NOFX and Bad Religion peddled the best punk at the Warped outdoor mall.

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NOFX and Bad Religion peddled the best punk at the Warped outdoor mall.

In a grass field that served as a makeshift carpark given that the Verizon Amphitheater parking lot housed the Warped Tour on June 27, two scruffy, sunburned and dust-caked punks greeted incoming vehicles. "Extra tickets for sale," one bellowed. "Got any extra tickets?" queried the other. The pair's inability to realize the glaringly obvious solution to its dilemma foreshadowed the nature of the event itself, which seemed unsure whether to operate as a crass sales-pushing marketplace or an information forum for politically aware organizations that Crass itself might tout.

Worthwhile groups such as True Majority, the Web-based advocacy group that set up educational games like "Global Ring Toss" and "The Lobbyist," distributed its brochures near vendors who peddled shirts that read "Fuck Irak" and "Fuck'n Amigo." PETA and the omnipresent antismoking crusaders the Truth appealed to intellect; Yoo-Hoo targeted the lowest common denominator with a promotion that involved biting open bulging condoms packed with its chocolate soda. On Warped's multiple stages, a different conflict took place, one that placed flaccid pop crooners such as the aptly named Something Corporate in close proximity with weathered hardcore idealists, two of which salvaged the event's integrity.

"This is the first time we've been to Kansas City," declared Bad Religion singer Greg Graffin incorrectly, though he had good reason to forget his last visit to the area. In 2000, BR, supporting the worst album of its 22-year-career (the ill-fated exercise in optimism The New America) opened for fart-scented pranksters Blink-182. Prompted by an audience member, Graffin acknowledged that embarrassing affair. "But this time, it's our show," he said, ripping seconds later into a perfectly executed ninety-second blur of perfectly toned harmonies, tight dual-guitar twists and insightful lyrics. Mixing material from this year's comeback album, The Process of Belief, with selections from its early-'90s prime, the venerable quintet proved it still deserves to be named -- in the present tense -- in any discussions about the genre's leading lights.

NOFX vocalist/bassist Fat Mike prefaced his group's set with the disclaimer, "We sound like Bad Religion, but not as good." His self-deprecating humor, which surfaced between almost every song, made for great stage banter, but the sentiments were off-base. For starters, NOFX covers much more ground than BR, fitting a beat-up accordion, a trumpet and a reggae track (featuring members of Jamaica's Morgan Heritage) into its thirty-minute set. Also, with songs such as "Monosyllabic Girl" and "Kill All the White Man" in its discography, NOFX inspires a lot more laughs than Graffin's unfailingly studious outfit. But that's not to say it doesn't have its serious side. Fat Mike, donning a shirt emblazoned with an image of George W. Bush and the words "Not My President," unveiled a new Bush-centered tune called "Idiot Son of an Asshole." (That qualifies as subtle political commentary compared with Anti-Flag, which bamboozled a large late-afternoon crowd with its faux-rebellious tactic of sticking fuck in front of a laundry list of society's woes.)

The consistent excellence of Epitaph's twin titans came as a relief after several highly praised newcomers delivered half-baked sets. Wiry Thursday vocalist Geoff Rickly doomed his group's otherwise intriguing emo-metal compositions by either oversinging or bowing out at crucial moments, making cathartic outbursts fall flat. Alkaline Trio disappointed with an uncharacteristically lackluster display, and Glassjaw poisoned its promising unreleased material with tracks from its forgettable 2000 debut.

The most encouraging second-stage showings came from local acts. Lawrence's Salt the Earth produced the day's heaviest-hitting guitar sound, drawing a sizable contingent of curious onlookers with its staggered-riff patterns and singer Marty Bush's primal screams. Wrapping up a successful three-date Warped stint that included stops in Omaha and St. Louis, Salt the Earth moved about seventy copies of its self-titled debut and distributed many more free demos while like-minded acts such as Thrice and Thursday played. KC's Jade Raven sped up its tart pop confections a bit and drew an appreciative audience to an obscure stage near the concession stand, where famished punks could sample Sheriff Blaylock's chili or cheese fries.

Some of Warped's most entertaining happenings didn't occur on any stage. In one booth, Troma video, the infamous studio behind the Toxic Avenger series and ultragraphic offerings such as Tromeo and Juliet, demonstrated how to simulate a splattered skull with a hollowed-out melon and savaged Blockbuster cards with a switchblade in protest of the chain's refusal to carry its films. However, the Bonner Springs police force (perhaps led by Sheriff Blaylock) drew the line when Troma attempted public nudity. And while a tattoo-smothered intimidator busted some breakdance moves, an open mic at a hip-hop tent showcased the freestyle flow of a stocky lad whose voice blended Daffy Duck's enunciation with Mike Tyson's tone.

Such hidden attractions made Warped an appealing all-day destination, even if it did stretch two solid hours of high-caliber music over an eight-hour span. And its organizers deserve credit for responding to constructive criticism. After fans complained about getting gouged at past shows by venue-driven merchandise, Warped found a way to get its goods down to Fugazi-friendly prices. When the socially conscious crowd protested that Warped wasn't as all-inclusive as Lollapalooza, the festival invited new voices and bolstered its political content. Local artists griped that kids were skipping their shows to save money for Warped, so organizers reserved area bands a stage at every stop. Purists might never approve of an event that will always carry the logo-plastered stigma of target marketing, but Warped has made significant steps toward living up to its billing as a real punk tour.

Local Grammy Winners

The New Artist Demo Grammy Showcase, held at the Uptown Theater's Club Nowhere on June 25, unearthed a surprising pool of fresh talent. Perhaps groups that are well-established locally weren't enticed by the grand prize (in part, one free song each at BRC Audio and Chapman Studio), reasoning that they already had serviceable recordings.

"Studios, music stores and people working in the industry make up our membership and, by extension, make up our lists of contacts in our regional markets," says Recording Academy regional project manager Jack Campbell, almost answering an inquiry about why a band that produced a great demo would be rewarded with the chance to make another demo. "It is the first chance many folks get to get into a professional recording environment," he says.

The Band That Saved the World, the only act with name recognition among the ten finalists competing for studio time, ended up the big winner. Rap-rocker Bryan Sanders and solo popper Drew took second and third place, earning Hume Music gift certificates. The panel of judges, which included me, Tech N9ne, Brent Berry, House of Blues' Jacki Becker, Truth Cell's Shane Murray, Lawrence Journal-World entertainment editor Jon Niccum and Keith Loneker of 5150 Mental productions, listened to one song apiece from each of the hopefuls, then ranked each on a ten-point scale in categories that included clarity of mix, emotional impact and originality of melody. Artists received the comment sheets after the event concluded, but to give them some gratis publicity (and to help them decipher some dastardly handwriting), here's a brief wrap-up of the submissions:

· The Band That Saved the World, "Love and Music": Music is life, and life is music, croons Sublime's Brad Nowell from beyond the grave. Actually, it's the Band's easygoing vocalist conjuring his spirit over a backdrop so mellow it makes Sade sound like Slade. The tune's funky breakdowns score points, but the lyrics are more flowery than a botanical garden, particularly during a spoken-word interlude that includes the wings of a dove and other fluffy ingredients.

· Bryan Sanders, "Be Like You": After hearing so many artists fail at marrying rap and rock, it's easy to move for a permanent restraining order between the genres. But Sanders, riding an enormous drum mix and an irresistible squiggly melody, makes the pairing work. His rhyming skills are solid, his instrumentation captures hip-hop's thump and metal's crunch and he remains composed during the chorus rather than delivering the obligatory rant.

· Drew, "Wish I Never Had": Powered by a na-na-na hook and piano-pop pep, Drew's fluff bunny overcomes an unnecessary guitar solo and a less-than-sturdy bridge.

· Key, "One Sweet Night": A jangly jam in the Barenaked Ladies vein, "One Sweet Night" suffers from oversinging (lots of growls and held notes), a thin sound that begs for low-end support and an unjustly neglected groove. The tune seems to reach a sweet resolution but then unexpectedly (and unwisely) attempts to rock.

· Cheating Kay, "A World Without Heroes": The most "alternative" of the selections, "Heroes" contains some stellar free-range instrumentation after its choruses. Opening with a wilting falsetto and piano accents, the track stumbles through an awkward noisy phase before settling into a strong series of progressive elements.

· Hakim, "Put up a Fight": The second tomb raider of the batch, Hakim resurrects both 2Pac's clear, confident delivery and his paranoia about enemies. His mic command is impressive, and the beat, sprinkled with piano, bells and mild percussion, fits his flow.

· The Joe Fund, "She's Allright": This track will get this band signed immediately -- if it locates a time machine and transports itself back to 1997, when ska-punk was all the rage. Granted, there's still something of a market for cheery love songs studded with rumbling bass lines and horn-section blasts. Perhaps The Joe Fund can hook up with Mojo Records, the inexplicably resilient home of Goldfinger and Reel Big Fish.

· Maryjane Green, "Run Girl Run": This twangy tune is indistinguishable from anything on KBEQ 104, which is both a compliment to its recording quality and an indictment of its originality. Green's voice is strong but lacking in dramatic power; a song advising a girlfriend to flee an alcoholic husband needs more emotional crackle.

· Shiver, "L.U.S.T.": An agreeable big-dumb-rock riff kick-starts this number, a neatly constructed bridge leads into its arena-ready chorus and some rapid-fire guitar bursts spark aftershocks, but snarly vocals and utterly disposable oh yeeeeeah interjections introduce unwelcome echoes of latter-day Metallica.

· Bill Belzer, "My Fingers Crossed": Belzer's well-played alt-pop chills like a brief breeze, but his wispy vocals seem to have been swept away in the gust.

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