Photos by Aaron Thackeray.
Warped Tour Sunday, June 29 Invesco Field at Mile High
Loads o' musicians stepped up to the microphone at Warped Tour 2008's Denver stop -- but in a very real way, the day belonged to 3Oh!3. The duo of Sean Foreman and Nathaniel Motte made a huge impression at last year's Warped show -- so much so that they were placed on the bill for every date of the latest edition. This time around, however, they went from being cult favorites with a growing audience to the group to see -- and Warped organizers clearly weren't prepared for the insanity that resulted.
Once again, my twin daughters, Lora and Ellie, 15, agreed to guide me through the Warped universe and help me review the spectacle -- not that I could have stopped them had I tried. They're now veteran concert-goers who didn't panic when the day began with the usual bureaucratic snafus. We were told to bring a media-ticket confirmation to a press tent, and after getting directions from a security guard to a spot beneath the viaduct south of Mile High and navigating a labyrinthine passage that took us past numerous idling tour buses (at these gas prices?), the woman manning the table in question told us she had no tickets and pointed us back to the stadium's will-call window. Once there, however, we only stood in the wrong line for a few minutes, and while we were told that we'd have to go to the back of another enormous line to gain entry (information that also turned out to be wrong), we discovered two of the girls' Chatfield High School friends, Christiana and Erin, who kindly allowed us to cut. Sorry, you other punk fans -- but under the circumstances, you would have done it, too.
First things first: The girls had to get new 3Oh!3 t-shirts. Last year, they happened by the stand when Sean and Nathaniel were on hand, and they lucked out again. Sean wandered in just as it was our turn and gladly scrawled on their purchases just as more fans began to gather. It was an indication of things to come.
From there, we connected with two additional Chatfielders, Drea and Sam (a she-Sam) and raced to the SmartPunk stage to catch The Maine, whose members had drawn the short straw and wound up with the 11:15 a.m. slot -- and man, were they bitchy about it. Lead singer John O'Callaghan complained about how tired everyone was, and between songs, he repeatedly hectored the early gathering crowd for their lack of energy. Of course, Low Excitement Syndrome can almost always be traced to the combo on-stage, and in my view, that was true in this case, too. Even the outfit's surefire pop-punk cover of Akon's "I Wanna Love You" suffered from a notable lack of juice. Initially, the girls disagreed due primarily to O'Callaghan's unbelieavable hotness, which compensated for his himbo qualities; at one point, he said that he really liked "your city, or your state, or whatever it is." But in retrospect, after considering the other groups they saw over the course of the concert, they gave The Maine a C -- a generous grade, I think.
Next, we raced over to the main stage area, where The Bronx was finishing up; lead yowler Matt Caughthran shrieked about how he wanted "to be original!" before rolling into a post-punk grinder that sounded no different from the stuff churned out by dozens of bands over the years. Then, as The Bronx's last notes were still ringing, Story of the Year charged onto the adjoining performance platform. I was underwhelmed by the outfit's latest disc, The Black Swan, which struck me as a slick but generic offering, yet I have to admit that lead singer Dan Marsala and his crew lit a substantial fire beneath the material. "Wake Up" and the rest did what The Maine couldn't do, transforming the throng into a roiling, moshing mob. The flow of testosterone didn't do much for Lora, and Ellie, a Story of the Year fan, gave them a low B because, in her opinion, they didn't truly capture their recorded work. Of course, that was fine by me; I'd bequeath slightly higher marks.
Immediately thereafter, it was time for The Academy Is..., another combo from Decaydance, the label overseen by Pete Wentz of Fall Out Boy. Once upon a time, frontman William Beckett and associates were commonly described as emo, but that's all over now. They're a pop band, as became clear whenever Beckett pretended otherwise. He engaged in a couple of Roger Daltrey routines, whirling his microphone by the cord and tossing the mike stand over his head -- and in both cases, he nearly beaned himself. At the same time, I must admit that the band was attractive and effective, and that was enough to earn B's from Lora and Ellie. That strikes me as a wee bit kind, but in the ballpark.
Travis McCoy from Gym Class Heroes.
Shopping took precedence over the next batch of bands. We walked past sets by Street Dogs and From First to Last, and none of our number displayed the slightest interest in lending them an ear. (Afterward, Ellie was sure we'd caught From First to Last in 2007, but if so, they didn't make the final cut of the critique linked above, and I can't remember for sure -- hardly a good thing.) But even fashion came to a half in time for Say Anything, one of the outfits we were all looking forward to hearing -- and the band more than exceeded expectations. It helps that frontman Max Bemis is one of the pop-punk genre's truly singular songwriters. Musically, he takes more chances than a lot of his contemporaries and scores rewards as a result, and his lyrics can be funny and heart-wrenching within the same line. Live, he was reminiscent of actor Jeremy Piven, of Entourage fame -- hilarious, but with an appealing undercurrent of danger. As a bonus, the band benefited from the day's top sound mix, which let every syllable of his magnum opus, "Every Man Has a Molly," ring out loud and clear. Afterward, our raters offered A's and even a random A+, all richly deserved.
Travis McCoy from Gym Class Heroes.
Hard to top that, and Gym Class Heroes, which was next on our agenda, didn't manage it -- although they made a respectable showing anyhow. Travis McCoy remains an engaging rapper/singer, but the brevity of his spotlight time -- thirty minutes, like pretty much everyone else -- didn't allow him to stretch out, as he managed to do during a November 2007 concert that found him casting Wentz and Fall Out Boy in his considerable shadow. While an attempt at pit-stirring aggro riff-rock made sense considering the setting (and showed that McCoy can manage an unexpected screamo-style growl when he chooses), it didn't work nearly as well as the predictable closer, "Cupid's Chokehold." High B's from the ladies, and I'll go along with that.
Afterwards, the Chatfield contingent wanted to head over to 3Oh!3's stage and secure a spot even though the set wasn't scheduled to start for 40 minutes. That seemed excessive to me, but I went along -- and they couldn't have been more correct. The combo there, ORESKABAND, an all-female Japense ska group garbed in matching white dress shirts and skinny black ties, were thoroughly infectious and charming -- but the vast majority of those gathered nearby weren't there to see them. The instant ORESKABAND wrapped, the assemblage began chanting, "3Oh!3" and throwing the group's signature sign. If the schedule was correct, A Day to Remember was on the adjacent stage, but I'll be damned if I know for sure, because masses of humanity eager for a dose of 3Oh!3 flooded in and pressed forward, mashing everyone between them and the stage.
Nearly half an hour before show time, the horde had already swollen beyond the designated space, extending back across grassy areas and walkways that were wide open the rest of the day. Indeed, the swam almost certainly exceeded any attracted by the national headliners, albeit in a much smaller space -- and that was a problem for Drea, whose face wound up pressed against the sweaty back of a shirtless moron who'd wedged himself in front of her. After ten minutes or so of this torture, she had to get out, and that was fine by Lora and Ellie, who were just about at the end of their limit, too. So I told them to move backward, then inched my way ahead to fill in Sam, who'd gotten separated from us by about ten feet (a huge gulf under these circumstances), about what was happening. I then caught up with the girls using a time-honored technique: I declared, "Getting sick! About to vomit!"
Eventually, we wound up twenty yards or so beyond the sound tent -- which was in the middle of the pack, astonishingly enough. The quarters remained extremely close, but at least we could breath without asking people around us permission first. Even so, the position had its drawbacks. The sound equipment on 3Oh!3's stage wasn't meant to be heard as far back as we (and thousands of others) found ourselves -- because no one at Warped could have imagined so many people would want to see a group at one of the smaller stages. As a result, the partners' vocals tended to get lost amid the thumping bass at times. Lucky thing everyone (including members of my party, who all gave 3Oh!3 the highest grades possible) already seemed to know the words to old favorites like "Choke Chain" and "Holler Til You Pass Out," which bookended the set, and new single "Don't Trust Me," which KTCL is actually playing -- no doubt fueling the mania that surrounded the band at Warped.
The mayhem was such that a steady stream of people who'd once been near the stage moved past us throughout the set, all of them looking sweaty and goggle-eyed, as if they'd just been through a simulation of the Bataan death march. Closer to us -- much, much closer -- a young woman wearing a bra and a pair of shorts too small for her caboose climbed onto her companion's shoulders, much to the chagrin of everyone behind us. Within seconds, empty water bottles began raining down on her, but she refused to get down -- and that was too bad for us, because we were mere inches away from the top of her thong, which barely covered the crack of her ass, not to mention a rather unfortunate stain that could be seen spreading out from her crotch. Haley, another Chatfield student who we encountered during the day, tried to convince her to move by snapping her bra, but that didn't do it, either. She only got down after someone pegged her in the middle of the back with a half-full energy-drink can from about twenty feet away. That sent a message, didn't it?
When 3Oh!3 wrapped, Drea, in particular, needed food, water and some down time, which was bad news for bands in 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. slots. That's the way it goes, Pennywise, Every Time I Die, etc. Over part of that stretch, the girls gathered in a line at the 3Oh!3 booth, which was overwhelmed from about noon onward -- by far the most consistently crowded merch station on the grounds. Both Sean and Nathaniel were signing, and it was obvious that our attendees wouldn't get to them in time -- but they insisted, and stuck with it for twenty minutes or so before surrendering. After that, Drea, Sam, Christiana, Erin and Lora crashed in a grassy area behind the tents while Ellie and I checked out The Devil Wears Prada, one of the more aggressive Christian-screamo bands on the scene. At one point between songs, lead singer Mike Hranica delivered a heartfelt tribute to his Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, before launching into "Hey John, What's Your Name?," a tune built upon the line "I'm gonna pray for you!," which he growled/roared in the approved Cookie Monster manner. I thought that's what the devil sounded like...
Gabe from Cobra Starship.
Afterward, we went to find the other girls -- but first, we stumbled upon Nathaniel Motte, taking a break behind the merch tent. He not only signed all the shirts Ellie, Lora and the rest foisted upon him, but provided an update on 3Oh!3's Warped experiences to date. Of course, the Denver crowd had been the largest they'd drawn, but he said around 1,000 people checked them out in Salt Lake City, where "Don't Trust Me" is getting airplay, and they've consistently brought in 500-600 people even in locations where presumably no one has ever heard of them. By Warped standards, that's huge, and bodes well for 3Oh!3 expanding far beyond its Colorado base upon the July 8 release of Want, the combo's debut for Photo Finish Records, a spin-off from Atlantic Records that will give them national distribution -- and, with luck, the sort of follow-through that will convince Warped organizers to give them the big stage in years to come.
Gabe from Cobra Starship.
Given all that craziness, the rest of the day couldn't help being a bit anti-climactic. But there was still at least one pleasant surprise ahead: the showcase by Cobra Starship, the subject of a June 26 Westword profile, not to mention a Q&A with guitarist Ryland Blackinton. On disc, the band's dance-oriented throwback rock can sound more than a bit cheesy -- but instead of attempting to hide this quality, the players embraced it with a sense of awareness symbolized by its song "Guilty Pleasure," which they cranked out with irresistible verve. Leader Gabe Saporta, wearing black, horn-rimmed glasses and a goofy hat with the bill turned up, looked like a dweeb from a '60s-vintage beach movie. Still, he proved tremendously entertaining, not to mention canny. When he mentioned 3Oh!3 and mimicked its sign, the audience, which was already on his side, roared with approval -- and bringing out The Academy's Beckett and the Heroes' McCoy for cameos, and tossing out a snippet of the parody "Hollaback Boy" with a boost from cross-dresser Jeffree Star sealed the deal. Our graders gave the show straight A's, as well they should have.
Shwayze, a hip-hop soul combo, tried to ingratiate attendees with 3Oh!3 references, too -- a guest guitarist wore a 3Oh!3 shirt. But that couldn't prevent their moment in the finally lowering sun from being terminally boring. Even "Buzzin'," a single that also provides the name of a forthcoming MTV reality series, didn't produce much of a kick. Based on this gig, all those comparisons to Sublime that the group's been generating appear to be wishful thinking. C's from the Chatfield collective, likely due to the fact that they weren't high.
Forever the Sickest Kids was left to reinvigorate a crowd sapped of its verve by the Shwayze selections, not to mention a long day in the blazing heat, and they didn't quite manage it. There was a brief burst of crowd-surfing once they began, then little for twenty minutes or so, before they brought out "She's a Lady," their latest single, as a wrap-up. Lora and Ellie gave them B's -- a bit lower for me.
Afterward, Katy Perry began what was to be the last set of the night. But Lora and Ellie despise her single, "I Kissed a Girl," so we trudged back to our car, considerably worse for the wear. In the final analysis, they didn't think this year's Warped Tour quite matched last year's model; they missed bands like Chiodos and Coheed and Cambria, in particular. Nevertheless, there's no doubt they'll be eager to get Warped again in 2009. Rock on, sisters.
-- Michael Roberts