By the time the 2011 Warped Tour landed at its home base of Southern California for a couple of shows over the Fourth of July weekend, the 60-plus bands on the bill were drawing inspiration from fans. "You get out there, you get hot and sweaty, the sun is right in your eyes," said Go Radio singer Jason Lancaster. "You want to complain about it, but then you look at all these kids who haven't been in A/C all day and they're still in the front row jumping up and down and screaming as loud as they can."
For Sunday's tour stop by the beach in Ventura, California, the air was cooler but the music could still burn with roaring, melodic force. On the main stage, Florida punk-rock quartet Against Me! dressed in black and faced the moshing masses with a tight, 40-minute set. The band ripped through "Teenage Anarchist" and the pro-choice anthem "White Crosses." During a raging, euphoric "Don't Lose Touch," one fan on a friend's shoulders lifted her top at the band. Singer Tom Gabel smiled and kept on singing.
Later, A Day to Remember played to one of the day's biggest crowds, colliding pop-punk hooks with sudden blasts of metal guitar and guttural vocals. Toilet paper rolls streamed through the air during a defiant "All Signs Point to Lauderdale."
Young punks peeled off sweat-soaked T-shirts to reveal new farmer's tans, and the asphalt was quickly covered with discarded programs, smashed water bottles and small pools of vomit. With 14,000 fans in Ventura (up 3,000 from last year), many came for the full nine hours of live music, action sports demos and autograph sessions with favorite acts.
Warped mastermind Kevin Lyman pushed for a wider range of acts this year – including the acclaimed punk-country act Lucero – long past the days when pop-punk and hardcore were the only sounds that mattered at the fest. Even so, first-wave SoCal punk band Fear returned, with singer Lee Ving grunting inspirational messages to the kids between speedy chants of "1-2-3-4! 1-2-3-4!" for a moshpit spinning with young Mohawks and fans in Black Flag and Exploited T-shirts. Less Than Jake interrupted their brassy punk to pull a volunteer up from the crowd to shave her head into a sloppy Mohawk for her 23rd birthday. Singer-guitarist Chris Demakes thanked her but joked, "I wouldn't have done that."
There were teary, happy hooks from Simple Plan, delivering guitar pop on the radio hit "Welcome to My Life" as fans sang along, hands waving in the air. And Boston vets the Street Dogs unfurled some Irish-American folk-punk with "Tobe's Got a Drinking Problem," ending with the crowd baptized from the spray of a Budweiser can.
One of the day's coolest, most unexpected sets was delivered by the Bots–- two brothers from Glendale, California, ages 13 and 18 – playing tough and melodic punk 'n' blues in the Black Keys mode. "I'm pretty sure their mom is out on tour and watching over them," Against Me!'s Tom Gabel told Rolling Stone backstage, calling the young duo one of his favorite acts on this year's 44-date tour.
The extreme sounds of metalcore and straight-ahead metal came in the form of grinding riffs and pounding beats from Winds of Plague, Devil Wears Prada and Acacia Strain, whose fans swung their arms in the pit like propeller blades. "We're a very negative band. I and the rest of these dudes are miserable fucking people," declared Acacia singer Vincent Bennett. He then led the crowd to raise their middle fingers and chant, "Fuck the world!"
Wearing heavy black-and-white makeup and uniforms of black denim and leather, the punk-pop-metal vampires of Black Veil Brides piled up crazy, squealing riffs on "Knives and Pens," a song from the band's upcoming debut. Like a bitchy, brooding melding of Motley Crüe and Marilyn Manson, Black Veil Brides inspired no moshing, but did get some thrown bottles and rock chicks crowd-surfing their way to the front.
Less severe was the quirky rock and soul from the six-piece Foxy Shazam and the bristling pop of the Ready Set, whose singer Jordan Witzigreuter sounded just happy to be there. "Whether you like our music or not," he told the crowd, "the fact that you're here hanging out is awesome."