This past Sunday, bands of all genres convened at the lovely Seaside Park in Ventura for this year's installment of the Vans Warped Tour. I’ve been to many Warped Tours in the past, but at 28 years old I now feel a strong sense of “I’m far too old for this” every time I go.
Nobody likes you when you're 23 and still going to Warped Tour, I know - so imagine how it feels to be there when you're 28.
17-year olds without purpose or direction are everywhere, walking around in intentionally ripped t-shirts (not that they owe anyone a f*****g explanation).
Despite the fact that I felt a bit like Clint Eastwood, hobbling across the fairgrounds on my knobby knees, the quality of this year's lineup (or at least the fact that there were enough good acts to outweigh the lesser ones) - made my experience one of the best I've had in my 10+ years of Warped Tour attendance.
There was also an abundance of enthusiastic parents in tow for this year’s Warped, maybe since they get in for free this summer (which is a pretty great tactic employed by Kevin Lyman’s team this year).
As such, a walk around the comfortable-but-still-rather-crowded confines of the fairgrounds was filled with a number of different sounds battling for ear space.
Here’s a rundown of some of the most notable acts I saw on the day:
Chiodos – Kia Forte Stage, 12:45 PM
Slated with an early set, Chiodos played to an active and receptive audience familiar with the songs of Craig Owens and the rest of the group. The day before in Pomona, the band announced that they’ll begin work on a new album once they’re finished with Warped.
Citizen – Kevin Says/Insidious 2 Stage, 1 PM
One of the most pleasant surprises of the day, Citizen’s set demonstrated why they’re now on the established roster of Run For Cover Records. The songs they played from their 2013 record Youth were excellent, as was the guitarist’s choice of wearing the t-shirt of fellow RFC band Daylight (whose new album Jar is my favorite release of the year thus far).
Pick up Youth if you’re into harder-tinged indie/rock with a definite ‘alternative’ feel, as they were one of those ‘under the radar’-type bands that might get more popular after Warped finishes.
The Story So Far – Kia Soul Stage, 1:20 PM
Arguably one of the most popular current pop/punk acts on the bill this year, TSSF were handed an early main stage slot – not that the timing was missed by anyone in attendance. They brought some Bay Area flair to the proceedings, with one of the guitarists clad in a Yoenis Cespedes Oakland A's t-shirt (earning my approval). The set featured songs from their new album What You Don’t See in addition to their debut Under Soil and Dirt – and every song came complete with their dedicated fans shouting along with singer Parker Cannon.
The Swellers – Ernie Ball Stage – 2:10 PM
Tucked away in the back of the fairgrounds by the convention hall, the Swellers blasted through a set spotlighting their new EP Running Out of Places to Go as well as 2011’s Good For Me. In expressing the band’s appreciation for those in attendance, vocalist/guitarist Nick Diener quipped ‘I know we’re not as cool as all the pop punk bands everyone likes’ but that they were glad to see people singing along.
It’s a shame the Swellers weren’t given the opportunity to play a larger stage with a bigger audience, but those that witnessed their set had a great time.
The Wonder Years – Kia Forte Stage – 3:00 PM
Despite releasing one of the best pop-punk albums of the year with The Greatest Generation, The Wonder Years didn’t play to as big an audience as I figured they'd have. It didn’t take away from their set, though, as those that were there obviously adored TWY and their emotionally-tinged, reflective brand of pop-punk.
Allison Weiss – Acoustic Basement – 3:15 PM
The Acoustic Basement (as it was called) was one of the best parts of the day – thanks to a wonderful set of music from Allison Weiss. The Brooklyn-based singer/songwriter played songs from her 2013 album Say What You Mean – and if you’ve slept on her music this far, let this be your introduction.
Matt Embree – Acoustic Basement – 3:45 PM
After Weiss finished her set, Matt Embree of RX Bandits played a fabulous set of songs – including The Wind Cries Mary by Jimi Hendrix, re-interpretations of RXB songs Only For the Night and My Lonesome Only Friend and some of his solo material.
Matt ought to do more solo acoustic gigs.
Goldfinger – Tilly’s Stage – 5:15 PM
It was surprising to see Goldfinger playing something as small as the Tilly’s stage, but that’s where the long-running ska/rock band did their thing. Front man John Feldmann was in fine form, saying at one point “We played Warped in 1996 and it was a punk rock show – so we’re gonna play a fuckin' punk rock song called Fuck LA.”
Feldmann also noted that Goldfinger was the oldest band on the bill – something that no doubt brought them great pride. Warped does a great job booking these established, been-around-the-block bands each summer, and they usually turn in very enjoyable sets.
Plus, Goldfinger's merch guy was hilarious:
Alvarez Kings – Kevin Says/Insidious 2 Stage – 4:45 PM
The U.K’s Alvarez Kings were a nice surprise.
Their blend of Police-inspired indie/rock had a great groove to it, and the band played really well, presumably trying to win over an audience of people that probably hadn’t heard of them prior to the day’s events.
Motion City Soundtrack – Kia Forte Stage – 6:30 PM
Alternative/punk/power-pop veterans Motion City Soundtrack always put on a solid show, and their Warped set was no exception. Playing songs from throughout their lengthy career, including Her Words Destroyed My Planet, Attractive Today and A Lifeless Ordinary. It would have been nice to see some more songs from their 2012 album Go – but hey, it was an abbreviated Warped Tour set so it’s okay.
M.C. Lars – Spotify Stage – 6:45 PM
I’ve been a fan and follower of M.C. Lars ever since I stumbled upon his inventive ‘nerd rap’ when I lived in the Bay Area.
Brandishing his A’s hat as usual, Lars and his live drummer played a great set at the tiny Spotify stage. As always, it incorporated Tetris and Super Mario samples, hand claps, shout-outs to Edgar Allen Poe and William Shakespeare, and Star Wars. Oh, and he also told us all to say hi to the seagulls that were impatiently swirling around overhead.
Upon a Burning Body – Monster Stage – 7:30 PM
I’m not a fan of this type of music, which features what I’d call ‘Cookie Monster vocals’ and pummeling metalcore riffs, but hey – the lead singer of Upon a Burning Body (which is apparently a ‘deathcore’ band) wore a full suit on stage while leading the charge with his guttural howling – so there’s that.
Sleeping With Sirens – Kia Forte Stage – 7:40 PM
Kellen Quinn, lead vocalist of Sleeping with Sirens, is something else – his voice is of the tenor leggiero range. If you weren’t aware, that’s VERY high-pitched. It can be jarring to hear on record, and he did a relatively solid job of translating it to the live stage. The band’s intriguing style of post-hardcore/screamo went over very well with the kids, many of which were wearing the band’s shirts all day.
Reel Big Fish – Kia Soul Stage – 8:15 PM
The bizarre transition of Sleeping With Sirens into RBF made up the final two acts I saw, and it was fittingly strange. RBF were their usual awesome selves, Aaron Barrett saying goofy things as the band led off with Sell Out and Thank You For Not Moshing.
I was surprised that RBF were given what was essentially ‘headlining duty’ as the final band on either main stage – but they’ve earned it. Then again, the schedule for every day of WArped is made up hours before gates open, and is totally random - and printed on this giant inflatable board:
In all, this was one of the most enjoyable Warped Tour experiences I’ve ever had. Kevin Lyman did a great job putting together a wonderful lineup of eclectic styles – and for every cookie-cutter screamo band on the bill there were gems like Alvarez Kings and Citizen to make up for it.
I would have liked to catch Emily’s Army (featuring the son of Green Day front man Billie Joe Armstrong on drums), but they were given an 11:10 time slot, which made it virtually impossible to see them. While passing their tent, Joey (Billie Joe's son) called me over to start a conversation and was an extremely nice dude, which led to a nice chat.
Here’s hoping next year’s Warped is somehow as stacked as this year’s was – but considering how much fun I had this time around, that's probably a tall order.
Here are some photos - along with the notice that my old digital camera takes pictures of a lower quality than my iPhone, so...they aren't especially impressive (but I'm working on it!).
-- Cheese Sandwich