Live: Warped Tour 2009
It's either a testament to the Warped Tour's longevity or a knock on its creativity that Bad Religion and NOFX, the bands headlining this 15th installment of the youth-skewing summer punk rock road show, could have played at any point in the outing's history.
Both groups remain beloved staples of teenage counterculture, but at Friday's Warped kickoff date at the Pomona Fairplex, loyalists in the circle pit in front of the stage might have felt like it was 1999. Or 2004. Or 2008.
Still, the marquee names and several promising newcomers demonstrated that there's plenty of vitality on offer on the Warped circuit, if one can suffer through some irritating sideshow acts.
The festival has shown a strange tendency to book performers that skewer and occasionally infuriate, Warped's core audience of punkers. This summer's lineup features synth-heavy acts such as the Colorado rap duo 3OH!3 and Breathe Carolina, bands that sing about womanizing, trust funds and ordering bottle service in chic nightclubs -- unappetizing subject matter for the pierced eyebrow crowd
Similarly, the prerecorded backing tracks and juvenile misogyny of bands such as the New Mexico ("Albucrazy") screamo-crunk act brokenCYDE are affronts to traditionalist punk values.
Warped also has suffered recently from a glut of indiscernible emo bands. Some, like the Devil Wears Prada -- can we expect a combo called He's Just Not That Into You to headline in 2011? -- provided a little unintentionally goofy earnestness; others, like the Maine and the White Tie Affair, seemed culled from pop's version of Central Casting.
The most welcome diversions came from bands that managed to find new ways to update Warped's aggressive fundamentals.
Gallows delivered the day's best set. The British quintet plays a thrilling and venomous take on the early '80s hard core of Black Flag. Singer Frank Carter, a sinewy redhead with a sneer equal to that of Sex Pistols' frontman John Lydon, spent most of the set amid the crowd, presiding over the mosh pit.
The thick-necked and unexpectedly catchy stomp of Alexisonfire was a rewarding late afternoon pick-me-up, while the promising soul-inflected group Meg & Dia added a much-needed respite from Warped's abject bro-ness. Hopefully, the underrated veterans on the Old School stage -- the Adolescents and D.I. among them -- prompted the more fresh-faced fans to mail order vintage 7-inches.
Bad Religion reached deep into its catalog for such nihilistic barnburners as "Do What You Want" and tempered those with more hopeful and melodic contemporary material. NOFX relied on an arsenal of giddily offensive jokes to accompany its breakneck and still-bratty hard core.
It was NOFX that summed up the day with its song "Mattersville," a tongue-in-cheek vision of a suburb where old punks go to raise kids and drink beer in the backyard. "We will grow old together," frontman Mike Burkett sang. "We will play bridge and Texas hold 'em."
For kids who have grown old with Warped, it seems a pleasant way to live out one's adulthood. But for those looking for punk's new possibilities, it might feel a touch domestic.
Photos: Bad Religion, top right, and Gallows. Credit: Ringo H.W. Chiu / Los Angeles Times