Sunday, August 14, 2011


Paramore's Hayley Williams
Main Stage performers Paramore at this year's Warped Tour in Chula Vista.
photos by picksysticks

It's Warped Tour time once again -the bastard child of all musical tour festivals or that weird cousin nobody in the family talks about during family get-togethers. Originally started as a punk rock tour 17 years ago, in recent years, it's gone through a hard metal phase. (not that anyone's complaining). But what Warped Tour was known for was that they had something for everyone young and old. This year, founder Kevin Lyman took control of the reigns once again and booked every band himself. And what he found is a diverse line-up - from punk rock, classic ska, metal, screamo, rap and alternative, this year's Warped Tour truly has something for every music lover.

This year, the tour saw veteran acts like Less Than Jake, 3OH!3 and A Day To Remember return. It also welcomed new acts that are on the verge of breaking such as Yelawolf, The Sharks and Big Chocolate. Such was the case for Paramore in 2005, a 5-piece band still in their teens. After their premiere on Warped, their debut album peaked at #30 on the Billboard charts. Flash forward six years later and five tours of duty on Warped, Paramore returns to Warped tour with their San Diego date their only California stop. This year also showcased a strong contingency of female-fronted bands who came out in force, proving they can rock as hard as any other band out there. From pop, acoustic to alternative, these gals are the anti-Lilith, leaving sappy melodies at the door and giving way to screaming stadium anthems and punk rock attitudes.

The Narrative's Suzie Zeldin and Jesse Gabriel
Performing at the Kevin Says Stage are The Narrative from New York.
photos by picksysticks

Since set times change at every stop, it was important to first check out the giant inflatable board that lists set times for bands and then mapping out your plan of attack.The Narrative's Suzie Zeldin 80 bands covering 7 stages spread out in San Diego's Cricket Amphitheater parking lot. Luckily, other than one band, everybody I wanted to watch didn't overlap each other.

The day started off with The Narrative, a New York duo consisting of Suzie Zeldin (vocals, keys), and Jesse Gabriel (Guitar, vocals). When you think Warped Tour, The Narrative is a band you wouldn't expect to see. You see, they don't have any heavy piercings (that I could see), they don't have tattoos (that I could tell), they hardly drink (from what I hear) and they don't sing...loud. They're the roses without the thorns at this years festival or the dessert before the meal you could say.

Sharing vocal duties, Suzie and Jesse's indie-pop shine are delivered over bouncy synths and saturated harmonies which made their 2008 EP Just Say Yes turn lots of heads. And when they released their self-titled debut album last year, there was no mistaking their talents with songs "Fade" and "Trains" immediate standouts. They were named on PureVolume's list of "Top Unsigned Bands of 2010" so it's not surprising that Warped founder Kevin Lyman handpicked them to perform this year on his personal showcase stage. This marks their first Warped Tour appearance, having spent the early part of the year on the strengths of their critically acclaimed debut album, opening for Eisley.

Neo Geo
Neo Geo's Rainy Terrell performs at the Skullcandy Stage.
photo by picksysticks

Now, one the bands I was really looking forward to were Los Angeles-based Neo Geo, the hard-driving electro-rock 5-piece band fronted by the firecracker of a lead singer Rainy Terrell. Neo Geo is an electric live band who carry themselves like tour veterans, commanding every inch of the Skullcandy Stage. Intense and dark melodies drive this band as Terrell laces her defiant vocals over bruising bass and drums but yet Neo Geo hits hardest when unleashing tormenting guitar riffs in songs like "Can't Catch Me" and "DT Killer." When Neo Geo released their self-titled debut album in June, they quickly drew comparisons to Paramore and Evanescence. But it's hard to pin down Neo Geo. Using a patchwork of musical styles, Neo Geo weaves their songs with speckles of metal, goth, grunge, rock and electro – as though stitching a new type of hybrid musical genre.

Rainy Terrell of Neo Geo
Rainy Terrell of Neo GeoRainy Terrell of Neo Geo

After Neo Geo, time was spent people watching and checking out the Warped scene. Spread out across the lot were band booths selling merch and usually, after their set, would meet fans to sign a few autographs and take pics. Other booths specialized in the environmental and political nature while others geared towards the fun side such as the The Canvas Foundation booth, an organization created to promote art and creativity where people used the opportunity to show off their self expression through art by painting themselves (or each other).

Juliet Simms of Automatic Loveletter
Juliet Simms of Automatic Loveletter performs an acoustic set at the Ernie Ball Stage.
photos by picksysticks

While passing by the Ernie Ball Stage, a quick scan at the schedule surprisingly showed that Automatic Loveletter was about to take the stage. While Automatic Loveletter wasn't named in the list of peJuliet Simms of Automatic Loveletterrformance this day, or the entire tour, it was a welcomed unannounced surprise for me and for many others who were excited to see front-woman Juliet Simms make an appearance in support of their new acoustic album "The Kids Will Take Their Monsters On." Usually shredding it up onstage with a full band, Simms threw us a curve by performing the entire set solo, maybe a possible preview to her upcoming appearance on a certain reality-competition show. Simms recently tweeted she will be competing in the upcoming 2nd season of the NBC singing show "The Voice," which is ironically the first thing that strikes you - her tortured and vulnerable vocals, highlighted by her tender soulful-rock arrangements. Joplin, of course, comes to mind when you hear her belt out "Black Ink Revenge," and "Carry the Fire." Not much to say about Juliet and Automatic Loveletter but that she simply blew me away with her toned-down acoustic performance which, surprisingly for me, was the best performance of the day.

Mr. Downstairs
Mr. Downstairs performs at the Vans Girls Tent in San Diego.
photos by picksysticks

One of the big tickets bands of the day wasn't seen on any of the seven stages but at the Vans Girls tent, a tiny booth located in front of the Main Stage. Mr. Downstairs, theMr. Downstairs' Asia Whiteacre and Dani Artaud brainchild of Dani Artaud and Asia Whiteacre was formed last year in Los Angeles. Artaud, formerly of widely popular Millionaires, shocked many when she announced her departure from the group to form Mr. Downstairs. When they released their first single, "Legendary" months later, it quickly topped over 40,000 views on YouTube. A complete departure from the electro-pop-dance tunes the Millionaires are famous for, Mr. Downstairs' songs echo sounds of early 60s girl groups like The Shirelles and the Shangri-Las but with a modern indie-pop twist that focuses on cascading vocal harmonies and simple feel-good melodies. With beach-cruising arrangements by Jake Johnson (guitar), Dre Smith (bass) and Chase Meyer (drums), they help create a unique sound suited for driving top down up the Pacific Coast Highway. And while previewing songs from their upcoming debut album, spotted on the other side of the sprawling Warped layout a couple hours later were the remaining members of The Millionaires, Melissa and Allison Green possibly there to show support to Dani.

Melissa and Allison Green of The Millionaires
Although they didn't perform, The Millionaires were spotted taking pictures with fans at the San Diego stop of Warped Tour. Hours before, ex-member Dani Artaud performed with her new band Mr. Downstairs.
photo by picksysticks

And finally it was off to the Main Stage to catch powerhouse Paramore, playing only seven dates on the tour with San Diego being the California stop on the tour. To be honest, I never hopped on the Paramore train. I started this site two years after they broke onto the scene, focusing more on local bands. But after watching them for the first time, I now see what all the excitement is about.

Paramore performs at Vans Warped Tour for the sixth time.
photo by picksysticks

The photographer's pit had to be cleared for safety reasons because loyal fans went into a frenzy as soon as Paramore took the stage, spilling over the protective barriers. Hayley Williams with phoenix red hair, energizing the crowd, pummeled her way through their three-album catalogue with earlier favorites from their debut album such as "Pressure," and "Here We Go Again," to Riot, their certified platinum hit record and "Ignorance" and "Careful" which came off their latest release, Brand New Eyes. And to end their set to a rousing crowd, Paramore finished off with "Misery Business" their first single off Riot, by bringing up three fans to sing along onstage as firecracker orange confetti streamed upward into the air closing their set.

Hayley Williams of ParamoreHayley Williams of Paramore

With my work day done, it was time to chill, each some churros and catch a few bands before making the long trek home back to Los Angeles. It was another great event filled with awesom weahter, nice people and above all, great music. Just like Paramore, Katy Perry and Mike Posner, it'll be interesting to see which bands come out of this Warped Tour class and reach superstardom. Now in its 17th year, Warped Tour just seems to be getting bigger each year with a more diverse lineup of bands which should please everyone going to the tour.

Main Stage Crowd at Warped Tour
The crowd at the Main Stage during Warped Tour.
photo by picksysticks