Bring Me The Horizon. Photo: Matt Brunk
On Saturday, June 29 of the year 2013, I set out into the arid wasteland of Warped Tour with little more than a camera, a bottle of water, and the cheapest bottle of suncreen that I could find. In lieu of fighting my way into the venue parking, I decided to take advantage of the thrifty fellows charging extra to park behind the McDonald's across the street from the Utah State Fairpark. Five bucks extra for a tiny bit of convenience was worth it in my opinion, although I walked past homes filled with people offering parking in the driveways to festival-goers in hopes of making a couple bucks here and there. With temperatures already set to “spontaneous combustion,” I was still waiting in the Guest List line to get my press pass when the sounds of Silverstein beginning to play started to drift over the fence and gingerly into my ear-holes.
With literally 97 different performances on the Salt Lake City schedule this year, and more scattered around from smaller booths, Warped Tour is more about compromise and cherry-picking your favorite bands rather than being able to catch the whole show. It's not the most satisfying way to see your favorite bands, but it's hard to argue with the sheer numbers.
After getting through security, I met Dan Lambton and Brian Blake of Real Friends pimping their album “Put Yourself Back Together” with a big plastic “$5 CD” sign. The last time they were here was with Senses Fail, and I got to catch one of my favorite photos ever of Lambton hugging a fan who hopped up on stage with him. Thanking them for a great show and expressing my surprise and pleasure at them being back in Utah already, I walked away $5 poorer, but one sweet album richer. I'm really excited about these guys, so if you've never heard of them, I highly recommend picking up their record. As I'll get into more later this recap, they've got a live show and a philosophy towards their fans that just can't be beat, and they've earned the popularity that too many bigger bands just take for granted.
After finally getting inside and wandering lost and bewildered for a while, I managed to find the press area and check in to grab a schedule. Sitting down with the schedule and a map of the several different stages, I made a battleplan to conquer Warped Tour before I missed half the bands just trying to get my bearings. Holy shit, Warped Tour is gigantic. I don't want to be the guys coordinating this thing, but they do an incredible job.
I decided that the first up on my list was going to be local metal dudes The Stranger Beside Me, stomping around on the Ernie Ball stage thanks to winning the Battle of the Bands. I've seen them a couple times before, most notably opening for Lamb of God's recent stop at In The Venue last month, and I knew they were going to put on a good show. As predicted, they killed it, rocking their hearts out to a crowd of stoked fans headbanging their way into heatstroke. I'm hugely partial to Spencer Gee's vocals, and his expressions are just fucking fierce. These guys are one of a ton of metalcore bands in Utah, but so far they're doing a damn good job pushing their way to the front of the pack and earning every inch of it.
After shooting The Stranger Beside Me's set, I wandered still-lost around the festival until it was time for the next band on my list. One of the highlights of my wandering was the crazy-haired, goth wannabe New Years Day. Fronted by Ashley Costello, hair dyed black and red, and bouncing around in a tattered dress and flanked by made-up guitarists rocking their very best (and not very good) corpse paint. Their music isn't terrible, mostly forgettable, harmless pop-punk, but they've got the Dark Paramore vibe down pat with their stage show.
Realizing that I can't read a map and managed to wander to completely the opposite side of the park from where I needed to be, I started making my way back to the Monster stage to get into the photo pit before Like Moths To Flames started playing. On my way back, thanks to shiny objects and an inability to ignore loud music, I stopped by the Spotify stage and caught a piece of the Five Knives performance. I like their name, I'll admit that, but I sure as hell didn't like the pop-techno-disco crap that spewed out of their speakers. Warped Tour has something for everybody, apparently, but the Spotify stage did not have anything for me on this particular day. According to their Facebook page, Five Knives is from Nashville, which means that the “Anarchy In the UK” shirt that singer Anna Worstell was wearing is just as irrelevant and uninspired as their terrible, terrible music. Congratulations on your Warped Tour spotlight.
Slightly better by virtue of being on the opposite end of the spectrum, I also stopped by the Ernie Ball stage again to catch a couple minutes of Consumed By Silence. Fairly generic and uninspired metalcore, with breakdowns, double-pedaling and growling, I was still grateful that they managed to wash the disco out of my ears. If you've got to be generic, at least be generic in a decent genre.
Finally making it to the Monster stage to catch Like Moths To Flames, things were looking up and it almost seemed like I knew my way around the place. Opening with their single “The Worst In Me,” it was hard as hell to shoot photographs while head-banging, but yet again I managed to make it work. After seeing them play with Silverstein at Club Sound the last time they came in town, I thought I was prepared for how damned energetic and bouncy they are, but they managed to top themselves given as much room as the Monster stage offered. I think vocalist Chris Roetter has a style all his own that keeps these guys from being lumped in the rest of the metalcore scene, and his stage presence makes for a great live show. The rest of the band aren't slouching either, particularly bassist Aaron Evans and guitarist Eli Ford rocking the hell out of their respective instruments. Preparing for the release of their new album, An Eye For An Eye on July 9, they also played a new song, “Blackout,” that heralds good things for the new album.
Wandering around between sets, I noticed a lot of the marketing techniques that various bands were employing, and I'm pretty impressed at the diversity. Like a microcosm of the music community in general, it's up to the band that can make the most noise to draw a crowd with so many other bands playing and begging for attention. Several bands offered me a listen of their recordings on an iPod, and most had some sort of creative display to get people to stop by their booth. The Early November in particular has a pretty awesome “Stone Cold” Steve Austin display setup for tips, proclaiming that “Austin 3:16 says tip your damn merch guy and that's the bottom line cuz Stone Cold said so,” while I stopped by the Set It Off booth thanks to their mutant mannequin named Clifford. Playing music is half the game––getting people to listen to it is the other half, and I very much approve the creative efforts instead of just posters slapped up all over the place.
Having seen Like Moths To Flames before and satisfied that, yes, they still kick ass, I decided to see what else I could find after the first several songs. Jazzing up the Ernie Ball stage with self-proclaimed “party-rock punk,” Mighty Mongo appealed to me at first glance on account of spectacularly classy keytar. I don't see a lot of these in the wild, but Mighty Mongo put theirs to good use. Fun and carefree, keytarist and vocalist Lindsay Vitola dancing all over the stage with a big ol' smile, these guys made enough of an impression that I made sure I tracked their music down after the festival. I will also take a moment to admit that, yes, I am incredibly jealous of guitarist Anthony Isoldi's mustache.
I also caught a bit of Man Overboard's set, confirming my previous impressions of them––pretty harmless pop-punk––they don't do anything special but they're alright at what they do. Unfortunately they don't seem to be quite as solid live as they are on their albums, with occasional offkey singing and terrible harmonies in the couple of songs I heard. Maybe it was just an off day on a long tour, but unfortunately today was not their day, so better luck next time.
Here was also the moment that I discovered the big secret of the show, and the only reason that I survived. While Warped Tour has been advertising their SIGG Hydration Stations pretty heavily, in practice, they're a fucking joke. Dehydration is a huge issue with these huge festivals, but one little booth was not enough to keep the gigantic, thirsty crowds hydrated and the lines here were constantly enormous. You get to decide whether it's more important to miss half the show and grab one measly bottle of water or just die of heat, which is a great compromise. Fortunately, right behind the totally inadequate booth was the Fairpark building, completely with air-conditioning and several sinks with cold tap water. I saw most of the crowd filtering in and out of here, and I'm glad there was a reliable place to get a break from the shows. There were never long lines for the sinks, and I must have gone in here over a dozen different times to take a breather from the heat and refill my bottle of water.
After stopping by the Set It Off booth and visiting with Clifford, I made sure to catch their set on the Kevin Says stage. Playing a self-described mix of My Chemical Romance and All Time Low, it's another band for the Hot Topic crowd, but I didn't mind them so much. I don't know if they'll leave much of an impression for long, but I liked the songs I heard, including their “fuck you for those who left us behind” called “Swan Song,” complete with guitar flinging. Jumping in front of the crowd, singer Cody Carson also stole a fan's hat and put it on mid-song, throwing it back before hopping up on the stage again. Not a bad way to put on an entertaining show!
Next up for me was Oh, Sleeper, a Christian metalcore band that doesn't actually piss me off, mostly due to the fact that their albums are well-written concept albums about the war between heaven and hell without any of the bullshit. Vocalist Micah Kinard looks about par for the course, with long hair, beard and tank top, but it was guitarist Shane Blay that really caught my eye with his cocky grin. “You know you want to take my picture,” his sunglasses say, and they are correct. Playing my favorite, “Hush Yael,” as well as “Endseeker,” they also kicked up one of the new jams off of their Indiegogo-funded The Titan EP. Opening with a soundbite from the ominous-sounding “Titan Broadcast System,” the sci-fi concept EP already sounds like it's on the right track for another winner.
Making time to stop by the Acoustic Basement, I caught a solo performance by JT Woodruff of Hawthorne Heights, rocking some acoustic-style rhythms. A major fan of his work with Hawthorne Heights, it was particularly cool getting to see a softer, more intimate side of his music. One of several other singer-songwriters playing in the Basement, he put on an entertaining set, including a song that “goes out to my new, least favorite friend, e-cigarettes” called “Don't Smoke.” Not an experience that I'm going to take for granted.
After seeing a sign by a band member walking around listing a set-time for a Japanese metalcore band by the name of Crossfaith, I made to sure to put down in my notebook that I needed to catch these guys, and I'm glad that I did. A little bit industrial/electronic to take the edge off, it's a glorious combination of sounds that suits my palate just perfectly. Bassist Ikegawa Hiroki 's long hair also puts on his own performance, head-banging along to the tunes, while frontman Koie Kenta does his best possessed-screamer impression, occasionally sharing the spotlight with the tiny but wild keyboardist Tamano Terufumi. So much fun to watch, and the enthusiastic crowd agreed. Well worth making the effort to catch, especially considering their nationality and consequential rarity in the U.S.
After Crossfaith, I decided to take a break from the chaos and grab a hot dog. After waiting through the lengthy line and acquiring my cardiac arrest, I took it on a field trip in search of a place to rest. Funny enough, my search ended up successful at a table just outside of the Kevin Says stage where Beebs and Her Money Makers were playing their particular brand of funky rock. This is amusing because their mascot is a hot dog, and I was about to eat a hot dog. It was meant to be. It also meant that I got to take pictures of a man in a hot dog costume emoting dramatically during the finale to one of their songs. Now I can finally check that off of my bucket list. Huzzah!
Highlights of the next hour: August Burns Red play “Empire”––still solid, still playing the same sounding music. Another Acoustic Basement visit reveals talents of female singer-songwriter Billy The Kid––entertainment fulfilled. The Black Dahlia Murder play a well-refined brand of generic-as-fuck metal. Black Veil Brides plays new song “Let You Down,” look like a bunch of Hot Topic-goth wannabes trying to rip off Motley Crue, play more like a boy band and even a Batman arm tattoo cannot save the singer from looking like a wuss. Also, screaming girls––so many screaming girls.
I finally get to the next decent band on my list, The Story So Far. Opening with “Roam” and finally elevating my mood out of synthy sadness, it was good to see these guys again after several years. More pop-punk, but well done, The Story So Far is a little harder than usual, and it suits them. Dedicating their song “High Regard” to any fan that had ever seen them in a smaller venue, it was rejuvenating to hear them and I still consider them one of the better pop-punk bands out there. Parker Cannon also makes a great frontman, with all the energy required of the genre and more. Also, he looks way, way better than I do shirtless, which is probably a good thing for his career.
After sticking around for a few songs, I slipped away to the nearby Kia Soul stage to catch one of the special guests of the tour, The Aquabats, just in time to see The MC Bat Commander chucking water balloons at the roasting audience. “Lead with your face,” he screams, an invigorating battlecry for aqualogical justice if there ever was one. Still hilarious after all these years, it was great getting to see these guys live and catch their stage banter and smooth ska style. Fans were also treated to a slow-mo fight between MC and a gigantic cactus monster, sacrificing the structural integrity of his skin to save the audience from the poking scourge. Yup, they've definitely still got it.
I also saw Tonight Alive from Australia, the singer of whom is incredibly hard to shoot due to copious amounts of bouncing. So much better than Paramore, refining that same female-led pop-punk sound, they played several older songs including “Amelia” and “Are You Listening?” as well as a new one called “The Ocean,” that makes me want their new album right now. High-fiving fans from the stage, it's clear that Jenna McDougall loves her job, and I love watching them play. On my way to catch Reel Big Fish, I also stopped by the stage in the middle to catch Gin Wigmore from New Zealand thanks to her Amish-looking guitarist catching my eye. Sort of a bluesy folk vibe, it's not really my kind of music, but the crowd dug them.
Reel Big Fish, on the other hand, suit my vibe completely. If you don't know who Reel Big Fish are by now, it's time to trade that rock over your head for a radio, because there's a reason they're still rocking after decades. Thrusting the ska torch high into the sky, they're still rocking the brass section and still tapping toes. Easily one of the largest crowds, it was also the first time I finally caught up with SLUG photographer Talyn Sherer in the photo pit. His photos are probably better than mine by far (check them out here), but I'm the only literary windbag here, so I think that means that I win. Reel Big Fish played a bunch of different songs from their vast catalog, including “Beer” (“That song was called 'Beer' I wrote it on this guitar! I don't want to say how long ago...”)
Circling back around to Real Friends, their set was just as good as the last time I'd seen them, and featured as many crowd-interacting shenanigans as possible behind a barrier. Sharing the microphones with his fans, Dan Lambton is still a damned charismatic lead singer, and the rest of the band is made out of grinning fiends having the time of their lives. It's got to take a lot out of you to hop on and off the stage like that, but Lambton makes it look easy. One of the best new pop-punk bands on the scene, I hope they never lose their incredible energy and passion for their music. I plan on seeing them again every chance I get. Waiting for Hawthorne Heights to finish sound-checking and hop onstage, I wandered over to the next-door stage and listened to the end of Stick To Your Guns' set, including the songs “What Goes Around” (“You don't want a circlepit? I don't give a fuck.”) and the brutally emotional “Amber.” It's nice to see that they haven't lost their edge since the last time I saw them.
After interviewing JT Woodruff before Warped Tour started, and especially after his solo acoustic set, I was incredibly excited to see Hawthorne Heights hit the stage. Opening with “This Is Who We Are,” “We Are So Last Year” and “Pens And Needles,” it's pretty clear why they've still got so much drawing power. Particularly badass was their live rendition of “Where Can I Stab Myself In The Ears,” as well as new song “Golden Parachutes.” Closing out their set with “Ohio Is For Lovers,” Hawthorne Heights brought on a lucky fan named Justin to round out their numbers and play JT's guitar part as per one of their PledgeMusic rewards. If the face-tearing smile on his face was any indication, I'd say that Justin enjoyed his time getting to play with one of his favorite bands. Very cool on Hawthorne Heights' part for letting their fans get to interact with them so closely, and props to Justin for having the guts to get up there in the first place.
I must have been under a rock of my own for the last year or so because I had no idea that The Early November had reunited until doing my Warped Tour prep work. Hearing them play a spirited performance of “Decoration” felt like a dream come true––I never thought I'd get a chance to see them play live after their “indefinite hiatus.” Ace Enders has a wonderful voice and a brilliant lyrical sensibility, and collectively, they've only gotten better since their hiatus. They also played my new favorite song off of their last post-hiatus album, “Tell My Why.” In one song, this proves exactly why the world needed more The Early November. It was meant to be. Also, holy hell, bassist Sergio Anello is one of the hardest-rocking pop-punkers I've ever seen. This is a man that feels his music, such a fun bassist to watch play.
It was about this time that Warped Tour started being dismantled. On the way to the Kia Forte stage to catch Bring Me The Horizon, trucks were backing in and sections of the park were taped off to get rid off all the booths and get these guys back on the road for the next stop on the tour. You can hear all about Warped Tour efficiency, and the reality show Warped Roadies gives some insight to the process, but there's nothing like seeing a group of busy stagehands taking everything apart right in front of you. Where once was a thriving, massive festival there’s now a grassy hill and a handful of cargo trucks. It's cool as hell to watch.
Do you know what else is cool as hell to watch? Bring Me The Horizon. I'm well aware that they're incredibly polarizing, loved and loathed in equal measures on either side, but I'm firmly on the side of loving their anti-religious passion. After reviewing their new album, Sempiternal, I was more than stoked to see them for the first time. Opening with “Chelsea Smile” and following up with “Go To Hell, For Heaven's Sake,” getting to see these guys made my day perfect. Funny enough, I managed to my earplugs for this set, but what hurt my ears wasn't the speakers––the screaming fans behind me were the ones that managed that trick. Standing in the way of the massive front speaker, relishing every sonic boom and the skin-tingling breeze it created, it was an intense experience. Fun fact: Oli Sykes spits a LOT onstage. And now you know.
Filling up my last SD card, I wandered out to the back of the pack, just in time for “The House of Wolves.” Riling the crowd into running a circle pit around the Van's tent in back, I was surprised to see just how many fans went fucking nuts despite the long, ridiculously hot day. Performing “Diamonds Aren't Forever,” new song “Sleepwalking” and then closing with “Antivist,” Bring Me The Horizon performed an extremely satisfying set that solidifies exactly why they're so popular right now. You don't become a band this big without some controversy and plenty of detractors, but they've earned their popularity.
Unfortunately, my last band for the night, Sleeping With Sirens, posted on Facebook that they had a van breakdown and weren't going to be able to make it to their set. Exhausted, I began the slow and aching trudge towards my car to call it quits. Warped isn't going to be for everybody, and I'd still take a dive bar over a festival any day, but it's still a great grab bag of music and bands that you might never get to see otherwise. I saw a shitload of pop-punk and metalcore on my day at Warped, but there's music for every taste. Thanks to the incredible amount of talented, hardworking people involved in making Warped Tour so successful year after year. Check Talyn's full photo gallery here.