at L.A. Coliseum, July 10
Punk Is Dead: Thus spake a lost breed of combat-booted guttersnipes before hanging their spiky-haired heads and collectively weeping. For anyone into the melodic, conscientious or even aggressive side of today's cuddly version of the genre, Warped Tour 2002 was a wash, as band after generic band of McDonald's-farting 20-somethings spouted enough platitudes on adolescent rebellion, the transient state of coolness and smelly fingers to make Blink-182 nauseated. New Found Glory? Finch? MxPx? Alkaline Trio? Taking Back Sunday? It's sonically so five years ago and about as threatening as Dennis Rodman's cross-dressing shenanigans. Only East Coast quartet Good Charlotte pushed the formula to its bouncy, tuneful extreme. But there's still no one catchier than Bad Religion. The gently heaving ocean of sweaty flesh pressing up against the stage was a fitting tribute to the granddaddys of West Coast pop-punk. On the other hand -- $36 and eight hours of sweltering heat so that Greg Graffin et al. could play a grand total of six songs? Seems a bit off.
In the hours between high noon and dusk, Warped did turn up comic princes Homegrown, a rabble-rousing Anti-Flag, the bipolar prog-metal of Long Island homeboys Glassjaw, the slow-grind pleasures of Throw Down, and even free copies of the Bhagavad-Gita. To his credit, tour organizer Kevin Lyman is at least trying to expand the festival's suffocating parameters with the likes of neo-Celtic hooligans Flogging Molly and Icelandic b-boys Quarashi. Trudging through the late-'80s Def Jam catalog, the latter drop grooves like bombs, thanks to the way percussionist Sölvi and bassist Stoney Fjelsted lock up together. International as they come, the band boasts a mic fiend in Hössi Olafsson, who speaks fluent Spanglish: "This next one's called 'Fuck You, Puta.'"
Dropping new noise from their forthcoming Epitaph release, O.C.'s Death by Stereo stepped to the crowd with circa-'89 thrash and Pantera-style angularity. DBS's 3:504:15 slot on the Volcom Stage was one of the few places at Warped where you risked getting your face split open. Bouncing and gyrating like marionettes doing jujitsu, fans took pit protocol to the next level with the innovatively named "hardcore dancing," where rapid-fire arm thrusts and aerial kicks would put Ralph Macchio to shame. Vocalist Efrem Schulz brought a smile to many an acne-mottled face when he announced, "This next song is about a worthless group of people -- it's called 'Emo Holocaust,'" whereupon much speed-metal mayhem ensued.
Whether it's Area One or Glastonbury, Ozzfest or Lilith Faire, the most interesting things at any major music festival are to be found not front and center but in the nooks and crannies, like Warped's oafish funk-metal from Long Beach quartet Two Hit Creeper. "We've got more punk attitude than all the pussy shit here!" proclaimed singer Michael. Jarringly out of place? Yes, thank god.
"Melodic hardcore": An oxymoron?
The eighth year of this touring pop-punk prom rolls into the Coliseum's vast, sun-baked parking lot amid rumors of being the blandest bill to date. Sure enough, as the day wears on, the "melodic hardcore" acts that are Warped's meat 'n' potatoes become increasingly interchangeable -- fresh-faced white boys offering "boom-chikka" beats, harmony-heavy refrains, "whoa-whoa" sing-alongs and self-deprecating between-song banter: boy bands with guitars. Breaks in the clouds come courtesy of American Hi-Fi's accomplished songcraft, Finch's bleeding-heart guitar motifs and RX Bandits' refreshing, horns-augmented twist on the formula. Female performers are all but nonexistent; the Mimsies' hungrier-than-ever Casey Shelton is a memorable exception.
AFI's "unannounced" one-off appearance makes them buzz band of the day. They don't disappoint, their goth-veneered post-punk churnings earning a sea of hands on which crowd-surfers enjoy epic voyages. Front man Davey Havok has his Crow shtick down, coming off like a Cradle of Filth escapee mimicking vintage Ian Astbury. It's AFI's presentation that sets them apart and, ironically, the very heavy metal theatrics punkers traditionally despise have sealed the band's live reputation. The Ataris also pull off a surprise set on a minuscule side stage, stopping (foot) traffic for the duration.
All this pales next to Glassjaw's eruption onto the Drive-Thru stage as the sun dips. The Long Island emo-core crew are suddenly on everyone's lips, and their monster sophomore disc, Worship and Tribute, is about to show why. From spewing opener "Tip Your Bartender" they deliver all the verve and vitriol their recordings suggest, with vocalist Daryl Palumbo (a bearded Mike Patton) convulsing through "Ape Dos Mil" and the restless double-kick injections of "Mu Empire" before an ever-expanding pit. All five members lend energized visual italics to FNM/ATDI-influenced, shape-shifting new tunes and still more frenetic earlier material. Glassjaw's depth of field, complex cocktail of references -- from speed metal to reggae -- and sheer musicality make them the year's most intriguing act.