After nine years of practice, one might think the organizers of the Vans Warped Tour would finally come close to getting it right. But this eight-hour punk and alternative rock festival is still in many ways the least fan-friendly of all the traveling daylong summer music fests.
The kids here were herded, barnyard style, into a large open athletic field — in this day’s case, behind the Pyramid at Cal State Long Beach — where unbearably long vendor lines, a dearth of edible food options and an utter lack of shade awaited. But this fest is all about being punk, and with so many bands representing so many different youthful styles, it was certainly possible to overlook the inconveniences and have a good time.
Veteran Cali groups Pennywise and Rancid were the standout performers of the long day, and each drew rowdy reaction from the throng. The angry politics of Pennywise, which hails from nearby Hermosa Beach, incited a crazy mosh pit, as well as the usual thrown bottles and shoes. The band ran through 30 minutes of the best of its large back catalog, ending with traditional closer “Bro Hymn,” a tribute to the band’s late former bassist Jason Thirsk.
Rancid, whose Epitaph-distributed Hellcat Records recently entered into a promotional venture with Warner Bros. for its upcoming “Indestructible” album, was impressive with its hardcore, Clash-inspired manner. The group’s two guitar/vocals front men played off each other and the rowdy crowd to impressive effect.
Irvine’s progressive punk quartet Thrice made possibly the strongest artistic impression of the day by going against form and opening its well-received turn with a short acoustic set of older songs, followed by hard-hitting tracks from the band’s excellent new album, “The Artist in the Ambulance” (Island).
Straight-ahead punks Face to Face gave a tight perf that showed off their well-rehearsed, speedy style; the aptly named French-Canadian newcomers Simple Plan offered a somewhat generic and melodic pop-punk approach; Dropkick Murphy delivered feisty ska-punk, while Vendetta Red — led by a Roger Daltrey lookalike — played rowdy anthems suitable for arenas.
The small side stages, which had to compete with the two side-by-side main stages, delivered some of the most interesting groups of the day, including a female-led thrash band from France. Its name did not appear on the day’s lineup, but the band’s manic style quickly drew a curious crowd. The hip-hop karaoke tent drew numerous Eminem-wannabes, while late in the day, an unknown hard-rock band saw its chance and took over the spot where the lone hamburger/hot dog vendor had been set up for an impromptu perf.
Unlike at OzzFest, where the performers are kept at arm’s length from the audience, band members here could often be seen milling about the athletic field, signing autographs, taking pictures and — in the case of Vendetta Red’s singer Zach Davidson — selling their own merchandise.