It’s been seven years since traveling punk/emo/hardcore/whatever festival the Vans Warped Tour last stopped in Vegas, but the tour’s return to town on June 30 made it seem like no time had passed at all (except that a large number of this year’s attendees were probably in elementary school in 2004). Despite the typically scorching summer temperatures, the less than hospitable setting in the parking lot of the under-renovation Plaza hotel-casino Downtown and the city’s well-known hostility toward all-ages entertainment events, the day came off as a success.
I showed up at the festival in mid-afternoon as the sun was still blazing, but no one in the crowd seemed to mind. With literally dozens of bands on the bill, it takes a lot to stand out, but the guys in Foxy Shazam knew how to grab the audience’s attention. Singer Eric Sean Nally engaged in nonsensical banter and various acrobatics, and at one point he solicited cigarettes from the audience, lit two of them and then proceeded to eat them whole without batting an eye.
Over on the main stage, ska-punkers Less Than Jake joked about their status as one of the few ’90s holdovers still playing the tour and clearly did not understand kids today. They complained about the current proliferation of shaggy haircuts, then invited some floppy-haired dude onstage and used an electric razor to give him a mohawk instead. Maybe not that many of the teens in the crowd remembered the band from its brief presence on alt-rock radio in the late ’90s, but they did appreciate the covers of the theme songs from Animaniacs and SpongeBob SquarePants.
- Warped by the numbers
- 9,834 - Attendance at this year’s event, according to tour officials
- 8 - Stages (including one for local acts)
- 67 - Touring bands on the bill
- 3 - Bands with female members
- 3 - Decades in which Less Than Jake has played Warped (’90s, ’00s, ’10s)
- $3 - Price of a bottle of water
- $2 - Price for filling “any empty plastic bottle” with water
- 14 - The Wonder Years singer Soupy Campbell’s age when he attended his first Warped Tour
- 97° - High temperature on June 30, six degrees below normal and 11 lower than one year earlier
What were the kids into? Agit-punkers Against Me! seemed a little somber for the carefree festival atmosphere, with their all-black attire, lack of between-song patter and politically charged lyrics, but the main-stage audience did end up pumping its fists and singing along by the time the band got to the anthemic “Miami.” Around the same time at one of the secondary stages, The Wonder Years frontman Soupy Campbell was connecting on a more personal level with a smaller but more engaged crowd, delivering familiar angsty pop-punk with an appealing level of honesty and enthusiasm.
But neither of those bands could compare to headliners A Day to Remember, whose 8 p.m. set drew by far the biggest crowd of the day. “They’re the it band right now,” the guy standing next to me explained, and the crowd chanting along in unison to songs like “The Downfall of Us All” (as well as the truly epic mosh pits) confirmed his assertion. Nevermind that ADTR’s truly terrible pop-punk/metalcore hybrid is a synthesis of each genre’s worst elements.
For me, the highlight of the festival came earlier, as I was wandering through the rows of booths and came across a makeshift performance by prodigiously bearded punk-Americana act Larry and His Flask. The band was playing acoustically, with no microphones and no stage, while standing in front of its own merch booth. That kind of direct connection with fans and overwhelming joy in playing music is the best of what Warped has to offer. If we’re lucky, we’ll see more of it back in Vegas next year.