Ah, the Warped Tour. Dozens upon dozens of punk, emo, screamo, and metalcore bands providing an extremely loud soundtrack for a long, draining, often sweltering 12-hour day that gives the ADD-prone youth of today such distractions as skateboarding, video games, tons of reasonably priced band merchandise, even more tons of extremely overpriced drinks, plenty of product placement, a Ramones memorabilia exhibition (!), and of course, a nasty case of sunburn. At a glance, the longer this event goes on, the less about music it seems to become, but good, simple, boisterous rock’n'roll remains the heart of the traveling road show / day camp, and despite the presence of a painfully high number of bands who are completely devoid of any original ideas whatsoever, there are always a few veteran acts who show the children just how it’s done, not to mention plenty of young bands ready to turn the heads of the more jaded listeners in the crowd.
The annual Warped Tour compilation has become a fun release to look forward to every year, offering people a chance to either sample some of the ridiculously bloated roster of artists before planning their day, to serve as a memento of their big concert experience of the summer, or for those who can’t make it out to Warped, to sample some of the best, and not so best, sounds that modern punk / emo / whatever has to offer. This year’s compilation is no different, cramming two discs with 51 bands, delivering more than two-and-a-half hours’ worth of neatly packaged mayhem, and much like the tour itself, it can get awfully repetitive. But if you pick your moments carefully, it’s hard not to enjoy, with the good outweighing the bad by a considerable margin.
Save the Day’s “The End”, ironically kicks off the set, the otherwise plain-jane pop punk enhanced nicely by some Cure-style guitar accents. Gogol Bordello is one of the finest bands around, its gypsy-punk single “Not a Crime” dominated by the hugely entertaining, immensely charismatic Eugene Hutz. Against Me’s “From Her Lips to God’s Ears” is a terrific diatribe against Condoleeza Rice (trouncing Anti-Flag’s hackneyed “No Future” earlier on), and despite not having an ounce of originality, Bedouin Soundclash offer a fine respite from all the noise with the reggae number “Rude Boy Don’t Cry”. The ladies are poorly represented yet again, but Paramore’s pop-fueled “Emergency” shows that emocore doesn’t have to be a sausage fest all the time. Meanwhile, Joan Jett might be in her late-40s, but she’s the class of the entire tour, her catchy new tune, “Five”, hearkening back to the days of Bad Reputation (with a little Sleater-Kinney tossed in, too) while sounding more impassioned than most bands a third her age.
On the heavier side of things, Christian screamo phenom Underoath (who has since bowed out of the tour) balance hardcore and emocore nicely on “Moving For the Sake of Motion”, an indication of how much better its sound connects with secular crowds than most Christian Contemporary Music. Canada’s Moneen is one of the most popular young bands in its country, and the strength of the swirling “If Tragedy’s Appealing, Then Disaster’s an Addiction” is enough proof that America should soon follow suit. Every Time I Die’s “The New Black” is a fascinating example why the Buffalo band is one of the leaders in American metalcore, but the best of the heavy lot, though, is Canada’s Protest the Hero, whose marvelous “Heretics and Killers” is only a fraction of the intricate, ambitious brilliance to be heard on Kezia, one of the finest metalcore albums of the year.
The flatter moments are frequent, but thankfully brief. A tired-sounding NOFX’s “Wolves in Wolves’ Clothing” lacks the terrific blend of politically fueled anger and hooks on 2003’s The War on Errorism. Former Fastway singer Dave King continues his shameless attempt to become the next Shane MacGowan with Flogging Molly, and while “Laura” is certainly exuberant, it lacks the grit and gutter poeticism that made the Pogues so great. Relient K tries much too hard on the dreadful “Which to Bury, Us or the Hatchet?, incorporating power chords, banjo, and a Coldplay-like outro, and Hellogoodbye’s vocoder-laden “All Time Low’s” is forgettable. Helmet’s turgid “Bury Me” shows just how much a shadow of its former self the once-great band has become, while I Am Ghost’s vampire punk shtick on “We are Always Searching” is unintentionally hilarious.
Of course, that’s just a small tip of a mighty large iceberg, and while it’s far from a definitive look at the best of today’s young punk and emo bands, as always, it’s well worth the inexpensive price. It’s not unlike a cheap buffet restaurant: sample everything and pig out all you want, you never know what will end up surprising you. Just keep the antacid handy.