Although there’s something to be said for catching a play on closing night, or the last stop on a band’s tour, sometimes it’s even better to see an event in its early stages, before all the kinks are ironed out. There’s a raw beauty that exists in the space of new beginnings, and the folks who made it out to Ventura last Sunday for the 15th annual Vans Warped Tour were privy to just such an experience.
With only one main stage this year due to financial constraints, many well-known bands found themselves rocking out on what would ordinarily be considered small stages. Bayside got things started on the Hurley Stage with a rollicking set of new and old tunes. Drinking Monster energy drinks and encouraging the obliging crowd to sing along, these Long Islanders ripped through “Duality” and “Walking Wounded” before closing with “Devotion and Desire.” With authoritative guitar riffs and a charismatic frontman in Anthony Raneri, this fourpiece - sounding like a distant cousin of Alkaline Trio - are poised to be a very big deal very soon.
After dabbling in the realm of experimental rock with their last album, Thrice brought a harder, more punk-rock sound to Seaside Park for the Warped crowd. They pounded through “Of Dust and Nations” and “All That’s Left,” proving their 30-minute set would be full of songs from each of the albums in their five-disc catalogue. “Silhouette” and “Firebreather” started the day’s first true moshpit and crowd surfing opportunity, and even people toward the back could feel the thundering drums and driving guitar. Frontman Dustin Kensrue was absolutely pitch perfect throughout, performing with a quiet diligence not often witnessed in the punk realm, which can be driven by explosive personalities that often overwhelm the music.
Thrice also debuted some new material off their forthcoming Beggars, slated to drop in October. Full of syncopated drum beats, these glimpses into what Thrice have been working on indicated a sound that’s more rock than punk - with plenty of screaming to help remind fans that these Irvine natives know where they came from.
Sporting a green “Free Iran” T-shirt, Justin Sane led his Anti-Flag crew onto the Vans Main Stage mid-afternoon. By their third song, “Die for Your Government,” bassist Chris Barker had flung himself into the chanting audience, crowd surfing and scream singing with the fans. Before “Sodom, Gomorrah, Washington D.C.” from their recent release, The People or the Gun, Baker launched into an eloquent tirade against religious fundamentalists who, he said, operate on fear and hate.
The agitprop-tinged music had a contagious energy to it, and as Anti-Flag’s set wore on, more and more crowd-surfing youngsters were pulled over the security barrier, each looking more gleeful and triumphant than the last. But the true highlight came during the finale when the band called on drummers in the audience to hop onstage to give a hand with some cowbells. It was a true punk rock moment.
In the “that immediately takes me back to high school” category, The Ataris played to a wild gaggle of teenage girls who went absolutely berserk for the band’s cover of Don Henley‘s “Boys of Summer.” While the fans who sang along to every word of “Your Boyfriend Sucks” and “San Dimas High School Football Rules” derided Kris Roe‘s reliance on covers (“Boys” and a handful of Misfits numbers), one couldn’t deny the joy of dancing to pop punk in the waning hours of a day spent fist-pumping in circle pits.