The 15th Annual Van’s Warped Tour – Tower City Amphitheater – Cleveland, OH – 07/09/2009 – Concert Review

The Van’s Warped Tour, currently in their 15th year of touring, made their annual stop in Cleveland, OH last Thursday at the Tower City Amphitheater (and parking lot).

The one time punk rock summer camp really should be redefined as a punk, metal, emo, hip-hop, freak rock, scream, indie, and whatnot summer camp festival thanks to the huge array of bands that dedicated their summer to touring the states as well as other countries to play out and travel.

Before even going to this year’s Warped Tour I announced it would be my last; not because I was not enjoying them but I feel I have been to enough. I don’t feel old at all as a lot of the bands I have seen over the years trump me in age, but the whole ambiance of the festival slowly has been wearing off for me. This is a festival for the kids and the young at heart and where I feel like I am 19 all over again when I make way into the festival I want to withdraw while it’s still a good feeling.

Teamed up with a small group of friends this year we made way to downtown Cleveland on a sky blue beautiful day. Saving myself $20 once again by avoiding the pay lots, I parked about a mile away from the venue and hoofed it to the venue alongside my three friends. I find it outrageous that people are charging that much for parking seeing on how that is half the price of the ticket. I have no problem walking a little further and to be honest, I love making that trek from Nautica to Tower City.

Anti-Flag was already on the main stage officially opening the day as we cut in front of the huge line of kids that spanned all the way up to the parking deck at Tower City. Honestly it was amusing to see the structured line of fans dwell up top from the street, down through the parking lot, and to the entry way. No one told them to stand in such a line but they did it anyways. Being a jerk, I walked around them alongside my friends and made my way in.

One of the things that is unique about the Warped Tour is that each stop has different time slots dedicated for the bands that play. To the attendees it is completely random and one can not plan out who they want to see until they get a copy of the schedule or find the inflatable schedule over by the main stage.

The downfall of this is that sometimes you miss some of the bands you would like to check out because bands you love are playing. Case and point, Anti-Flag was playing at 11:15am, well before the festival got going. I was able to see a brief moment of their set and you could tell they were ok with the early set and playing just has hard and loud as if they were closing the day.

Another distress to such a festival is that not all the bands hang on for the entire tour. Some of the bands only make it though half of the tour for reasons unknown while others stick it out from start to finish. I was bummed that the Bouncing Souls as well as Shooter Jennings would not be playing at the Warped Tour in Cleveland. Still how can I complain about something like the Warped Tour when it brings so many amazing bands together?

After making a quick lap around the area to see where the stages were positioned my friends and I obtained a schedule and started our ritual of planning out who we were going to be checking out as well as whom we would be avoiding. I pointed out on the schedule to my friends that there was a special guest playing today, with no clue what act it was we could only wonder and hope it was someone we wanted to see. Rumors later in the day pointed towards a possible Blink 182 performance. That right there would have made my day.

I was sad to see that some of the bigger bands I came to see were playing super early in the day. Still the point was they were playing and I was planning on being there to see them.  In order to do so though I was going to miss some of the acts I would not have minded checking out, but there was no way I was going to skip out on some of my favorite acts especially since they were playing 45 minute sets this year. This year I came to see specific bands instead of touring around the grounds to see what is good.

Less Than Jake put on one of the better sets of the day. The punk / ska act was full of energy and did not seem to care about their early slot. Their performance of “The Silence Of Selling Yourself Short”, being one of my favorite songs by them, was awesome to hear live. Another highlight of their set is when they started shooting t-shirts into the packed crowd with a t-shirt gun.

With a few moments to kill I decided to see what Brokencyde was all about. As I walked towards the SkullCandy stage I thought I was hearing 3OH!3, but no, it was just the emulate Brokencyde. They were just finishing up their set to a decent gathering and that was enough for me.

Bad Religion being one of my all time favorite bands was a highlight to my day and I made sure I would stay for the whole set. Having seen them every time they have played a Warped Tour I would have to say this was one of their better performances. Rocking through songs old and new the band sounded amazing. During “Let Them Eat War” one of the members of Aiden (as stated by Greg Graffin) filled in for the vocals usually sung by Sage Francis on the album version. Other songs during their set included “New America”, “Supersonic”, “American Jesus” as well as “Generator” and “Sorrow”, two of my personal favorites.

For a band that been around for over twenty years they looked so comfortable on stage and played better than a lot of the younger acts that day. Their live performance reminded me why it is I love punk rock music so much.

Getting away from the main stage, I checked out a couple of random acts on stages throughout including ska act Staylefish, UK pop punk band TAT, and the more so folk indie rockers Dear and Headlights. TAT was one of those bands I wish I would have been able to see more of where Dear and Headlights was the surprise of the day for me and I will be looking for their album shortly. Sadly I missed a pop rock act called Lights, a band that seemed to be getting talked about a lot during the day.

Minneapolis rapper P.O.S. performed at the Hurley.Com stage but really was not on the stage but rather in the crowd. Showcasing a more intimate performance the hip hop lyricist was perched atop one of his equipment cases in the middle of the crowd rapping away. I am not sure if you have heard P.O.S. before but I can tell you this, he is that damn good live too. The surrounding fans on P.O.S.’s declared stage were going nuts over his ability to flow at a fast pace.

Last year 3OH!3, Nat Motte and Sean Foreman, played on a smaller stage at the Warped Tour but thanks to their increasing popularity they took over the main stage to one of the larger crowds of the day. Backed by a live band the Boulder, CO duo performed their mix of punk and hip hop to what seemed like an endless sea of fans. Performing a ton of tracks off their latest release Want they gave their fans their best.

I was content to see Nat pick up a guitar while performing a new 3OH!3 song as I know many question the duo on really being musicians. The new song they played, according to Sean, was about LeBron James. Regardless if it was or not it was a nice peek into what 3OH!3 has in store for their next release.

On the other side of the venue Bayside was playing out to a decent sized crowd by the time I tore through the crowds. I enjoyed them from a distance while reconnecting with a couple other friends who finally arrived. With the temperatures not being too extreme it really was rather enjoyable to just hang out in a fenced in parking lot under a bridge listening to the punk rock act.

As the UK hardcore punk act Gallows set up their gear, I noticed a Paramore poster duct taped to the asphalt with a note saying “This Stop Only”. It was clear to me that Paramore was the special guest of the day that would be playing the main stage. All rumors of Blink 182 were shot down. The gaining stardom group took a day of from their tour with No Doubt to play the Warped Tour in Cleveland.

I myself prefer Gallows over pop-punk so I avoided the insanity that took place at the main stage to enjoy an act I was more so a fan of. I found out later in the day from the bouncers of the main stage that Paramore drew in a huge gathering fun of excited fans.

Having seen the Gallows in 2007 I wanted to make sure I did not miss their performance as lead vocalist Frank Carter takes his aggression out on the mic as well as has no problem speaking his mind. The skinny, tattoo covered, redhead alongside his band put on the hardest punk rock performance of the day. To me it was like witnessing a modern day Black Flag.

After a couple of songs in, Frank Carter jumped into the pit with his microphone where the fans respectfully gave him his space to sing, rather, scream songs and jump around. At times he would walk around and put the mic in fan’s faces to give them a chance to sing a lyric. Frank Carter had a look of angry approval each time a fan would sing into the mic. I could only wonder what would happen if a fan did not know any of the song.

Midway through the Gallows set Frank Carter started speaking his mind and the fans were all ears. He spoke on his disapproval for bands like 3OH!3, Jeffery Star, and Brokencyde. He did not seem to be too thrilled about the way the Warped Tour has been going as well and mentioned that “Jeffree Star is a confused individual”. He called out 3OH!3 multiple times and started the Warped Tour was just not punk anymore.

It was not all negativity though as Frank Carter did comment on how there still were punk bands out there like NOFX and Bayside that keep the punk in Warped. He also admitted to the crowd that played corn hole for the first time and just did not care for the scoring rules. It was not all talk of course as the band hammered through songs from the band’s two albums to a assembly of rowdy fans.

Another Warped Tour veteran act, NOFX, took the stage a little inebriated and a lot excited. The person the most excited was Eric Melvin who earlier told me behind the scenes that it was his birthday. He kept announcing it to the crowd that it was his birthday and it was pretty clear he got his party on well before the set.

In almost a Jane’s Addiction “Mountain Song” flashback someone threw a flip-flop on stage almost hitting Fat Mike in the junk. Laughing he picked up the flip-flop and asked who would wear flip-flops to a Warped Tour, let alone wear them in a pit.

I could not believe some of the tracks NOFX dished out. Opening with “My Heart Is Yearning” as well as later on playing “Arming The Proletariat With Potato Guns” from a 7” Of The Month release I was excited to see such a array of tracks being played.

I got a kick out of hearing NOFX cover Rancid’s “Radio, Radio” more so because I just saw Rancid on the very same stage just weeks before. NOFX of course did the cover their own way and to be honest, it took me a minute to figure out what song it was.

“Linoleum”, “What The Matter With The Parents Today?”, “Quitter”, “Franco Unamerican”, and the humorous “Creeping Out Sara” were other tracks the band performed to a huge crowd of all ages. I honestly think I lost some of my voice while signing along and it was totally worth it. I felt like I was nineteen all over again.

Westbound Train had a half hour set in between NOFX and Flogging Molly and I tried my best to catch at least a few songs by the smooth soulful ska act. The bottleneck human traffic jam did not make it too easy for me and sadly I just gave up. Westbound train is one of those bands I could watch for hours and I hope they return again soon so that I can actually see them this time. On a good note though I did stop at their merch tent earlier where I picked up one of their earlier releases as well as a t-shirt.

Flogging Molly would be the last band I would ever see live at the Warped Tour bearing in mind on how I previously announced my retirement from the punk rock county fair after the day’s end. They are an amazing band to see live and I am so happy they were on the bill this year.

Everyone in the crowd got a heavy dose of Irish spirit thanks to the men and woman of Flogging Molly. Slamming Guinness and playing out like it was their most important show, the band had the crowd in the palm of their hand and put on a near perfect performance.

There were a few bands I missed I would have loved to see live like Alexisonfire, Senses Fail, Fake Problems but when NOFX and Bad Religion are playing an aging punk like myself will drop all interest for other acts to see them. I am sure the veteran bands will be playing for many more years but honestly I am not the type to miss out on the bands I cherish most in life.

The Warped Tour this year was a remarkable event and I hands down enjoyed it a lot more than last years. Not only was the line up a bit more catered to me, but I felt that I had no down time at all and the sun was not too brutal. In fact I really felt this year’s tour flew by be and before I knew it, it was over.

As I stood outside of the venue I had to remind myself that this was it for me. The towel was thrown in and I stand by my decision. I’ll keep my eye on next year’s line-up and years to come because I know this festival has the capability to go on for another 15 years easily. Who would have thought such a tour could last a decade and a half?

I really need to thank Kevin Lyman for creating the Warped Tour as well as his crew, the promoters, and especially all of the bands devoted to playing on the tours over the years. His insane idea of taking punk rock music and everything good about it on a tour all over the United States and beyond has kept me entertained since I was a teenager just looking for something to do.

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