Vans Warped Tour '98 Comes To A Close

Final sets unfolded with laughter and nostalgia, if not technical finesse.

AUSTIN, Texas -- The last day of the 1998 Vans Warped Tour didn't end with a bang or a whimper.

It ended with a laugh and a song.

Fun -- with a dollop of sentiment -- was the order of the day.

Six weeks of crossing the U.S. and Canada, playing six days a week -- to the tune of 32 bands a day -- had left the participants tired, but still plugged into the punked-up event. They proved it at the tour finale in Austin, Texas, on Sunday, injecting a party atmosphere into the occasion by playing as much for the tour's crew and personnel as for the paying audience.

One crew member even got to join tour headliners Rancid onstage at the end of that band's set: A caterer, Jesse Brown, sang backup with Lars Fredriksen on the track "Radio Radio," his neatly cut hair a comic counterpoint to Fredriksen's elaborate mohawk as he shouted into the same mic.

And, as they did during most of the tour, Rancid filled their set with older material, playing only one new song, "Hooligans." "We've only played two or three new songs live," drummer Brett Reed said. "When you put out a new record you can't go out and play a whole set of new sh--."

Throughout the summer, the long tour had remained pretty much consistent, weathering oppressive heat and rough conditions in many cities, but the fans had come anyway to catch their favorite punk acts.

Austin was no different. Although the large stage -- which was split in two to accommodate the fast-paced movement of 16 bands playing non-stop from noon to nine -- provided enough shade for the bands and people up front, most of the audience had to suffer the intense heat and bright sun.

But Reed said that even under these conditions, "the kids have a good time out there. You see a lot of smiling faces."

Smiling faces could also be found on the other side of the stage, where the area behind the amplifiers and instruments bubbled with myriad crew personnel and bandmembers.The mood was upbeat onstage as well. Earlier in their set, Rancid's Tim Armstrong and Fredriksen shared the microphone in an embrace for "Ruby Soho."

After the two finished the song they touched fists in a subtle display of unity.

All around the Oakland, Calif.-based band, onlookers snapped photos and bobbed their heads along with the music. Among them were Fat Mike of NOFX, Scotty Law of Unwritten Law and BMX's Rick Thorne, who is also a friend of the band. All were as excited as the crowd to see Rancid close the show. Following Warped, Rancid will play a short European tour and then return to the U.S. to open up for top-selling acts such as the Beastie Boys and Pearl Jam.

But Rancid were not all they came to see. During Bad Religion's set, frontman Greg Graffin proved as saracastic as he was energetic. Even though the band will continue on in Europe, Graffin shed mock tears for the final Warped show. "We're just the remains of the day," he whimpered to the crowd.

Then the humor spilled over into the music. During Bad Religion's most recognizable classic, "21st Century Digital Boy," Fat Mike from NOFX came out to share lead vocals for a verse. His nasal style of singing didn't quite match the melody of the song, earning him some insults from the band. "We don't come to where you work," one of them quipped.

The Deftones went on early in the day but kept their intensity level high. The band had drawn their own loyal fans to the tour throughout the six weeks, and lead singer Chino Moreno greeted the fans face to face as he sang from the barricades.

With security holding him tightly around the knees, Moreno leaned over until his face was staring straight into those of the crowd members inches below him. Eventually, he jumped back onto the stage to finish the set.

All told, it was just another day on the Warped Tour. At least on the surface, that is.

"I'm a little bit sad and teary eyed," Reed said in Houston the day before the last show. "It's become a part of our lives now."