Concert Review

Vans Warped Tour at Cricket Wireless Pavilion: The Maine, Dear and the Headlights, and Popsters Aplenty Entertain the Tweens

Until yesterday, I used to loathe the Warped Tour.

Not because of the bands or music, mind you, but rather because of some bad experiences I'd had while attending the annual summertime mega-tour.

When the Warped Tour first came to Phoenix in July 1996, I'd spent every last dime I had in the world to get my 20-year-old ass out to Desert Sky Pavilion (which is what Cricket was called back in the day). I'd never seen Fishbone or NOFX in concert before and absolutely had to be there, even if it was 115 degrees outside and I was sick as a dog with a bad case of bronchitis. I'd eventually regret my foolhardiness, since I didn't have any money for water and nearly passed out from dehydration and heat exhaustion. Even worse, Fishbone had sucked, I'd missed my ride home, and wound up hitchhiking back to Tempe.

I was just as miserable a few years later when I went again, this time with my then-girlfriend in tow. She was something of a Suicidal Tendencies nut (as well as an occasional tweaker) and demanded that I get us tickets. Too bad she picked a fight and broke up with me halfway through the day, only to go home with one of her many ex's (one that kept her flush in crystal meth whereas I'd mandated that she quit).

So needless to say, I had some trepidation when heading out to the West Valley yesterday. Plus, there's the fact that punk, ska, and hardcore bands have become a major endangered species in recent years on what originally started out in the mid-90s as touring showcase for three-chord crusties, third-wave groups, and their ilk.

If you're a die-hard punk fan such as myself, then you've probably bristled at Warped's ongoing transmogrification towards the tweener pop, emo kids, and the plastic sunglasses crowd. You also woulda been in the minority yesterday's, as Mohawk and tattooed types were outnumbered 4-to-1 by neon sunglasses-wearing high schoolers in brightly colored tees covered in gold lamé lettering. (The malls must've been virtual ghost-towns).

It was also a much bigger spread than I imagined, as more than 50 bands performed across six stages spread out across Cricket and its amply-sized parking lot in what amounted to a ginormous sampler of pop-punk, post-hardcore, and straight-up pop. In-between the hastily-erected venues were dozens of booths for the myriad record labels and bands on the line-up. It resembled a Hot Topic writ large with more music, tee shirts and schwag than one could possibly buy.

And Lordy, how the the people manning the tents were doing their best to get me to buy, as I was constantly beckoned to listen to their CDs on headphones. I'll stick to iTunes thank you very much. (As much as things have changed over the years, it's that some things stay the same, like watching teenyboppers emerge from the back seats of their parent's mini-van with a fistful of twenties from mommy and daddy to spend.)

I also ran into our man Psyko Steve Chilton, who not only offered a flier listing his upcoming shows, but also some perspective after I bitched about the dearth of punk bands on this year's roster. "The Warped Tour has always had a really diverse line-up that changes each year. Two years ago it was all about screamo bands," he informed me. "(Founder) Kevin Lyman always includes bands that a lot of people aren't even aware of, and it's a way to get exposed to new music."

With the Psyko one's words in mind, I sought out gigs by bands I'd only heard over MySpace or Pandora, but had never seen live. Here are some random thoughts.
-- Dear and the Headlights (a.k.a. the subject of this week's cover story by music editor Martin Cizmar) were sandwiched in between There for Tomorrow and Hit the Lights and outclassed both bands. Ian Metzger and company were quite superb in their meager 40-minute of allotted time, despite the heat of the late afternoon.

-- The local boys of The Maine put on an energetic six-song set, which would've been longer had they not had a few technical snafus to start things off. Lead singer John O'Callaghan spewed forth a loopy-but-love-filled mantra encouraging the thousand or so fans who gathered for their gig to "get sexy out there" and requesting everyone to start making out. The tween idols, who recently signed to Warner Bros. Records, followed up their cover of Akon's "I Wanna Love You" with a rendition of Def Leppard's "Pour Some Sugar on Me." It was the perfect hot and sticky song for a hot and sticky crowd.

-- I also wanted to check out 3OH!3, since people kept asking me practically every 10 minutes if I knew when and where they were playing (likely because I was wearing an official-looking wristband and press badge). I only stayed for a few songs, since the Colorado twosome's immature electro hip-hop didn't seem quite as cheeky when hearing it live, as well as the fact that there was much better music afoot.

-- The folks from Victory Records record label probably wouldn't have been pleased to hear Streetlight Manifesto's Mike Brown advising everyone in attendance to download their albums using Bit-Torrent or another peer-to-peer client. ("Fuck our record label!")

-- A Day to Remember arguably had the biggest audience outside of the main stage, not to mention the most pumped. Fueled by tracks off their newest disc Homesick, as well as frontman Jeremy McKinnon yelling at the crowd to "man up" and inciting much moshing.

-- Speaking of the main stage, if you didn't make it to NOFX or Bad Religion, don't fret. Both iconic punk outfits supplied rather disappointing efforts, which kinda blew since they were the primary reasons I even showed up. NOFX started out by celebrating the fact that Michael Jackson was dead and ended up throwing out what appeared to be actual dollar bills to their fans. I guess it's just like Kurt Cobain once said, "teenage angst has paid off well."

Critic's Notebook:

Yesterday: Vans Warped Tour at Cricket Wireless Pavilion on June 30, 2009.

Better Than: Hanging out with tweens at Hot Topic.

Personal Bias: My 15-year-old nephew would've dug this festival.

Random Detail: The coolest tattoo I saw yesterday was on the right shoulder of a member of Peoria pop punk band Hello Hollywood (not to be confused with the equally poppy Hollywood Heartthrob, who were also in attendance at Warped Tour yesterday). As you can see, it's a take on the Arizona flag featuring a stream of music notes and rose emanating from our fair state. Support your local scene, brah.

Further Listening: The official Warped Tour 2009 CD sampler featuring 50 bands for only $5.

By The Way: I witnessed kids stealing water from mobile vendors on two different occasions. One shirtless hooligan snuck up, grabbed a bottle, and scampered into the crowd. The 50something vendor tried throwing another bottle at his head in frustration, but it missed by a country mile.

One More Thing: Like seriously, do you know when 3OH!3 is playing?

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Benjamin Leatherman is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times. He covers local nightlife, music, culture, geekery, and fringe pursuits.