At Thunderbird Stadium on Tuesday, July 3
Something about Pennywise's Jim Lindberg yelling "This one's called 'Society'!" in the middle of the veteran punk act's Warped set on Tuesday kind of broke my heart. Now, more than ever, we need groups shouting about how utterly fucked society is, yet something about Lindberg's cry, and the riotous anthem that followed, seemed pathetic. It was like watching a man shouting irrefutable physics equations into the wind. Yes, my heart tore a little in that mid-day moment at Thunderbird Stadium, but then I got over it–with more than 65 bands playing on seven stages, it hardly seemed the time to lament the demise of punk rock, even if doing so seems to be the favourite pastime of old schoolers who think that the Warped tour has sold out.
On a mercifully sunny-but-not-blisteringly hot day, Pennywise finished its set with a cracking version "Bro Hymn", a song about its former bassist, Jason Thirsk, who committed suicide in 1996. Even though many of those in the audience were in diapers back then, they obviously related to the song, which is about sticking together during tough times. This Warped Tour was decidedly bro-friendly. Aside from teenage girls with "Cute is What We Aim For" short-shorts and the word slut autographed across their bikini-topped chests, the crowd was high on dudes with bad tattoos and surprisingly low on peacock punks.
The moment Pennywise finished its set on one of the two main stages, Pennsylvania outfit the Starting Line began playing on the other main stage, ensuring that even the most ADHD–afflicted punker had no time to get bored. The band's opening number, "Island (Float Away)", couldn't have better illustrated the difference between old- and new-school Warped–singer Kenny Vasoli's cute, feminine stage presence and the group's Fox Rocks! sound were pure pop at times with no punk undertow.
If you made your way up out of the stadium, through a small city's worth of merch tents on the concourse, you found that most of the day's best acts were on the secondary stages. On the SmartPunk stage Christian-hardcore quartet As Cities Burn turned in a red-hot set, even though it was plagued by technical problems and the presence of a drunk Mr. T look-alike who kept grabbing the mike.
On the adjacent Hurley stage, Toronto rapper k-os repped the ever-shrinking Warped hip-hop contingent with what was easily the best-attended show of the day. Starting out with a genius sample of "I Wanna Be Your Dog", the outspoken MC showcased the freestyle skills that made him famous, at least in Canada. Not to gush, but it was almost possible to forget the Swollen Members ever existed. Honestly.
Later on the SmartPunk stage, another Hogtown act did its damnedest to compete. You may have seen ill Scarlet on television lately, as the group seems in the midst of a jam-it-down-your-throat PR campaign to make you believe it's the next Great White Hope for Canadian music. That's two-thirds right–maybe the band's tired brand of 311-issue pop washes down just fine when k-os isn't tearing it up just a few paces away.
Back on the main stage, the much-hyped Circa Survive laid down late in the afternoon. Sounding at points like Pink Floyd or Radiohead fronted by Geddy Lee, the Philadelphia quintet turned out some beautiful songs, especially the verbose "The Difference Between Medicine and Poison Is in the Dose", which, with maniacal drums and buzz-saw guitars, made more than a few in the crowd miss the now-defunct At The Drive-In.
Like the band that really does have Geddy Lee in it, Circa Survive was good only in small doses, and so the lucky few that wandered over to the unenviable Hot Topic stage, at the other end of the T-Bird field, were treated to a performance by Prince Edward Island's Chucky Danger, a dapper suit–sporting quartet playing its first Warped gig. Sounding like Franz Ferdinand and moving like the Talking Heads, this group put on a real show, complete with fantastic tunes and stage presence, and enough charisma to draw more than 300 fans by the end of its too-short time on-stage. Watching the act's members grin like unabashed idiots, you couldn't help but feel that their kind of magic was the true reason to go to Warped–the off chance that you might discover something great.
Performing on the main stage, Tiger Army turned in a decent effort of straight-up punk and greased-lightning rockabilly. The trio's "Fuck the World" had some in the crowd twitching. I mean, really, "Fuck the World"? That's the best you can do?
Sets by Killswitch Engage and Warped frequent flyers Bad Religion did little to surprise or disappoint. The crusties came out in full force to start sausage-fests, er, circle pits, in the middle of the crowd, and the bands obliged with music perfect for shoving people.
An interesting thing happened, though. As Bad Religion rolled along, the crowd divided. Young kids, crowd-surfing with MySpace graft bags clutched in their hands, largely ignored the punk veterans, abandoning the stage to wait for closers the Red Jumpsuit Apparatus. In turn, Bad Religion fans fled the scene before the Jacksonville, Florida, pop-punkers played note one. See, the kids couldn't give a toss about Bad Religion, and the oldsters don't give a fuck about the "future" of punk. What's worse, both the crowds combined didn't have a patch on audience numbers from previous years, which may have been easily explained. After all, if you've sang along to Pennywise's "Bro Hymn" on at least five past Warped Tours, there was no need to show up in '07 for one more tour of duty in the pit.