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POP MUSIC REVIEW

Getting to roots of punk

At a Warped Tour stop in Ventura, veteran bands summon the genre's original vitality.

July 02, 2007|Steve Appleford | Special to The Times

Punk rock was absorbed into mainstream culture back in the '90s and that's where it's likely to stay, but the grass-roots wing represented by several bands on the annual Warped Tour remains firmly and fitfully in the underground. If the emo generation took the "hard" out of hard-core, Warped does what it can to put it back in.

Warped has long embraced bands from the softer, poppier side of punk too, but it's never abandoned its original sound and fury. So at Saturday's tour stop at Seaside Park in Ventura, there were loud-fast true believers including Pennywise and the veteran acts Bad Religion and the Circle Jerks -- bands founded in the earliest days of SoCal punk whose original-recipe sounds and bad attitudes have been at the root of much of what followed.

"Any Bush fans out there?" Pennywise singer Jim Lindberg asked mockingly late in the afternoon, as the band dived into the fist-pumping hard-core of "My Own Country." As always, the words and riffs were angry and rushed.

Warped, which makes one more L.A.-area stop Aug. 25 at the Home Depot Center in Carson, plays it close to earth, with more than six small stages in Ventura spread across the asphalt and a minimal distance between band and fan -- like the young man throwing up near the stage as Yellowcard sang of romantic disaster on "Fighting" and "Ocean Avenue." Fans -- about 18,000 on Saturday -- crowd-surfed beneath a nearly cloudless sky, and a cool ocean breeze kept the temperature down. Each band played a tight 30-minute set -- a continuous storm of ecstatic noise that didn't stop until sundown.

There were plenty of fans in their 30s, 40s and older, but they were vastly outnumbered by recruits in their teens and 20s. That suggests that "punk" as a genre remains a vital rallying point for youthful escape and rebellion, even if new ideas and messages can be hard to come by. Not every punk band needs to be "the only band that matters," as the Clash once famously said of itself. Sometimes songs only have to be catchy and fun.

New Found Glory had two guitars and lots of bounce, though little to distinguish its sound from the ongoing tide of pop-punk acts. The good news is that the band is rougher and tougher live, and refreshingly clean of the commercial radio polish of its newest album, "Coming Home."

Warped rarely gets full credit for a range of bands and sounds that reach beyond the straight-ahead punk ethos. The trio Pepper made music with a reggae flavor and tales of good living and hard knocks, all fried brain- cells and sun-baked skin. Circa Survive unleashed a cosmic thump and wail.

Bad Religion returned things to the punk essence, sprinting along rushed drumbeats and slippery supercharged guitar riffs. Singer Greg Graffin appeared in short sleeves, not just venting but always with an urgent sociopolitical message within his lyrics.

Bad Religion remains as responsible for the continuing waves of Warped multitudes as anyone. Tuneful, smart, angry and still playing as if it were one of the only bands that matter.

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