In celebration of 15 years of bringing some of punk rock’s brightest stars and most promising up-and-comers to summertime audiences, the Vans Warped Tour hosted an anniversary show at downtown L.A.’s Club Nokia last Sunday night, the footage from which will comprise a film to screen in select cities across the country (including Santa Barbara’s Arlington Theatre) on September 17. Some of the annual festival’s heaviest hitters showed up to pay tribute to Warped founder Kevin Lyman, and its more well-heeled fans shelled out as much as $140 to get a spot in the crowded pit.

Posters of past tours adorned the back of the stage, which rotated to minimize the lag time in between acts. In addition, each performer was limited to three or four songs, meaning more bands played, but a very small amount of time was devoted to each. Although the layout lent itself to a more festival-like atmosphere, it also felt a bit frantic and staged, the latter of which flies in the face of what Warped Tour specifically – and punk rock in general – is all about.

Furthermore, whether or not one actually enjoys the music at Warped, it cannot be denied that the experience there is supremely egalitarian on all fronts. First off, it’s a daylong, all-ages event during the summer months, meaning a wide range of people join together to sweat it out at various parking lots and fairgrounds across the country, the only performance spaces large enough to host the tour’s massive crowds and numerous stages. Secondly, tickets, merchandise, and food are all fairly cheap, so working-class families can go together, or kids can save up allowance money to attend. The order that bands will perform is selected at random the morning of the show, making for a constantly changing lineup that can find bigger-name bands playing the opening slot, eschewing the traditional rock concert protocol of lesser-known acts performing prior to the more widely known acts. These details make the Warped Tour unique in its execution, but, more to the point, they allow attendees to create their own concert experience: anyone can go crazy in the pit, and security exists mainly to make sure that crowd surfers don’t get onto the stage. It was ironic, then, that at its anniversary celebration these features were thrown out in favor of making money on more expensive admission for the pit area, deemed even more exclusive by the presence of burly security personnel who fastidiously guarded the entrance.

Philosophical musings aside, the evening provided numerous quintessential Warped Tour moments, like when NOFX‘s Fat Mike, drink in hand at the stage barrier, sang along with The Aggrolites and offered his beverage to frontman Jesse Wagner. During their set, NOFX delivered their usual politically incorrect banter, including an exceedingly crude joke about fellow performer Katy Perry, and incited the crowd into a riotous frenzy. Clearly, these guys were a main draw, and the crowd showed its support long after the fourpiece left the stage by chanting “NOFX! NOFX!” consistently during breaks – even when other performers were onstage.

Rap legend turned Law & Order actor Ice-T brought a hard-hitting set with Body Count, including a rousing version of “Cop Killer,” which he introduced as “the Los Angeles national anthem.” The evening took a turn for pop when the All-American Rejects took the stage for their better-known songs – “Swing, Swing,” “Move Along,” “Gives You Hell” – and continued in that vein as inflatable fruit purveyor Perry quickly ran through her radio hits.

On the extreme ends of the performance spectrum, the best segment of the night undeniably was Rise Against, who were spot-on during their short-but-sweet four-song set. But without a doubt, the saddest/most awkward moments were during the Decaydance All-Stars, a brand-new project from Fall Out Boy‘s Pete Wentz and a few guys from Panic! at the Disco. Clearly intended by the event’s organizers to be a pop-punk coup, it completely backfired, with the audience’s boos drowning out their covers of Blink-182’s “Dammit” and Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” and prematurely forcing the guys off the stage.

Fittingly, Sunday’s show successfully celebrated the rock royalty that have made the Warped Tour such a resounding long-term success, and each of the acts dutifully paid tribute to the festival that has brought them fame and exposure to so many people. And while it’s a shame that the egalitarian ethos of Warped didn’t quite come through in the anniversary event, organizers still delivered what we’ve come to expect – a few hours of punk’s best and brightest at one venue.


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