Warped Tour has gone through many incarnations since its creation in 1995. For the summer tour’s fifteenth birthday, creator Kevin Lyman toned things down–just one main stage and substantially fewer acts. Mainstage acts also now received forty minute setlists, an opportunity for many bands to play two or three more songs than in previous years. For New Jersey fans, the tour also shifted venues from the larger Englishtown Raceway to Monmouth Race Track.
Arriving at noon, I hurriedly searched for the inflatable set-times board. It turned out to be located near the mainstage, where I caught Chiodos. Known for their intense live performances, the Michigan five-piece sounded great but had unfortunately already played half of their first set. Luckily, I did catch two of the band’s best songs: “The Words ‘Best Friend’ Become Redefined” and “There’s No Penguins in Alaska”). Vocalist Craig Owens (pictured left in a Pi Beta Phi shirt–interestingly the letters of a national women’s fraternity) controlled the crowd with ease, encouraging enormous pits and even a wall of death. Even with some weaker cuts from Bone Palace Ballet making the setlist, Chiodos certainly sounded good.
Anti-Flag took the main stage at 1PM, opening with 2003’s “Turncoat”. The Pittsburgh punks played a set spanning their entire career, reaching back to their debut album with “You’ve Got To Die For The Government” but focusing primarily on songs from For Blood and Empire. The band spoke out against corporate bailouts, expressing disgust that blue-collar workers aren’t being directly assisted. Of course, the band’s spoken messages were echoed by their songs; “Sodom, Gomorrah, Washington D.C. (Sheep in Shepherd’s Clothing)” from their latest album, The People of the Gun, addresses the issue of corporate control in America. The band’s the full set:
I’d Tell You But…
You’ve Got To Die For The Government
Sodom, Gomorrah, Washington D.C. (Sheep in Shepherd’s Clothing)
The Smartest Bomb
One Trillion Dollars
Death Of A Nation
The Press Corpse
This Is The End (For You My Friend)
Should I Stay Or Should I Go (The Clash cover)
After Anti-Flag’s incredible performance, I rushed across the parking lot to catch Bayside. Unfortunately, the primary side stage was scheduled to slightly overlap with the mainstage and I only caught the last half of Bayside’s excellent performance. I did manage to get the get the setlist and it turned out to be a fairly predictable affair, though “Boy” from Shudder was noticeably absent (perhaps to make room for the somewhat rare “Existing In A Crisis (Evelyn)”). The full setlist:
Existing In A Crisis (Evelyn)
The Ghost of St. Valentine
The Walking Wounded
Devotion and Desire
While waiting to catch Streetlight Manifesto, I caught parts of The Devil Wears Prada–an Ohio six-piece putting on their take of a hardcore/metal hybrid immitation. Surprisingly, the effort wasn’t awful. Conversely, I also sat through Senses Fail at the Smart Punk Stage; the New Jersey quintet sounded awful. Part of this was due to the Smart Punk Stage’s ongoing sound problems all day, but a larger part can be attributed to band’s poor live show and incredibly weak catalog. Hardly memorable, much of the set blurred together like a bad night of drinking. The only bright spot during thirty minute performance was “Bite to Break Skin”, clearly one of the only decent cuts in the band’s discography since their 2002 From Depths to Dreams EP.
Ska powerhouse Streetlight Manifesto took the Hurley.com Stage next, promptly removing the awful taste of Senses Fail from anyone’s mouth who might have been unlucky enough to sit through that set. Replacing frontman Tom Kalnoky’s guitar was a sling for his broken left arm, but the band nonetheless played a quality set from 2:45 to 3:15. Even without songs from the essential Keasbey Nights (written by Kalnoky’s former band Catch 22 but rerecorded by Streetlight Manifesto in 2006) , the band captured the crowd. Drawing heavily on Somewhere in the Between (including the band’s only single to date, “We Will Fall Together), Streetlight Manifesto sounded excellent. Unfortunately, Underoath was scheduled at the same time I missed the Christian metalcore group’s mainstage set.
The next band I caught was California’s Saosin. Opening with “Seven Years”, it’s quite evident how, even five years since his departure, the band misses former vocalist Anthony Green–and not just on Green’s songs. Replacement Cove Reber is devoid of the energy and personality that elevated Saosin above their peers in 2003. In 2009, there are simply too many bands doing what Saosin does, yet better. The completely forgettable set consisted of three mediocore songs from the upcoming In Search of Solid Ground in addition a few of the stronger cuts from their debut EP (“Voices”, “Sleepers”).
I hurried over to the mainstage to see Less Than Jake, who came out to the traditional Star Wars theme. The band joined in on the song’s final moments before kicking into “Last One Out of Liberty City”. I caught a few more songs before heading to The AKAs tent to say hello to some friends, but the full set is as follows:
Last One Out Of Liberty City
Johnny Quest Thinks We’re Sellouts
Ghosts Of You and Me
Sobriety Is A Serious Business And Business Ain’t So Good
Help Save The Youth Of America From Exploding
Never Going Back To New Jersey
Plastic Cup Politics
Science of Selling Yourself Short
Sugar In Your Gastank
Does The Lion City Still Roar?
Look What Happened
All My Best Friends are Metalheads
Gallows was playing across the parking lot, and so we rushed to see the British hardcore punk outfit. Frontman Frank Carter took the band’s set to epic proportions, singing from the crowd the entire time. To be clear: to say he was singing from the crowd doesn’t mean he spent some time on the barricade, returning to the stage between songs. No, Carter was in the pit for the set’s duration, even starting the day’s biggest circle that would surround the stage’s sound tent. Gallows was loud, fast, and abrasive–and, as they put it, “sick of playing car parks” and Warped Tour dates.
The band’s passionate hardcore engaged the crowd, and even the band itself; midway through a sixty second song dedicated to “all the fake bands on this tour”, Carter threw the microphone and abruptly joined in on the giant circle pit. On a hot Sunday in New Jersey, with angst-filled youth and extreme energy, Gallows managed to top even the best of punk veterans and put on the best show of the day.
Warped Tour veterans NOFX played next. Clearly drunk, frontman Fat Mike spent much of the set telling offensive jokes (“Arming The Proletariat With Potato Guns”) and stumbling through three minute punk songs. The band touched on classics such as “Linoleum” (1994) and “It’s My Job To Keep Punk Rock Elite” (1998) and more recent cuts such as “We Called It America” from 2009’s Coaster. The band took stabs at everyone, including the fans (“Fuck Da Kids”) and even themselves for thirty minutes. “Eat the Meek” featured Fishbone’s Angelo Moore on saxophone and lead vocals. The full set:
Seeing Double At The Triple Rock
Murder the Gov’t
It’s My Job To Keep Punk Rock Elite
Fuck Da Kids
Arming The Proletariat With Potato Guns
Eat The Meek
Don’t Call Me White
We Called It America
Whoops I Od’d
Before giving up the stage, Fat Mike joked “thanks for coming to see us…and Underoath”–a nod towards the feud between the two bands over Underoath’s Christian beliefs and prayer sessions. Each band also issued a limited edition tour shirt in response to the situation: NOFX’s “Noah FX” shirt, designed with Underoath’s signature miniscule (“Ø”; Underoath’s “Underoath Loves Fat Dinosaurs” shirt, with a dinosaur personified as Fat Mike.
I managed to catch the end of Alexisonfire (who sounded great) before Celtic-punks Flogging Molly took the mainstage and put on an excellent performance. Written in honor of frontman David King’s father, “What’s Left of the Flag” was dedicated to King’s mother, who turned 81 that day. The band’s performance drew a lot of other bands, including Anti-Flags Justin Sane who joined on stage and Gallows’s Carter, who–more appropriately–could be seen navigating the pits. The full set, which drew from each of the band’s full-length albums:
The Likes Of You Again
Requiem For A Dying Song
Devil’s Dance Floor
What’s Left Of The Flag
Seven Deadly Sins
After Flogging Molly, I wandered around catching parts of some other bands, including A Skylit Drive (just one song, “Wires and the Concept of Breathing”) at the Smart Punk stage. I also listened to some of Boston’s Westbound Train, who played an appealing blend of ska and rock but ultimately fell victim to a scheduling conflict that pitted them against Bad Religion, the next and final band on my list.
As the sun set on the mainstage at around 7PM, punk veterans Bad Religion started their set. The scene might have worked as a metaphor: the sun setting on the band after thirty years of touring and fourteen full-length albums. Indeed, it’s difficult to picture many of the bands on the 2009 Warped Tour existing without Bad Religion or their related projects (Circle Jerks, Minor Threat, Government Issue, Dag Nasty,and Suicidal Tendencies–to name just a few). For Bad Religion, however, this was anything but goodbye. The band sounded angry and discontent with the modern world and modern music scene, and for forty minutes expressed these views through three-minute So-Cal flavored punk numbers:
Do What You Want
Requiem For Dissent
I Want To Conquer The World
21st Century Digital Boy
Them and Us
Fuck Armageddon… This Is Hell
I left Monmouth Race Track after Bad Religion’s set, satisfied that I had done my best to see a large selection of quality bands during the eight-hour day. With few exceptions (Bayside, Underoath, Alexisonfire), scheduling conflicts were not a big issue–a nice benefit of the toned down Warped Tour. Even with a plethora of throwaway acts crowding the bill (including A Day to Remember, Attack Attack, Breath Carolina, Brokencyde, Dance Gavin Dance, Escape the Fate, Hit the Lights, I Set My Friends on Fire, Jeffree Stars, Meg and Dia, Millionaires, and The Maine), Warped Tour 2009 managed to impress thanks to give-it-all performances from new acts (Gallows) and veterans (Bad Religion, Flogging Molly, Anti-Flag) alike.