Warped Tour Gets Hot and Heavy at NRG Park

Shade was more precious than drugs at Warped Tour 2017.
Shade was more precious than drugs at Warped Tour 2017. Photo by Mitchell Nguyen
Warped Tour
NRG Park
July 30, 2017

Under the sweltering sun at NRG Park on Sunday, it was sometimes hard to believe that the conflagration of stages, bands, and tents out there in the never-ending parking lot was supposed to be a Warped Tour. Sure, some of the traditional indicators were there: the big, inflatable schedule, the vegan T-shirt tent, and the omnipresent Vans merchandise. But punk rock no longer seemed to be entirely on-brand for this traveling circus. Once unthinkable, Warped Tour 2017 had been taken over by the screaming, chugging bastard children of heavy metal, instead.

Hey, I like screaming and chugging. That’s why, out of 22 opportunities, I made this my first Warped Tour ever. Key takeaway? It was so, so hot. There’s no way to dress up hanging out in a parking lot at the height of summer. This was one music festival where shade was more precious than drugs.

But if the sun was brutal, so were a lot of the bands. The first act I caught as I entered was Silent Planet, the first of basically an entire day’s worth of metalcore bands. Silent Planet’s twist is that they’re Bible-quoting, testifying Christians of some kind, which I assume informs the type of stuff they sing (er, scream) about. Mostly, though, they cranked out a shitload of breakdowns, setting sweaty bodies in motion in the early afternoon. I couldn’t help but think that their older brothers must have listened to a lot of Coalesce. Silent Planet themselves looked too young.

Photo by Mitchell Nguyen
There was still a bit of punk to be found here and there. Baltimore’s War on Women made a terrific, feminist racket over on the smaller Skull Candy stage. Hooks like “Say it! Say it! I was raped!” are pretty hard to ignore, and singer Shawna Potter was working hard to get the band’s message heard.

After checking out the pleasantly confrontational “I Had an Abortion,” I kept it moving, stumbling on to Brooklyn punks J and the 9s performing a set out in front of their camper van. Bedazzled frontperson J9 was rocking hard on the flute, and then the band offered to let passersby join an open jam for $2 a pop. An NRG employee wheeling an enormous container of garbage past took her up on the offer, and I don’t know that I saw anyone happier all day than that grown man banging away on a hand drum in the middle of his sweltering shift.

Honestly, I was starting to become acutely aware of how little pure happiness surrounded me by then. The audience was really suffering from the weather, and the bands weren’t doing much better. Maybe that’s why so many of them sounded so angry. Crossover thrash kings Municipal Waste delivered some nasty rippers like “Thrashin’ of the Christ” and “I Want to Kill the President” alongside illustrated banners of President Trump blowing his own brains out. Crazy dudes opened up a big circle pit out there on the concrete, sweat pouring off of them. The music was getting faster and heavier by the minute.

Photo by Mitchell Nguyen
Blessedly, the sky opened up briefly during Hatebreed’s set nearby, offering a nice rejoinder to their song “I Will Be Heard.” I know I wasn’t the only one whispering to those clouds for some relief. Hatebreed played up the weather, favoring us with a bit from Slayer’s “Raining Blood” before taking their bows. That’s kind of how things went at Warped Tour 2017: “Raining Blood” played completely unironically for teens.

I guess that’s sort of punk in some way, but there were some very strong Ozzfest vibes at play on Sunday. I’d already missed some of the punkier bands I was interested in, like CKY and T.S.O.L. Wasn’t much choice but to forge on with the heavy stuff, so it was off to see California deathcore crew Carnifex.

“We’re bringing death metal to Warped Tour!” exclaimed lead screamer Scott Lewis, and it was hard to argue with him after the blackened strains of “Crown Me in Blood.” I hadn’t realized that Warped Tour needed an injection of death metal, but I suppose ska ain’t exactly paying the bills these days.

click to enlarge Silverstein — and an eyebrow-raising sign of the times. - PHOTO BY MITCHELL NGUYEN
Silverstein — and an eyebrow-raising sign of the times.
Photo by Mitchell Nguyen
Wales’ Neck Deep did provide a bit of respite from all the metal for awhile, pumping out poppy singalong stuff on one of the big Journey’s stages. I’d be glad I did, because the combination of the hours of sun plus a double-stack of Silverstein and Counterparts was starting to make everything sound the same. I did get to see Brooklyn hardcore innovators Candiria in Houston for the first time in about 15 years, so I’ll be forever grateful to Warped Tour for getting them back here.

One of the biggest highlights of the day was watching the stage security personnel have GWAR explained to them as the sun set. They gamely put on rain ponchos — they were determined not to be surprised at this point — and safely handled the crowdsurfers as the gore flew. It was the youngest GWAR audience I’ve ever been a part of, and tiny girls who were initially ducking the arterial spray from the sexually violated dog puppet or disemboweled Trump were soon begging for it. It was a short set by GWAR standards, highlighted by “Fuck This Place” and “Bring Back the Bomb,” and Balsac the Jaws of Death was nowhere to be seen. It felt like a GWAR show nonetheless.

Which was sort of weird. Covered in blue GWAR goo, I trekked over to catch Sick of it All, who were doing their damnedest to get the flagging fans to show some spark on their way out. They did inspire some nice pitting with “Scratch the Surface” and other old classics like “Can’t Trust It” and “Step Down.” This is what I’d always pictured Warped Tour as being like — you know, actual hardcore punk. I thought it was a nice note to end on as I headed for the exits past another punishing metalcore act.

Personal Bias: Old.

The Crowd: Mostly teens; mostly suffering.

Overheard in the Crowd: “This generation is really ugly.”

Random Notebook Dump: I’ve said it before, but I think I’m really done with summer festivals at this point.
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Nathan Smith
Contact: Nathan Smith