CINCINNATI — The Warped Tour ought to consider hooking up with Baskin-Robbins as a sponsor next year. Because when the 12th edition of the longest-running U.S. summer festival touched down at the Riverbend Music Center on Wednesday, it served up 36 flavors — approximately 30 of which were variations of the punk taste of the past few years: emo.
With few exceptions, angsty, tattooed white boys with a lot to scream about ruled the day for the 11,000-plus fans who wandered among the eight stages and endless collection of band merch and sponsor booths. The exceptions were goth punks AFI, who drew the day's biggest crowd with their dramatic dinnertime set, and old-schooler Joan Jett, who provided one of the few true cross-generational bonding moments for the many families in attendance.
Unlike last year, when breaking bands like My Chemical Romance, Fall Out Boy and Avenged Sevenfold drew big crowds and lots of hype (see "My Chemical Romance And A Very Stiff Chicken Rock Milwaukee Warped Tour Stop"), three-quarters into this summer's dates, Warped attendance is down slightly, according to tour founder Kevin Lyman. Still, he said Warped '06 is on track to an expected total draw of approximately 600,000.
With fewer mainstream bands on the bill, Lyman says he feels fine about the lower attendance figures. And judging by the crowds that lesser-known acts like Cartel and Emery drew to some of the smaller side stages, it was clear that rabid fans will turn up for their favorite bands no matter which stage they're on. Whatever the final numbers, Lyman, who brandished the top-secret '07 roster (albeit at a safe distance), is certain that Warped will be back next year.
Nearly every strain of emo was on display in the scorching 90-degree heat over the course of the nine-hour marathon: screamo with two lead singers and one guitarist (Marilyn Avenue); screamo with one singer and two guitarists (Classic Crime); screamo with a metal edge (Red Jumpsuit Apparatus, the Bled); goth-tinged screamo with scary pancake and scar makeup (Aiden); classic-rock-inspired emo (the Sunstreak); the three guitarists/ two backup screamers variety (Vaux); the Coheed and Cambria-type (the Junior Varsity); and straight-up, classic emo (Thursday, Emanuel).
Some bands added signature metal touches: Every Time I Die weren't afraid to do some athletic spin kicks, whip their heads around and show off their Kiss-style unison guitar-swinging. Warped veterans Valient Thorr brought Motörhead-style metal thunder to their set, with some hammer-swinging Nordic jams that rocked way too hard for 1 p.m. The only hip-hop act on the bill, Gym Class Heroes, moved the crowd with a combination of live instruments and the head-bobbing ode to MySpace addiction, "New Friend Request."
Then there were political rockers Anti-Flag, who staged a fist-pumping mini-rally against oppressive governments, sexism and lots of other isms through subtle message songs like "F--- Police Brutality." Sets by Saves the Day and Motion City Soundtrack had a more pop-punk feel, with plenty of chant-along choruses and a lighter touch than some of the day's more tortured acts.
Sweden's the Sounds — one of the few female-fronted acts — brought a bit of class to the proceedings thanks to singer Maja Ivarsson's black heels and clingy cocktail dress. The formal wear was just a front for an unhinged stage persona that paid serious homage to late punk priestess Wendy O. Williams of the Plasmatics, right down to the partly shorn blond hairdo and a few unladylike glimpses of her panties during some deep knee bends. As a bonus, the Sounds were one of the few bands at Warped to bust out the cowbell, which they did proudly during the catchy "Song With a Mission."
Though they had the day's most iridescent hairdos, there was nothing elegant about hardcore punk survivors the Casualties. The New York kings of the Day-Glo Mohawk tore through a set that included the tough-as-nails punk ballad "Punk Rock Love" and their tribute to the three deceased members of the Ramones, "Made in NYC." Their set also inspired the day's biggest circle pit, a 50-foot-wide swirl of bodies that tore around the sound booth. The crowd was less juiced up by the Pink Spiders, who, between their pink spandex pants and fingerless gloves, seemed to confuse some of the kids with their Ramones-meets-Loverboy sound and look.
Though she didn't draw a huge crowd, old-schooler Joan Jett was the sentimental favorite of the day and the unofficial cell-phone champ, as half of her crowd held their cellies aloft during her set. Lyman says he invited her along as a lesson to the rest of the bands on the tour about the history of punk rock. Jett and her Blackhearts delivered a tight, half-hour set of classics, including "I Love Rock N' Roll," "Crimson and Clover," "Do You Wanna Touch Me" and her latest hit cover, Sweet's "ACDC" (see "Warped Tour Nabs Trailblazing Rocker Joan Jett For Trek").
Jett, who started out as a member of the jailbait all-girl punk group the Runaways as a teenager in 1976, has never forgotten the first rule of punk: The chorus needs to be easily chantable (think "whoa-whoa-whoa" or "yeah, oh yeah, oh yeah") and the guitars need to rip like buzz saws.
Doug Pyle, 21, drove up from Knoxville, Tennessee, to attend his third Warped Tour show, and he admitted to not really being into all the emo bands on the bill. The heavily pierced, Mohawk-sporting Pyle, clad in a Rancid T-shirt, was on the same page as Dayton, Ohio's John Fritz, 24, who lamented the emo overload and tagged Jett and the Casualties as his favorites of the day. "Man, she's still really hot!" Fritz said of the lean, ripped Jett.
Theatrical California goths AFI rambled from punk to goth and electronica without losing a step. After a day of blazing temperatures, nature seemed to feel the heaviness of singer Davey Havok's inner vampire, as gray clouds rolled in to block the sun during the band's set. Havok, a bilevel-haircut-sporting dude in distress, waved his tattooed arms and threw off panicky jazz-hand gestures while screaming and thrashing around during the Depeche Mode-like gothtronica tunes "Love Like Winter" and "Silver and Cold."
Thanking Ohio natives Devo and the Dead Boys, Havok tore into the band's current hit single, "Miss Murder." The crowd re-created the video's fist-pumping rally theme, bringing what looked like a momentary smile to Havok's pale face (see "AFI Blow Kisses, Play Gothic Bumper Cars At Dramatic NYC Show").
At an intense fest full of throat-scraping screams, karate-kicking guitarists and microphone-cord tourniquets, it was the message on a simple black T-shirt worn by an emo-looking dude that brought plenty of laughs to passersby during the day's otherwise heavy proceedings: "Girls pants are for girls."
For more sights and stories from concerts around the country, check out MTV News Tour Reports.