Date: July 14, 2017
2017 marks the twenty third year of the traveling music circus that is the Vans Warped Tour. Once a purveyor of punk and ska music in the mid to late 90s, the festival has expanded over the years to include just about any and every musical genre whether mainstream or underground. Once again, the Vans Warped Tour sets its sights on Burgettstown, PA for a day of debauchery.
While I was once a Warped Tour regular every year for nearly a decade, the last year I had attended the Warped Tour was in 2006. I can recall the lineup being very lackluster in regards to my tastes. Some highlights were the Living End, Less Than Jake, Helmet, NOFX and Joan Jett and the Blackhearts. Lackluster lineups continued for the next few years and that on top of other various circumstances prevented me from attending much over the next decade plus.
The lineup for 2017 would be a much more interesting and diverse lineup that I’ve caught in quite a few years. Not only were Warped Tour staples such as Anti-Flag, Big D and the Kids Table and the Ataris performing but there were also some exciting newcomers hitting the stage like Sonic Boom Six from the UK and a little-known schlock rock band by the name of GWAR. You’ve probably never heard of them.
I planned out the list of bands that I was going to try and see and headed out for the long drive. The forecast called for a 40% chance of rain all day so I attached my trusty umbrella to my belt loop, grabbed some extra clothes and put on my mud stompers, knowing how sloppy and muddy the Keybank Pavilion can be after a rainstorm. I arrived to a slowly filling parking lot and managed to gain entrance shortly before the first band hit the stage around 1 PM. The markings and signage for VIP parking and regular average Joe parking were awful and were causing lots of unnecessary hold ups due to sudden lane switches. Three lanes quickly merged into one choke point on multiple occasions. I can’t complain too much because at least the parking was free unlike the days of old.
Upon entrance I picked up a photocopied schedule and made my way to the large schedule wall to verify set times. This year a major sponsor for the Warped Tour was Valiant Comics and I was on a hunt for the official collector’s edition program which was apparently pretty hard to find since no one even knew what I was talking about at any of the official merchandise booths and other various places that I was directed to look. I did manage to luck upon a young lady walking around and randomly handing them out to people. I was somewhat disappointed that there wasn’t much else other than some refillable Valiant thermoses and random banners hanging around for such a major sponsorship. I was hoping to have a Ninjak cosplayer shredding on stage with Municipal Waste or something of the sort. Didn’t happen.
Once I got my schedule for the day figured out…and I didn’t even have any of the past issues of all of the bands that I wanted to see playing at the exact same time…I was able to hit up one of the artists on my list right away. Watsky was playing on one of the main stages and I found a seat in the shade to check out his funky fresh lyrics. He had quite a large crowd formed in the pit and beyond and during the end of his set had the crowd crowdsurf him the whole way to the back of the pit.
I had about a half an hour to kill after Watsky’s set so I set out to check the lay of the land. Everything seemed about the same from the last time I was there in ’06 except that they seemed to learn the lesson that it was stupid to set up stages in the middle of the hill. It’s hard to skank to skank at a 45 degree angle. Food vendors were overpriced as usual but there were some interesting freebies including a water hydration station for free water refills as well as free sample-sized Slurpees compliments of 711. What I would have paid to have a full-sized Slurpee that day.
After a brief walkabout, next up on my schedule was one of my top priorities, Sonic Boom Six. Being a fan for quite some years, I was definitely going to take the opportunity to see them since US tours are quite rare for them. They absolutely didn’t disappoint as they made it through a variety of old and new tracks. “No Man, No Right” was my personal highlight and the band managed to draw a crowd of both those familiar with the band and interested parties that liked what they heard.
What was nice for my schedule is that most of the bands that I wanted to see were localized with side-by-side stages only feet apart. After Sonic Boom Six finished up Anti-Flag hit the stage right next door. I was a little shocked that Anti-Flag was playing so early being that they have headlined the Warped Tour in Pittsburgh on multiple occasions. They came out and managed to play a good selection of popular songs including “You’ve Gotta Die For the Government”, “Turncoat” and “Brandenburg Gate”. The short set time was also a good thing since the band didn’t ramble on about political agendas.
After Anti-Flag finished up I managed to catch a brief listen to the Barb Wire Dolls from Greece. They had a ‘77-sound and sounded decent but for one of the rare occasion on the day, I had to make my way to one of the main stages in preparation for Save Ferris who were absolutely a must see for me. I arrived there early and made my way to the front rows of the pit. The last time that Save Ferris played the Warped Tour was way back in 2000 and, up until this past year, that was the only time I’ve ever seen them live. Now it would be two times in one year and I was excited for them to bring the ska to the masses. They did not disappoint as they kicked covered an array of songs from their discography. “Superspy”, “Anything” and of course, their cover of “Come One Eileen” were some standout tracks from their highly energetic and entertaining set. They even surprised everyone with a furious cover of the Dead Kennedys’ “Too Drunk To Fuck”. That one definitely came out of nowhere and put the crowd into a frenzy.
I also need to mention that while I’m not a fan of the band CKY, while waiting for Save Ferris to come on they managed to rip through a pretty awesome cover of GG Allin’s “Bite It You Scum”.
Even though there were a few other bands that I was interested in checking out after Save Ferris, I needed to get some food and drink and I also decided to scope out the merch booths for some apparel that I really don’t need. I managed to meet up with a friend who was set up selling comics and collectibles, pick out some t-shirt purchase options and spend way too much on carbs and water. Next up on my schedule were the Ataris.
I have never been a huge fan of the Ataris but I didn’t see much else that interested me at the time and I had another long haul of consecutive bands on adjacent stages so I found I nice little spot next to the Hard Rock Café and Skullcandy stages and waited for the Ataris to get through their set so that they could play their cover of “Boys of Summer”. Following to the left of the Ataris was a band called War On Women who had a hard edge punk-influenced rock sound. They somewhat reminded me of Tsunami Bomb with a melodic hardcore rock sound. Back to the Hard Rock stage was another band that I was looking forward to…that being punk rock veterans the Adolescents.
Hailing from a totally different era of punk rock than any of the other bands on the Warped Tour, for those of you unfamiliar with the Adolescents their sound hails straight from the 80s hardcore punk rock scene…having been there in its infancy. It’s a buzz saw of guitar and bass with rapid fire drums and intense yet melodic vocals. Their music is also the kind of music that invokes the girl with crusty dreadlocks and combat boots that lives under the stage to come out into the sunlight and join the mosh pit. Those girls are like urban legends I tell ya.
Immediately following the Adolescents right next door was another must see for this rudeboy. Big D and the Kids Table were once again set to get folks skankin’ at the pavilion. There were a lot of familiar faces from not only the Save Ferris crowd but those that meandered over from the Adolescents’ set and beyond. Big D’s setlist followed more of their hardcore ska punk sound with lots of tracks being pulled from “How It Goes” and “Strictly Rude”. They played their cover of the Specials’ “Little Bitch” much to the crowd’s delight and also brought up the lead singer of Sonic Boom Six to perform female vocals for the recent Big D/Doped Up Dollies collaboration “Oi DJ”. There was quite a large crowd there to see Big D and that’s a far cry from their early Warped Tour Days where they were playing a small tent next to the Yoo-Hoo booth. They’ve earned every single one of those fans by carrying the ska punk torch in the waning days of the third wave when other ska punk bands were going pop or turning emo.
Once the final dose of ska was injected for the day, there were a few more back and forth bands between the Hard Rock and Skullcandy stages. Municipal Waste brought the kickass thrash metal to the table and had metalheads coming out of the woodwork to check out their setlist like moths to a flame. I was hoping to catch their set and it was worth every minute.
Following up Municipal Waste were one of the best live bands out there today in the Street Dogs. I was extremely disappointed by the lack of people attending their set but they played their hearts out and lead singer Mike McColgan joined the crowd on a few occasions for sing-a-longs and high fives. They were great nonetheless.
I managed to catch some of Sick Of It All’s set as they jumped through some older songs much to the audience’s delight. Again, I needed to cut the set short and attend to some hydration and sustenance for my sun-soaked body. There was only one more band that I was planning to see and they would bring my night to a close. That band is made up of perverts, nymphomaniacs, killers and scumdogs. Hailing from the deepest bowels of the Master, that band is known only as the mighty GWAR!!!
Having lost founding member and front man Dave Brockie/Oderus Urungus a few years ago, there were talks of the band finally hanging it up. That would have been a sad day in the music world. I don’t believe that there ever will be or ever can be another band remotely close to what GWAR is. They truly are one of a kind not only in the music world but in just about every form of artistic medium known to man. Their stage show is like a brutal, violent, self-deprecating play…their costumes are handmade and are a personification of each band member’s stage presence…and their music encompasses everything from punk and thrash metal to hard rock and sludge metal. They are one of a kind and once in a lifetime. To hear that they would continue on the GWAR legacy was met with nearly unanimous praise and that showed with the enormous turnout for their Warped Tour performance. It seemed like everyone at the show stopped what they were doing to check them out…and GWAR didn’t let us down.
I held onto a slim hope that GWAR would manage to fit in my favorite track “Saddam A Go Go” into the setlist. The band was introduced by a GWAR representation of Ozzy Osbourne who came out to “War Pigs” playing in the background. Then the trumpets sounded and lo-and-behold “Saddam A Go Go” was their opening song. Ozzy was shortly decapitated and blood spewed from his neck hole into the audience in a continuous stream as the slaves in the audience lapped up every ounce. GWAR continued to kill it with everything from “Bring Back the Bomb” to “Crack in the Egg” while ending the night with a sacrificial tribute performed to the delight of “If You Want Blood (You’ve Got It)” as the audience received a bloodbath of epic proportions. As usual there were plenty of grotesque characters on the stage not including the monsters and alien cyborgs that were defeated by the band.
While I was certainly looking forward to bands like Save Ferris, the Street Dogs, Big D and the Kids Table and Sonic Boom Six…GWAR absolutely took the (Beef)cake for the highlight of the day. It had been a few years since I have caught them live and, after the possibility of them calling it quits, it was a pleasure to see that they are still masters of their craft. I’m not sure what that is exactly but I’m their still kicking ass nonetheless.
Overall, I went into the day expecting to be somewhat disappointed with happening of the past but when I was alone with my thoughts on the long ride home I realized that on this day I felt like I was a twenty-something once again. I managed to see every band that I really wanted to see; I landed a GWAR and a Sonic Boom Six shirt, picked up a 90s Superman graphic novel for $5 and truly enjoyed myself. Somehow the weather managed to cooperate all day making the day hot, muggy and sunny and the audience members sweaty, stinky and sticky…just like the old days. I could do without the last part but I’ll take what I can get. I even managed to get some crappy cell phone pictures to include in this longwinded review. I would like to give a shout out to the Warped Tour PR for hooking me up with the press pass. It was one hell of a day!