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Hard-core survival

At this fest, if the music isn't out there, it's just not Warped. But plenty of bands fit the bill.

July 14, 2006|Lina Lecaro | Special to The Times

A melange of Mohawked and multi-hued hairdos, homemade marker and cardboard-covered merch booths, vendor tents hawking mounds of punk swag, deafening decibel levels and sweltering temps. Vans Warped Tour never really varies much from year to year, but the addition of a new, centrally located venue for its third and final Southland date this week definitely made it feel fresher in terms of setup and attitude.

The festival, which attracted more than 14,000 punk patrons Wednesday to the Dodger Stadium parking lot, offered the usual crowded and chaotic assemblage of heavy, heady or just plain noisy rock bands. But the crowd was as diverse as the neighborhood, and the sounds, as well as the larger space, offered plenty of pockets, though few with shade, to congregate in based on musical leanings.

At the Vagrant stage, sensitive types and a flurry of females swooned over acoustic sets from two popular, more emotive bands -- Senses Fail and Saves the Day -- both of which had played electric sets on one of the main stages earlier. The latter was particularly potent, with pink-haired singer Chris Conley crooning poetic yet punchy musings midafternoon from the band's latest album, "Sound the Alarm." Though the group has yet to break big beyond its loyal concentration of fans, the hooks and heart of its stripped-down set suggest that may not remain the case for long.

A lighthearted contrast was offered by L.A.'s the Dan Band, which thumped and pumped out hilariously inappropriate rock versions of pop and hip-hop hits, including Kelis' "Milkshake" and the Black Eyed Peas' "My Humps." It was a fun change of pace from the full-throttle fierceness of the day, though the too-cool-for-school teenage set didn't seem to appreciate the irony.

Similarly wacky yet decidedly more rowdy, veteran party punk group NOFX -- which, along with Joan Jett, served as the seasoned rockers of the tour -- turned in its usual madcap collection of boisterous singalongs. Still, it was the band's statement-oriented antigovernment tunes, some from its latest album, "Wolves in Wolves' Clothing," that had the most zing.

Even more politically charged ranting came from Pittsburgh's rebel-rousing Anti-Flag, which spewed what had to be one of the day's most powerful sets on the northern main stage. The band's swift anarchy-flavored anthems are driven by some infectious beats and the ferocious vocals of Justin Sane, but its message and approach when it came to the crowd was surprisingly brotherly. "If someone falls, pick them up," said Sane, before directing the pit into a huge circle below him. "Respect one another and take care of each other."

Though the corporate presence of companies including Cingular, PlayStation and Monster Energy drinks has become as much a part of Warped as the blaring music, the tour has maintained its DIY spirit by letting bands set up their own booths to sell T-shirts and stickers. It also continues to offer an area for political and social-cause tents (the One Project to end hunger in Africa, the Democratic Party and the Truth anti-smoking campaign).

Smaller music stages and tents throughout the event also help keep Warped feeling authentic. You never know what strange new crew you might discover playing fervently to a scant few on the fest's outskirts. Local all-girl grinders Rocket in the Girls Garage tent, rhythmic pounders the Street Drum Corps and funky jamsters Trulio Disgracias in the Dr. Mad Vibes Medicine Cabinet tent, gritty metalers Class of Zero and East L.A.'s thunderous Los Creepers on the DIY stage all made an impression on Wednesday.

Still, it was the main stages that attracted the most bodies -- and potentially brutal scenes. Underoath, which headlined the northern main stage in late afternoon, incited the most moshing and crowd-surfing, so much so that a phalanx of security guards stood just below the stage to carry sweaty and tattered daredevils safely backstage.

Some kids were so disheveled they were given ice packs and water before being escorted out into the crowd, though most who made it through marched triumphantly into the massive audience to do it all again.

Underoath has been pigeonholed as a Christian band for their between-song Jesus banter, but its religious views seemed irrelevant once the band's growling screamo-style tunes got revved up. The group showed the melodic chops to transcend both themes of the pulpit and the mayhem of the pit.

Other artists didn't come off as strong. Minnesota's Motion City Soundtrack and Chicago's Rise Against lacked originality, while most of the bands on the Hurley and Volcom stages seemed to bleed into one nonstop shriek-athon.

But then, this is the Warped Tour. The continued success of the festival, now in its 12th year, continues to suggest that there will always be an audience for clamorous hard-core music. Though Warped's general feel and structure has become somewhat formulaic, the participants' enthusiasm seems to be anything but. And seeing it all in a new environment such as Dodger Stadium definitely made for a home run.

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