EmptyAs temperatures soared into the 100s for Friday's launch of the 2008 Vans Warped Tour, even mosh maniacs were retreating for whatever shade could be found under tents, awnings and the few trees.
While pounding punk and Cookie Monster-growl screamo have been the top draws in past years, some of the most popular performers fell into the indie pop and jaunty ska realms of tuneful sounds. Of course, this could all change throughout the summer trek of America's longest-running traveling music fest, now in its 14th year with different lineups for the 46 dates.
The favorites were easy to spot, not just from the crowds at the stages but by the lines for autographs at the individual artists' booths. And because the set times are shuffled with each tour stop, it's possible to miss some of the bigger names if you show up too late in the day. That certainly was the case Friday, which saw midafternoon shows featuring the charged power-pop of Chicago's The Academy Is ...; the skillful, almost classic rock Against Me! from Gainesville, Fla.; and New York's dance-daring, rhythmic Cobra Starship.
Between the two main stages on each end of the grounds, there was a constant stream of music waiting to be discovered on the smaller stages, such as Beat Union out of Birmingham, England, splitting the difference between Madness and Clash influences, and earnest London rock 'n' roll trio Tat.
Santa Barbara's saucy Katy Perry, enjoying a big mainstream hit with "I Kissed a Girl," was more Coachella than Warped with her New Wave dance style, teasing and posing, ready for her MTV close-up.
Other standouts on the same Hurley.com stage where Perry appeared included the reggae-soul of the Aggrolites -- just right for a sweltering day where slow swaying seemed more realistic than punk mayhem -- and the tattooed-to-the-extreme psychobilly Horrorpops, picking the legacies of the Cramps and X.
Despite pop pleasures ruling the day, there were plenty of old-school punk elements and, yes, screamo stew and rant as well. But attitude and aggression fizzled out alongside up-and-coming bands like Forever the Sickest Kids, and the witty Say Anything let loose with catchy sing-alongs.
Unlike some past editions of Warped, there were few "heritage" acts -- those veteran bands still held in high esteem by the event's core audience of teens and college kids. But the freight-train political punk ferocity of Pennywise certainly fit that bill, and perhaps so did horn-pumped ska yuksters Reel Big Fish, both outfits with longtime Southern California reps.
Less impressive were the ponderous, prog-rock wannabes Angels and Airwaves; the smarmy, sophomoric hip-hop of Gym Class Heroes; and whiny-boy-to-wounded-beast cliches of the wretched Devil Wears Prada.
Still, all those elements make Warped the ultimate sampler platter for what's hot and rising from the underground or has already arrived, served up in an atmosphere that organizers have long called punk rock summer camp.