Despite their self-deprecating name, Los Angeles flooded the four-piece The All-American Rejects with a whole lot of love. The band opened its headlining set with the single “Dirty Little Secret” in front of a sometimes-screaming crowd that made no secret about its devotion.
Toward the end of the performance, the group played the ballad “It Ends Tonight”. Traditionally, this is a moment where fans hold their lighters aloft and sway to the music. But even though this was a lighter-sponsored concert, only a few lonely flames burned. A sign of the times, the moment was owned by cell phones held aloft.
The crowd was made up of mostly twenty-somethings, not the teenagers that annually flock to Warped Tour events. Similarly, AAR’s music is less angry and more contemplative than your typical punk rock band’s. Vocalist Tyson Ritter, who came off almost unbearably whiny on the band’s breakthrough single, “Swing, Swing,” now sounds more power-pop than emo.
Ritter played bass while flanked by two guitarists and backed by a drummer. The group brought along a keyboardist that sat in a dark spot next to the drums. Although he was never formally introduced, he contributed to almost every song. Even with two full-time guitarists, the group’s sound was dominated by bass and drums. It might have been intentional, but it also could have been because of the room cruelly swallowed up the muddy mix of guitars. These guitars, as quiet as they were, were mainly used for rhythmic melodies, not for solos.
For their encore the band dragged out two large barrels—used as stools—and a rocking chair for Ritter to “swing, swing” on. Unplugged segments are commonplace in mainstream concert circles these days, but still relatively rare among the Warped set of which AAR is usually a part. With the overall house sound so excessively loud tonight, this stripped-down segment offered a welcome break for the ears.
The All-American Rejects’ set was preceded by one from Chicago’s The Academy Is…. This group is also a Warped fish out of water. Most of its members have long hair and its singer William Beckett already has a repertoire of classic rock movements. Imagine a skinnier Robert Plant doing his best Mick Jagger impression. Too bad this group’s music doesn’t live up to the work of those two pioneering icons. Its arrangements were thin, and few of the melodic hoods took hold.
If this crowd makeup had been any younger, it wouldn’t have made sense for Zippo to sponsor the show. If attendees were too young to smoke, why would they even need lighters? Of course, we all know that kids start smoking young, which makes all of this speculation moot. Nevertheless, “young adults” had the opportunity to spin a roulette wheel and win great Zippo prizes, including hats, wristbands, t-shirts, and lighters. There was also a Maxim booth, which displayed a local hotties pamphlet, filled with pictures of half-dressed women.
The irony of alternative music is that few bands get into this business to become cultural obscurities. It’s always a curiosity to see which bands cross over, a la Green Day, and which acts settle for a small, devoted fan base. The All-American Rejects put on a bright and highly professional show. Ritter pandered to this audience by leading a cheering contest. So if this band plays your local hockey arena some day soon, just don’t be surprised. They’re already in stadium show training.