For anyone out there thinking that kids don't care about music anymore, or that all they want out of it is illegal downloads and faux guitars connected to gaming consoles, Rocks Off would like to kindly direct you to the 15th installment of the Vans Warped Tour. Nearing a decade over the age of the average attendant, Rocks Off can tell you it's not easy covering a show of this magnitude. Somewhere walking into the crowded, sweltering confines near the Sam Houston Race Park on Friday, we wondered just why we were coming to this celebration of punk-rock adolescence. But when we found ourselves in the thick of it, Aftermath realized just how important a show like this is. It's a communal rite for each new class of punk rockers, to pick off the menu what they like and what they will use to identify themselves. To someone who now has six Warped shows under his steadily expanding belt, the proceedings each year get somewhat more unrecognizable than the previous. But each generational gap is bridged in ways that are hard to ignore.
Start from the beginning with the CBGB tent, manned by none other than graphic artist Arturo Vega. He's responsible for all the iconic Ramones imagery, from the famous crest-and-seal logo to the photographs that graced the first few album covers. Vega has seen the very thing he helped create mutate and grow into what we saw on Friday. After getting a picture with him, he remarked that "all these kids see themselves as punks above all. I never get tired of seeing the new generations." He's right about all these kids seeing themselves as punks. No matter how they got into this scene, it was grounded in what Vega, for better or worse, helped create, from the skinny jeans on the boys running around in the nearly 110-degree heat to the girls with their dyed black hair and low-top Converse sneakers. The Warped Tour also knows how to meld to the conscience of the kids who support it. The tour is what the kids make of it. Friday, we saw more melodic hardcore, dashes of metal and a lot of hip-hop-derived tuneage. Indie rapper P.O.S. spit out his minimal rhymes around 3 p.m., at one point dousing himself with whatever cold liquid he could find.
What excited us early on was the double dose of Aiden and Gallows. We never paid much attention to Aiden early on, seeing that they were one of those screamo bands that wore copious amounts of makeup that our little brother derided so much. But their live show was actually very brutal, with the band now looking delirious and filthy. We hadn't heard many of the songs, but the kids were more than happy to destroy each other during their set. It's always been one of the joys of this job to be surprised and penitent for past journalistic transgressions. The menacing Gallows, who hail directly from London, reminded Aftermath of Warpeds of yore. Back in the late 20th century, pits at the festival were life and death situations, where you were not sure whether or not you'd be leaving with fewer teeth than before. When Gallows lead singer Frank Carter decided to take his microphone out into the middle of the crowd area, we got heated old-school Fitzgerald's flashbacks like we hadn't had before. The band is simply a beautiful throwback to the kind of punk rock that we were weaned on: pissed-off angry working-class mosh. The screaming miniature ginger in the middle of it all just added a touch of fear to the proceedings.
Boulder's 3OH!3 (right) were arguably one of the day's biggest draws. The electro-rappers are probably largely anonymous to older music fans, but the kids surrounded their stage seemed to know every twist and twirl in their prickly and skanky assault. Full of acrobatics and backed by a live band, Sean Foreman and Nathaniel Motte preened and danced for the teen girls in the front while the boys in the back threw deuces in the air in approval. Perhaps you're wondering about Friday's heat. Aftermath spoke with SHRP officials around 5 p.m., and they said that at least 100 kids had been treated for heat exhaustion and other maladies related to the rising temperatures. Another dozen or so were taken to area hospitals for further treatment. Water has never been a cheap thing to come by at the Warped Tour, with prices hovering around $5. When you are a kid, sadly, you will more than likely forgo a bottle of water for a new band T-shirt. But at least the placement of the first-aid tent was near the back of the main stage, meaning that performers would come by and sign autographs or say hello.
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Headliners Bad Religion came into the picture just a handful of years after the Ramones. Their legendary brand of incendiary punk has been making political-minded rockers' blood boil for nearly thirty years. Their crowd was made up of the older set, with some parents in the throng ducking out of the Parents Tent to watch. Lead singer Greg Graffin still has his damning and domineering voice, and his bandmates luminaries were all big players in early American hardcore: guitarist Greg Hetson was in the Circle Jerks and Brian Baker was in Minor Threat.
Aftermath left after Bad Religion, mainly because our feet were sore little stumps and the bands following Graffin and the boys elicited mental shrugs as we read them aloud from the lineup board in the center of the venue. Each year's visit to the Warped Tour is like a twisted family reunion, where the only family member we know any more is the spirit of the show. Even if the sounds assembled are growing distant and don't apply to us, the nuances surrounding the Warped Tour will always snag us in.