Warped Tour Review

The 16th annual Warped Tour came to the First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre in Tinley Park on Saturday. This year’s so-called boot camp of punk featured many solid performances, but it was not quite as as strong as the 2008 and 2009 shows.

For good and bad, Warped is known for being one of the least hierarchal rock festivals. The biggest bands sometimes go on early, and the scheduling often seems random, but this also means that the top talent is spread out more than other rock fests.

But this year’s incarnation suffered from the conspicuous lack of big name acts. Sum 41 was supposed to perform, but the vocalist had throat problems, so the band cancelled at the last minute. It was also a shame that Blink 183 was not part of the show (there were rumors that they would be added). They contributed the catchiest song on the 2010 Warped Compilation “Rock Show,” which is about a boy meeting a girl at a Warped Tour show.

Also, no one act at the 2010 Warped completely hit the ball out of the park the way that Bad Religion did last year, and the show seemed to have gotten even farther away from its punk rock roots (most of what I saw qualified as some kind of alternative, Indy, or pop punk.) But most of the performers were strong, and there was an abundance of fine pop, ska, metal, and hard rock acts. As usual there was a dizzying array of promising new talent, but not too much that was terribly original.

One positive development was that there were many bands this year that spotlighted talented female vocalists.

Dirty Little Rabbits’ Stella Katsoudas, whose vocals recall Gwen Stefan in her prime, pranced and danced around like a hyperactive female Mick Jagger.

She was ably supported by the energetic drums of Shawn Crahan and the keyboards of Michael Pfaff an (both formerly of Slipknot.) Pfaff’s organ and keyboards gave the live version of “Rabbit Holes” a slightly ambient, carnival-like sound made listeners feel like they had entered an alternate universe.

VersaEmerge gave one of the night’s most spirited and rousing performances (highlights include the 70’s classic rock influenced hit “Fixed at Zero”), but lead singer Siera Kusterbeck’s sickeningly cheerful stage patter was a bit annoying

The Pretty Reckless is a good vehicle for the darkly romantic/erotic songwriting and vocalizing of “Gossip Girl’s”, Taylor Momsen. Momsen did a decent job onstage channeling Sharon O and Shirley Manson on tortured songs such as “Make Me Wanna Die” and “Miss Nothing” (which could’ve been on Hole’s classic “Live Through This”) backed with some fine post grunge/metallic guitar crunch.

The most memorable performance came from the least punk sounding, and unlikely Warped Tour band of all. Indiana’s Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band revels in its country bumpkin image which goes perfectly with their music. The lead singer sometimes wears overalls on-stage, and the band looks like they just came from a harvest.

They did a rousing set of country and folk influenced blues including “Everything’s Raising” about a poor man’s struggle to get health care in a bad economy, the humorous “Your Cousin’s on Cops” from the new LP, and best of all, the classic “Mamma’s Fried Potatoes” which celebrates the common place. The band’s excellent Son House influenced vocals by Reverend Peyton, were supported by the fine washboard playing of Breezy Peyton.

The ska and reggae influenced bands at the fest were also uniformly superb. The Chicago based Deals Gone bad delivered another tasty musical stew of ska, soul, and rock steady. Flatfoot 56 (also from Chicago) performed a marvelous reggae influenced version of “Amazing Grace” (it was one of the highlights of the whole show), and Reel Big Fish’s danceable live versions of “She’s Got a Girlfriend Now” and “What Ever Happened to Suburban Rhythm” were impossible to resist.

Someone thought enough of Pennywise to put them on the 15 year anniversary DVD compilation. It’s impossible to fault the band for its social consciousness or politics as evidenced on their anti corporate songs. However they lacked the sonic punch of classic punk bands such as the Sex Pistols, Clash or Ramones, and their performance (as evidenced on “Vile Country” and “Expletive Authority”) sounded tired and generic.

Despite my complaints, this year’s Warped Tour spotlighted dozens of good new and veteran acts for an affordable price. Warped Tour still one of the best bargains in town.

Vittorio Carli is a poet and film critic. He teaches at Moraine Valley Community College and Richard J. Daley College. Read his work at www.reelmovie.critic.com and www.artinterviews.com.

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