Without delving into the history of the Vans Warped tour, it can be argued that a lot about it has changed. What started as a tour meant to showcase punk-rock rebellion has now become a major cog in the corporate machine -- attaching itself to major sponsors, rolling in more buses than a school trip to the Natural History Museum and featuring a lot of bands that, let's be honest, really, really suck.
The always opinionated band Propaghandi lashed out at the tour with the song "Rock for Sustainable Capitalism" on its 2005 release, Potemkin City Limits. With stages filled with rappers, screamo bands and whatever the fuck "crab-core" is, the question has to be asked: "Is there still a place for punk rock at the Warped Tour?" After watching veteran punkers Against Me! blister through a 45-minute set the answer, overwhelmingly, is yes!
In 2004, the band released a documentary DVD titled We're Never Going Home. It showed the band traveling raggedly throughout the country (with Denver's own Planes Mistaken for Stars) playing in sweaty basements, dive bars and a few gigantic music festivals in which they seemed out of place.
On this day, Against Me! showed the passion earned from years of sweating it out on the road and displayed it for the festival crowd. The Gainesville foursome started its set with the song "Pints of Guinness Make You Strong," off 2002's Reinventing Axl Rose, its debut full-length. The song, about drinking in memory of better times and better friends, has been the band's opener for much of their career, and the energy displayed right out of the gate was sincere and compelling.
This was refreshing when compared to most of the bands at Warped, whose on-stage excitement seemed fraudulent and planned. A large part of Against Me!'s rediscovered energy can be attributed to new drummer, Jay Weinberg. If the last name rings a bell, it's because Jay is the son of seminal rock drummer Max, who, in addition to being the bandleader on Late Night With Conan O'Brien, also hits the skins for a little band called the E Street Band. Because of his pedigree and skill behind the kit, Weinberg propels an already great band and makes it louder, tighter and better in ways that original drummer Warren Oakes never could.
The rest of Against Me! -- guitarist/vocalist James Bowman, bassist Andrew Seward and guitarist/frontman Tom Gabel -- continue to improve, both in performance and musicianship as Gabel's voice, which was ragged and would sometimes crack at the band's inception, is now powerful and engaging.
The guys performed a well-balanced set of old material and cuts off its latest album, White Crosses, with each song possessing its own allure. Six songs into the set, they played "Don't Lose Touch," off 2005's Searching for a Former Clarity. In it, Gabel sings about bands making it big and forgetting about the core values that got them playing music in the first place.
Looking out on the countless advertisements and massive buses, it was clear a few bands at the festival were falling victim to the trappings of marginal fame. But for Against Me! -- one of the lone "punk" bands at a massive "punk" festival -- it's clear that much of the spirit that helped ignite the band when they started is still very much alive.
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Personal Bias: I have been a fan of Against Me! since Reinventing Axl Rose. I have been critical of the band in the past, but this performance renewed my love for them. By the Way: Kids at Warped Tour: Put some clothes on. Seriously. Random Detail: Members of Lucero, who played the Warped Tour earlier, were at Charlie Fasano's book-release party later that night at Fast Geek Boutique.