Show Review

Vans Warped Tour 2017

Lisa Sanchez

Ah, another year, another Van's Warped Tour where unsuspecting teenagers learn life lessons about live music, hydration, and the dangers of prolonged sun exposure. 

Although I'm only a tiny bit older than the median demographic (I'm not old yet, dammit) I always enjoy Warped Tour. Mostly because where else am I going to see career touring musicians and green upstarts? Or, bands that talk about the underbelly of homicide, only to race over to a different stage to hear a band that's discography is played in suburban department stores? Warped Tour is it's own weird, jarring, sometimes nonsensical concert-going experience, but I still can't resist sight seeing bands and summer goths.

For this year's Warped Tour, the layout was a little different at Blossom Music Center. Instead of having the "Left Foot" and "Right Foot" stage, the stages that usually host the biggest bands of the tour, side by side this year, the foot stages were split to different sides of the venue. The Left Foot stage was in Blossom's pavilion, which makes sense considering the number of people who jam in to see the biggest bands of the day. Now, the likelihood of someone getting injured is lower while a high number of fans can still sit and watch the main band perform. Plus, it allows bands on the neighboring Hard Rock stage to draw an accidental audience. Before, the Hard Rock and Skull Candy stage were separated from the rest of the bands, therefor isolating them and leaving the bands performing on those stages at a marked disadvantage.

Without further explanation, let's talk about some bands.
I got in the venue around 1:00 pm because, if you've ever been to the Cuyahoga Falls Warped Tour, you know it takes a solid 20 minutes to walk from the parking field to the actual venue. Plus, it's Warped Tour, so you have to dodge off-putting white dude monks who tell you they've "been to India" and just want a donation for whatever culty books they're trying to hand you. Plus, teenagers pre-gaming High Life out of the back of their mom's van. None of these people are pleasant.

But, I get in with enough time to grab a setlist, ear plugs (both super necessary) and mosey on down to the Hard Rock stage in the pavilion to catch Sick Of It All.

​​Sick Of It All - 1:20 pm

Whenever I look at the Warped Tour lineup, there's usually a few bands that make me scratch my head, screw up my face toward the sky, and contemplate the absurdity of the universe. Sick Of It All was one of those bands for this year's tour. These dudes were some of the originators of New York hardcore punk in the mid 1980s and now they're playing first billing on the 2017 Warped Tour? Sure. And I'm going to give you a deal on the Queensboro bridge.

Oddity aside, I've never seen Sick Of It All and had really never listened to them because the hardcore band seemed to fall just outside of my purview. Somewhere in the land of "I don't feel like getting my ass kicked at a show" and "I can't dance in a circle for that long." But, I was excited to see the forerunners of the genre bring their music to a live stage.

Brothers Lou Koller and Pete Koller (vocals and guitar respectively) kept it moving by using ever inch of the stage, jumping, grinning, and generally being more affable than I ever imagined Sick Of It All would be. The band has been around since 1986, so the members are getting a little older (a lady never tells), but they're not resting on their laurels. In fact, they're not resting at all. Based on this performance I would easily see Sick Of It All on their own tour, I'm just going to bring my face mask and knee pads for that show.
War On Women - 1:45 pm

I've had a love/hate relationship with War on Women for more than a year. I became interested in the band because they seemed to be surfing the much needed wave of female-centered, anti-sexist, anti-rape, anti-racist punk bands that the scene desperately needs. Firstly, their music leaves something to be desired. I love bare bones punk, art punk, pop-punk, you name it and I admittedly skew toward loving punk-inspired bands. But, War on Women has never done it for me. Their Warped Tour performance left me feeling the same way.

To be fair, lead singer Shawna Potter does a really great job packing a punch into the War on Women lyrics and putting on an engaging show with her dancing and exaggerated expressions, but something is missing for me. It may be because I take issue with some of War on Women's problematic viewpoints in songs like "Say It," which includes a chorus that says "Say it, say it: I was raped!" While I think we should absolutely address rape culture face first and call it what it is, this idea flies into the face of the trauma-based survivor advocacy that I am well acquainted with. That's a really personal place to analyze a band from, but I think it's important in a movement where we don't have enough bands talking about these issues.

In the end, War on Women feels like the spooky Halloween decorations of feminism. The message is facile, one dimensional, and, in my mind, operates under the assumption that talking about abortion and rape is enough in femme-centered communities, which it simply is not enough. The praxis for the message doesn't go far enough for me, but that's why I also encourage people to listen to bands like G.L.O.S.S., Downtown Boys, and Priests, so bands like War on Women don't monopolize the conversation about women's issues in alternative music.

But, ya know, War on Women had tampons and condoms at their merch tent, so I guess that's something. 
Memphis May Fire - 2:10 pm

Memphis May Fire is pretty much your typical Warped Tour Right Foot stage band. They're a little edgy, have been around since 2006 so they have that mid-2000s metalcore following, and they are almost completely interchangeable with other bands of their genre. I didn't realize how neutral I was on Memphis May Fire until I accidentally called them "Miss May I" for a week. Which is absurd, because Miss May I are a native Ohio band (represent) and Memphis May Fire are definitely from Texas, despite their reference to Tennessee...wait...what? I also realize I'm going to accidentally call Memphis May Fire Miss May I at some point in this write up, but I'm going to leave it there to prove a point.

Christian metalcore was a big part of my musical repertoire in my misguided teenage years, so I've probably seen Memphis May Fire before, I just couldn't tell you when. It was probably before Underoath's Spencer Chamberlain admitted he had a drug problem and all the members of Norma Jean became dads. But, Memphis May Fire is your standard metalcore fare, which isn't bad if that's your desired outcome. And Matty Mullins can really sing, I'd say he's arguably the best metalcore singer I've seen live in 2017, but I don't think he'll be guest starring on Game of Thrones anytime soon. 
Silent Planet - 3:00

I had to make time in my Warped Tour adventure to catch the first few songs from Silent Planet. A few years ago, I spoke with lead singer Garrett Russell, which was memorable, to say the least, and Silent Planet as a band offer a slightly different take on their brand of metalcore. The California band talks about PTSD, colonialism, and women's lives in their music. A welcome palette cleaner from some of the toxic, aggressive bands that are also featured on Warped Tour.

But, Silent Planet's most recent album, Everything Was Sound, left me unengaged, so it had been a while since I had paid attention to the band. Russell is intense, mesmerizing, and he never wears shoes on stage. In a different life he might be a cult leader, but right now he's just a passionate man in a metal band. I don't know that the brooding ambiance of Everything Was Sound translated completely to the open-air setting of Warped Tour, but maybe that's exactly what the crowd needs in the afternoon.
Neck Deep - 3:05 pm

This was the point in the day when I went running from the Monster North stage where Silent Planet was playing to catch the beginning of ballsy UK pop-punk kings Neck Deep. The Wales quintet is definitely one of my favorite pop-punk bands, which is saying a lot because I'm old and pretty dead inside at this point, but lead singer Ben Barlow's stage moves still make me happy.

Neck Deep has been on a consistent rise since their 2012 inception and, unlike some other, similar genre bands, the Neck Deep has the chops, stamina, talent, and aesthetic to make the long haul to a lasting music career. With the rise (resurgence?) of high-energy pop-punk bands at the beginning of the 2010s, the acts seem like a dime a dozen, but Neck Deep has always managed to stay ahead of the curve and stay light-hearted while doing it. 

I think the sweet spot lies somewhere between Blink-182 and New Found Glory, silly, but heartfelt, fun, but realistic, and Neck Deep has found it perfectly. Their new album, The Peace and the Panic, will be released August 17, 2017 and I can't wait to hear it. 
Knocked Loose - 3:35 pm

When I saw Knocked Loose was on this year's Warped Tour lineup, I knew I had to go. The band's 2016 hardcore album Laugh Tracks has been on my regular music rotation and Knocked Loose is one of the few super aggressive hardcore bands I will openly recommend to people.

Hardcore tends to get a bad reputation, mostly because it's populated by dildos in gym shorts, but every once in a while there's a band that offers pure, cannon fodder anger packed with beefy breakdowns that you can't resist. 

Knocked Loose were set to play at the Full Sail stage, a smaller, off to the side venue from the major attractions, but the audience for their set was packed back to the merch tents. The security guards anticipated the crowd they were going to get and were stacked two deep between the barricade the the photographers. 

Luckily, Knocked loose played one of my favorite songs, "The Gospel," which is slammy as fuck, spastic, and righteously pissed off. Maybe that's why I like Knocked Loose. Their hate just seems so pure.
Bad Cop / Bad Cop - 4:05 pm

Bad Cop/Bad Cop is another Warped Tour band that I like just a little bit in spite of myself. I just found out about the all female, Los Angeles-based pop-punk band this year when I looked at the Warped Tour lineup and was pleasantly surprised when I listened to their recently-released album Warriors. 

Admittedly, Bad Cop/Bad Cop sounds a little like a feminist beginner band for teenage girls, which is fantastic, because I wish I had a female influence I listened to when I was that age. With that said, BC/BC's songs are still accessible to people of all ages because, not only are they super catchy while talking about feminist issues and community,  but they also managed to slip in a Nancy Morgan Hart reference in their song "Womanarchist." Come on, that's hard to do.

I loved watching BC/BC's set, but bassist/vocalist Linh Le stole the show. She hit the stage, spinning, wailing, kicking, and sliding all over the stage. Even though the band was playing on the Hard Rock stage, one of the off-the-beaten-path areas at the Blossom Music Center, the quartet still played for the for the entire venue, whether they liked it or not. Fingers crossed Bad Cop/Bad Cop play a headlining tour in Ohio in the next year.
Municipal Waste - 5:00 pm

This next section of Warped Tour coverage is brought to you by my uncontrollable love for Municipal Waste. I would have paid the Warped Tour ticket price just to come in, watch Municipal Waste, eat circus food then go about my business. The party, puke, thrash band is one of the few I've found that doesn't take itself too seriously. With songs like "Born to Party," "Shrednecks," and their latest album Slime and Punishment it's hard not to have a good time with Municipal Waste.

This is the first  chance I've gotten to see Municipal Waste in the wild, despite more than a decade of fandom. At one point in the set, vocalist Tony Foresta looked at the crowd and said, "Faster? Faster?" as the guitars cranked up to the speed of light and delivered a face-melting thrashmageddon I've been hoping for all these years.

As a bonus, Municipal Waste, ever the social commentators, have been the number one band in obscene anti-Trump logos and sentiments. In fact, I highly recommend buying their merchandise for that reason alone. 
CKY - 5:25 pm

This photo is only here to remind you that no one, except for Bam Margera, has ever cared about CKY. 
Hands Like Houses - 5:50 pm

After sprinting away as fast as possible from CKY, I found myself with time to kill and I was approaching the main concourse of stages. I popped over to catch Hands Like Houses who, like Silent Planet, I did an interview with in 2015.

Hands Like Houses isn't my go-to band to put on in the background when I'm feeling saucy, but they're always fun live because of their high energy and honest-to-God talent that seems conspicuously lacking in other bands.

The Australian quintet has been putting in work for nearly a decade and their euphoric, riff driven style of hard rock puts them in a palatable place between metalcore and post-hardcore that's definitely worth a listen.
Set It Off - 6:10 pm

I wandered over to the Full Sail stage and happened to catch Set It Off, a band I had never heard of before, but somehow evoked an image in my brain that screamed "2017 Warped Tour band!" I was correct.

Set It Off is super poppy, bouncy, and made for crowd sing-a-longs. After the fact, when I listened to the band at home, they remind me of the high synth of Panic! at the Disco (exclamation point necessary) with a splash of All American Rejects and Plain White T's. Considering the Plain White T's were playing on this year's Warped Tour, I wonder if a turf war ensued backstage.

Nonetheless, Set It Off were inoffensive, but I couldn't get into it. However, I have to give applause to vocalist Cody Carlson for jumping off stage, into the crowd, crowd surfing, jumping back down, and scaling the stage without missing a single note. Now that is talent. Maybe a talent best suited for a major network singing competition, but a talent regardless.
Acacia Strain - 6:30 pm

No matter how old I get, I can't seem to grow out of my strange love for bro-ish ham-fisted metal and Acacia Strain does it better than almost anyone else in the game right now. There were plenty of super aggressive, cringeworthy metal bands on this year's Warped Tour, including consummate douchbag Frankie Palmeri of Emmure, plus Carnifex, Hundreth, etc. etc. The Warped Tour Mutant Stage is made to wrangle all the stinky metal kids in one place so they don't body check unsuspecting 13-year-olds in a circle pit.

But, Acacia Strain has always held a place in my heart because they are just so fucking disgusting it's infectious. Literally, all of those dudes look like they eat their boogers and I've been watching lead singer Vince Bennett catch his own spit for the better part of a decade.  It never gets old. Admittedly, Acacia Strain is pretty one note. But that one note is enough to make you shit your pants, South Park style.

I haven't gotten a chance to listen to the band's recently released album, Gravebloom, but the next time I feel like getting real brutal in the comfort of my apartment, I'll give it a listen.
American Authors - 6:45 pm

Pro-tip: If you run from Acacia Strain to American Authors, your brain will seize up from the pure absurdity. 

Once I acclimated to the nature of reality again, I was able to focus on American Authors, a band I thought I had never heard of before Googling them and discovering they have one of the most overplayed songs of the last two years. "Best Day of My Life" is what I think of when I think of car commercials, advertising in general, feel-good movies, award ceremonies, you name it, that song is infectious.

However, I'm a little confused as to why a band that has hundreds of millions of  views on YouTube is playing on Warped Tour, but that question was quickly answered when I looked at the crowd. Very few people actually turned out for American Authors, which is a bit of a shame because they put on a pretty interesting show.

Multi-instrumentalist James Adam Shelley brought out a mandolin and banjo in addition to his guitar and percussionist Matt Sanchez beat a giant standing bass drum within the first few songs of the band's set.

However, past the novelty of diverse instruments, American Authors were your standard pop-rock band with some solid clap/dance moves. But, my opinion doesn't matter because with any business acumen those dudes could buy and sell me 10 times over because they have a song that is literally a theme song for the fucking Earth. 
Suicide Machines - 6:50 pm

Speaking of bands I didn't know existed except for one infectious sleeper song, Suicide Machines kicked off their first day at Warped Tour in Cuyahoga Falls and it was...memorable.

I came in late and couldn't take photos because at that point the pavilion was jam packed for Falling In Reverse, who was set to play next. But what I did catch was simultaneously hilarious, entertaining, and a little bonkers.

Suicide Machines launched into a series of fast-blasting skate punk, which called back to the early years of Warped Tour. The refreshing, hooky, ska-infused punk, was punctuated by vocalist Jay Navarro telling kids that he would give them free merch if they burned down the Pro-life tent at the festival. I have no idea if this tent actually existed, but I didn't see it, otherwise I may have taken Navarro up on the offer. But the veteran singer went on to decry the marine recruiting tent at Warped Tour and Donald Trump in general. Navarro said he was "sick of peace" and launched into a tangent about how he used to be a drunk anarchist and how the irony of playing Warped Tour wasn't lost on him.

Suicide Machines went on hiatus for a few years in the mid-2000s after the band started in 1991. Unlike other punk bands from that era that have faded out or become what they always rallied against, I appreciate Suicide Machines for their sharp songs and biting opinions, even if they may be slightly influenced by uppers. 
Falling in Reverse - 7:15 pm

I've never seen Falling in Reverse live and I've purposefully never listened to any band Ronnie Radke has been in because he has a history of domestic violence and solid record of being a gigantic shitheel. If you needed more proof, he wore sweatpants on stage because even self-respecting bottoms refuse to be associated with this man. Oh, side note, one of the guitarists for Falling In Reverse was also wearing a Burzum shirt on stage so the bar is set to the stratosphere for terrible dudes.

As far as the Falling In Reverse performance, Radke ungracefully paced back and forth and sang some songs, talked fast, and made faces. The guitarists hung back because they know where their money is coming from.

I don't have kids, I don't want kids, but in those moments watching Falling In Reverse I truly understand why parents want some control over what their kids listen to. If my kid was listening to a dude in sweat pants spewing toxic masculinity, I'd be slapping parental warning stickers on anything that had a pulse.
Overall, another successful year at Van's Warped Tour. I stayed hydrated, got a tan, got to see some great bands and some not so great bands. Bands that made me laugh, cringe, run away at a furious pace, and pour my melted face into my own open hands. But in the end, it was all a much appreciated time. 

​Time to get ready for next year!