by Willie Clark
There are only a few days a year I brave the sun for extended periods of time, and Warped Tour is one of them. It somehow manages to always be the hottest, dustiest, and otherwise most uncomfortable day of the whole summer. Yet there's a reason that it continues to draw such a crowd, year after year, and a reason that I've gone nearly every year since my first time back in 2004.
On Tuesday I started off the long, hot, sunny day at Darien Lake Performing Arts Center with Rochester natives Polar Bear Club. This was my first chance to catch the group live, and while PBC is a little on the harder side of things than I usually like, it makes it work, and work well. At the end of the night its songs were still stuck in my head, and it wasn't just because they left the first impression. They left a great one.
Now, I'm not used to being surprised at Warped Tour these days; I usually have a decent idea of who will be there, and whether I'll like them or not. A complete random walk-by win-over is rare, but that's what happened with Skinny Lister. I was shocked that an accordion-playing, foot-stomping Celtic (dare I use the C word? The band hails from England, not the Emerald Isle) band had sneaked on the tour without my prior knowledge, and it was by chance that I walked by just in time to catch a few of its enjoyable reels.
Kicking off the afternoon was current bastion of ska, Streetlight Manifesto. I forgot just how good this group is, and how tight everything always sounds. I've seen the horn-heavy band blast and blare a few times before, so had to cut the time short to run over to the band I was most excited to see, but Manifesto was sure a-rocking.
And then I finally found them! Wales-based rockers Lostprophets haven't seen a huge stateside hit since 2004's "Last Train Home," with the band's second-most-recent album not even seeing a U.S. release. But for me, the group has been on my concert bucket list for years, being one of the first rock albums I ever bought. It's somewhat of a guilty pleasure, but always near and dear to my heart, and I had just about given up seeing the band on this side of the Atlantic before the Warped announcement. So, I'm hyping them quite a bit (btw: its most recent album, "Weapons," just came out, and it's amazing).
Unfortunately, Warped can sometimes not be the best place to see an act due to short set times, fast changeovers, etc. For whatever reason sound problems plagued Lostprophets. The first few songs the vocals were barely, if at all, audible to anybody not right up against the stage, and the bass sound issues kicked in after that. You could just tell that the band was getting frustrated constantly trying to get whoever was running sound to adjust anything. The sound got better, but I don't think it was ever as right as they, or I, would have liked it.
That didn't keep them from hitting the set hard. Lostprophets played a ferocious and fiery cut off "Shinobi Vs. Dragon Ninja," a very deep cut off their back albums I never thought I'd hear live, and I had a hard time keeping up with the fast flying and fret-handling fingers.
For its last song, lead singer Ian Watkins ran off stage to the people sitting on the lawn and formed his own personal mosh pit, with the crowd soon swarming after him. Nice ending to a very strong set, it's just a shame the sound problems put a damper on what could have been even more awesomeness.
Now, say all you want about Warped changing and what-have-you, but some things never do. And that can't be said better than the finale one-two punch that was Taking Back Sunday and Yellowcard. Both were headlining on my first Warped back in '04, so it was a little slash of nostalgia to wrap up this tour with both bands.
I'll be blunt: I like Taking Back Sunday, I really, really, do, and not just because my high-school girlfriend loved them and shoved them down my throat. The band is very skilled at riffing together pop-catchy lines, duo vocal attacks, and ushered in a whole wave of the genre. But still, I've always felt like they the band is leaving something on the table live that is present in its recordings. The line-up shuffles over the years may not have helped, but with the original gang back in tow, I expected a little more. It's tough to put an exact finger on what was missing, but Adam Lazzara's vocal uncertainty and all-over-the-place pitch didn't help things any. And I know I'm getting really picky, but swinging microphones just pisses me off -- especially when you are missing notes. Pitch first, theatrics second.
And last but not least, was Yellowcard. Yes, THAT Yellowcard, and yes, we all know that "Ocean's Avenue" was a good song like 10 years ago that got played so much it should only be listened to every few years or so. But it was also the only band on the tour (correct me if I'm wrong, anybody) that had a violin, so I owed it that much. And luckily, I did. The group blew me away
And -- and I cannot stress how big a point this is -- the group actually had things mixed so that I could hear the violin just as loud and level as the guitars. Plenty are the bands I've seen that can't pull that off, so props and kudos all around. I didn't think I'd ever be saying it, but Yellowcard was possibly the best group of the day. You can say that the band has had its heyday, its moment in the sun, but if this performance was any indication, you're wrong.
In proper tradition, the band closed off the night with "Ocean's Avenue." And you know, there's a reason it got played as much as it did (it's catchy as hell) and I was due to have to listen to it this year anyway. And anything is better than "Call Me Maybe" stuck in my head.
What was your favorite act of the day? What do you think of Warped Tour overall?