Death by Mixtape

Corporate punk! Covers! Circle (pit) jerks! A Warped Tour report.

So, OK, I can skip the 900 words pontificating about how corporate, irrelevant, and farcical the Warped Tour is, right? At worst it’s all that, a bag of Doritossorry, I mean chipsand a $5 Evian . . . I mean bottled water; at best, the annual “punk- rock summer camp” is a haven for Wal-Mart latchkeys who aren’t yet enlightened enough to see the crippling irony in bands exhorting them to “fuck authority” atop a sponsor-slathered, multimillion-dollar amphitheatre stage and . . . GRRRAAARRRR!!! HULK SMASH!!!

Uh-oh. Time to scrape for perspective and plus side. Even if the kids just hear “fuck authority,” well . . . damn right. It’s a start. And no festival where employees sit in booths and douse parched passersby with spray bottles is entirely useless. That said, I didn’t pull 90 mph on I-90 for nine hours (note: This may be a slight exaggeration) en route to the Gorge on Saturday to not call at least a little bullshit on Mall Punk Mania 2003.

Stumbling down to the main stage at 2:30 p.m., I’m astonished at how wretched openers Glassjaw sound, how we’re all missing out on the cunning dynamics of their dual-guitar hardcore buzz saw (I’m, regrettably, dead serious), but two explanations quickly become evident: (1) The stage is split in half, creating two dioramalike settings that muffle the acousticsso as soon as Glassjaw’s last note fades on the left side, WHAM, Face to Face start chugging on the right side, and (2) Glassjaw just plain eat ass live. I get a cheap thrill watching the poor kids who probably set up shop at the barricade as soon as the doors openedwho probably already have cleat marks on their wilting brohawkscrane their sunburned necks from one side to the other, to the other, to the goddamned other, every half-hour.

The pageant reaches its nadir just an hour in. Elfin, towheaded Ataris frontman Kris Roe unloads a molten “One, two, fuck you!” to introduce cotton candy hit “In This Diary,” whose empowering chorus (“Being grown up isn’t half as fun as growing up/These are the best days of our lives”) is a shameful lie. Growing up sucks. Your interests, friends, ambitions, love life, and personality are under relentless scrutiny, if not outright ridicule. For a man who plans to die in a gunfight before I turn 40, I’m astonished at the unconscious pessimism of Roe’s words. Adulthood is not synonymous with stagnancy, KrisI mean, Christ, one of the best parts about it is growing out of shit like the Ataris!

Amplifying the lameness of this band, the title track to So Long, Astoria ends with Roe referencing Corey Feldman‘s infamous bottom- of-the-wishing-well pout from Goonies: “This one was my wish, and it didn’t come true. So I’m taking it back. . . . I’m taking them all back.” Um, not a moment you want to incorporate into a corporate pop-punk jingle with the utmost sincerity, guys.

The Ataris redeem themselves temporarily by rocking out a cover of Bryan Adams‘ “The Boys of Summer.” A word of advice, should you ever find yourself staggering through Warped: Live for the covers. Seek them. Hunger for them. The three-chord punk gallop has long been a perfect cover song medium. If Warped ever went 100 percent punk-raokeif the bands just collectively, miraculously concurred that “originals” about being young, dumb, full of cum, fucking authority, and keeping it real were played outit would be the best summer fest ever.

I’m told that Rufio delivered an earnest interpretation of Madonna‘s “Like a Prayer” on a side stage, and fuck, I smile. The terrifying joke band Bowling for Soup eloquently reimagine “I Wanna Be Sedated” as, um, “I Wanna Be Naked” while their Honey Bucket-sized guitarist caresses his man-tits; I only smile when somebody fires a Doc Marten at these cretins a second later. Pennywise mouthpiece Jim Lindberg gives a shout out to a “real punk rocker, Kurt Cobain,” his band tears into “Territorial Pissings,” and I smile simply because this song is better than the other 500 or so performed here today combined.

Pennywise and former ska-core practitioners Less Than Jake seem upset that kids refuse to start mini-circle pits on the “grassy knoll” overlooking the pavilionLTJ frontman Chris Demakes spits, “This is not a fucking beach, people”but seeing as how the entire venue looks ready to collapse into the Columbia River upon an overdue whim of God, maybe a circle pit on a 45-degree slope isn’t that great an idea.

Here’s a far better one: One of the activism tables on the thoroughfare exhorts us to “Stop Racism.” Guess the kids flicking off Warped’s lone hip-hop artist, Talib Kweli, missed that one. Sure, Kweli is sandwiched between Andrew W.K.‘s always oddly inspiring Macho Man Randy Savage riot act and 3,000-year-old Rancid, who recently “broke their silence” in Alternative Press with their “first interview in five years!” Whoa. Wonder what Tim Armstrong thinks about that D.C. sniper! Sure, Kweli is light on hits, heavy on canned call-and-response, but nobody’s even bobbing their heads. I spoke too soon crediting the Ataris with the nadir; I see a 10-year-old Aryan . . . I mean blond boy . . . trudge by with a “Rap Sucks” shirt, pick him up, break his spine over my knee, and toss him into the ravineon the transcendental meditative plane I only inhabit at mall punk festivals, that is.

Should’ve called for the circle pit, Talib. Bummer.