The Architects came home on Tuesday, but only briefly. The band's 34th show in 39 days was scheduled at Sandstone Amphitheater in Bonner Springs. They played the Skullcandy Stage at the 15th annual Warped Tour, at 4:45 p.m., which, if it wasn't the hottest moment of a steamy August day was surely in the top three. As usual, they played relentlessly, like someone's life depended on it.
"It's exahusting," he said, of living in a van, even if it's with three other people you love like brothers (and two of them are). But later, looking around a noisy parking lot stuffed with tents and stages and crowded with about 7,000 fans and inundated with the roar of music, he said: "I love this. I could do this every day."
In a way they do, just not in doses this concentrated. Earlier, the band Bouncing Souls played on the main stage, and the band's bassist, Bryan Kienlen shouted at the large crowd: "Thanks for supporting us. This is all we do. We get in a truck, we go to clubs and we play shows. Then we fly to Europe and Japan and do the same thing. Then we come home and write songs."
... And do it all over again.
The Warped Tour turned 15 this year, and not much about it has changed over the past six or seven yeears (as long as I've been going), except the usual, which tends to be the various flavors of the year in punk music. This year's special twist seemed to be metal -- from the garden variety heavy kind to a little thrash and scream-core. New, but not new, just not the same.
It's probably more a sign of the economic times than anything else, but Warped felt smaller this year. It was in some ways: fewer bands (about six dozen), not as many stages; smaller crowd. It's tempting to say the festivalis playing its course, but it also seems to be aware of its need to evolve. Thus, acts like 3Oh!3 and P.O.S. were part of the bill -- hip-hop with various twists. Too bad they both played in the opening slots -- before noon -- which meant a lot of kids/fans didn't get there in time. Or had to run back and forth to hear both.
There were other options to punk and all its relatives and step-children (power-pop, emo), like Alana Grace, a singer-songwriter who splits the difference between Tori Amos and Natasha Bedingfield. Her audience was small, between and dozen and two. And her presentation suited the size of the crowd and the time and temperature of the day: Both the stage, which cast some heavy shade, and the music, which was a pleasant version of indie-pop/rock, provided some umbrage from the heat and the noise around her.
She wasn't the only band or performer who didn't qualify as punk or any of its alterna-versions. The Maine get tossed in with the punk crowd but their sound is more uncorrupted pop and rock -- as much Third Eye Blind ("Everything I Ask For") as Blink 182 or Green Day. They played early, too, but drew a lot of fans, many of them teen-age girls. (Yes, cute plays even at Warped.)
One of those heavy/hardcore bands followed the Maine: Saosin. They're from Newport Beach, California, a region that has produced a torrent of punk bands. Their sound is a roiling blend of emo/punk and metal. The heavily male crowd knew a lot of their songs ("We Are the Only Ones," "I Keep My Secrets Safe"). All day, you could hear some variation on that form: jackhammer rock with screaming vocals (Chiodos, Alexisonfire): an odd mix of rebellion (against the mainstream form) and conformity (to its own). At times, it was like being in the middle of Rockfest.
Several other bands went the other way -- power-pop/emo -- like Bayside and We The Kings, who got one of the biggest cheers of the afternoon for its cover of Jimmy Eat World's "The Middle."
Warped has its many traditions, and Bad Religion is one of them. It's a fine line between tradition and habit, though, and this year they felt more like that than an essential ritual. They sawed through all the hits, including "21st Century Digital Boy," "Infected" and "American Jesus." They drew a large crowd at the main stage, but the vibe was comparitively benign -- the kind you get from fans who are enjoying something they've seen many times. Gary Graffin, the band's lead singer, looks more than ever like the guy who sells you a bag of driving-range balls at your local public golf cours -- which added to the feeling of bemusement.
The vibe was more intense for another Warped stalwart, Bouncing Souls, who followed BR. Their lead singer, Greg Attonito, looked dressed for another part -- like he was on lunch break from his investment firm. When he went into the crowd to mingle, he looked like a political candidate shilling for votes. Their name fits their songs, which are primarily 12-cylinder pop-anthems with arena-sized choruses (there's a resemblance to Social D).
They spiced up their set by inviting Nichols out to sing and play for a song, and he revved-up a set that was getting ready to crack 10. It only helps that he looks like he could be Mr. July in the "Why God Made Guitars" calendar.
A few moments later, he was back with his own band, on stage, chiding a nice-sized, hometown crowd to pull in closer and feel the fury. And most did. Their music is hellaciously primal but not primitive -- hellbent, but precise. The size of the crowd grew steadily as people walking by were drawn in to see/hear where it was coming from.
Before his set, Phillips joked about the shotgun seat in the band's van needing to be replaced. And destroyed, no doubt. A month-plus of playing the bunk to sweaty, irregularly bathed musicians would wear out concrete.
Music isn't at all like sports, where numbers and statistics decide who's the best and who wins. So there's no cut-and-dried reason why a band like the Architects isn't playing one of the main stages at Warped. They'd have no problem whipping a thousand people into a frenzy, even in the middle of heavy, noon-day heat. Bands have their age (and with half their energy) are doing it.
As much as any festival, Warped exhibits the ruthless vagaries of the business. Sometimes you can infer it in the faces of the people in bands: Don't we deserve at least a little better than this? Some do; some don't. The ones that do, keep plugging along, reminding fans to buy a T-shirt or CD or ... something ... so they can put gas in the van or eat breakfast, so they can get back in the van and do it all over again. Because this is what they do.
| Timothy Finn, The Star