CINCINNATI — It takes more than a little Liberty-spike-melting rain — OK, an hour-plus torrential downpour with mega-flashes of lightning — to wash out the Vans Warped Tour ’09. With a crowd undeterred by the weather, the 15th annual punk extravaganza rolled up on a steamy Wednesday afternoon to the Riverbend Amphitheatre with a typically eclectic mix of old-school and new-school punk, plenty of hardcore, tons of screamo, a dash of ska, a dusting of hip-hop and … whatever crunkcore is.
As Warped — the longest-running summer festival tour in the U.S. — continues to evolve, one thing remains clear: No genre is safe. Where in years past screamo and metalcore bubbled up as the predominant sounds of the day, this summer it’s hip-hop-inspired popcore’s turn, with more than half a dozen bands at the Cincy stop mixing up beats, rock guitars, party-on rhymes and yes, even vocoders.
Among the most popular proponents of the day were Boulder, Colorado’s [artist id=”3068464″]3OH!3[/artist], whose Sean Foreman and Nathaniel Motte bounced around the stage like 5-Hour Energy-fueled ping-pong balls, bashing out beat-heavy anthems like “Don’t Trust Me” and “Holler Til You Pass Out.”
Dallas’ [artist id=”2553714″]Forever the Sickest Kids[/artist] took a slightly different tack, dropping in some rap breakdowns and glitchy keyboard bits into a set that would have made crunk-rock king [artist id=”961130″]Lil Jon[/artist] proud. Mixing David Lee Roth-style campy rock with punk attitude and a plea for bras that garnered a barrage of polka-dotted tops, singer Jonathan Cook proudly preened around the stage with his blinged-out FTSK-emblazoned microphone stand during hyped songs like “Whoa Oh! (Me vs. Everyone)” and their signature tune, “She’s a Lady.”
Among the Warped veterans along for the ride again were ominous Tampa punk metalers [artist id=”1227532″]Underoath[/artist], who drew a huge throng of onstage musical admirers as they pummeled the crowd in the main pavilion with fist-pumpers like “Drowning in My Sleep.” Another old skull act — making their sixth tour of duty — was political thrashers Bad Religion, who busted out nuggets like the galloping “I Want to Conquer the World” to a weary late-afternoon crowd.
Unlike last summer, when now-mega [artist id=”1962774″]Katy Perry[/artist] and ex-boyfriend Travis McCoy of the Gym Class Heroes brought some pop smarts to the tour, the head-bobbing was a bit harder to find this time around. There was the ska bop of Big D and the Kids Table, complete with two shimmying backup singers and a three-piece horn section, and the straight-ahead Abercrombie & Fitch pop-punk of [artist id=”2121977″]All Time Low[/artist]. The Maryland quartet drew the biggest crowd of the day in the main pavilion, which was packed 6,000-strong, as the floorboards up front literally bounced up and down during sugary, pogoing shout-alongs like “Lost in Stereo.” Elsewhere, the White Tie Affair mixed in some vocoder effects on “Take It Home,” the Dirty Heads paid tribute to the white-guy stoner reggae of Sublime, and Utah group Meg & Dia, one of the only female-fronted acts on the day’s roster, mellowed things out with some sensitive pop.
There were a few musical palette cleansers among the 60-band onslaught of mostly aggro vocalists playing to the near sell-out crowd of 12,000-plus, including second-generation country outlaw Shooter Jennings. The son of Waylon started off by kicking it “Sweet Home Alabama”-style on straw-chawin’ opener “Gone to Carolina.” While his laid-back good ol’ boy country/ metal mash-up didn’t quite fit the mix on the Skullcandy stage — where legendary Fishbone frontman Angelo Moore served as the MC and lent a sax solo to “Radio Goes Dead” — it’s hard to argue with a dude who has a revolver tattooed on his forearm and an accompanying bullet on the web of his hand.
Another guy who seemed wrong to mess with was Gallows lead singer Frank Carter, who played his English old-school hardcore band’s entire set in the middle of a giant circle pit. As the skies cracked open and rain flooded the parking lot, Carter and guitarist Stephen Carter stood their ground despite microphone shorts and gigantic lightning flashes, screaming the lyrics along with drenched, body-slapping, slipping-down fans.
Oh, right, and there was the crunkcore. It’s easy to poke fun at Albuquerque’s brokeNCYDE and their punk-hop mash-ups, which is why so many people do. With strip-club-flossin’ songs like “Freaxx,” “Schizophrenia” and “Get Crunk!,” their mix of suburban mall-rat rap and gangsta goofiness has led to questions about whether their four MCs and a click-track shtick even belongs on the tour. But here are two things: a) they drew a gigantic crowd to the smallest stage on the concourse, b) when I heard that throng shouting the refrain from the song “Sex Toyz,” I knew it was time to go home.