The Warped Tour Off To Scorching Start

The nine-hour event featuring 33 bands, including Rancid and NOFX, was held in 115-degree heat.

PHOENIX -- It was 115 degrees in the shade ... what little there was of

it.

It was so hot, in fact, that one of the most popular draws of the day -- for fans and

performers alike -- was the air-conditioning system of the indoor stage. Anything

under the sun, including the performers, was in danger of succumbing.

One day into the festivities and the Warped Tour already was living up to its

name, in more ways than one.

The 1998 edition of the Warped Tour got off to a scorching start Tuesday

afternoon, unfolding -- melting and, yes, warping -- on the black top of the

parking lot of the Celebrity Theater. The music was hot as well, with 33 bands,

including Rancid, NOFX and Bad Religion, playing across four stages over nine

hours.

At the opening show, Rancid and NOFX played one after another on

the two attached, outdoor main stages. Their early placement in the schedule

made them the first big-name bands of the day, and suddenly the asphalt

parking lot in front of the stages was swarming with fans who had been trying to

hide from the sun.

Rancid were energetic despite the heat. Their set mixed a number

of songs from their successful 1995 album, And Out Come The Wolves,

with songs from their newest, Life Won't Wait, which was released the

day of the show. One of those songs,

HREF="http://www.addict.com/music/Rancid/Hooligans.ram">"Hooligans"

(RealAudio excerpt), began with a Jamaica-flavored riff from guitarist Lars

Frederiksen and a mellow groove from bassist Matt Freeman and drummer Brett

Reed that offset the sound of the otherwise fast-paced set. "Nihilism" and

"Maxwell Murder" represented the band's harder material, while fan favorite

"Roots

Radicals" (RealAudio excerpt) came with the signature vocal

harmonies of Frederiksen and frontman Tim Armstrong.

NOFX, however, seemed to wilt in the heat. Their set was a perfunctory affair in

which the band simply ran through most of the songs. Guitarist Eric Melvin kept

the energy flowing, somehow. And lead singer Fat Mike performed well, given

the temperature and the temper of the thousands who had come to see the

show, some of whom seemed less concerned with the music than with trying to

disrupt the performance by throwing bottles.

The smaller stages held a number of surprises. The German band Thumb

played their brand of new-wave punk on another outdoor stage. But the crowd

that walked by as they performed devoted most of its attention to the plethora of

promotional tents that punctuated the event's site.

The real hit was the Celebrity Theater. Many fans headed there to escape the

heat -- thereby opting for the comfort of the hall's air conditioning over some of

the bigger acts who were appearing outside.

One positive outcome of the run for cover was that concert-goers were exposed

to lesser-known bands that they might have dismissed at an outside stage. One

such band, 98 Mute, played early in the day and had a good time on the

theater's rotating stage. "It was a cushy gig. We had the air conditioning," lead

singer Pat Ivie said.

Back at the outdoor main stages, the crowds had thinned out after Rancid.

Nonetheless, pop-ska darlings Save Ferris belted out a number of the songs

from their disc, It Means Everything, thoroughly entertaining the thinner

gathering. Lead singer Monique Powell's voice was sharp and in

control throughout the short set.

The Cherry Poppin' Daddies, Pietasters, Less Than Jake, the Smooths

and the Specials all added a ska attitude to the Warped tour; other

ska bands such as Hepcat, the Gadjits and the Dropkick Murphys will join the

tour later on.

This year's version of the Warped tour is more diverse than its 1997

predecessor. Incubus started off the day with a blend of heavy

metal and funk. The Reverend Horton Heat's Texas-flavored rockabilly sound

came in the middle of the day. And Civ pulled out a few new songs in a set that

hasn't changed since their last album, Set Your Goals, from 1995.

As dusk settled in, Bad Religion closed the show with an energetic set, the

Intensity of which was, if anything, surpassed by that of the still sweltering crowd. At one

point, a fan jumped on the adjoining stage, ran across the top of the PA system

and jumped feet first into a sea of bodies.

"Owww! That has to hurt!" Bad Religion's lead singer Greg Graffin exclaimed as

the band stormed into a rendition of

HREF="http://www.addict.com/music/Bad_Religion/21st_Century_Digital_Boy.ram">"21st

Century Digital Boy" (RealAudio excerpt).

As the sun set, so too did the first show of the Warped Tour. From Phoenix,

Warped was off to San Diego for the beginning of its West Coast leg. New

bands will come and go as the six-week tour unfolds.

And with 33 artists performing at every stop along the way, Warped looks to be

what it was at its debut: an endurance test for musicians and fans alike.

Hopefully, things will cool off.