For 22 years, the Vans Warped Tour has been one of the major highlights on the contemporary punk-rock calendar. Ever since founder Kevin Lyman convinced L7, Sublime, Quicksand, Sick of it All, Deftones, and more to join forces and tour the nation for two months during the summer of 1995, fans of rowdy, dance-friendly music have been keeping an eye out for the Warped Tour lineup announcements, year-after-year.
There are always a few surprises. Katy Perry, for example, was on the bill in 2008. Her early brand of stomping pop fit in perfectly well with some of the other more accessible bands on the bill, but that doesn’t stop the average pop-punker’s brow from furrowing when reminded of this occurrence.
Nowadays, the definition of “punk” — when applied to the Warped Tour — is stretched, to say the least. All manner of indie and alt-rock groups make it onto the bill, and that eclecticism has only helped the package tour to survive. Here are four of the bands performing this year that aren’t necessarily traditional Vans Warped fodder. Indeed, none of them have played the event before.
Barb Wire Dolls
L.A.’s Lemmy-approved hard rockers the Barb Wire Dolls are led by the inimitable Isis Queen, a disciple of Wendy O-Williams (of the Plasmatics) who is certainly not afraid of her sexuality. Queen is a badass front-woman with a tremendous set of pipes, and she will play this rock ’n’ roll game by her own rules. Her co-founder in the Dolls, guitarist Pyn Doll, is also a pro surfer, so naturally he’s always been interested in Warped Tour.
“I never went to it because I was never in America at the time,” the guitarist says. “I’ve always liked it and thought of it as a great way to motivate the youth. It’s really a place where all the youth discover whatever the new music is going to be for the year. It kind of dictates the American rock scene on alternative radio. It creates everything for every scene, and all the labels copy everything that’s popular. So it’s like something you have to do if you want to do something big in America.”
The Warped Tour sometimes gets a bad rap because of the perceived “corporate punk” nature of it, but Doll doesn’t believe that’s fair at all. Or at least, it doesn’t tell the whole story.
“Being on this tour, we’ve had so many fans come up and say they’d never have gone to Warped Tour because they can’t stand all the corporate screamo girl and boy bands,” he says. “But they would come see us and say that it was so great, they loved it, because they saw all these other great bands that they didn’t realize were playing Warped Tour. I think where Kevin [Lyman] is very smart, there are 10 bands here that could be as big as any band in the world given the opportunities. Most of the bands that are big in Warped Tour are not that big around the world. But it’s great — it’s a real family. The people really care about the music.”
The Barb Wire Dolls are used to headlining shows at venues like the Whisky A Go-Go in Los Angeles, and are less familiar with performing at big events to younger crowds. Doll says that the group is relishing that opportunity.
“The thing is, we had no idea that all these young girls are freaking out over our singer and our band because they’ve never seen a powerful female that is in control and powerful on stage,” he says. “They’re screaming — it’s like The Beatles sometimes. It’s crazy, because we’ve never experienced that. It’s exciting to be in this position where every day we get to show who we are. It’s like a little battle every day. Make them never forget that they saw Barb Wire Dolls.”
Thrash-punk crossover band Municipal Waste, out of Richmond, Virginia, will go down well with fans of similar genre-blending bands such as Suicidal Tendencies. These guys are definitely coming at things from the metal side of the spectrum though, with imagery and art that recalls the Bay Area thrash bands of the ’80s. Singer Tony Foresta says that Kevin Lyman has been trying to get his band onto the Warped bill for years.
“He’s probably asked us five or six times in the past, but we were always doing Europe or we already had something booked on our schedules,” Foresta says. “This year, it finally worked out, and it was right around the time our record [Slime and Punishment] was coming out, too, so we jumped at the opportunity.”
Unsurprisingly, Foresta says that this Vans Warped tour features the most eclectic lineup that Municipal Waste has ever been involved with, though there have been plenty of like-minded souls (TSOL, Sick of it All, The Adolescents) for them to hang out with. However, Foresta has been surprised by some of the groups that he has bonded with.
“It’s weird because we’re hanging out with bands that you’d never guess we’d be best friends with,” he says. “Like Bad Cop / Bad Cop. And this band New Year’s Day are these kids that wear makeup and shit. We hang out with them almost every day. They’re the nicest kids. It’s really strange. Bands I’ve never heard of or would normally hear of, we end up hanging out with these people all summer. It’s a really cool experience — almost like a summer camp for weirdos.”
Forester says that Municipal Waste will cram as many songs as they can into their allotted 30 minutes, and you can be sure that they’ll play their collective asses off.
Welsh new-wave band The Alarm, led by Mike Peters, is one of the elder-statesmen groups on this year’s bill. Forming in 1977 as The Toilets, The Alarm are arguably best-known for the 1984 album Declaration and the accompanying “68 Guns” single. Peters is delighted to be able to take his arsenal of tunes to a young audience.
“We’re Vans Warped Tour virgins,” Peters says. “It’s got a legend all of its own. I know members of bands like The Damned, Buzzcocks, or The Living End who have done the tour and they’ve told me great stories, but also what a challenge it is for a band from certain generations to drop in and mix it up with all the young bands. We’ve been absolutely loving it. There’s a great communal spirit to the tour.”
It’s appropriate that The Alarm play this tour; Peters has been a vocal opponent to the idea that bands become irrelevant as they get older and, in 2003, he successfully proved that the whole notion is a fallacy when he created a fake teen band called The Poppy Fields to lip-synch to his compositions. The Poppy Fields broke into the national top 20 singles charts.
“We fooled the entire British music industry, gatecrashing the top 20 with a fake band before we revealed that it was The Alarm in disguise,” Peters says. “Then it became a huge story and the subject of a film [Vinyl]. The drummer of Neck Deep, one of the bands on the tour, was one of the kids in the fake band. It’s funny how these things keep coming full circle.”
What to expect from The Alarm’s set in San Francisco? “It’s a thrash and blur of stripped down excitement,” says Peters. “That’s what you get from The Alarm.”
Scottish pirate-themed metal band Alestorm don’t like to talk too much. One would have to assume that they’re all too busy drinking rum, pillaging, and looting ships on the open seas.
Collectively, the men of Alestorm told us that they are having fun on the tour, particularly watching Gwar and New Year’s Day. Naturally, they believe that they’re better than most of the other bands on the bill, and we can expect a lot of drinking from their set.
Sounds about right.
Vans Warped Tour hits the Shoreline Amphitheatre, 1 Amphitheatre Parkway, Mountain View, at 11 a.m. on Friday, Aug. 4. vanswarpedtour.com