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Van’s Warped Tour 2003 – Sunday, June 22, 2003 – Invesco Field

Stop the Man on the Street and ask him for his impressions on this year’s Warped Tour, and chances are great that he’ll say it was more Woodstock than punk rock. Okay, so perhaps you’re not falling over in your chair from the shock of this pseudo-revelation. You’re a studious young fanboy, and you already knew today’s blend of punk is more synonymous with fashion malls and bad break-ups than it is with broken homes and genuine “fuck the world” attitudes.

So why should we be so surprised that the dumbing-down of a once-volatile scene has manifested itself in the form of the ultimate cliché – the summer festival? The sad truth is we’re not surprised. In fact, it has become tired to continually rehash nostalgia, because clearly it ain’t what it used to be. Fortunately, bands like Rancid and Dropkick Murphy’s don’t give a fuck, so why should we? In other words, the day wasn’t a complete waste.

 In case you’ve just tuned in, we’re reliving the highs and lows of June 22, when the Vans Warped Tour 2003 rolled through the parking lot at Denver’s Invesco Field. Yes, the parking lot. It would seem the permanent tenants of Invesco — namely the Denver Broncos and Colorado Rapids — were too concerned over how the field would hold up to thousands of seemingly angst-ridden teens. But as it turned out, this crowd would have spent more time growing and smoking grass than it would tearing it up.

Of course, second-guessing logistical considerations is a job best left to the planners paid to do so. Just the same, this writer doesn’t need a degree in energy to realize that acres of asphalt don’t reduce the effects of the heat. Neither does crowd surfing of thrashing in a pit of hyped-up flesh, but that didn’t stop the younger set from jumping in.

Speaking of the pit, there was plenty of peace and love to go around where that was concerned. Serving as another shining reminder that we weren’t at Gilman Street, Toto, pit etiquette was offered freely by the likes of AFI’s Davey Havoc and Rancid’s Lars Frederiksen, who both lectured with great paternal care, “When someone falls down, we pick them back up, right?”

For those who have yet to experience a Warped Tour, let’s break down the details to give you a fuller picture: thousands of screaming teens, 500 hip-huggers, 300 gallons of hair dye, 123 mohawks, 50 port-a-potties, 40 bands, 32 corporate sponsors, 7 professional skaters and BMXers, 4 side stages, 2 main stages and 1 Kelly Osbourne look-alike attempting to fool The Used’s Bert McCracken.

As you might guess, not even a person with multiple personalities and five host bodies could see and hear it all in the nine hours devoted to the show. To truly maximize the experience, you have to come prepared with a game plan that charts all the Xs and Os of where you’ll be at any given time. This approach always fails, of course, because live concerts never go according to plan with two bands, let alone 40. So you do your best to hop from one 45-minute set to the next.

In years passed, I’ve stuck to the strategy of parking it directly between the two main stages, so as one band finishes, I simply turn my head to watch as the next group begins. As you might guess, this is done at the expense of missing the bands who are busting their asses on the side stages trying to find new listeners. It’s a fundamental flaw in the design of the festival that can’t be helped. But ask around, and it’s more than likely that everyone from Slick Shoes to Sloth (what is this, a Goonies reunion?) will tell you they’d rather spend a summer on a side stage than at home.

And in many ways, that thinking sums up the entire philosophy of Warped — throw a bunch of bands on tour buses, feed them and throw them on stage to blaze through as many tunes as three-quarters of an hour will allow. Screw standard tour politics. Take your lumps, have fun and repeat the formula every year until ticket sales tell you not to.

To be certain, the tour has made significant improvements over the years, from the perspective of both the groups and the audience. For starters, food and drink prices are much more reasonable. And accommodations for the bands are markedly improved. Regardless, such an endeavor is perhaps the most difficult yet most rewarding experience for bands, no matter what stage of growth they find themselves.

Glassjaw vocalist Daryl Palumbo will tell you sometimes it’s a matter of signing on to do multiple tours of duty with Warped before the fruits of your labor pay off.

“This is our second (Warped tour). We did like a month on it last year, and it’s way better this year,” he explains. “We were on the drive-through stage last year, and it was hard to get heads to watch us, because no one even knew we were on the damn thing. But we’ve had a lot of kids watching us so far, so we’re excited.”

And this is where we get down to the brass tacks of what this tour is about. Glassjaw is not unlike a number of their semi-nameless colleagues. They signed on to Warped in hopes of reaching more people. The Rancids and Ataris of the world get the kids in the gates, and the rest is up to lesser-known acts to capitalize on said audience.

And once Warped is over, they’re on to the Snocore tour or Ozzfest or yet another coast-to-coast affair of stinky vans and stinky clubs for shitty pay. Certainly this much touring must yield a juicy story or two. Not for Palumbo.

“No good road stories, man. I’m straight edge. No fun for me. I just hang out and play video games.”

Sounds like one way to come back from a two-month tour alive. Sony even blessed each bus with a free PlayStation 2. Mad CaddiesKeith Douglas was quick to point out that the lobbying has already begun for rights to the entertainment box once the tour comes to a halt.

“No one else in the band is really into video games. But because I’m always asking who’s gonna take it home, they think I’m getting greedy already,” Douglas says with a laugh.

On stage, so much is happening that it’s nearly impossible to relay what the crowd is really thinking. Some are loving every second, whether or not they have the slightest clue who’s blowing out their ear drums at that moment. Others are hating on the people next to them. A few are hanging out along the fence that separates the crowd from the bands, waiting desperately to flag down Havoc or McCracken for an autograph.

While the crowd’s reaction to each main-stage act remained relatively equal, it’s clear that Rancid, AFI, Dropkick Murphys and even Andrew W.K. blew them up more so than the others. W.K.’s following and positive fan reaction was somewhat surprising, given the usual opinions we tend to reserve for those who become television commercial artists. So good for him — keep on rockin’ Drew, but please buy yourself some new sweats with all that money. K?

Apart from the all the love in the air, two different parts of the day struck me. First was Mest. Like a handful of the bands on stage that day, I had zero knowledge of the group. What blew me away was vocalist Tony Lovato. Two minutes before taking the stage, I saw Tony being wheeled up the ramp by his bandmates. Not knowing who he was (and being the idiot asshole that I am), I thought, “Aww, how nice. They’re bringing their handicapped friend on stage for a VIP view.”

As it turned out, Tony came out to the front of the stage, emerged from the wheelchair, stood stiff, strapped on his guitar and said, “I wanted to let you know that I recently had a back injury, and I landed in the hospital in Utah, took too many pain pills and almost died.” And he’s onstage why?

Mest wasn’t a central act, and they probably could have opted not to play without causing much concern among the attendees. Yet he stood up there in total pain simply because it’s his job and he takes it seriously enough to do it despite the injury. Meanwhile you and I call it day at 9 a.m. when we’ve sneezed one too many times. The band has since had to take a break from the tour due to doctor’s orders, but will rejoin in time for the Pomona, California show on July 8.

More intriguing to me than this event was AFI. Here’s a band I have yet to figure out, and perhaps I never will. Over the years, I’ve hated them. And yet now I find myself wanting to call them out as one of the few bright spots in an ever-dimming industry.

I first encountered AFI (A Fire Inside, for dolts like me) at a Dance Hall Crashers show at The Fillmore in San Francisco around 1996. They came on before No Use For a Name, and just as they did at Warped last month, they completely tore it up. I chalked it up to a localized teen phenomenon at the time and dismissed it until recently.

Seven years later, the band remains a mainly teen sensation that clearly connects with its loyal fans (known as the Despair Faction) in a way no one else did at Warped. We’re talking way beyond simply knowing all the lyrics. The fist-pumping and fervor the crowd displayed is something I’ve not witnessed since seeing thousands of metalheads pounding their fists in unison to Metallica at Day on the Green in 1985. It’s scary, yet at the same time, so damn refreshing.

In speaking with friends in different states, the two AFI shows I’ve witnessed aren’t anomalies — it’s that way every time they play. And to think this is a band that essentially broke up for a period of time because no one seemed to care. If not for a chance reunion show in their hometown of Ukiah, California, the “fire inside” could have died long ago.

The upshot of it all is AFI brought an element to Warped that hasn’t been seen. Their uncanny combination of punk angst, melodic sensibilities, ethereal qualities and tribal core make for a sound that transcends everything AFI used to be, yet stays to true to who they’ve always been.

In a similar fashion, Rancid remains comfortable in their skin, and their live performance proves it every time. Pulling in a somewhat broader audience than other Warped acts, Rancid had 12-year-olds and 40-year-olds shouting their songs side by side. And as I contemplated how the scene has gone from braces and hardline political views to grande mochas and suburban boredom, it struck me how important this band is to punk rock.

Without disrespecting The Ramones or The Clash, Rancid have become godfathers of sorts, the latest leaders who do what they can to represent the purest values of punk. Who will be the next social pariah to carry the torch to the next generation of the disillusioned? While Warped might have been a fun afternoon spent witnessing some genuine artists, it’s clear the tour has yet to bring forth a successor.


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