The Vans Warped tour hit San Francisco this past Saturday for a boat load of music on a pier in the shadow of the Bay Bridge. With eight stages and seventy-seven bands on the roster, there was something for everyone with represented music genres covering punk, metal, country, techno and rap. With multiple stages live at any given time and a schedule that changes from day-to-day, you need to plan ahead for which bands you want to see and get there when the doors open. The first bands started at the most uncivilized hour of 10:10 am.
After arriving at the unholy hour of 11am, I bee-lined it through mobs of teenage girls wondering a) what bands could they possibly be coming to see and, more importantly b) why weren’t there any teenage girls going to punk shows when I was a teenager? The answer to my first question would come later, for now I had business at the Old School Stage! Now when the Warped Tour organizers say Old School, they mean “Old School.” The bill included punk rock veterans who have been making and playing music for going on 30 years including D.I., T.S.O.L., The Adolescents, Flipper and the Dickies.
First up was D.I. which was formed by Adolescents drummer, Casey Royer, after the band’s first breakup in 1982. While Casey remains the only original member, the band has been playing music virtually non-stop since 1982 except for a short hiatus in the mid-90’s. With over 25 years behind them, my expectations were high and D.I. certainly did not disappoint. Backed by Clinton Calton on guitar, Joe Tatar on drums and Eddie Tater on bass, these 40-somethings put more heart and energy into their 30 minute set than some bands half their age. These guys are the real deal and the sizeable crowd gathered at 11:40 in the morning knew it, with a pit breaking out for much of the set which included D.I. classics such as Johnny’s Got a Problem and Richard Hung Himself as well as material off their 2007 release, On the Western Front.
While they changed up the Old School stage, I wandered over to the Hurley Stage to catch TAT, a relatively young three-piece punk band out of the UK. Remember my earlier pondering? Well apparently this is where all the teenage girls were; screaming like … well, teenage girls … over Escape the Fate, which as far as I could tell was a few tattoos and a hot shower away from being the Jonas Brothers. TAT, however, definitely impressed me. Even though their first full album was released only late last year, TAT has toured extensively and that experience shows in their performance. While not familiar with their music, they kept the crowd’s attention with their driving rhythms and commanding stage presence. It also didn’t hurt that singer/guitarist Tatiana DeMaria is beautiful enough to be the next Crypt Girl. These guys could be huge.
After walking away impressed, I headed back to the Old School Stage for Punk Rock Karaoke. If you haven’t hear of PRK, let me briefly explain: Eric Melvin (NOFX) on guitar, Steve Soto (Adolescents) on Bass, Derek O’Brien ( formerly of Social Distortion, D.I. and The Adolescents) on drums and members of the crowd taking turns singing along to classic punk tunes from the 80’s. Having seen this act a few times it’s always good fun watching kids belting out songs that were written before they were even born. Adding humor to the set was watching T.S.O.L. drummer, Tiny, flub the lyrics to Code Blue.
I headed over to the Main Stage only to find that Underoath was playing instead of Bad Religion as I was expecting. Since I was already there I figured that I’d give them a listen. I wasn’t expecting a whole lot from a band that bills themselves as a Christian metal band, but these guys are no Stryper. They collectively had more energy than many of the acts I’d seen so far and a sound reminiscent of At the Drive-In with vocals that alternated between guttural and melodic. You should consider checking these guys if you don’t think that their holy message of salvation will set your eardrums ablaze. As for me, three songs were enough as I had business back at the Old School Stage.
T.S.O.L. is probably best known for Code Blue, an unapologetic song about the pleasures of necrophilia, from their first full-length LP, Dance With Me. T.S.O.L. later challenged the punk rock status quo with the release of Beneath the Shadows in 1982 which included keyboards and a more complex, atmospheric vibe than previous releases and cemented their reputation as a horror punk band. Front man Jack Grisham left the band in 1984 at which point the music took a wrong turn towards hair band-dom and an eventual line-up that didn’t include any of the original members. There was a rumor at the time that Jack had killed someone and left the band to go into hiding. During a brief chat with Jack, he clarified that he ever killed a man but did admit to once knocking a guy’s eyeball out of its socket. Lucky for the smartass kid who made a crack about Jack’s outfit during our chat, another twenty-something years of living and sobriety have mellowed Jack’s off-stage persona considerably.
Fast forward to 1999, punk was going through resurgence and original members Ron Emory (guitar) and Mike Roche (bass) reunited with Grisham to give it another go. Since the reunion, T.S.O.L. has released three albums of original music which deliver the same ferocity of their early releases but with a more political, yet equally irreverent, bent (Grisham ran for governor of California in 2004). Tiny Bubz (Biuso) joined on drums in 2004 from the Dickies to round out the current line-up. Their most recent release, Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Free Downloads, was released by Hurley in January of 2009 as a free download.
Even though band members are spread across the country, T.S.O.L. still manages to play a few live dates each year and continues to approach their live performances with the ferocity that I first experienced back in 1982. To give you an idea of the level of respect that these guys command from their peers, T.S.O.L. was the sole band on the Old School Stage that all the other Old School band members stuck around to watch. I arrived at the Old School Stage to find T.S.O.L. to find that Jack had doffed his trademark black suit pants for purple board shorts and that the band had been joined on tour by none other than Greg Kuehn, keyboardist from the Beneath the Shadows LP. Every T.S.O.L. show that I’ve ever been to has been two shows in one: a mixture of the old and new tunes with a healthy dose of Jack’s own style of politically incorrect comedy. This particular day saw Jack keeping the crowd in stitches between songs at the expense of Adolescents singer Tony Reflex/Cadena/Montana. Through their set, Jack prowled the stage non-stop while Mike, Ron and Tiny blasted through favorites I’m Tired of Life (Dance With Me), In My Head, Terrible People (Disappear), Fuck You Tough Guy (Divided We Stand) before whipping the crowd into a frenzy with their standard set-closer, Code Blue. The only disappointment was that the 30 minute set didn’t leave time to showcase material off the new album or Kuehn’s talents on Beneath The Shadows material such as Wash Away.
Next up on the Old School Stage were the Adolescents who I hadn’t seen since 1986 when they reunited after their first break up. The Adolescents reformed a second time in 2001 for the 20th anniversary of their self-titled debut album and released O.C. Confidential in 2005 but have been unable to recreate the magic of the “Blue Album” which, in this writer’s opinion, remains a classic example of the 80’s L.A. punk scene. As for the performance, original members Tony Reflex/Cadena/Montana (vocals) and Steve Soto (bass) stuck to what they do best, pulling all but two songs of their setlist from the “Blue Album” including I Hate Children, L.A. Girl, and Amoeba before finishing the set with the Stooges cover, I Got A Right (recorded by the Adolescents on their 1986 release, Brats in Battalions). Guitarist Matt Beld brought a ton of energy and youthfulness to the set as he literally bounced his way across the stage while Soto (who, as you can see from the pictures, wasn’t going to move anywhere fast) laid down his signature bass groove. It was great to hear all their classics live again but I think that the real test of this version of the Adolescent’s meddle would be to see how they handle a 60 to 90 minute set. Given what I heard today, I’d give them that shot, if not just to hear the rest of the “Blue Album” played live again.
Finishing the day at the Old School Stage were performances by Flipper and the Dickies. Flipper is a San Francisco based band that formed in 1979 and were often criticized by the punks of the day for playing too slow. The band has been playing off and on since but probably gained their greatest notoriety when former Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic joined the band in 2006 to tour and record new material. Original members Bruce Loose (singer) and Ted Falconi (guitar) explained to me that Krist would rather tend his organic potato farm than tour so Rachel Thoele was brought in earlier this year on bass. With their incredibly heavy, slow grind and wailing vocals, the music of Flipper remains an acquired taste and, given the sparse attendance during their set, the Warped crowd was not ready for it. As for the Dickies, this is a band that must be seen to be fully appreciated. These veterans have been making their style of comic punk for over 30 years and, when combined with their on-stage antics (which on this day included a scuba mask and snorkel, a blow up sex doll, devil horns, jumping jacks, and a teddy bear costume), you’re going to experience something akin to watching demented clowns in a circus where something has gone terribly wrong.
In addition to the aforementioned bands, I was able to catch solid sets by Warped Tour veterans Bad Religion and NOFX. If you’re a fan of either of these bands, the Warped Tour is not the place to see them. They tour consistently enough that you should save your money for a headlining tour. For me, the Warped Tour is more about the bands that you can’t see at least once year somewhere else and that’s where the Old School stage fit the bill perfectly. Unfortunately for the readers of this article, the most of bands the bands that I wrote about won’t be coming to your stop on the tour. But don’t despair; there are a lot of other great bands that will be coming to the Old School Stage including D.O.A, Channel 3, The Adicts, The Exploited and FEAR. And if there’s someone you really want to see, get your ass there early or you risk missing them. After over seven hours of mayhem and masses, my old bones were creaking and it was time to retreat from the still-beating sun for some much-deserved solitude.
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