The Vans Warped Tour has weathered many a concert industry storm since it launched in 1995 as an outlet for skaters, extreme sports fans and the punk rock they invariably loved and employed as the soundtrack of their lives. As Warped 2012 arrives Tuesday at the Darien Lake Performing Arts Center, it remains one of the few tours of its type to boast continuous success since its inception.
Named after the skateboarder sneaker manufacturer Vans, a key sponsor, Warped has avoided the failings shared by so many festivals in its peer group over the past 17 years and has consistently been a major draw. Though one could easily catch in the area of 50 bands during any given Warped tour stop, ticket prices have remained more than reasonable. And organizers have stayed true to the Warped mission -- to provide a forum for punk and alternative acts, established and up-and-coming alike -- in structuring the annual tours.
Many a band and artist got their first big breaks playing Warped. And for the fans, the opportunity to sample so much live music on one site has lost none of its appeal.
Here's a list of my "must-see" acts for this year's Warped Tour stop. Get your hands on a schedule when you arrive at the gig Tuesday, and bring along a Sharpie to circle your favorites. I'm guessing the following will all make your list!
1. Every Time I Die
Buffalo's own metalcore representatives to the alt-punk world at large. Over the years, we've seen this highly energized machine of a band evolve from straight punk-metal into an interesting and inventive blend of hardcore, Southern metal and stoner rock. Welcome brothers Keith and Jordan Buckley back home in style!
This Welsh ensemble just plain doesn't get enough credit (or blame, depending on your point of view) for its influence on the marriage of punk, metal and alt-rock that is, by this point, the Warped Tour's stock-in-trade. Formed in 1997, the Lostprophets has been a favored element on the alt-metal underground circuit ever since. If you like, say, Linkin Park, but prefer a little more undiluted rage and a more ragged, roughshod delivery, make your way to the band's stage and give 'em a little love.
3. Make Do and Mend
This New England quartet's music is often referred to as "melodic post-hardcore," which, when translated into everyday English, basically means it plays heavy punk rock with hardcore overtones and that the musicians actually bother to write melodies. Fans of hardcore who dig complexity in the guitar riff and rhythm section departments will find this band interesting and compelling. Plus, a very cool band name. Music for the thinking punk.
4. Owen Plant
What makes Warped work? For me, it's the stylistic diversity of the lineup. Plant will offer an intimate, acoustic oasis in a (lovely but blazingly hot) desert of punk and post-punk bands. The Jamaican-born troubadour has a bit of Jack Johnson and Dave Matthews in him, certainly, but he also has some Marley influence -- Ziggy and Bob -- to draw from. Plant's set could be the surprise high point in a day full of them.
5. Rise Against
The Chicago punk maestros of Rise Against have spent the past 15 years or so living up to their name. Taking a page from the textbook authored by the Clash and updated by Rage Against the Machine, the band is firmly committed to doing its part to raise consciousness on a variety of societal and political issues. As John Lydon once so famously insisted, "Anger is an energy," and Rise Against is certainly a ferociously angry-sounding band. But there is also an underlying intelligence in its hyper-aggressive punk blend, evidenced by the music and in the on-point broadsides that form the lyrics.
Again, variety is the key to Warped's success, and Stepdad -- a Chicago-born, alternative-electronic-pop ensemble -- stands out as a palate-cleanser in the midst of much guitar-based heaviness. These guys are a blast, a shot of synth-pop saccharine aimed straight for the mainline and, I'm predicting, the mainstream as well before too long. Check out the band's "Wildlife Pop" album, which is available on iTunes and through Stepdad.us.
7. Tony D'Angelo
Seattle hip-hop/pop/electronica wunderkind D'Angelo is one of the most buzzed-about acts bubbling under "artists" on this year's Warped bill. Message boards on the Warped site describe his high-energy shows as "epic" and insist that D'Angelo will "force you to move your body." Again, the contrast between the high-energy hip-pop of D'Angelo and the high-decibel assault of a band like Every Time I Die is part and parcel of the Warped magic.
8. Blood on the Dancefloor
Arizona duo Blood on the Dancefloor is likely to command the attention of a sizable portion of the crowd at Warped. I recommend making your way toward its stage at least 15 minutes before the scheduled start time, as things are likely to get thick and sticky pretty quick. Danceable electronica approached with the ferocity of punk rock is the group's modus operandi.
Pittsburgh's Anti-Flag is, like Rise Against, angry, on fire and out to change the world. A true, straight-up punk rock band (which makes it a bit of an anomaly these days), Anti-Flag plays protest music with the assistance of rapid-fire tempos and buzzsaw guitars. It's like a Sex Pistols for Generation Occupy.
10. Streetlight Manifesto
You can't leave Warped without catching some ska! This New Jersey seven-piece comprises serious musicians from a wide variety of backgrounds, from metal to jazz. The common ground is the band members' love for ska in all its permutations. Though only five years old as a collective, Streetlight Manifesto puts on a show like a group of seasoned, weathered pros. Not to be missed!
The lowdown on Warped
The Warped Tour is an all-day extravaganza with multiple stages of music, tents and tables hosted by nonprofits, skating and plenty of chances to meet the musicians.
Gates open at 11:30 a.m. Tuesday at the Darien Lake Performance Arts Center; the music starts at noon and continues to 9 p.m. More than 100 bands are involved with the tour; to see the full list, check out www.vanswarpedtour.com/bands. The band lineup for each stop is announced the morning of every show. Look for the set times at the giant inflatable next to the main Vans tent.
It nearly goes without saying to bring a hat and sunscreen and to wear comfortable clothing and footwear. Here are more helpful hints from the Warped folks:
You can bring a small backpack, sunscreen, one sealed bottle of water (you'll be able to refill your bottle for free at the Klean Kanteen), camera (disposable or small digital), Sharpie for autographs and writing set times, and a fully charged cell phone.
You can't bring chains (including a wallet chain), professional cameras, alcohol, recording devices, firearms, weapons, knives or any illegal substances.
WHAT: Warped Tour
WHEN: Noon Tuesday
WHERE: Darien Lake Performing Arts Center
TICKETS: $32 at the gate, Livenation.com