"Is everybody feeling Warped?" singer Justin Pierre joked from the stage yesterday at Seaside Park in Ventura, California. It was an old pun from the Motion City Soundtrack frontman with the Tim Burton hair, but it's one that never fails to inspire a roar of cheers from young fans at the Vans Warped Tour, now in its 19th year.
Motion City Soundtrack's appearance on Sunday for this year's tour, which launched days earlier in Seattle, was full of urgent, wounded and yearning songs ("L.G. Fuad," "True Romance," "Everything Is Alright," etc.) and just one part of a day crowded with punk-pop, metalcore, hip-hop and EDM. On Sunday, the Ataris delivered a spirited take on the Replacements' "Can't Hardly Wait," playing like real fans, with punkier riffs added.
This year's tour lineup is short on bigger marquee names, emphasizing instead newer acts breaking through to national audiences but otherwise still playing clubs, says tour founder Kevin Lyman. "The lineup is real young," Lyman, who also has the metal-themed Mayhem Festival tour launching next weekend, tells Rolling Stone. "It's cool to feel the energy getting behind certain bands."
The promoter says ongoing economic stress has contributed to ticket sales being down from last year by about eight percent, but expects the tour to end this summer within the tour's normal range of between 480,000 to 540,000 tickets sold. Warped ends its U.S. run in Houston on August 4th before moving on to Europe and the United Kingdom.
"Pop-punk is coming back," Lyman added. "If you watch the Story So Far's set, they're starting to crush it. You just know by the end of the summer they are going to go to the top of that pile of bands."
Returning this year is Black Veil Brides, still dressed in black denim and leather but with noticeably less makeup and hairspray than their 2011 tour debut. They performed prickly pop-metal in the afternoon, including the standout track "Shadows Die," with glammy metal guitar hooks and a jagged violin solo.
"You're only playing for half an hour, so you can go all out for half an hour," BVB singer Andy Biersack told Rolling Stone on the band's bus following their set. "You don't have to worry about later in the set, where you're dying if you try to jump around and do all that stuff. It's fun. Its probably more energetic and acrobatic."
Their version of Billy Idol's "Rebel Yell" included wilder, showier guitar than even original guitarist Steve Stevens. "We'll play it for our fans and maybe the guy in the back throwing beers at us will get to hear one song that he likes," Biersack said.
Sleeping With Sirens opened with a roaring "If I'm James Dean, Then You're Audrey Hepburn," a storm of melodic noise pierced by the sharp tenor of singer Kellin Quinn. Just before the angry "A Trophy Father's Trophy Son," Quinn said to the crowd, "You have the freedom to do something in this fucking world, every single one of you!"
"People who might even be skeptics of our band will come check us out," Quinn told Rolling Stone of the tour. "They want to watch and see if we can pull it off live. My favorite part of Warped Tour is winning over people who may not be our fans."
Blessthefall began with a Linkin Park-ish hard-rock/rap opening, bouncing to electronic beats and hip-hop rhymes, but soon turned to their comfort zone of ringing guitars. August Burns Red rippled with metalcore rage and drew a big crowd with their accelerating beats and sudden, brutal pop hooks. Singer Jake Luhrs beat his chest with the mic. There was muscular pop-punk from the Wonder Years, with three riffing guitars and singer Dan "Soupy" Campbell leaping into the air from atop the wall of amps. The band sent fans into a swirl on the mosh-pit anthem "Logan Circle."
"How do you want to remember Warped Tour?" shouted Campbell. "How do you want to remember this day? Show it to me!"
The small Spotify Stage generally offered a break from guitars and was a dependable venue for hip-hop and EDM. Mid-afternoon, Stephan Jenkins collided kinetic beats and blasts of melody, with the help of a live drummer and two vocalists, as he stood behind a laptop and sequencer. Later, Big Chocolate bounced behind his electronic gear for a relentless dance party. With a handlebar mustache and plain white T-shirt, the DJ had Warped fans bouncing hard on the asphalt.
Rapper MC Lars wore a yellow Oakland cap and tropical beach shorts as he performed his "Download This Song" (built from a sample of Iggy Pop's "The Passenger"). He then brought up a kid from the crowd, 11-year-old "MC Evan," to join him in rapping "Mr. Raven," based on Edgar Allen Poe's epic poem The Raven, bringing some literary rhymes near the end of a long day of music.
Emily's Army was probably the first act to play the festival that was partially comprised of the offspring of past Warped acts. Sitting behind the drum kit on Sunday was Joey Armstrong, son of Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong. Green Day played Warped back in 2000.
"It's pretty bad-ass. My dad never made me play music or anything, so that makes it more incredible because we both share something," said Joey, 18, who was named after Joey Ramone. "There are so many good bands here on the small stages. I just love that. You walk around not expecting anything and then you'll hear some good songs."