Review + Photos: Warped Tour Diary at the Comcast Center in Mansfield, MA
Words + Photos: Mike Alexander
It should have all been a disaster. A 32 year old who has never been to Warped Tour, who was only able to find 14 bands I cared about seeing at all (out of a list that seemed to grow every time I looked) who hates big crowds, who has only experienced a multi-stage show once (with a whopping 2 stages), who generally hates any amount of standing for long periods of time, who burns easily in the sun, who instantly turns into a grumpy old man who hates everything at the mere presence of 5 consecutive teenagers in a row… “Man, this is going to suck” I thought to myself as we drove in and parked in the seemingly miles long parking lot. “How did I get myself into this?”
The short version is that I’m really trying to be open and experience new things, and I’ve known about Warped Tour for 2/3rds of my life and I’ve never gone. I guess I needed to see if maybe Warped Tour really is the “best day ever” that it’s promoted as.
Immediately upon entering, there was a stage facing me, with a band that I was shocked to find I really liked (they turned out to be Gates). “One band into this and I’m already enjoying myself?” I thought. But I stopped watching, since we needed a schedule. See, for some reason, Warped Tour doesn’t have the same order of bands every day. In fact, they don’t announce the schedule of bands and stages until 11am the day of the show. Now, I assumed that all the huge bands would end the show and the morning stuff would be stuff I didn’t care about. Incorrect. The Chariot and Oh, Sleeper had already played, at the same time on 2 stages nowhere near each other, at 11:15am. Great start to the day. I also saw that it wasn’t what I thought was an absolutely ridiculous 7 stages with 70 bands- no, it was 10 stages and 118 bands. THAT IS TOO MANY BANDS.
I could watch Motion City Soundtrack, but only for 20 minutes if I wanted to see Letlive, who I would be able to see nearly all of if I missed all of Reel Big Fish, before walking way back to see August Burns Red, who I’d have to leave halfway through if I wanted to see Upon a Burning Body, who I’d have to leave a few songs early if I wanted to catch The Used, who I’d be able to see most of, but would then have to find another stage where Story of the Year was playing at the same time as We Came As Romans, who I’d only be able to see some of if I wanted to catch any of The American Scene, who I’d have to only see some of if I wanted to catch The Wonder Years.
So it looked like I’d have a complete mess of 4 and a half hours, then from 5:30 to 7:10 (when Bring Me The Horizon played) I couldn’t care less about any bands. And of course, one of the bands I wanted to see most, The Story So Far, was playing last at 8:15, ensuring that my tired fat old body would not only not be leaving early, but would also be leaving at the same time as thousands of other people.
But here I was. I decided my best option (other than walking around and trying to figure out where stages were in the maze of stages) was to catch some of Silverstein, who ended with an American Nightmare cover they were only playing because we were in Boston, or 45 minutes from it (same thing), with Jason from Letlive adding vocals. I found myself smiling and enjoying the show, but it was only a half smile since I knew that to my immediate left, I was missing the beginning of Motion City Soundtrack’s set.
I went over there, caught 4 songs or so, then immediately went back to where I had come from to catch Letlive’s set, which was something I didn’t want to miss any of. Seeing Jason, the singer of Letlive flat out freak out on stage was kind of exciting. He stage dived, rolled around on the ground, and proved to be a phenomenal frontman, screaming his throat out and providing a show while actually hitting all the sung notes fairly perfectly. They’re going to be huge soon.
But as good as they were, we had to leave early, knowing that it wouldn’t be easy to get in the photo pit for Chiodos, sure to be one of the more popular bands of the day. But we pulled it off, and although they had really energetic stage presence and were a blast to watch, it was tough to figure out what songs they were playing based on the PPPPBBBB PPPBBB PPBB PBBB PBBB bass farts I was hearing through the tarp-covered crate I was leaning on. After the 3 songs you’re allowed to shoot for, we caught the rest from far away, then walked over to August Burns Red and watched them kill it- great sound, great energy, and another frontman who absolutely owned the crowd.
I then went over to see Upon a Burning Body, who had committed to wearing full suits on stage and were pretty awesome for the smaller-than-I-was-used-to crowd they played to. But they got a solid circle pit going, with lots of mosh to be had. As had become the norm, I had to leave early if I wanted to catch The Used.
The last time I saw The Used, singer Bert McCracken was fairly normal looking with long black hair. He apparently now had a pink mohawk and was throwing around what seemed to be chalk. I had missed the beginning of their set, where apparently a bunch of people stood on stage with robber masks on. I felt like I had walked into the middle of a movie, but they started off with hit after hit, so I immediately felt at home.
I left early though, since I wanted to catch Story of the Year, a band who really hasn’t done anything I cared about since their second album, but a band I knew I had to watch (they do a lot of stage moves). I wandered out of the main area I had been in and attempted to find the Tilly’s stage.
I fought my way up to Story of the Year, and as predicted, they did a lot of stage moves. I somehow missed seeing the standard backflip one of the guitarists does, but I caught plenty of spinkicks and jumps. Predictably, they played nothing but hits.
They were great, but I was in “gotta keep moving” mode and decided to check out what I thought was going to be The American Scene, but just turned out to be the singer in the acoustic tent. Going from a crazy world of a million people and always at least 6 stages going at once to literally a tent with a dude playing acoustic guitar was quite odd. I immediately felt like I was waiting for something to happen that just didn’t. The energy and constant barrage of Warped Tour made a moment where it all slowed down seem completely wrong.
I fought my way through the crowd to get to the photo pit for The Wonder Years, and they ruled. They were pretty crazy, as was the photo pit. Apparently at one point, the singer jumped into the photo pit area to help a girl out of the crowd who security wasn’t helping. He glared at them with a “why am I doing your job?” look and moved on. They played a super energetic set full of hits, and due to scheduling, I had officially seen my first full set, 5 hours into my Warped tour experience.
It was very odd to be in “what band do I watch?” mode after running back and forth between so many in a short time. I decided locals Defeater would probably be the best option and watched the end of their set, then caught the end of a set by a band I wanted to check out solely because I liked their name, Great American Ghost. They were a metal band from Mass who were solid and pretty chaotic but nothing entirely new. We randomly ran into Joe, the singer from Transit, a band I love who played Warped last year.
It was highly suggested by various promotions people to check out Crossfaith, since this was (I think) their first show in the US (they’re from Japan). I had heard them before and remembered them as a basic rock band that was just really fast, had occasional screaming and breakdowns, and weird electronic parts. I was wrong. They were basically heavy metalcore with dubstep breakdowns, and honestly, as ridiculous as that may sound, they were quite awesome. I’ve been waiting for a band to do this since I first heard dubstep. Why not extremely small Japanese guys wearing makeup? They killed it and got the crowd into it more than any band I’d seen that day, and were a blast to watch. They were also the only band I watched on the Ernie Ball stage, which was one of the smallest ones there was.
But, following tradition, I left them early to try and catch Bring Me The Horizon. I got into them pretty heavily this spring and I wanted to see a band as popular as they were that close. Once I got over there though, I realized what a mistake I had made- they’re apparently HUGE. I couldn’t get anywhere near the stage, so I tried to watch them from forever away, but after being so close to so many other bands, I decided it wasn’t even worth it. I might as well just be listening to the albums at home.
After leaving, I randomly met Jason from Letlive, who was incredibly friendly and was walking through the crowd mostly unnoticed. I had time to kill before The Story So Far, so I wandered around a little bit and realized that this was the first time I really spent any time looking around. I suddenly had 40 minutes or so where I didn’t care about any bands and I didn’t HAVE to do anything. I finally noticed just how many band merch areas were set up and how ridiculously randomly they seemed to be placed, how many random booths were selling lighters and bandanas with pot leaves on them, how many dead tired people were just sitting in random places, how many people walking around were clearly from bands that had played that day, how much trash had accumulated everywhere, etc. Walking, I was literally either stepping on or kicking trash with every step. It was like the end of the day at a Hot Topic fair.
I caught the beginning of Big Chocolate’s set, an EDM/trap/dubstep guy who used to be the singer of a disgusting metal band. Unfortunately, he was pretty run-of-the-mill. He was playing on the Spotify stage, a stage I had ignored most of the day. They had rap and electronic artists all day, which was a very odd thing to see sectioned off in its own place at Warped Tour. Looking back, it was surprising to see how little of the classic Warped Tour punk sound there was in 2013. Not only that, but there was no legendary headliner like a Green Day, Blink-182, NOFX or Bad Religion. Instead, it was just a very random collection of metal, pop punk, pop, EDM/dubstep, acoustic, and bands I’ve never heard of. Now that I had been here for 7 hours, I finally understood the flow of it all:
Kia Soul Stage: Big bands, mostly metal and rock, to the left on the line of huge stages
Kia Forte Stage: Ditto, but arguably the biggest bands, middle of the line
Monster Stage: All metal of various types, at the far right of the line, facing a somewhat different direction
Acoustic Basement Stage: In between the back line and the smaller ones closer to the entrance, literally a tiny tent with acoustic sets. Very out of place.
Kevin Says Stage: Probably watched maybe 20 seconds total at this stage. It was smack dab in the middle and mostly had bands I’ve never heard of (maybe that’s where the punk was).
Ernie Stage: To the right of Kevin Says, facing a somewhat different direction. I had heard of 4 bands and watched 1.
Spotify Stage: By the end of the day, I was able to find it to watch Big Chocolate, but for most of the day, I would swear I didn’t even see it. It was kind of in a line with Kevin Says and Ernie.
Mass Concerts stage: The only stage with no identification as to what stage it was, it was the one I saw first when I came in, and I ended up at more than I thought I would. It also had way bigger crowds than I was expecting, but I think that’s because a bunch of the bands were local or semi local. I had heard of 3 bands that played here.
Tilly’s Stage: The right side of the Amphitheater, featuring what I’d describe as medium size bands (in terms of popularity).
Domo Stage: The left side, featuring more medium size bands. It surprised me that medium sized bands had probably the most space to watch, most of which was seats.
And somehow, with all of those stages, a band playing in the distance was exactly that. The people who designed this place really did do an excellent job of facing stages in the right direction and just far enough away that you couldn’t really hear other bands. I mean, you always hear them a little, but it’s just distant noise. That impressed me a lot.
After leaving Big Chocolate and noticing the swarm of people coming from the back line of stages, I took a few final glances at the parking lot mess and tipped my hat I wasn’t wearing to a surprisingly fun day.
The Story So Far currently have my favorite album of the year (What You Don’t See), but was honestly pretty boring to watch. The singer kind of just stood there flexing, and the rest of the band wasn’t much to watch either. It was also pretty weird to suddenly see a band with 2 to 3 times the crowd of any I had seen that day, on a stage that, now that it was starting to get dark, looked like it was inside. I realized how much of a band’s crowd related to who else was playing at the same time. In their case, they had very little competition. Once he said “this is gonna be our last song” and it was an older one I didn’t know, we decided it was time to go. Maybe we could get ahead of at least 40% of the people who were there that day.
On the ride home we spent a good amount of time talking about how on earth there could ever be enough employees who worked hard enough to take apart everything we had just seen every night, and set it up the next day all over again. It honestly doesn’t even make sense. They must never sleep. It literally was an entire fully functioning world, all there for 1 day, then gone. Those people deserve more credit.
It was overcast and ugly all day, but miraculously, it never rained. And I had gone all day with no sunscreen and remarkably only had a little pink under my eyes and on my nose to show for it. I never needed to change my shoes, never really felt like I needed to sit or lie down (some light back stretching helped), and had only spent 7 bucks. Maybe I’m cut out for all day festivals after all…
The trick is to just accept it. Warped Tour is a lifeforce that’s been around for 19 years- it shouldn’t have to change for me. I remember past tales of bands fighting, bands being kicked off the tour for bad attitudes, etc. It’s bound to happen with so many bands playing such different styles of music to such different types of people. I caught some of a speech from (I think) rapper Mac Lethal while I was walking past the Spotify stage, where he was making fun of a bunch of bands, saying half of them were wimps who were crying into microphones and half were guys trying to sound like monsters. But I left half way through his speech and almost booed him. I started this day out negative- even though I like a lot of the bands he was talking about, there were a lot I’d call boring or generic. There are a lot I think flat out suck and shouldn’t have careers in music. If I didn’t like metal as much as I do, I probably would have hated just how much of it there seemed to be this year. I hated the fact that there were 118 bands playing. I hated that there were 10 stages, all of which were impossible to find (how about a map? Would that be so hard?). But I was wrong to feel that way, and Mac Lethal shouldn’t be on the tour if he hates all the bands so much. If you don’t like it, don’t go. If a band sucks, go watch another one. It’s Warped Tour, a force that gets stronger every year. Either don’t go, or just go with it.
I watched a song or two of 24 different bands that day, saw at least another 20 in passing, and only watched 1 full set by any band (The Wonder Years). I missed at least 6 that I was at least somewhat interested in. I wanted to check out more booths, I wanted to eat some food, I wanted to try to meet some people in bands, and I wanted to spend time at every stage. I wanted to walk around more and really see everything there, not only since this was my first time at something I’ve been hearing or reading about since its inception, but also since I was responsible for writing about the day. But Warped Tour happened, and that means my plans were constantly changing all day.
You’re not going to see every band you want to see. Some of your favorite bands you are most excited to see are going to play at the same time. They’ll probably play across the world from each other. They’ll play nothing but hits, but they’ll only play for a half hour and then they’re gone. Your favorite quiet part of a song will be ruined by the sound of a band playing in the distance. You’re going to have to fight through a million teenagers wearing YOLO shirts to get anywhere. Unless you spend a lot of money, you’re going to leave hungry and dehydrated. You’re going to get stuck in traffic going in and leaving. You’re going to stand in line. You’re going to have a bad view for the bands you love, and you’re going to see very little of each band if you want to see everything. And you’re going to love it.
Warped Tour truly is the perfect show for the ADD generation. It’s a perfect example of the current media phase of Pinterests and the new Myspaces, where the goal is to just put as many possible things in front of you at all times. It’s a day long clusterfuck of sweaty people and loud noise, with 118 bands fighting for your attention, organized by people who want you to be there all day, running around trying to fit too much into too little time. And if you accept it- if you play by its rules and just go along with it, it can truly be a blast. I can’t imagine how great this day was for people in the right age range where maybe this truly is the best day of their summer, but I bet it rules. As a 32 year old fat guy who hates long and outdoor shows, who hates standing up for long periods of time, who has concerts ruined for him by bad sound, who hates all of humanity more with every “Keep Calm and…” shirt he sees, I honestly had an awesome time and want to go back next year. I can’t imagine how great it must be for people who belong there. But maybe anyone belongs there, as long as they love music and are willing to go along for the ride. Maybe that’s the whole idea. Or maybe this was all a fluke and the stars aligned just perfectly enough that I am able to look back on this day as a highlight of my summer. I guess I’ll find out next year.