Venturing from the oceanic breezes of Venice Beach to sweltering West Hollywood, we stumble upon The Automatic’s Alex Pennie (keys, vocals) at his hotel. He’s sprightly as ever and confident about the grueling adventure he is about to undertake. Standing in front of his tour bus, “Daisy Duke”, he shows us his cuffed jeans, exemplifying his approach to keeping cool. “I brought way too many black shirts though,” Pennie admits. “I’ve already gone through all my white ones; but I’ll just end up wearing them again.”
“Yeah you will” declares Kerrang! magazine writer and Warped veteran Rae Alexandra. Acknowledgments are made to previous Warped tours, in which denim pants were shorn little by little during the tour until they were essentially nothing more that “belts with pockets.”
Warped ’07 kicks off with a pre-party in Pomona, CA that includes Kennedy, Big D And The Kids Table, Gallows, and a ‘super-secret’ headliner. We bid farewell and best wishes to The Automatic, as they depart from their swank hotel onto the bus they will call home for the next month.
“It smells too much of vanilla,” says Pennie.
“It won’t soon,” Alexandra assures.
Proudly, Pennie declares, “I can’t wait for it to smell of men.”
Car pooling with the stars, we are privileged to share a ride with Aiden’s wiL Francis, also a veteran of the tour. Asked how he beat the heat last year, he says it wasn’t really the heat that he beat, but the sunburn.
With pride he proclaims, “I never got burned once.” How is this possible? “Hoodies, all the time.” So it’s all sweat but no painful burn for wiL. An understandable sacrifice, as fishnets and sunburn are probably about the worst combination imaginable.
En route to the Glass House in Pomona, CA, we get a sneak listen to Aiden’s very recently finished third full-length, Conviction, which is slated to drop August 21, 2007. Aiden has a remarkable following overseas; but one listen to this multi-hit gem spells out a certain domestic recognition—finally. America, this unassuming young chain-smoker, may very likely be your favorite new musician very shortly—and for what it’s worth, he deserves to be.
Aiden’s wiL Francis (left), middle finger guy, Steve from I Am Ghost
Arriving at the Glass House, we find Epitaph’s latest signees, Gallows performing both verbal and physical calisthenics. As Laurent ‘Lags’ Barnard (guitar) and Stu Gili-Ross (bass) chat up the crowd, Steph Carter (guitar) performs lunges and stretches in an Adidas track suit outside the club’s main door.
Having just wrapped up the shoot for “In The Belly Of A Shark”—one of their innumerable anthems—the boys are tired and stiff, but once on stage, it’s fluidity at its finest. This is the first gig on Gallows’ second trip to the US—the first being the press-laden SXSW music fest in Austin, where their shows were dominated by the biz, rather than the rabid fandom they enjoy in their native U.K.
The unfamiliar audience warms up quickly; and as soon as Gallows performs their cover of Black Flag’s “Nervous Breakdown,” they secure themselves a sure reputation from the local audience. Singer Frank Carter essentially whips his balls out on this one; performing the number in the center of the circle pit, he is received with jumping, stomping, back-slapping bromance. Unquestionably, these fellas have made their splash.
Shortly thereafter, our secret headliner takes the stage; and it is, really to no one’s surprise, Bad Religion. The rock vets will be on the entire Warped tour, but this evening’s performance is a rarity in such an intimate venue. They belt out tracks from their soon-to-be-released fourteenth album, as well as classics like Flat Earth Society and 20th Century Digital Boy. The audience goes nuts for the new and old, and the pit can barely contain itself.
If this has been a precursor, the tour is going to rage.
And it does.
Shoreline Amphitheater hosts the San Francisco Bay Area date for Warped on July 1. Previously held on the pier of SF Bay—unarguably THE favorite venue of the entire tour—this year the fest has been moved south to the southern suburb of Mountain View because the SF Giants are playing next to the pier; and due to traffic concerns, the Giants trumped Warped for space in SF’s China Basin. Boo. In the end, this just means it’s another hot inland day on Warped Tour, and we’ll all make a blast out of it anyway.
First we must sort out the very confusing array of stages. For one thing, there is a Hurley stage AND a Hurley.com stage. Secondly, the Hurley stage says “Ernie Ball” on it—and there is also an Ernie Ball stage. For those planning to attend an upcoming date this year, it would be smart to arrive early and get this straight before the bands begin to play. Since sets are all just 30 minutes long, it would be quite easy to miss an entire set due to a mistaken location.
Frank Carter, Gallows & Crowd
Once we decipher that the stage that says Ernie Ball is in fact the Hurley stage, we settle in to catch k-os, a fusion rock/funk/hip-hop outfit, and one of the only semblances of rap on this year’s tour. It seemed that serious progress was being made in the last couple years with the attempts to integrate independent hip-hop (past years have included such acts as Atmosphere, Mr. Dibbs and others) with the reveling rock and skate crowds; but sadly that appears to have proved a failing enterprise.
k-os opens with a cover of the Stooges’ “I Wanna Be Your Dog” and then meanders effortlessly into a funk rap number all his own. While an entire hip-hop stage would be great, a half hour’s worth of k-os and his crew is just perfect. Any more than that would conjure a fear of being caught up in a space-jam time-warp.
Moving on to the main stages (at Warped, there are two—right next to each other—so that one band sets up while another is playing) we catch the tail end of Killswitch Engage. Singer Howard Jones ends the set with a debatably enticing verbal declaration: “I’m looking for a woman, a woman who will let me rest my finger inside of her for so long that when I pull it out it’s all wrinkly. Who wants to give me wrinkly fingers? I say, who wants to give me wrinkly fingers?!”
Back at Hurley, Nothington gets down-home with their brand of country-blues-y punk. It’s part Pogues without accents, part Swingin’ Utters, and part New Bomb Turks. Nothington makes music that envelopes the audience and magnetizes fans. The crowd is drawn right up to the stage for this dose of working man’s rock, and in this case, the thirty minute set flies by far too quickly.
New Found Glory takes over on the main stage, giving us an unusually fierce dose of pop-punk. This is the breaking point where things begin to feel more like a rock fest than a music conference. The sun is shining high in the sky and the crowd is beginning to alleviate its restlessness in miniature circle pits throughout the expansive festival grounds.
Then a hipster lull ensues as Cute Is What We Aim For entertains the 14-year-old girl segment of the crowd. Honestly, what is up with that name? Does it force anyone else to choke back a little of beer foam reflux? Seriously, guys…
Barreling to the rescue, Gallows kick the afternoon right in the ass with a blistering set, which commences with Frank Carter leaping straight into the crowd and starting the wildest of the day’s mosh pits thus far. It appears to have taken a little coaxing at first, as Frank hits the ground during his crowd surf and is covered in dirt when he returns to the stage. Getting back to his feet, he introduces the next song, “This one’s for all of you who didn’t even try to hold me up in the crowd. And especially to those that kicked me while I was down!”
“Orchestra Of Wolves” provides an opportunity for The Automatic’s Alex Pennie to join the band on stage with his unmatched energy and frantic antics. See this Carter/Pennie collaboration in action, which Alexander captured side-stage: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eh_vgTXWuxQ
Then Frank plays the crowd again, saying “We’re gonna do a cover song now. It’s by a band you’ve probably heard of. They’re called Black Flag. I know you think since we’re from London we should play you some Sex Pistols; but I’ll tell you something about the Sex Pistols. They were just a bunch of junkies. Fuck the Sex Pistols.”
Immediately following the Gallows onslaught, the Circle Jerks launch into a storm of punk classics, the pinnacle of which being the epic “Beverly Hills.” Singer, Keith Morris is looking pretty weathered, but still rocking dreads (at this point they’re past his knees), punk as fuck and growling like an angry youth. He belts out hit after hit and the rest of the band is having no trouble with the accompaniment. This band is off the hook, even all these years later. Truly unbelievable. Unfortunately, they’ll only play one more show on the tour. Most likely it has been the California sun that has kept the Circle Jerks so youthful, and they know better than to stray too far from it.
Having caught Bad Religion the night previous, we opt to close our Warped experience with The Automatic. Alex spells out his take clearly as the band prepares to hit the stage;
“We feel quite out of place, really, but we shouldn‘t; because most bands on Warped Tour look all punk’ but actually play pop music. We look like a pop band but we actually play punk; so we’re probably a bit more honest.”
The Automatic rips it the amphitheater equipped with bench seating. This seemed a little awkward considering the stand and shout mood of the day. But honestly, after running around all day, the excuse to sit down is perfectly welcome at this point. They nail the set with an enthusiasm they’ve built all day, including their mammoth UK hit, “Monster,” and for added bonus, Pennie spits a mean rap covering Kanye West’s “Gold Digger,” complete with a live flute accompaniment from co-vocalist/guitarist, James Frost.
The bands kick back for a spell after the show, but as is the case on Warped, the buses must drive through the night for the next gig. This leg in particular is a doozie. The entire entourage must pass through the Canadian border the following day, en route to Vancouver B.C.
Warped Tour will be in Denver on Sunday, June 8th, a sweltering day for certain, soles of soft shoes melting to the black top of the Invesco Field. Just remember to wear sunblock, stay hydrated (and throw away your empty beer cups and water bottles!!!), and enjoy yourself. At least you don’t have to perform. It’ll be a dry heat…
-Jef Hoskins, July 4, 2007
Photos: Jef Hoskins, Chris Vandebroooke