! at the Disco performed with a surprise guest, Fall Out Boy’s Pete Wentz. The one-time supergroup played Blink 182’s 1996 hit “Damnit.”

Blink 182 couldn’t make the concert, but recorded a few-minute-long interview session and offered the video for their 2001 hit “The Rock Show” in which Tom Delong sings, “I couldn’t wait for the summer and the Warped Tour.”

The final performance of the night was supposed to be Pennywise. Lacking a lead singer (Jim Lindberg left the group in August), several musicians from other bands came out on the revolving stage to sing the band’s most popular song, “Bro Hymn.” One of the cast of musicians, making a bizarre second appearance, was Ice-T, who earlier had played a forgettable set with his former metal band, Body Count. At one point, several rowdy musicians fell over each other during the chorus and the viewer is left with a sole Ice-T singing along to a song he’s clearly unfamiliar with, unsuccessfully trying to “Whoa” his way through. The multi-talented artist actually looked like he was contemplating where he lost his credibility with fans: 3000 Miles To Graceland or his recurring role as Detective Odafin Tutuola on Law and Order: SVU.

The biggest problem with the Warped Tour’s 15th Anniversary documentary is the same problem with the Warped Tour in general. As it’s become more popular, it’s played to the same commercialism and consumerism its performers rail against.

In trying to appease all audiences, the Warped Tour has become everything it once billed itself against. So much so, Katy Perry was strangely invited to this 15th Anniversary concert, after having played a single summer. While NOFX was praised by almost every young pop punk band on the revolving stage, the editors of the documentary decided to feature just a single song by the band – one of their slowest, poppiest at that. SPIN.com  has footage of NOFX playing another song at the stage show. However, singer Fat Mike appears to be drinking in the digital movie and the song they play – “Murder the Government” – doesn’t feature the same PG-13 language as the rest of the show (though the event was technically unrated, certain words were edited out).

I’m not here to judge them – just to point out the movie made it very obvious that this movement is no longer based on its founding principals. It’s hard to imagine bands like the Dead Kennedys, Sex Pistols, Ramones or GG Allen playing the Warped Tour if it’d been around during their heyday. That’s not to say there isn’t a time or place for making money, or that the idea of exploiting a counterculture for profit is necessarily a bad thing. But the whole thing just stinks of what you might call an Astroturf protest.

Ice-T still sings “Cop Killer,” yet he plays one on TV. NOFX have had a reality show. So has a member of Blink 182.

The teenager in me was still psyched, watching an aging, bald, flabby Brett Gurewitz (of Bad Religion) belt out his anti-religion, anti-government punk literature. But the 26 year-old had to shut the teenager out, saying that in spite of the wordy adrenal anarchism, the once-a-day punk world of my youth was but a stage.

 

photo: www.fierce.com