Bring in the Punk 

Warped Tour continues to provide quality amidst quantity

Warped Tour continues to provide quality amidst quantity

Vans Warped Tour 2001

July 18 at AmSouth Amphitheatre

$22.25; for tickets, call Ticketmaster at 255-9600 or visit www.ticketmaster.com

The Vans Warped Tour is a subject of easy derision from all-knowing critics. The fact that MTV and summer dick-joke movies regularly adopt the tour’s representative bands for their soundtracks lends credence to the idea that we ought to dismiss this roving skate park. But the annual event’s consistency of purpose makes such a dismissal extremely small-minded. This year—Warped’s seventh—is no exception: The good outweighs the stereotypical, and the focus on entertainment over spectacle reinforces the fact that this is not merely a traveling freak show. The more popular Lollapalooza festival wasn’t able to make such a statement in its seventh year.

If the spirit of the Warped Tour is embodied in the puerile punk antics of past performers like NOFX, Blink-182, and Green Day, then this year’s crowned princes are four Canadians who call themselves Sum 41. These young lads have shot into MTV notoriety with their single “Fat Lip,” a song whose verses are embarrassing, License to Ill-era Beasties rap and whose chorus is fast pop-punk. Thankfully, the rap-punk combo goes no further on their album All Killer, No Filler; the rest of the songs are as uptempo and catchy as the “Fat Lip” chorus. The fact that Sum 41 haven’t grown up under the palm trees of sunny California gives them a different perspective than many bands in their genre, and it shows in their preference for straight-ahead rock sounds and songs instead of double-timed, Descendents-like punk.

Among the acts joining Sum 41 next Wednesday at AmSouth Amphitheatre are NYC’s straight-edge band H2O, who have been laboring for years in hardcore circuits and finally look ready to break out with their MCA debut, Go. The group’s positive mind-set and catchy riffs separate them from their complaining peers, and it’s hard to deny the momentum of songs like “Role Model” and “Forest King,” which have the crunch of hardcore but the hooks of pop.

These two bands demonstrate one of the greatest aspects of the Warped Tour. While outsiders may view the daylong lineup as one of similar punk bands, the event’s organizers actually do a fine job highlighting the different forms of modern punk rock. Somewhere between the asinine fun of Sum 41 and the earnest delivery of H2O are The Explosion. Many see this Boston five-piece as an anomaly in the catalog of their label, Jade Tree, due to the imprint’s recent history of plaintive (some might say “wussy”) emo-rock. Those observations are valid, since The Explosion come on all old-skool. They don’t sound completely authentic—like a group of college students playing Buzzcocks songs—but they’re certainly enthusiastic about the music. Different even from these groups are The Distillers, who are simply one of the greatest punk bands around. With a scream sharper than their ragged guitars, they remind one of how liberating anger and angst can be. Their self-titled debut last year is a document of unmatched rock ’n’ roll spirit.

But the Warped Tour isn’t only about punk. For example, the enigmatic Kool Keith is also on the Nashville bill. Since leaving the Ultramagnetic MC’s, this prolific hip-hop artist has forged a new identity with nearly every release. This year’s Spankmaster is loaded with the bizarre and often scatological lyrics that he’s become famous for. And for the Papa Roach/Deftones/Korn fans, there’s the emerging Alien Ant Farm, who have proven themselves a tad more interesting than similar bands.

All told, over 30 acts are slated to perform. And, in addition to the bands, there are pro skaters and BMX riders, Incredibly Strange Wrestling (pro wrestling plus punk rock), Warped Are They Now? (a museum of Warped history), and more. Two of the more interesting features are the Ladies Lounge—an area just for the girls to hang out and listen to a female DJ—and Reverse Day Care—a tent where kids can drop off their parents.

Despite its massive success, the Warped Tour has never been co-opted into the mainstream. It has virtually slipped in under the radar. Year after year, the tour presents the best in punk rock along with bands representing a variety of other styles, yet the end result never seems as forced as the deliberate diversity of Lollapalooza. It’s a formula that’s so simple, it could go on as long as there’s punk rock.

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