Reaching out to whichever demographic is most beat-up by Ozzfest fans, this year's Warped can be broken down thusly:
NOFX remains the Tour's true backbone, pushing pure pop-punk, savage sarcasm and a genuinely communitarian ethos, but their checkerboard-cheekiness is a mere reminder that this tour was built around bands like Guttermouth and the Vandals. Nowadays, Warped bands follow in the footsteps of AFI, the reason your little brother wears eyeliner. The Tour's transition from acerbic loudmouth to battered soul survivor marks a sea change in the world of skateparks and slash-marks, a shouting of Sincerity in the face of Warped's only real enemy: the meathead.
Next to NOFX's acid wit and AFI's dark-night death-daggers, the bands to watch are as follows:
Joan Jett and The Blackhearts will play that staple virginity vaporizer, "Crimson and Clover." They will also play "I Love Rock and Roll." The song is an indestructible classic, which, you may not remember, was lovingly covered by Ms. Britney Spears. You may also not remember her subsequent remark that "ILR & amp;R" is and always has been her favorite Pat Benatar song.
The Living End and Motion City Soundtrack are my dark horses. The Living End are consummate musicians, mixing rockabilly sensibilities with intuitive melodic complexity. They are much more famous in Australia, but Australians are not as crazy as you think. Motion City Soundtrack is the most straightforward pop band on this year's Tour, but their melodies carry crowd-pleasing anthems-for-the-dejected through to the finish, resulting in truly satisfying, if easy to mock, songsmanship.
Thursday will provide razor-sharp songwriting that consistently adheres to and pushes the boundaries of soul-purging rock-catharsis. Once a mere scream vehicle, the band remains relevant simply by being better and trying harder than all its contemporaries (of which there are many). While notably Clear Channel-approved, Thursday continue to improve and evolve by virtue of their own impetus, and their aspirations toward the artier side of heart-on-sleevedness have been justly rewarded with fans upon fans.
Helmet, I imagine, will take the cake in the "Unheralded Legends" category. The band invented the "smart metal" bastard genre, subsequently wallowing in underground fame for most of their lives. Their brave stance to reinstate metal's originally rough edges while simultaneously injecting high-minded things like time signature switch-ups, stuttering staccatos-to-full-bleed guitar lines, and advanced rhythm section mirroring gave birth to our modern conception of math-rock. They went over heads and under radars and wound up underappreciated and over 35. Mike Judge put their videos in rotation, but they have the near-singular distinction of being one of the few bands Beavis and Butt-Head never made fun of.
Bouncing Souls are founders and clear owners of tribal BMX pop-punk. The Souls are nonstop entertainment, specializing in the kind of tone-deaf sing-alongs that unite drunks and adrenaline junkies. They play what should've been your World Cup soundtrack. Call it fluff for toughs.
Anti-Flag stands to remind the teens that there's still a lot in this world to be anti-. Their powerful anger was always just this side of pop-crossovers like Social Distortion or Bad Religion, but that's precisely the way they like it. Their social awareness carries years of weight behind it, lending this act a gravitas their (at times) vague ideological focus belies. Perhaps the most "punk" band on the bill.
Rise Against ushers in the new Warped trend of electric/acoustic split sets. They add just enough Dashboard Confessional to their sound to come off positively philosophical. Their sturdy world-weariness resonates with the kids these days. Rise Against are the future of Warped, covering multiple aspects of downtrodden melody, from fist-pumping to slow-dancing.
Saves the Day are time-tested indie-aspirers too swayed by the lulls of emo to crack Pitchfork purists. Their generally smart, if occasionally smarmy, power-pop is neither emotionally harrowing nor saccharine sweet, placing them in the unenviable category of Get Up Kids sound-alikes with no real "hook."
All the rest of the bands playing sound like My Chemical Romance hopefuls with more or less vampire influence.
All in all, Warped Tour 2006 should be quite a spectacle. Sure to be missed are the past festivals' hip-hop and old-school punk palate cleansers, but the new direction of the Tour signals a positive change. These newly fashionable sober-minded emotional freak-outs signal an acute self-awareness, a trait that not only will unify Saturday's torrid tornado but instate an identity-hardening cue that emotional honesty is a strength. Almost gone are Warped's days of covering wounds with whippets and carbonation. Today's youth prefer the straight shot right to the gut. Warped Tour 2006 is the sound of slug over shotgun spray, America's children coming to grips with the weight as a gift.
Vans Warped Tour at the Gorge on Saturday, July 15, at 11 am. Tickets: $32. Visit www.ticketmaster.com.