Having attended and very much enjoyed Warped Tour in 2005 and 2006, I took a break last year and flew to Chicago to take in some Lollapalooza after-parties. Vowing to make up for last year’s absence I attended this past Saturday at Uniondale’s Nassau Coliseum. After waiting more than an hour in a longer-than-expected press line, I managed to miss three sets I had penciled in as “must-see.” So it goes. Welcome to Warped Tour. When I finally got a chance to see a live set, by the Canadian reggae band Staylefish, I was blown away. The band put together a set that was energetic, skilled and dripping with reggae proficience. Lead by a Jamaican dreadlocked lead vocalist, the band was playful, captivating and highly original. Philly punk band The AKAs took the stage next and delivered a brash, in-your-face set of politically charged anthems that felt more akin to that of 60s and 70s punk than the various contemporary incarnations that dot the airwaves.
Wauconda, Illinois’s quirky quintet Dr. Manhattan was easily the afternoon’s crowning achievement as the band combined performance art with that of punk rock. Keyboardist Andrew Morrison appeared on stage in a white jumpsuit beside a spare bass drum, while bassist Adam Engers appeared on stage in a blue jumpsuit, fuzzy guitar strap and a Borat mustache. Additionally, drummer Nick Vombrack set up his drums vertically, so that his kit was perpendicular to the band’s performance, and the band held up green Go signs at various points during the set. But for all the aesthetic weirdness, the music was nothing short of stunning. Equal parts jerky, jittery and thumping, the band proceeded to push through six songs that dripped with cohesion, maturity and polish. The band was in step every second and each musician was razor sharp in their playing. Their self-titled debut album is currently out now on Vagrant Records.
Proving to be just as eclectic was Atlanta, GA’s Family Force 5 who played a highly danceable blend of funk, pop, rock and dance. Wearing brightly colored clothing, not unlike the Power Rangers, the band appeared alongside a man in a silver leotard who danced during the duration of the band’s six song set. Much like Dr. Manhattan, the band was energetic, focused and bristled with the shine of seasoned veterans.
St. Louis’ Ludo successfully married comedy and Weezer-like charm as they put together a set of light, Moog-accented pop-punk that was well-executed, original and highly infectious. Lead vocalist Andrew Volpe, clad in suspenders and a bowtie, introduced the song “Part One: Broken Bride,” by saying “This is a song about your wife that dies in a car crash, and you go back in time to rescue her, but when you do, you go back too far, and you have to wrestle dinosaurs.” The comedic anecdote proved that while many of Warped Tour’s headliners were busy taking themselves too seriously, the St. Louis quintet was quite okay writing songs with nonsensical lyrics and sprite melodies. The band is currently busy supporting their debut full-length [I]You’re Awful, I Love You[/I], produced by Matt Wallace and released on Island Records. The album marks the first in a multi-year deal with the record label.
Florida’s Anberlin turned in the best performance of the evening as their thunderous anthems whirled around with ferocious hard-hitting gutiars, tons of melody and incredibly catchy choruses. Vocalist Stephen Christian’s big-throated voice was in fine form as he bounced around stage like a pogo stick. His buoyant spirits never let up as he told the crowd, “This has easily been one of the best Warped Tour performances we’ve ever had. You guys are absolutely incredible. Thank you so much from the bottom of our hearts. I swear I’m not just saying that to say it.” Having seen the band five times prior, I can honestly say I’ve never seen the band as cohesive, in-step and as loud as they were Saturday night. Despite the fact that they are a couple months away from releasing a new album, the band kept the new song limit to two and instead dove into their back catalog, as Christian introduced each song by saying, “This is for all of you guys who came out to see us a couple years ago,” “This is for those that were there in the beginning,” “This is for anyone who came to see us play last year.” The band’s major label debut [I]New Surrender[/I] is due out on Universal Republic in September.
Other than that, there weren’t many other triumphs. Poughkeepsie’s Just Surrender put together a set that was energetic and inspiring, and while it vaulted to heights that many of the other pop-punk outfits never ascended to, it still felt a bit too formulaic. The band’s best asset is their use of two lead vocalists, whose voices were in fine form. Unfortunately much of the set was marred by a hurried pace and an unexplained sense of urgency that seemed to rush the songs along, proving to be much faster than their already speedy nature.
Maryland’s All Time Low, who is steadily rising up the charts, certainly deserved points for energy, but their sophomoric Animal House banter was a classic mistake by a young band not realizing or appreciating the chance to be on a national platform. Moreover, the choruses came across tinny and hollow compared to the crystalline sheen that dots their album.
Tom DeLonge’s Angels and Airwaves proved to be disappointing, as the layers of guitars that dot the band’s two albums felt hollow and tinny on stage. Similarly pop-punk acts A Cursive Memory and You, Me and Everyone We Know performed sets that rattled with energy but very little substance. Additionally the vocals in each band’s set were thin, restrained and entirely commonplace. Even when A Cursive Memory invoked Vanessa Carlton and performed a cover of “A Thousand Miles” could the band be saved.
On another stage, female singer/songwriter Paige Wood succumbed to the lackluster as well, as she performed a five-song set that was predictable, unoriginal and stale. Aside from a punk-inspired version of Rockwell’s “Somebody’s Watching Me,” there was little that could save her performance from its exercise in banal monotony.
By 7:30 p.m., my head had conceded to the noise and asked for an escape. My adventures of Warped Tour 2008 were over. For a more expert opinion of the afternoon, read this.