Written by Todd Spoth
Jun 30, 2006 at 08:00 PM
ImageThere’s something truly exciting about an authentic music tour, something much more exciting than a single night show with two or three bands. Being born from events such as Lollapalooza, Live Aid and of course Woodstock, all day, traveling music festivals like the Van’s Warped Tour have been providing memorable musical experiences for decades.

The Warped Tour in particular has been around for over a decade and generally appeals to the punk rock/indie crowd, however in recent years the tour has really expanded to include a wealth of events and activities that attract both the young and young at heart. I, myself, have been attending The Warped Tour, in various cities, for about nine years and have been witness to both the gradual enlargement of the tour as a whole as well as the continuation of the great music that was apparent during the tour’s early years.

For the past several years the Houston stop of The Warped Tour has been held in a series of parking lots near the Houston Texans’ training facility on the Reliant Park grounds. This year there were multiple stages, oftentimes with two or three bands playing simultaneously, extreme sports demos, as well as enough booths to fill a dozen quilting conventions. The booths are a big part of The Warped Tour, as nearly every band has its own booth set up to attract concert goers to meet the band and buy their merch. Booths are also set up by record labels, pushing the latest compilations; activists groups, urging the youth to mobilize; and select manufacturers, such as Trojan, whose clientele applies. This year there were a few new things I did notice, among them was a booth sponsored by Major League Baseball, where participants could try their hand in the batting cages, throw a few fastballs or play the latest MLB video game titles. Being a MLB photographer myself, I enjoyed this attraction as well as the fact that there was an inter-band competition to see which band could hit the most pitches in the batting cage.

As for the actual music; I saw all the bands I came to see and was surprised by more than a few as well. To keep this as simple as possible we will discuss each band chronologically.
The Canadian quartet that is Moneen was my first stop of the day. Moneen played to a minimal crowd, yet never showed signs of fatigue. Their front man and guitarist, Kenny Bridges, jumped off the stage and engaged the crowd in a chorus during one song. I had not seen these guys in several years so naturally they were a pleasant surprise. I would characterize Moneen as one of those bands whose live sound differs greatly from what you hear at home. The live show is much more raw and in your face while it isn’t until you listen to Moneen at home can you really appreciate the subtle guitar work and softer side of the music.

After Moneen, I stumbled upon Spitalfield, a band that I like very much, however did not know was even going to be on this years tour. These guys are from Chicago and fairly new, however their sound is like no other. They definitely impressed me, especially their bass player who likes to jump and jump high, which is always a plus. I’ve witnessed this group go from simple, hooky pop-punk to some fairly complex musicianship, all of which I have enjoyed. Keep on the lookout for their upcoming LP, “Better than Knowing Where You are”, which drops from Victory Records on October 3rd.

Paramore!Paramore was the band that I was most anxious to see. They are a young rock five-piece from Tennessee, lead by the female vocals of 17-year old Haley Williams. The stage was small and the crowd was surprisingly dense with a heavy concentration of females. The band took the stage and went face-first into their single, “Pressure”. Sometimes opening with that one well known compilation song, or that video single is a bit gutsy, but the band seemingly pulled it off well. After getting the crowd singing along the group barreled along. These guys were tight, and not just for the teenage, young band standard; these guys were tight…like Journey tight, even through dozens of jumps, kicks and other random stage antics.

Saosin is one of those bands that really surprised me. When the “Translating the Name” EP came out in 2003 I was really excited about these guys. They also unofficially released a set of instrumental demos in 2004 that showed some real promise, however after their original vocalist, Anthony Green, left and was replaced with Cove Reber, things took an odd turn. Many fans of the group will tout Reber’s similarities to Green’s range and overall vocal styling, however my experience during this year’s showing proved them wrong. The band seemed together instrumentally, however Reber’s vocals were flat and out of tune throughout most of the set. I’m not picky, and I know it’s a live show and that one cannot expect an American Idol performance, but what they had to offer was just plain bad.

Luckily after being disappointed by Saosin, Saves the Day was there to well…save the day. I share a long history with these guys as I remember seeing them play in 98 with a few people present, I remember when the Equal Vision sampler came out on a cassette and had “Rocks, Tonic, Juice, Magic”, from their LP, Through Being Cool, I also remember being a part of their former bassist, Eben’s, 20th birthday celebration at Emo’s in Austin several years ago. I had lost count, but I have probably seen Saves the Day about eight or nine times, and listened to their records (yes, actual vinyl) for times than I can count. These guys have been through numerous changes in the last few years though. Their sound has transformed from straight forward melodic rock, influenced by bands such as Lifetime and Fast Break, to a more refined, complex oddity of a sound.

The only member that has stayed the course is front man, Chris Conley, who has added a few pounds and pink hair dye to his repertoire. I reluctantly approached the stage to watch these guys and seeing the new members with long hair and aviators put me in a strange state of alienation, however I was delighted to hear them play more than one song off Through Being Cool. On one hand I hate the path they’ve taken, and wish I could have the old band back, and on the other hand I respect their musical growing and enjoyed their performance, as it did contain quite a bit of variety. After playing a full set, these guys came back an hour later to perform a set, on a smaller stage, acoustically. This was probably the best performance of the day. Hearing “You Vandal” acoustically was the highlight of the day for me personally.

Immediately after the Saves the Day performance, Motion City Soundtrack took the stage. I first discovered these guys here in Houston, at the now defunct, Mary Janes (Walter’s), when they opened up for Ultimate Fakebook. They had me from the start. Even with the influx of fame and MTV-esque exposure, these guys still put it down. Their debut album I Am the Movie was amazing, their follow-up, Commit This to Memory did not disappoint, and their live show is as exciting and interactive as it is listening to their album, flying down the freeway in your car. If you haven’t heard of these guys…get into it. If you haven’t seen them live…get into it.

Underoath was up next. Ive seen and reviewed them before, and the result was similar. While the whole Christian, screamo thing doesn’t really do it for me, these guys perform well. Everyone is moving, all the time, and the music isn’t the easiest to play either. They are all excellent musicians, even if half of them have braces and crappy hair.  Their latest album did surprise me as I dig more of the melodic vocals rather than the redundant screaming. I can say that they are definitely fun to photograph!

After Underoath I just had to see NOFX. I think the last time I had seen them was during the 98 Warped Tour, here in Houston, when they threw out nearly $500 in bills out into the audience. They were just the same as I had left them; mouthy, uncaring and raw. They belted out twelve songs in seven minutes as well as several others. I got to relive some old memories while singing along to the old hits. Probably the most respected bands on the tour today, a definate classic. These guys have been making and performing these DIY classics for decades.

The last  band of the day for me was Thursday. Although not as classic as NOFX, these guys have been around. Ive seen them plenty of times including once recently. Geoff never disappoints his audience. This band has been making consistently great music for years now. Unlike many bands these days, Thursday’s sound has never really changed that much, and this is a good thing.

The Warped Tour has so many bands on its bill daily, that you can map out your attack and choose your punk rock destiny for that day. You choose which bands you want to see and what activities to participate in, therefore you have no reason to have a bad time. There isn’t any smoke or mirrors to this tour. There is no crazy stage effects, (unless one was to count NOFX’s pink blow-up dolls)  there are no huge banners, there isn’t any silly intros; its just straight up rock n roll.

-Todd Spoth