DARIEN – Most people come to the Vans Warped Tour ready to mosh. But are they ready to dance?
That was the question when Warped Tour returned to Darien Lake on Saturday for another overcrowded and overwhelming day. For the most part, it seemed like just another year for the most consistently popular rock festival in the country.
I say “for the most part,” though, because on a small scale, this was the most experimental Warped in years. The 19-year-old festival, which initially honored punk, hardcore and ska, long ago realized that it could not survive on dozens of bands banging out five chords. The Warped crowd still remains too close to its stereotype – mostly teenagers, mostly tattooed or pierced, and wearing too much black clothing for any summer day (not to mention denim jackets or neck collars) – but the tour keeps tinkering with whatever new styles might click, from Celtic to pop to reggae.
This year, electronic dance music is the new craze, which makes sense: The most popular musician with black hair and skinny jeans is now Skrillex, and the most popular act in the last few years with “dead” in the name is deadmau5.
The Spotify Stage was home to all things non-rock, and the testing ground for this year’s more experimental acts. Early in the day, Five Knives destroyed eardrums without a guitar, with two members instead making as much noise as possible with hyper-distorted synthesizers. Later, the stage featured super-smooth rapper Mac Lethal and one too many laptop deejays – including Shy Kidx, Kairo Kingdom and Run DMT – who did an admirable job pushing a button on their computers and flailing their arms to look busy.
Elsewhere, there were always other surprises to be spotted, like Gin Wigmore, a lovely New Zealand star who brought her mighty squeak and a country flavor to the amphitheater stage, and the checker-clad sextet Handguns, the snazziest looking band of the day, who slyly twisted ska closer to New Orleans jazz.
Thanks to Warped’s egalitarian scheduling, with each day’s lineup randomly selected in the morning, some of the biggest acts – like doofus duo 3OH!3 and shock rockers Black Veil Brides – played their half-hour sets before 2 p.m., when most people were still scrambling for a parking space. Warped veterans Hawthorne Heights and Reel Big Fish drew loyal hordes, and Chiodos frontman Craig Owens filled the intimate Acoustic Basement tent beyond capacity. But the biggest crowd came for the Used, one of the all-timed Warped favorites. The Used stomped onstage in the late afternoon with a posse of punks in neon-colored ski masks, and psyched everyone out with the “Smells Like Teen Spirit” riff before delving into hits like “Take It Away” and “The Taste of Ink,” with frontman Bert McCracken turning the crowd into an anthemic army, screaming along to every chorus.
For some reason, a large part of Darien Lake’s field was closed Saturday, making this Warped unusually consolidated. The cramped setting only reinforced the tour’s budding eclecticism across the nine stages. Fans easily wandered from the heaviest-of-the-heavy bands at the Monster Stage to friendlier fare at the Spotify Stage, which drew the day’s most polarized crowds, with some people carelessly dancing and others standing back and watching askance, as if processing the foreign customs of a new culture.
“I hate all that dance, dubstep, rap” music, said 17-year-old Victor Neill, who was here for his fifth Warped and used a harsher word for the music he doesn’t like. “People want to listen to Skrillex. They have iPhones for that.”
No one used their iPhones to blare Skrillex, but many brought them out to snap pictures of the breakdancing fans as deejay Stephan Jacobs dropped booming bass again and again. Among them was Alex Youngs, 19, who was happy to bust some moves despite her black T-shirt, cammo jeans and stomach-length pink hair.
“Feels good to be dancing at Warped Tour now,” she panted after the set, before catching her breath and running to another stage.