Thursday, July 9, 2015

CONCERT REVIEW: Vans Warped Tour - Orlando, FL (7.5.15)

Vans Warped Tour
Tinker Field / Orlando, Florida

Throngs of enthusiasts gathered
— the young, and the young at
heart. From far and wide they
traveled — each on a personal
mission  mission to rock.
Welcome to the Warped Tour.

In 1979, my mom drove me and my and blue-eyed blond surfer chick girlfriend from Satellite Beach to Orlando's famed Tangerine Bowl to experience the Florida World Music Festival. I was 16, and my gal was 15. In addition to headline performances from Aerosmith and Ted Nugent — two of the era's mightiest forces, the day-long event also featured live sets from such up-and-coming powerhouses as Cheap Trick and Blackfoot. From my Section 306 / Row 512 / Seat 13 perch, I was offered a bird's eye view of non-stop drug use, alcohol consumption and acts of disorderly behavior. Gross! Did I just step in puke? And by the end of the day, the two of us once wide-eyed kids were famished, sun-burnt and exhausted — overwhelmed by the sweet emotion of the 10-hour free-for-all.

Fast forward 36 years. Now known as the Citrus Bowl, I returned to the hallowed grounds as an adult, accompanying my 16-year-old niece and her teenage BF to what's become the most iconic annual traveling music festival in the country — the Vans Warped Tour. But unlike my mom all those years ago, I'd be providing more than mere taxi service in 2015 — I'd be actually attending the show. In fact, given that my dream girl, Ariel Bloomer, was scheduled to perform with her band, Icon for Hire, I wouldn't have missed this modern-day vomit fest for the world.

Apparently she's on the
Journey's stage @ 7pm.
I got a kick out of my niece's efforts to school me in rock concert decorum in the final days leading up to the July 5th show. Bless her little heart. Millennials may have given birth to Instagram technology, but it was my generation that authored the official Rock Concert 101 handbook, more than four decades ago. Don't stress, kid "old" Uncle Chris won't embarrass you — much!

We were welcomed to the venue at 10am on Sunday by blistering, sunny skies and sweltering temperatures already exceeding 90°. It was the ideal climate for a 10-hour outdoor cultural and musical celebration featuring live concert sets from nearly 100 of today's hottest chart-busters and the most promising up-and-comers currently jockeying for prominence on the ever-competitive U.S. rock scene — playing out in a field of dreams where the "peace and love" hippie vibe of the '60s and '70s would co-exist harmoniously alongside the "anti-establishment" punk mentality of the '80s and '90s  brought together under a super-calculated corporate umbrella. And so it begins.

Before the three of us could even wedge all six of our cheeks out from our white 2010 Toyota Corolla, we'd already been targeted by the first pitchman of the day — a seemingly well-intentioned young fella who identified himself in short order as a traveling monk who was "on the tour" and needed to hock his "literature" in order to make it to the next gig. From there, we'd navigate through a sea of other sales associates on our way from the parking lot, through the lower bowels of the Citrus Bowl and onto the open grounds of Tinker Field — primarily diligent band members fighting for fan recognition (and dollars) — peddling everything from their latest CDs to T-shirts, while advertising their set times and promoting personal perspectives. Their heartfelt passion was impressive, indeed.

Members of Stacked Like Pancakes
conveyed their power point message
effectively to Warped Tour early birds.
The most vital info of the day was
communicated to the masses by 11am... 
A mad rush to finish setting up all 100-plus merch booths ensued, even after the gates opened at 11am. It was "crunch time," as dedicated, sweat-drenched, tattoo-covered roadies with little hope of procuring a much-needed shower moved at "warped" speed  stacks of plastic tubs containing their wears balanced on dollies with bum wheels as they plowed through the pathless, grass-covered Tinker Field in a frantic, last-minute effort to set up shops in which to sell their swag and host one of the day's countless band meet-and-greets. Rock and roll, dude!

Upon procuring printed schedules that offered all the band show times and stage locations, my two teenage compadres and I agreed that we'd each pursue our own individual itineraries for the day. While my niece had her sights set on seeing As It Is, my personal agenda was focused solely on Icon for Hire — nothing else really mattered much to me. However, that perspective was about to change.

As a "creepy old dude" now free of any parental-type responsibility, I began to explore my surroundings — nine stages and all. By 11:15 I'd arrived at what would prove to be my personal Warped Tour destination of choice — the Hard Rock, Kevin Says stage. And it was there that I made an incredible discovery — Candy Hearts. The name alone, had me sold.

Wearing a super-fun summertime ensemble (black skorts with a spaghetti strap floral top), groovy pink shades and sporting fabulous, lavender-colored, cotton candy-like hair, I couldn't help but notice Candy Hearts frontchick, Mariel Loveland, as I approached the Kevin Says stage  moments prior to kicking-off the festival's first set of the morning. Simply put, I was hooked instantly. The songs (primarily culled from their current album All the Ways You Let Me Down) were all snappy, crunchy and extremely infectious, high-energy delights. Possessing undeniable, girl-next-door likability, Loveland connected throughout the band's 25-minute set — engaging fans with her song-related banter about coffee and "stupid boys." Recreating the authentic allure of such much-loved '90s pop / rock acts as The Cranberries and Veruca Salt, the four-piece New York-based combo was tight, energetic, and totally delivered the goods. And for my money, Matt Ferraro's animated, keep-it-in-the-pocket approach made him one of the coolest drummers on the day's roster. Musical highlights included "I Miss You," "Playing with Fire" and the show-closing, "Bad Idea." In a word, BRAVO!

An hour later, I returned to the Kevin Says stage just in time to catch an amazing set from Jule Vera.

Q: Who doesn't get excited about seeing a brash young band comprised of fresh-faced players sporting long hair, tight pants and low-strung guitars with snarls and swagger to spare?

A: Certainly not me! Better wedge my way up front for these kids.

Showcasing a slew of sophisticated selections from their newly released Friendly Enemies EP, this Alabama-based band has been generating significant industry buzz since first launching in 2013. Despite her undeniable youth, angelic lead vocalist Ansley Newman displayed the confidence of a seasoned pro as she connected with the crowd, while her bandmates commanded the stage like experienced arena rock veterans. In sum, Jule Vera delivered a superb, high-energy set. They've got great songs, and they look incredible. Barring any stupid future life choices, these kids could be unstoppable.

I spent much of the early afternoon sampling various entrees from the Warped Tour musical smorgasbord including a techno DJ sort of duo wearing crazy-looking "Scary Movie"-type masks, several rappers and a buttload of angst-filled, hard core / metal sound-a-likes who all say "fuck"  a lot. Ugh! I'd soon navigate back to my Kevin Says comfort zone. But not before catching one of the acts that had particularly piqued my interest. No, not Icon for Hire. There still were several more hours remaining before I'd experience my ultimate happy ending.

1:45 - MC Lars commandeers
the Beatport stage.
My favorite double-wide of the day.
Orlando's own Call to Start,
live on the Ernie Ball stage.
Through my in depth pre-show investigation of the official 2015 festival website, I was intrigued by a quirky-looking duo called Koo Koo Kanga Roo. More closely resembling two retired cast members from Reno 911! than typical Warped Tour punk rockers, I surmised that any act that's described as "The Happy Meal of music," would more than likely be worth checking out. Immediately upon my arrival at Tinker Field, I noticed the two "Roos," Bryan and Neil, parading around the grounds carrying enormous-sized cardboard cut-outs of their heads attached to the tops of what appeared to be ten-foot poles. Just beneath their respective likenesses were hand-printed signs reading, Koo Koo Kanga Roo Dance Party — 3:15 @ Beatport Stage. I informed my niece that these guys were seemingly creative geniuses, to which she fired back, "I think they're stupid." Shortly after passing through the gate, I made my way to the "Koo Koo" tent, where I was greeted personally by one of the Roos. "Are you coming to the dance party?" he inquired, with tremendous enthusiasm. "I wouldn't miss it," I replied. "Oh great," he added. "There's gonna be lots of fun and lots of smiles!" Uh, alrighty, then.

The Beatport stage was barren at 3:14, with the exception of a cheesy disco-style 10'x8' gold fringe-type curtain. Then, promptly at 3:15, Koo Koo Kanga Roo stormed the stage, and my life was forever changed. The show featured no live musicians — Bryan and Neil simply sang and danced to pre-recorded tracks. The pulsating, techno / disco / hip hop dance beats rarely stopped as the Minneapolis duo moved, grooved and delighted fans with selections from their current record, Whoopty Whoop  including such anthems as "Cat Party" and "Fanny Pack." At one point, Bryan and Neil leaped across the stage security barricade and into the mosh pit where they led throngs of sweaty screamo fans in a high-energy round of The Hokey Pokey. More difficult to describe than conveying a KISS concert experience to my cousin in 1979, Koo Koo Kanga Roo MUST be SEEN to be believed, and appreciated fully. Lot's of smiles, to be sure!

It was shaping up to be an overall epic concert experience. And in true Warped Tour fashion, "people watching" provided considerable additional bang for the buck. Open-minded, free-thinkers abounded particularly, perky young people sporting eye-catching T-shirts blazoned with with wacky slogans like the gal with the rainbow-colored crew cut and well-cultivated muffin top whose shirt read, "Fuck Your Faith" and the presumed Minecraft expert whose message to the masses was, "Satan Is My Animal Spirit." Oddly, I spotted ZERO Stryper T-shirts at this year's festival. 

My niece and her BF at
the 2015 Warped Tour.
Transit's Torre Cioffi performing on
one of this year's two Journey's stages.
I was also fortunate to discover New Jersey's Karma Killers performing a late afternoon set on the Ernie Ball stage. Hmm. Are those rain clouds rolling in? Falling stylistically somewhere between Tim Curry and Mick Jagger, frontman Micky James led his authentic, no nonsense rock and roll brigade through a barrage of choice cuts from the group's debut EP, Strange Therapy. Among the set's highlights was a rousing remake of the Ramones classic, "Rockaway Beach." Aw, crap! Those ARE rain clouds!

Karma Killers bassist, Mango,
performing on the Ernie Ball stage
Just minutes into the 5:30 As It Is set, came the official announcement over one of the Journey's sound systems — "Listen folks, we're gonna take a 15-minute break 'til the weather clears up." I turned around, looked to the north and saw the now ominous black storm clouds rolling in. And in no time, merch tents and sound equipment were being packed up, post haste — just as the sky opened up, the torrential downpour ensued and throngs of fans ran for cover. I guess those roadies finally got their well-deserved showers after all.  

I'm not sure whether or not the concert ever re-launched. By 6:15-ish it was still raining, with no end in sight. My compardes and I were spent, yet totally satisfied, and we saw little point in sticking around. I never did get to see Icon for Hire, but I did get to witness Koo Koo Kanga Roo. I guess every (storm) cloud does have a silver lining.

-Christopher Long
(July 2015)

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1 comment:

  1. There was an 'I am Second' tent there? That's pretty impressive! While I don't think the original warped tour lineups can ever be matched...I'm glad to see this festival continue to rage on!