The message scrawled on the cartoon banner behind New Found Glory was simple: "Pop Punks Not Dead," a reworking of an old, defiant punk rock battle cry. On Sunday in Ventura, California, dozens of bands on the 18th annual Vans Warped Tour worked hard to make it true for a fresh generation of fans.
It was the sixth stop on the road for the 2012 edition of Warped, which collected pop-punk with hardcore, metalcore, hip-hop and other sounds on the blacktop of the Ventura County Fairgrounds. At Sunday's show, over 16,000 mostly teenage fans came to hear such Warped vets as the Used, Taking Back Sunday and Yellowcard at the breezy, seaside venue.
"Warped Tour is the best place to make new fans," Yellowcard singer Ryan Key told Rolling Stone. "People always ask me, 'Does it bother you that your fans are teenyboppers?' Absolutely not. I love the idea that I can take a 16-year-old kid who is going through something and change their life with a song. That's why we do what we do."
Yellowcard faced one of the day's biggest crowds at 6 p.m., sending fans into an accelerating circle around the sound tent with songs old and new, including "Always Summer," from the band's upcoming album, Southern Air. Later, during Taking Back Sunday's set, a young punk in a huge red Mohawk could be seen surfing calmly toward the stage.
There was stirring modern rock from Los Angeles-based Dead Sara, which had singer Emily Armstrong raging through "Weatherman." The Used began their set with singer Bert McCracken tossing a burning cigarette into the crowd, then launched into some grinding, aggressive rock, growing poppier with "The Taste of Ink" and the teary ballad "All That I've Got."
British folk quintet Skinny Lister shouted big-hearted acoustic songs, much closer in tone to the Pogues than Mumford & Sons. As the others wailed, singer and ukulele player Lorna Thomas spent much of the set away from the microphone, hiking up her skirt to dance at the edge of the stage and bringing a taste of the pub to Warped. The band was a last-minute edition to the 41-city tour, after Warped founder Kevin Lyman watched an impromptu performance in a SoCal parking lot just two months ago.
"This is one band I can make room for," Lyman said after watching their set from the stage. "This is something the kids are going to enjoy."
Other acts left different impressions. "Anti-Flag does this thing where they end their set with the drummer taking apart his drum set and reconstructing it in the middle of the crowd," All Time Low guitarist Jack Barakat marveled to Rolling Stone. "I've never seen [something] like that before."
Said Barakat's bandmate, singer Alex Gaskarth: "There's a lot of cool bands on this tour. I encourage people to go out and watch something they've never heard of before — just pick a name on the list and go see it."
Florida-based band We the Kings collided pop-punk hooks with yearning tales of romantic conquests and setbacks, from the reggae-flavored "Say You Like Me" to "Secret Valentine," which red-headed singer Travis Clark called "a love song, and it's 100 percent about sexual intercourse." T. Mills delivered hip-hop and rock with live drums and pre-programmed tracks. His "The Boom" included an aggro, sexual come-on sure to charm the ladies. ("I wanna hit it like a baseball bat.")
As one of the final acts of the day, New Found Glory played catchy, riffy punk-rock in the fading sunlight, shouting and bouncing in matching blue and gold basketball jerseys. Before playing the new tune "Summer Fling, Don't Mean a Thing," singer Jordan Pundik paused to thank fans past and present: "Not only for sticking around all day, but for sticking around for the last 15 years."