The Warped Tour is back for its 14th year, and with it comes the annual query, “What's so punk about the Warped Tour anyway?” It's a loaded question. The tour has always favored eclectic ensembles and was never really about trying to out-punk Lollapalooza or any other traveling festival. Punk is usually on the menu, but it's usually not the main course. At least until this year.
While the rest of the country has to suffer through endless emo, screamo and redeemo (i.e. Christian hardcore) acts, San Diego gets to mosh at the Old School Stage, which will feature a handful of great punk and hardcore bands from decades past, like The Germs, T.S.O.L., Big Drill Car, D.I., M.I.A., H2O and Fear. It's 1983 all over again! But that's not all, of course, which is why we've compiled the following guide to help you survive the San Diego edition of the 2008 Warped Tour.
Older bands that still got it
John Belushi's favorite band (do Warpsters even know who John Belushi was?) was never very pretty, but Lee Ving and the rest of Fear are horrible to look at now. They haven't recorded new material in ages (probably a good thing), but their live show is as ferocious as ever. GBH hasn't tinkered much with its formula (loud + fast), but the Brit boys are usually among the better sets of any festival they play. The Street Dogs are puppies compared with some of the Old School acts, but former Dropkick Murphys frontman Mike McColgan sings like a man born for the role. At first glance, a New York hardcore band from the '90s seems out of place with the Old School crew, but check out the circle pit when H2O takes the stage.
Newer bands that get it
Beat Union may be the best thing out of Birmingham since Black Sabbath, coming off like The Clash while still earning comparisons to Elvis Costello. The Horrorpops may look like a catalog of psychobilly clichés, but their sound isn't so easily categorized. Keep an eye on The Dollyrots to break away from the pack on the Kevin Says Stage, which helped launch bands like My Chemical Romance and Fallout Boy into the stratosphere.
Hyped bands that are all abuzz
Dr. Manhattan are just starting to get national attention for their weird and wonderful shows that sound like they're falling down a flight of stairs holding a key-tar and a bass drum. Gym Class Heroes will be hard-pressed to surpass last year's successes, but the quirky rap-rock combo still has the goods. If Story of the Year's new album, The Black Swan, is a mega-hit for Epitaph, they could become this generation's Bad Religion.
Buzz bands that are all hype
Evergreen Terrace bring the noise with the best of them, and no one gets more mileage out of unexpected covers.
Speaking of covers, it's been nearly a year since A Day to Remember's awful/brilliant cover of Kelly Clarkson's “Since You Been Gone” hit MySpace and their new album, due later this year, will tell us whether the buzz is deserved. How many years does it take for the “buzz band” label to lose its stick? The clock has to be ticking for The Bronx. And somebody needs to tell 3OH!3 that Weird Al's rap hit “White and Nerdy” was a parody.
When acronyms were punk
It will be weird seeing M.I.A. (the veteran punks, not the Sri Lankan rapper) without singer Mike Conley, who died this spring. Jello Biafra, Todd Sampson and Kevin Seconds have all filled in on vocals during subsequent benefit shows. D.I. (not the rapper T.I.) has a song (“Johnny's Got a Problem”) that could be the unofficial anthem for Orange County's white prison population. For the record, T.S.O.L.'s “Code Blue” isn't about a beer bottle that changes color when it gets cold but, rather, sexual congress with the deceased. Nice marketing, Coors!
Tips for your first Warped Tour
If you've never been to an all-day festival, the thing to remember is to pace yourself. Drink plenty of water and be generous with the sunscreen. For the more adventurous, conceal your LSD well and bring the phone number of a good bail bondsman.
Tips for your 14th Warped Tour
Ear plugs, aspirin, sunscreen, sunglasses, baby wipes, Cheerios and a sense of humor.
Reasons why there's nothing punk about Warped Tour
Alesana is to screamo what diarrhea is to shit. With tepid riffs and tired lyrics, Angels & Airwaves is purgatory for blink-182 fans, but they're hell for the rest of us. What is dangerously cute singer/songwriter Charlotte Sometimes doing at the Warped Tour? If Tim Armstrong didn't have such a hard-on for his Operation Ivy days, would anyone give a damn about The Aggrolites? If I throw a rectal thermometer on stage during Forever the Sickest Kids' set, do you think they'll get the message? Look out for the tools in NOTW T-shirts arguing over which band is more Christian: Anberlin, Between the Trees or Confide. Seriously, what's with all the positivity?
Reasons why Warped Tour is still punk
Sure, Rolling Stone and Spin are all up in their junk, but anarcho-punk proselytizers Against Me! are still one of the most interesting bands to break into the mainstream since Nirvana. Rise Against may be flirting with overexposure (is there a video game or skateboard video they're not on?), but their forthcoming album is one of the season's most anticipated records. Although they don't get the credit they deserve, Huntington Beach punk rockers Big Drill Car were at the front of melodic hardcore. The original line-up is getting together for a rare, not-to-be missed show. If you need any more reasons, find me at the Old School Stage. The Vans Warped Tour begins at 11 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 14, at Cricket Wireless Amphitheatre. 619-671-3500. www.warpedtour.com.