LAS CRUCES — At 14 years and running, the Vans Warped tour has been around almost as long as its core audience has been alive. But it has remained true to its roots as a celebration of the underground and just-above-ground music that appeals largely to the high school and college crowd, mostly high school.
This year's edition returned to its regional home of six years, the intramural field at New Mexico State University, where attendance was down (about 9,300 showed up, a drop of more than 1,000 from last year), temps were up as usual (the high hit a tolerable 99 degrees) and the diversity of the expansive post-punk world never more plentiful.
The Cruces date, the fifth stop on the 46-city tour, featured more than 70 acts on eight stages, plus a few tents. They ranged from big names like Christian metal's Norma Jean and Tom Hoppe's trippy post-Blink-182 band, Angels and Airwaves, to perennials like Pennywise, that cleave to punk's anti-establishment aesthetic and newcomers like the Lordz, who weave punk, old-school rap and even Southern rock with attitude.
And there was a slew of poppy acts, including new pop provocateur Katy Perry, the "I Kissed a Girl" girl who has the No. 1 song in the country and the ninth best-selling album in the land. Very unpunk.
That's how punk Warped still is. Expect the expected and the unexpected.
Toss in a little social activism and eco awareness (the Lordz DJ hung a t-shirt that ordered "passion before fashion" on his turntables), a lot of merchandising, plenty of cold water and Powerade (at $2 a bottle) and not enough shade and you've got a sense of what it was like Thursday.
It's impossible to see every band on every stage of the daylong bacchanal of mirth, music, marketing and Mother Earth, but organizers do try to make it almost possible. They do a nice job of running on time, limiting performances to 30 minutes, synchronizing the set times and posting them on a big board near the two main stages.
I dropped in for about 3.5 hours in the afternoon (the hottest time, natch) and caught all or parts of a dozen acts. Standouts included Against Me!, the Florida foursome that made the most of its half-hour on the Highway 1 stage. Singer-guitarist Tom Gabel and crew pounded out eight songs in the kind of torrid, emphatic fashion one would expect from a band that brings a Clash-like sophistication and conviction to its songs about social ills and calls to action.
Norma Jean and Story of the Year throttled two of the bigger crowds; NJ on the Route 66 stage, SOTY on the Highway 1. The sheer intensity was more impressive than any particular song, and Norma Jean singer/shouter Cory Brandan scored the funniest line of the day when he described forthcoming album "The Anti Mother" as so angry "it'll make you want to punch a baby."
There was none of that going on, but Brooklyn's the Lordz delivered an inspired mix of old-school hip-hop and arena rock on the Hurley stage, where, in a sure sign of the heat, more people watched from a pair of tents about across the field instead of in front of the stage.
Hip-hop's Gym Class Heroes played the Route 66 stage and drew the biggest crowd during the time I was there, but their radio-friendly rhymes weren't particularly good or original. Kudos, though, to their call for a moment of silence for the late, great George Carlin.
I also caught parts of sets by the Briggs (rousing), Good Guys in Black (energized mix of punk and rap), Between the Trees (cloying teen pop), Shapes of Race Cars (dull), 1997 (great vocals, good youthful energy), Treaty of Paris (so-so) and Say Anything (who said a lot).
Is Warped getting too old? Nah. It's just growing up a little, but not too much. Otherwise it wouldn't be Warped anymore.