SAN ANTONIO, TX – Smoke seeps out of his guitar the same way it does when a car’s block is cracked. Within seconds, the guitar stops producing sound so he tosses it like yesterday’s newspaper. He heads to the front of the stage and sings the guitar part through the microphone, complete with distortion sound effects until the song is finished. He drops the mic and walks away, visually frustrated, only to come back seconds later and sincerely thanks the sound crew with a genuine smile. The Dirty Nil just finished their Warped Tour set to a crowd of a dozen people but played with the same energy and gusto of a band performing to a sold out arena. The Canadian trio embodies what the Warped Tour is all about.
I am 27 years old, a decade older than the target demographic for Warped Tour.I attended my first Warped Tour in 2001 and this was the eleventh time over the last two decades that I sulked in the Texas summer sun and watched some of my favorite bands play abridged sets to crowds of admiring teenagers. While the types of bands to play Warped Tour have changed over the years, the fundamental essence of the summer festival has remained: hear us out.
Buddy Nielsen, frontman of Warped vet Senses Fail, echoed this ambiguous manifesto throughout their set. “We don’t care if you like us, we just want you to listen to what we have to say,” he said on Sunday in between navigating through a Senses Fail discography that spans over a decade. Once main stage regulars, the band has gone through some lineup changes and evolved from an artifact of the screamo era to provocateurs of the hardcore revival with post-hardcore elements. Nielsen recently came out of the closet as queer and emphasized how much his music has been a driving force in being able to finally be himself. At age 31, he still has a lot to say and Warped Tour is there to give him an outlet.
This year brought a good combination of nostalgia and current buzz as the lineup consisted of reunited bands like Matchbook Romance and Metro Station to recent mainstays like Pierce the Veil and The Wonder Years.Amongst all the celebration of teenage rebellion and mall punk nostalgia, the one artist that sticks out like a sore thumb is, of course, Riff Raff. It’s been almost two decades since Eminem was booed off the stage of Warped Tour and though several rappers have been featured on the lineup in years since, none have received as much backlash as Riff Raff did in the months preluding the tour. Petitions were set up to have him kicked off the tour and several patrons returned or sold their tickets. None of this seemed to faze Riff Raff, as he brought his charismatic swagger to stage, tearing through his discography while the whole crowd was bumping. Minutes into the set, he had the crowd pogoing and dancing and even a circle pit or two broke out which more than warranted the fact that Riff Raff belonged on the tour.
While The Dirty Nil may not have had the crowd at their command the way Riff Raff did, but it didn’t stop them from putting on a good show and that’s all you can ask for from a band these days. This juxtaposition is really what makes Warped Tour different than a lot of other summer festivals. To quote Warped Tour vets Against Me!: “We want a band that plays loud and hard every night that doesn’t care how many people are counted at the door.” Warped Tour hasn’t been punk rock in years, but it still embodies this punk rock aphorism and, as long as they continue to book bands like The Dirty Nil, there’s no reason it won’t continue.