Monday, July 17, 2017

PAPA DON'T PREACH: Righteous Revelations from Vans Warped Tour 2017

Righteous Revelations from
Vans Warped Tour 2017

Hey you — socially aware, non-
gender-specific "preacher" with
the sparkly guitar, perched upon
the Acme Soul Crusher Stage 
I don't care what you eat, who
you bang, or how you vote. Just
be cool and play something hot
from your new LP — 'cuz you're
makin' Nugent seem reasonable.

Vans Warped Tour — it's been a consistent source of personal fascination ever since I first attended the annual traveling music festival back in 1996. More than two decades later, I still crave its sonic energy, and I continue to thrive on connecting with all the amazing people. I also remain amused by the predictable procession of onstage intellectuals who feel compelled to educate us simple folk — a slew of self-anointed evangelists who often remind me of the classic Frank Zappa album series, "Shut Up 'n Play Yer Guitar." I had the distinct pleasure of spending several days out on the current cross-country excursion, and as expected, once I'd sifted through the barrage of not-so subtle "distractions," I discovered more than a few super-sah-weet new bands. In fact, vomit bands excluded, the 2017 lineup is one of the tour's all-time strongest rosters. Let's swoop in and take a looksie at some of this year's highlights, shall we?

Okay, I'll admit it - even I preached a little
at this year's Warped Tour, while assisting
the I AM SECOND ministry team in Atlanta.
Regrettably, a few of the bands I was most amped about seeing were M.I.A. on the days I attended. The scrappy, Phoenix-based combo, Doll Skin had just finished a week-long run, while neither the abrasive prog-punk ensemble, Playboy Manbaby nor ska kingpin, Stacked Like Pancakes had yet joined the tour. And I was certainly bummed.

The biggest bummer of the summer 
missing Doll Skin at Warped Tour.
(Photo permission: Doll Skin Management)
Several seasoned acts joined this year's tour. While The Atari's provided a more than adequate contribution, pop / rock sensation, Bowling for Soup was a bona fide MVP. However, dripping with old school Warped Tour authenticity, it was ska survivor, Save Ferris that truly jacked me up with a high-energy set that featured a spirited version of the Dead Kennedy's classic, "Too Drunk to Fuck." From the stage, founding frontchick, Monique Powell encouraged West Palm Beach fans to simply call her, "Mo." The drop-dead voluptuous singer / actress further offered audience members free after-show hand jobs and sweaty kisses at the band's merch tent. Whether or not that pledge was honored, I can't say for sure — I had to make a mad rush to catch Jule Vera.

Save Ferris revived the
original Warped Tour spirit.
Dance Gavin Dance and Memphis May Fire were among the metal stalwarts who received the most intense response at the Warped Tour launch party held last spring in Orlando — which doesn't mean squat unless you can deliver ferociously on the actual tour — and both bands did. Metal matinee idol-turned techno-pop crooner, Andy Biersack also delivered the goods — especially in Atlanta where enduring the über-intense, super-shrill teenage female reaction was only slightly less painful than having a railroad spike put through one's skull. That's a compliment, BTW.

For me, there's always that magical Warped Tour discovery — the stylistic "square peg" that leaps from a junior varsity stage, grabs me by the nards and won't let go. Jule Vera hooked me like that back in 2015. Last year, it was Palaye Royale. But in 2017, my senses were abducted by the futuristic superhero duo, The Fantastic Plastics. Combining the stank of Devo with the swagger of Gary Numan, these kooky kids from Brooklyn had songs so fun and infectious, I was glued to the barricade in front of the Full Sail stage for several days in a row. #ItsAllPlastic #TheFutureOfTheFuture

The future of the future
Thank you, Jesus - for Skittles,
and sunsets - and for Stacey Dee.
Just for the record, I am NOT addicted! And I do NOT have a "problem" either. I'm in complete control. I'm totally functional and perfectly capable of leading a normal, productive life. So what, if I wake up with a Bad Cop / Bad Cop tune stuck in my head every morning and I become physically pill sick if I don't consume the band's entire audio library ever day by noon. Suffice it to say, I was more than revved to finally see the So-Cal troupe live at Warped Tour in 2017. However, I didn't expect it to be such a "religious" experience — my racing heartbeat, weakening knees, dry mouth, shortness of breath — alright, alright, maybe I do have a small  "problem." In sum, I liken my first experiences of seeing Bad Cop / Bad Cop this summer to my first experiences seeing such iconic bands as the Ramones, KISSCheap Trick and The Who. Don't judge me, man — I can quit anytime I want!

Lovable, drunken bufoons
Intense as ever
Hot, dirty and sticky
In my feature story last April, I included Courage My Love among the 12 must-see bands on this year's Warped Tour. However, with 70-some acts scattered over seven stages, I'd somehow managed to miss seeing them at the first show I attended in Atlanta. And I wasn't even sure if I'd get a chance to see them the next day either. That is, until I was "enlightened" by Tyson from the Fantastic Plastics. "You GOTTA check out Courage My Love," he urged me during our after-show conversation in Orlando. "They're completely legit," he added passionately. Intrigued, I made sure to catch the Canadian trio's 5pm set. I wasn't disappointed. 23-year-old frontchick / guitarist Mercedes Arn-Horn was thoroughly engaging, and the band's songs came across considerably grittier live than on their glossy new record, Synesthesia. I went back to see Courage My Love again, two days later in West Palm Beach, and I was equally impressed. I am now a super-fan!

Mercedes Arn-Horn getting up-close, sweaty
and personal with West Palm Beach fans.
Chillin' with Jule Vera in West Palm. A
blinding glare kept my buddy from getting
bassist William Stacey in the shot. DOH!
The momentum propelling Jule Vera this summer is so powerful, it could move an oil tanker. Two years of relentless touring and a pair of world-class pop / rock records has catapulted the Alabama-based outfit from a Warped Tour side stage in 2015 to the prestigious Journey's Left Foot Stage in 2017. And the crowds are growing — and growing. At the tour's recent Boston stop, enthusiastic Jule Vera fans numbering in the thousands packed in under the semi-enclosed Xfinity Center pavilion. Hang on, folks — the roller coaster ride has officially begun. And FYI, the new Jule Vera album is amazing! #GreatestBandOnEarth

Koo Koo Kanga Roo - spreading
"the Gospel" at Warped Tour 2015.
So, there ya go — a few exciting highlights from Vans Warped Tour 2017. But after two decades, have I finally had enough of the festival's unique sights, distinctive sounds and pungent smells? Hmm, not if Kevin Lyman brings Koo Koo Kanga Roo back in 2018. I could listen to them two fellas "preach" ALL day long!

-Christopher Long
(July 2017)

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