July 13, 2001
BY JIM DeROGATIS POP MUSIC CRITIC
From its start seven years ago, the Vans Warped Tour has been easy to scoff at.
Here is a daylong festival based on an anti-authoritarian subculture--the
skateboarder/punk-rock underground--that sees no conflict in accepting corporate
sponsorships up the wazoo and happily creates a mini-shopping mall wherever it goes.
"These kids are coming to buy the lifestyle and be part of the lifestyle,"
tour producer Kevin Lyman says without a hint of irony. "They come in now with a
couple of hundred bucks to buy all of their back-to-school clothes."
What's the difference between Warped and Wal-Mart? The music's louder at the former,
but the business model is basically the same.
In the tour's defense, it does boast one of the most reasonable ticket prices of the
summer, and it certainly gives concertgoers a lot of bang for their bucks. Chicago-area
fans will get to see 34 bands at the Tweeter Center on Sunday in addition to champion
skateboarders for a mere $24, plus Ticketmaster and venue service fees.
"I've always said, `What's a sellout?' " Lyman asks. "I'm accused by
some of the hardcore punk-rock fanzines of being a sellout, but they still come to the
shows for free; I'm one of the few tours that lets fanzines in for free. Seven years
later, I've been very open about [the corporate sponsorships], I don't hide it, and I give
back by the ticket price being cheap."
One reason why Warped has outlived other multiband festivals such as Lollapalooza,
Lilith Fair and H.O.R.D.E. is that it doesn't pay the performers very much. The bands'
guarantees are laughably low--some groups would make more playing VFW Halls and punk-rock
basement parties--but the musicians are encouraged to recoup their expenses by selling
merchandise. If they hustle, Lyman says that even the smaller-name artists can make $3,000
to $5,000 a day.
This seems like a rather insidious corruption of punk's essential do-it-yourself ethic,
but bands continue to vie for a slot on the tour, and there's no denying that the lineup
offers a lot of great music. My picks for this year's highlights include mainstage
headliners 311, the most creative, melodic and psychedelic of any of the rap-rock bands;
*Sum 41, a hyper-melodic and energetic pop-punk trio in the mold of Green Day
and Blink-182, and New Jersey's legendary ghoul-punks-turned-wrestlers,
On the smaller stages, there are the rip-roarin' old-school punk sounds of
*Me First and the Gimme Gimmes and the first-rate ska-punk of
*Less Than Jake and South Suburban natives
"Why have we succeeded? Because we fill a niche and we've kept true to our
roots," Lyman says. "We've always been known as a punk-rock-rooted festival, and
this year I really wanted to re-establish that. I went with a very punk-rock-rooted
lineup, and our ticket sales are up 20 to 30 percent.
"The kids are coming for the experience of the Warped Tour," Lyman adds.
"They want to see what's on the little stages. We've broken Blink-182 off this tour,
we were Limp Bizkit's first tour, Kid Rock was on this tour, and they were all on the
smaller stages. It's still run the way it started--there's no backstage and no levels of
hierarchy, and the bands all say it was the best time of their lives. It's all the bands:
They keep telling other bands, `You've got to do the Warped tour,' and so everyone wants
to be a part of it."
Everyone indeed. New at this year's Warped is a "reverse daycare center."
Concertgoers are encouraged to bring their parents and drop them off in this
air-conditioned tent to chill out until it's time for the trek back home.
The tent is sponsored by Target. "It seemed like a great way to get them involved
as a brand," Lyman says.
* * *
A funkier, freakier and far less corporate experience can be had tonight at the Empty
Bottle, 1035 N. Western, when the New York ensemble
*Burnt Sugar takes the stage after Thrill Jockey artists
*David Boykin's Expanse.
Led by Village Voice music critic Greg Tate, a founder of New York's Black Rock
Coalition, and Manhattan's monster bassist-about-town Jared Nickerson, Burnt Sugar
utilizes multiple drummers, bassists and keyboardists plus three guitars and numerous
vocalists in an attempt to merge the jazz-rock fusion of Miles Davis circa
"Pangea" and "Agharta" with more modern sounds like trip-hop, jungle
and ambient house music.
The band is in the midst of recording a three-CD set of live and studio material; its
first album, "Blood on the Leaf" (Trugoid.com) is a real mind-blower, and New
Yorkers swear the group is even better live. The cover is $10; call (773) 276-3600.