On a hot afternoon in Monmouth County, Vans Warped Tour arrived in Oceanport, New Jersey. Packed with more than seventy bands, the day promised to showcase a variety of genres in the rock spectrum. Warped Tour veterans played alongside newcomers; punk bands alongside neon acts. With overlapping set times, a few great bands would be missed, but managing to catch full sets from Reel Big Fish, The Dillinger Escape Plan, AM Taxi, Face to Face, The Riverboat Gamblers, The Swellers, The Mighty Regis, Alkaline Trio, Motion City Soundtrack, and Set Your Goals made the day overwhelmingly exciting and enjoyable.
Reel Big Fish performed at noon, sticking heavily to their older, most well-known songs. In fact, only two of the band’s eleven songs were written in the last decade despite the band releasing more than fifty original cuts over the last ten years. The band’s sophomore album (issued in 1996, which contains re-recordings from their 1995 debut) contributed five of the set’s eleven songs, including absolutely stellar performances of “Beer” and “Sell Out”. Pretending to walk off stage after every song (“thanks, we’ve been the Reel Big Fish!”) in the first half of the set, the California natives set a jovial, lighthearted tone early.
With songs like “She Has a Girlfriend Now” — sings frontman Aaron Barrett during the song’s potent ending: “I never thought it would end like this just because I’ve got no tits / I’ll shave my legs, I’ll wear a bra, I”ll even cut my dick off for you”) — the band thrives on a playful setting, but doesn’t rely on it. Van Morrison’s “Brown Eyed Girl” was undoubtedly in jest, but the band’s cover of the Norwegian mega-hit “Take On Me” is as solid as any cover recorded in the last twenty years. And there lies Reel Big Fish’s true appeal. While many of their So-Cal peers understand the fun side of music, few execute with Reel Big Fish’s precision and musicianship.
Thank You For Not Moshing
Another F.U. Song
Brown Eyed Girl (Van Morrison cover)
Your Guts (I Hate ‘Em)
I Want Your Girlfriend to Be My Girlfriend Too
Snoop Dog, Baby
She Has a Girlfriend Now
Take On Me (A-Ha cover)
Starkly contrasting the ska antics of Reel Big Fish, The Dillinger Escape Plan played a loud, brash, and to-the-point eight song setlist constructed largely from the band’s latest release, Option Paralysis. Beginning with 2004′s “Panasonic Youth”, the New Jersey locals tore through a career-spanning setlist that drew the biggest response with Calculating Infinity‘s “43% Burnt”. There’s no questioning the band’s unbelievable technical ability or vocalist Greg Puciato’s unrestrained vehemence, but it remains to be seen why the frontman ditches his trademark screams for an embarrassing attempt at traditional singing on songs like the closing “Farewell, Mona Lisa”. The Dillinger Escape Plan were likely the most potent heavy act of the day — that is, when the band stays fierce and unrelenting.
Room Full of Eyes
Sunshine the Werewolf
Farewell, Mona Lisa
The five-piece AM Taxi played next on the nearby side stage, showcasing their blend of Bruce Springsteen-influenced melodic punk rock. Comparable to The Replacements or The Gaslight Anthem, the Chicago natives ripped through a seven song set filled with songs from their recent debut, We Don’t Stand a Chance. Tight guitars, interesting bass lines, and rock-steady percussion backed frontman Adam Grier’s raspy vocals, with occasional keys provided by Luke Schmitt. The band appeared genuine and appreciative of the meager crowd they attracted, and during the penultimate “Shake, Rattle, and Stall” Schmitt traveled down to the audience to sell copies of the band’s album for just five dollars. The unique marketing tactic proved successful, and Schmitt sold every CD he had taken down to the crowd. The keyboardist returned to the stage for the band’s closing song, a solid cover of “Paint it Black”, and AM Taxi wrapped up their set to enormous applause from anyone lucky enough to have caught the up-and-coming act.
Shake, Rattle, and Stall
Paint it Black (The Rolling Stones cover)
Catching all of AM Taxi unfortunately meant missing part of Face to Face‘s setlist. Frontman Trever Keith was characteristically cynical throughout the set, at one point calling out fans of Bring Me the Horizon for idly standing around in the middle of the band’s set. Unquestionably one of the oldest bands in Monmouth Park that day, the California five-piece’s classic ’90s punk-pop was refreshing amongst a backdrop of neon-powered acts on nearby stages. Face to Face’s setlist included “Ordinary”, “Pastel”, “Velocity”, “A-OK”, “Complicated”, and a song from the band’s upcoming full-length, Laugh Now, Laugh Later.
Led by the charismatic Mike Wiebe, The Riverboat Gambers performed on a small sidestage in the mid-afternoon as Face to Face’s set wrapped up. The Texas quintet was exceptionally exciting, gathering a fairly large crowd that grew bigger and bigger as passersby noticed the intense live show. The band played a brand new song (“What Are You Waiting For?”) before wrapping up with Underneath the Owl‘s “Victory Lap” and Something to Crow About‘s “Hey Hey Hey!”; for the latter, Wiebe toppled a nearby trashcan, dragged it across the parking lot to the pit, and then climbed on top, demanding a circle-march around him for the song’s final moments.
The Swellers contractually finished their stint on the Warped Tour before the Oceanport date, but the band still set up a merch tent to make a few extra bucks before heading home to Michigan. In addition, the band teamed up with the Keep-A-Breast non-profit organization to perform a set of acoustic songs at 3PM. Barely miked and quickly improvised, the set consisted of four songs from the band’s latest full-length, Ups and Downsizing. Frontman Nick Diener was overwhelmingly cheerful and lighthearted, coming off extremely relaxed and accessible; his softer takes on normally swift punk-pop songs gave the tracks new life, displaying an honest, sincere vibe that feels missing on the band’s overproduced and lifeless album.
Do You Feel Better Yet?
Ups and Downsizing
Welcome Back Riders
The Mighty Regis, a seven-piece Celtic-punk/folk-punk band from California, was next. Beginning with “Them Bastards” from 2008′s Another Nickel for the Pope, the band played a lengthy six song setlist. “Broken and Battered” was dedicated to Chicago Celtic-punks Flatfoot 56, whose singer Tobin Bawinkel would join the band later for a rousing cover of “Boys from the County Hell”. An unconventional take on “Danny Boy”, featuring Ryan O’Neill on pan flute, finished up The Mighty Regis’s set. Unfortunately, few saw the band put on one of the day’s best sets.
The Brothers Rafferty
Broken and Battered
Boys from the County Hell (The Pogues cover)
The Flatliners played next, kicking their set off with “July! August! Reno!”. The Canadian punk quartet played a new song, “Common Collection”, next, but I left the sidestage afterwards to catch Alkaline Trio performing across the parking lot. Opening with the rarely seen “She Took Him to the Lake”, the Chicago three-piece played a respectable collection of early-decade cuts, wisely opting to ignore the less-than-impressive offerings found on 2005′s Crimson and 2008′s Agony and Irony. “My Friend Peter” was a nice surprise, as was a totally unexpected and passionate Nomeansno cover that flew over the head of a crowd not-yet-born when the song was originally recorded in 1989. Alkaline Trio wrapped things up with “97″, tossing in the often-sampled chorus fromRock Master Scott & the Dynamic Three’s “The Roof is On Fire”.
She Took Him to the Lake
Dine Dine My Darling
My Friend Peter
Off the Map
Two Lips, Two Lungs, One Tongue (Nomeansno cover)
Motion City Soundtrack performed the tightest set of the day, but it was unfortunately the exact same collection of songs performed by the Minnesota five-piece just a few months earlier at the nearby Bamboozle festival. Luckily, the songs are some of the band’s best. Things began with “Attractive Today” leading directly into I am the Movie‘s “The Future Freaks Me Out”, the entire crowd singing the song’s opening lines: “I’m on fire / and now I think I’m ready / to bust a move / check it out I’m rockin’ steady!”
With four albums to choose from, Motion City Soundtrack spread things out quite evenly. Tossing in three cuts from the band’s excellent 2010 release, My Dinosaur Life , frontman Justin Pierre was spot-on yet tired, clearly draining the remains of his stamina on the penultimate “Disappear”. Still, closing track “Everything is Alright” sounded excellent and the crowd roared to the song’s opening riffs. Motion City Soundtrack never disappoints, but it would have been great if the band switched things up from their last New Jersey appearance just a few months earlier.
The Future Freaks Me Out
My Favorite Accident
A Lifeless Ordinary (Need a Little Help)
This is For Real
Her Words Destroyed My Planet
Everything is Alright
As the sun began to set, Set Your Goals played a large side-stage. Drawing in fans of all genres, the band opened things with their latest single, the blistering “Gaia Bleeds”, setting the tone of their performance immediately. “Goonies Say Die”, from their debut EP, made an appearance in the nine-song set, and a surprising number of attendees responded to the song. Highlights included “Summer Jam”, a song almost describable as a Warped Tour anthem, and the one-two closing punch of the “Dead Men Tell No Tales” into “Mutiny”. Unfortunately, the band sounded hollow — especially vocalists Matt Wilson and Jordan Brown — a far cry from their normally-outstanding intensity. The rest of the band picked up the slack, though, with crisp leads and rock-solid rhythms anchoring an enjoyable performance.
Gaia Bleeds (Make Way For Man)
This Very Moment
Goonies Never Say Die
To Be Continued…
Dead Men Tell No Tales
Criticisms of Warped Tour’s sixteenth year are often targeted at the overwhelming number of awful bands on the tour. It’s not unfounded. At the Oceanport date alone acts like Alesana, Artist vs Poet, Attack Attack, Breathe Carolina, Breathe Electric, Bring Me the Horizon, Emarosa, Emmure, Four Year Strong, Hey Monday, In Fear and Faith, Mayday Parade, NeverShoutNever, Pierce the Veil, VersaEmerge, and We the Kings undoubtedly cluttered the parking lot with uninteresting tunes, but there were more than enough diamonds in the rough worth checking out. At least one solid band was playing at any given time, including a number of overlaps that meant missing quality acts like Every Time I Die, Fake Problems, and Flatfoot 56. At just $40 per ticket, Warped Tour remains an excellent opportunity to see a large number of favorites in one day. More importantly, it might expose you to your new favorite band.
Photos credit to the amazing Rebecca Sawka.