While there was barely a cloud in the sky, there were plenty of dust clouds floating above mosh pits at Park Place this past weekend during the 13th Vans Warped Tour.
The crowds almost looked like a gang of punky bandits as they turned to wearing bandannas over their faces in order to breathe through the dust clouds. Certain bands even wore face coverings to breathe since the clouds were so thick that you couldn’t see the stage.
Almost as dingy as the dust was this year’s lacklustre lineup. Without any one true standout band to look forward to, many criticized this year’s fest as being thrown together out of whoever would show, and fans feared that it would suck.
Thanks to a few amazing performances, however, it definitely did not disappoint.
As a frequentor of previous Warped Tours, we knew what to expect. More than 60 bands on more than 10 stages can get overwhelming, but having choice is also a big bonus. The rotating schedule is a bit annoying when your favourite band is on first thing in the morning, but it keeps things interesting. Corporate™ logos™, of course, are everywhere you look, and range from Monster Energy drinks to Bubblelicious to Rogers AT&T.
Warped tour is designed for the ADD crowd, and as such the non-music aspects always have flashy gimmicks to entertain the masses. This year featured the third annual Vans Skate Ramp, which had bands performing on the ramp itself whenever the skaters got tired. Concert-goers also got a taste of Mexico with Lucha Libre USA, which saw an impressive array of Mexico’s top Luchadores including Angel and Psicosis, even though their fame was lost on the Canadian audience. Sponsors even had their fancy gimmicks, including Amnesty’s Bed-in for Darfur and Peta2’s coveted stickers. One huge draw was Skate4Cancer founder Rob Dyer selling the S4C tshirts and hugging anyone who asked, which at certain times meant lineups of both males and females gushing over how much of an inspiration he is. We’re not going to lie, we also got a hug, because he’s just that awesome.
But as much fun as free hugs and sweaty wrestling really are, people come to Warped Tour for the music.
k-os: Many people criticised k-os as not fitting in with this festival, but those people may need to be reminded of Warped Tour’s strong hip hop component, which has seen performances by Jurassic 5, Talib Kweli, and even Eminem. The fact that our Toronto homeboy can now add his name to that list is pretty impressive. And while we have heard reports of mediocre turnouts to his sets in the U.S., his show last weekend was overflowing. So it’s a damned good thing that he kicked serious ass. He punked up his music a bit with lots of guitars and drums, but still kept the dj and shared the stage with a b-boy. He freestyled raps about Whitby and the Canadian/American exchange rate (it was good, we promise), and sang his hits like “Emcee Murdah” and “B-boy Stance.” He definitely made us proud.
Pepper: We hadn’t heard of Pepper before, but we’re glad that we checked them out in the early afternoon. These guys are a punk-ska trio out of Hawaii who have been together over 10 years. They did tests on the audience to see who could sing along to what, playing Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Clash and Blur, among others. When the audience chimed in, the band rewarded them with more songs. And the crowd, in turn, danced like fiends.
The Vincent Black Shadow: Listening to The Vincent Black Shadow was like going back in time to watch No Doubt before Tragic Kingdom came out. Lead singer Cassandra Ford was mesmerizing on stage, and her voice drew people from all over the park. It’s ska, it’s soul, it’s punk, it’s really freaking good.
Flogging Molly: If you can imagine a threesome with an Irishman, a punk, and an alcoholic, and add violins and a banjo, you’ve got this amazing seven-piece Irish-American band. Flogging Molly’s sound is unique, and their live performances are energetic and fun. They were also quoted by many bands as being the heaviest drinkers on the tour. In an interview with Torontoist, guitarist Dennis Casey jokes “It’s because we’re all twice as old as them. We’ve built up a tolerance.”
Flogging Molly has played Warped tour five times, and has seen it through many changes. “The music has changed… there’s these punk bands that have been sticking to it like NOFX and Pennywise, but the biggest difference now is there’s more newer bands than there’s older bands,” says Casey.
But he is confident that they’ll be around for the long haul. “We just do what we do, if it works it works; if it doesn’t, it doesn’t.”
And it did work, as their set produced some of the most energetic crowds of the day.
Everybody Else: Hate to say it, but we just weren’t wowed by any of the other acts we saw. We had seen Bad Religion play before, and their set, while good, just wasn’t up to the calibre that we’re used to. Cute Is What We Aim For were definitely cute, but unimpressive. Killswitch Engage frontman Howard Jones sounded like he was losing his voice.
And while we didn’t see anyone who was bad, per say, the rest didn’t even stand out enough for a mention.
All photos by the lovely Carrie Musgrave.