Less than 10 minutes into the band’s performance Friday, Yellowcard front man Ryan Key used his intro to “Believe” to criticize the war in Iraq and the Bush administration. The remark was expected; punk rock bands have long advocated anarchy. But this is not your father’s punk music. The band instead served up wimpy, pop-infused tunes largely lacking any raw emotion or searing commentary, with each calculated to display an overused gimmick: a classical violinist.
The band, one of the small-stage finds of the Warped Tour two years ago, has seemingly lost much of the surging, relentless energy and creativity of a band with something to prove. Instead, it now favors a kinder, gentler sound as evidenced by “Way Away,” whose peppy chorus prompted the night’s loudest, longest audience singalong. The song is emblematic of the tone on its year-old Capitol Records disc, “Ocean Avenue.”
It was only when Yellowcard dipped back into its earlier repertoire, such as its 3-year-old indie disc “One for the Kids,” that the band’s harder, more aggressive edge took center stage. Tracks like “For Pete’s Sake” and “A.W.O.L.” reverberated through the venue, creating a throbbing, bouncing sea of humanity on the venue floor. But a return to more recent material quickly sapped the crowd’s energy, prompting Key to repeatedly query, “Is anybody out there?”
However, the stage presence and musicianship of Yellowcard, a band that once appeared to make a career out of amateurism, has evolved considerably. Perhaps a result of its touring cycle of 200-plus shows, it operates as a cohesive unit rather than four solo artists backed by the same drummer. The songs no longer suffer while bassist Pete Mosely maniacally traverses the stage, trying hard to keep pace with violinist Sean Macklin, who has considerable freedom with the shoulder-mounted instrument. Macklin also offers some onstage gymnastics that include backflips off the monitors on the stage apron. Key stays in pitch and doesn’t become scratchy by show’s end — though his in-between song patter could be reduced by half.
The evening’s stars were the members of Pennsylvania-based Starting Line, industry comers who offered high-powered rock songs with a pop-punk veneer. The band’s Internet buzz, status as an MTV2 fave and an early career handful of regional legs of Warped Tour dates have helped the quartet generate the widespread enthusiasm evident in the crowd reaction during its performance.
The dual guitar interplay of Matt Watts and Mike Golla on tracks from “The Make Yourself at Home EP,” and the band’s manic drive combined into a forceful presentation during its too-brief set. Ken Vasoli is a charismatic, fun-to-watch lead as the band powers through songs of loneliness and longing.
Openers HeyMike! and Days Away tried to fire up the early arrivals with their brands of pseudo-punk and melodic rock, respectively, with Days Away showing the most promise of the pair. Its work with producer Neal Avron (Yellowcard) has helped the Lava Records act better define its sound from the 2002 indie bow “The Feel of It” and become highly popular on download Web sites such as purevolume.com.
The trio of HeyMike! thrashed for relevance and crowd acceptance with its cartoonish presentation and uninspired brand of melodic punk.