Review by Kevin Templeton and Rodney Gitzel
Photography by Rodney Gitzel
Despite my cynicism, I must admit the roster of bands for this year was plenty strong. After last year's day at the Coliseum (the only indoor show on the '95 tour), I thought that anywhere outside would be sufficient for this year's gathering, but I was only half right. The Plaza of Nations was cool because the venue's clear roofing provided necessary UV protection on a hot summer's day, but there was hardly room to think within the pasture-like confines of the old Expo '86 site. The line-up to get in (after bands had started playing) was endless, and some guy even passed out and crashed to the ground while waiting in the "will-call" line-up. [Rodney: I lost count of the number of surfers I saw dropped on -- if not thrown to -- the concrete by the admittedly understaffed security squad up front...] More organisation would've helped, but hey, this is rock 'n roll, right?
The first band to play was San Francisco trio the Meices who came across with the boring and typical pop-angst format. Ugh. I'm sure it wasn't easy being on stage that early in the day with everyone just arriving, but they were crappy anyway. Very little crowd response -- if this is punk rock, I'm starting a band. My girlfriend noted the band's bad dress sense, and I have to agree. I need a drink.
After what seemed like a 20-minute walk to the second stage where Unwritten Law were performing decent Bad Religion-style straight-ahead rock, we wanted to check out the main skate bowl, but they were still setting it up!? Huh? Back over to the main stage we find a couple of seats next to some guy drawing thick black X's on his hands, signifying his straight-edged lifestyle (probably getting high from the marker fumes, though). Wait a minutes... I know that guy! After talking the straight-edge scene for awhile (check out his band, Abstain, playing around town), I resumed watching the main stage where "ska-punks" Goldfinger were starting up. Current video faves with "Here in Your Bedroom," Goldfinger, led by blond guy John Feldmann, played a fun and memorable set of danceable tunes that included their rendition of arena anthem, "Shout at the Devil," as well as Duran Duran's "Rio." The day was quickly improving, but something was still missing.
Enter the Deftones. I knew these guys would punish, having seen them on last year's Warped Tour (they were great) and at the Starfish Room this year (they were kinda shabby). If you haven't heard their excellent debut CD Adrenaline, imagine a fierce and dynamic version of Bad Brains or Rage Against the Machine -- and the dropped guitar tunings always help, too. Singer Chino Morene, who's recently shed his dreadlocks, was in fine control of things on this day, even taking the time to stage dive onto the crowd for some surfing, hence the Warped Tour/extreme sports connection (I'm surprised his shirt didn't come back tie-dyed with all the neon hair colours present). The Deftones basically attacked the stage with genuine anger and presence, crushing and confusing any false punk premise in attendance that day. Get used to 'em, they fresh.
New York's Civ were next and were also very good. Putting forth a much bolder and focused (and seemingly longer) set than most of the day's previous bands, Civ seemed to communicate well with the audience, even dedicating a song to the hordes called "Social Primer." Man, I can remember laughing at drummer Sammy when he played in Youth of Today at the age of 14... look at him now. Civ ain't no civs, that's for sure.
[ed. Change gears here. Poor Kevin had to go to work, so the rest of this is Rodney.]
Civ did play a long long set. At the second stage, Lagwagon waited. And waited. And waited. And then finally got to play. And what did they play? Straight forward rev'd up punk. Cool, though nothing spectacular.
Then it was time for... NOFX (insert echoecho herehere). Singer/bassist Fat Mike was very chatty and entertaining, and at one point, spying a frisbee, screamed, "Agh! It's an alien! Call the Fresh Prince!" Guitarist El Hefe entertained us with a funky instrumental trumpet tune (Oops, sorry, didn't anyone tell them you can't have horns -- or instrumentals -- in a punk band? Tsk tsk.). "Bob" got a huge cheer from the crowd, and everyone merrily sang along. They also debuted a couple of new tunes: "I Wanna be an Alcoholic" and "Please Stop Fucking My Mom." Hmmmm.
The Dancehall Crashers crashed the second stage next. Their much ska-ier tunes were a welcome breather, as were the two female vocalists (What? Women in a punk band? Isn't that against the rules?). The highlight, I guess, of the set was the appearance of Batman. In the nude. Just cape and ears. And a flaming penis. Huh? Yup, a flaming penis -- his, even. This, apparently, is how you celebrate the birthday of a woman in a punk band.
Finally, though, it was time for the true headliners of the tour: Pennywise. They let loose an intense barrage of sound -- and managed to have fun doing it! Reminding me of SNFU without the schtick, Pennywise was one of the few bands to impress me this day. Vocalist Jim Lindberg played with the crowd constantly. "Anyone having a party after the show? Anyone with a garage we could play in?" Crowd goes nuts. At one point he asked for someone who knew the words to "Stand by Me." Lotsa volunteers -- and then he dragged a guy up on stage to sing it! "If he doesn't know the words, we're going to kick the shit out of him," threatened hulking guitarist Fletcher Dragge (I believed him), as the band launched into the old chestnut. Crowd goes nuts. Ug. Awful song. But the guy did know the words, and his singing did improve over the first couple verses -- until the tour's head of security dragged the poor guy off the stage. Nice touch. Crowd goes nuts. Some kid even got to play guitar with the band for their last song -- dedicated to the late Brad Nowell of Sublime -- making him the envy of thousands. Crowd goes nuts. And then the crowd mostly left.
Too bad for them: they missed Rocket from the Crypt over on the second stage. Again, one of the few bands to impress me, they had my feet moving despite my best efforts to be cool and not get into it. Was it the wicked horn section? The silver shirts? The roadie/gogo dancer? The dense, almost southern rock, wailin' sound? Wow! Still, this band is cracked. Their fans lapped it up, and everyone else stood agog: what is this?? Happily, the band played "The Jay Brown Song" (long story), and then ended with the tale of how the singer was in a plane crash as a child and was raised in the jungle by hyenas... which somehow led to him blowing fire. Cool.
And, finally, Fishbone. Or is that, the Angelo Moore Freakshow Band? I've seen this band a few times over the years, and every time they are different -- and each time the band's vocalist and saxist becomes more and more the focus. Angelo is just plain a nutcase. With a cry of "Do you wanna SWIIIIIIM??!?!?" he tore into (guess) "Swim" and into a set that didn't see him stop moving for more than 1.3 seconds at a time. The set also saw him out "swimming" (of course), running around while squealing his massive bari sax, waving his arms wildly at his theremin ("wwoooo, wwoo-wooooo"), and -- seriously -- climbing atop the main PA to make a 15' swan dive into the crowd. He sang once in awhile, too. Crazy, man. But a bit tiresome. And I think I've finally given up on ever hearing "Party at Ground Zero" live...
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