During the Warped Tour kickoff last Friday, the heat was so intense (107 to be exact), that it felt like being at the Coachella Festival again. Still, more than 16,000 concertgoers packed Pomona Fairplex, where 82 acts played on nine stages.
Having attended 10 of these daylong festivals, I’ve discovered the way to get the most out of the Warped experience is to treat it like a music smorgasbord – sampling various bits. Although the stages were clearly identified this year, some were totally off their scheduled start times. And having two Hurley stages (one for the Web site) was confusing.
We started out at the Kia/Kevin Says stage, where the Remus Lupins performed for two dozen fans. The LA indie rock trio, which writes songs about “Harry Potter” and is part some sort of Wizard rock scene, proved mildly engaging.
Over at the Smartpunk stage, Vegas alt-rock band The Higher drew a large crowd. Its set was generic, but perked up toward the end with a poppy “Histrionics” and a cover of ‘N Sync’s “Bye Bye Bye.” Meanwhile, a teenage guy sporting a green and white Mohawk could be heard asking another colorfully coiffed dude, “did you pay to get in or sneak in?”
In the early afternoon, several teenagers eagerly tried out the industrial sized Slip ‘n’ Slide to keep cool; others gulped down big Root Beer floats. One man attempted to earn greenbacks by soliciting volunteers to rub suntan lotion on his buxom girlfriend’s back.
Pint-sized skateboarders strutted their stuff on a vert ramp as a few hundred people waited anxiously nearby for Relient K to take the Highway 1 stage (the second of two main stages at the far corner of the facility). They weren’t disappointed. The Christian punk/pop band turned in a winsome performance highlighted by the intense “Devastation and Reform” and melodic “The Best Thing.” Compelling singer Matt Thiesen ably switched between grand piano and electric guitar, frequently in the same song. Standout of the day, hands down.
Tearing ourselves away from Relient K was hard, but we had to hightail it over to Smartpunk and see if Treaty of Paris could deliver the goods plugged in (they did the Glass House a couple months ago unplugged). No sweat. Their propulsive power pop was especially urgent on “Waking Up the Dead.”
Japanese gals in matching white/check patterned shirts, black ties and pants? It must be Oreska Band, the most unique act at Warped. The sextet’s fun ska music, sung in their native tongue, went down a storm.
Judging from the reaction and crowd size for The Academy Is . . . , you’d think they were headliners. Nope, just run-of-the-mill emo stuff. Bored senseless, it was time to wrangle a decent vantage point for Cobra Starship. Winding through the crowd of obnoxious kids, we glimpsed rapper Braille throwing down rhymes outside the Skull Candy Mix Tent.
Gabe Saporta – clad in Day-Glo green and purple attire – led Cobra Starship through a defiant, exuberant dance/rock set, plus a bit of sexual posturing. The synths in “The City is at War” recalled Animotion, while “Send My Love to the Dancefloor, I’ll See You in Hell (Hey Mr. DJ)” and “The Church of Hot Addiction” were primo booty shakers. Later, on their minor hit “Bring It (Snakes on a Plane),” Saporta brought a fan onstage to stand-in for Gym Class Heroes’ Travis McCoy, who was preparing for his own set. William Beckett from The Academy Is…, another contributed to the track, had already finished playing though. Guess he couldn’t be bothered.
“This is England,” bellowed nattily attired vocalist/guitarist Davey Warsop at the start of Beat Union’s fiery performance. Despite a sparse crowd at the Hurley.com stage and a few sound problems, the young Brits still gave it their all. Punk and New Wave-tinged tunes from debut effort “Disconnected” were far edgier live, namely “Dancin’ in Our Sleep” (where drummer Luke Johnson bashed away like he was Keith Moon’s offspring), the manic “Pressure Zone” (with a dub breakdown a la early Police) and “Can’t Stop the Radio” (cool segue into The Specials’ “Ghost Town”). They definitely have the chops to headline US clubs soon.
LA’s The Briggs did rousing, fist-pumping punk anthems that could give Rancid a run for the money. The small audience witnessed several stomping numbers, including “Wasting Time,” “Madmen” and “Back to Higher Ground.”
Zany ska-punk outfit Reel Big Fish (one of the Warped Tour veterans) opened with its ‘97 hit “Sell Out” and continued with such radio faves as “The Set Up (You Need This),” “She’s Got a Girlfriend Now” and a snatch of Metallica’s “Enter Sandman.” One horn player was even decked out in aviator clothes. Always a good time.
Fred Mascherino, the former Taking Back Sunday guitarist, expelled the virtues of carpooling amid his band The Color Fred’s solid set (he drives a car that runs on vegetable oil). Standouts included “Get Out” and “Hate to See You Go.”
Finally, Angels and Airwaves came across sluggishly before a massive crowd at the Highway 1 stage. White flags and a doctored American flag served as props. Singer/guitarist Tom DeLonge (ex-Blink 182) seemed tired and as usual, snapped at the audience to “wake the fuck up.” Their atmospheric U2-inspired tunes (“Everything’s Magic,” “The Adventure,” “It Hurts”) have extended intros, which prompted two concertgoers near me to say, “it all sounds like one long song.”
Too drained to hassle with rude, mosh-happy Pennywise fans (or the dust storms their movements entail), we dashed out before dusk.