Admittedly, the Warped Tour was misplaced its first year in Kansas City, as the arena-rock ambience of Sandstone rendered impotent one punk band after another. However, for the next two years, skaters and moshers found an idyllic home at Lawrence's Burcham Park, where they were surrounded by glistening grass instead of sterile concrete. Last year, the Warped Tour bypassed Lawrence/KC for St. Louis, but local fans missed little. Other than a stellar set by Pennywise and a talented turn by The Living End, the bill offered only immature antics (Blink-182, Fenix TX), unconvincing hip-hop sets (Eminem, Ice-T), and ghastly funk-metal from one-time hardcore icons (Suicidal Tendencies).
This year's promising lineup, however, offered one-time arena-fillers Green Day and underground kings NOFX. Unfortunately, Warped bypassed Burcham Park for less-green pastures, landing in the parking lot of the Metrodome. This stop provided added excitement, as No Doubt, Lit, and Black-Eyed Peas rescheduled a show to merge with the festival. No Doubt rewarded the fans who crammed close to the stage in midday heat (true to its kill-rock-stars ethic, Warped often places bands with headlining clout in the middle of the lineup) with a boisterous set. Black-Eyed Peas also thrilled onlookers, with their jazzy groove allowing them to outshine fellow hip-hop acts Jurassic 5 and Dilated Peoples.
During a cover of Operation Ivy's "Knowledge," Green Day singer Billie Joe Armstrong asked whether there were any guitar players in the crowd, then settled on a 14-year-old named Dave. The youngster nailed the three chords perfectly, then hugged Armstrong before stage-diving. It was a rare opportunity to see a platinum-selling band stay true to its small-club roots -- and it hinted at what makes this festival unique. Although the music was often impressive, this nine-hour event was more notable for what it didn't have: self-impressed stage banter, mean-spirited mosh pits, or a pervasive sexist attitude. While some say Warped represents all that a punk festival shouldn't be (corporate sponsorship, high-priced water bottles, major-label bands), it unites the scene (crust punks danced next to mainstream No Doubt fans), provides inspiration for young musicians (many of the groups paused between songs to encourage listeners to start their own bands), and erases rock-star idiocy (even such MTV darlings as Lit and Papa Roach seemed down-to-earth).
On the other hand, the Up in Smoke tour was an example of all that a concert shouldn't be. Plagued by moronic on-stage declarations and overall disdain for those in the crowd, this horrific ordeal was, even in Minneapolis, too close for comfort to our fair city. Surprisingly, Eminem was responsible for little of the mayhem. Aside from his intense facial expression, which seldom wavered throughout the set, the onetime KC resident stayed low-key, eschewing even the standard hip-hop call-and-response chants.
After Ice Cube ran through a pitiful set, during which Mack 10 and W.C. fielded half of the rapper's lines, headliners Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre appeared on the video screen as the stars of a disturbing film. First, they cavorted with naked groupies. Soon, the duo ran out of weed, so they purchased drugs in the back of a convenience store. Minutes later, criminals entered with guns blazing, and Snoop and Dre turned vigilante, shooting the bad guys and splattering the walls with gore. One defiant hood slumped in the corner, blood pouring from his mouth, which led Snoop and Dre to turn to the crowd and ask for permission to "do this nigga." After being greeted with applause, the gangstas fired away, emptying their clips into their hapless fictional victim.
The rappers treated the sold-out crowd to a lyrical orgy of sex and violence, peppered with redundancies ("Do you motherfuckers smoke the weed? I said, do you motherfuckers smoke the weed?") and questionable observations ("Minneapolis is a hip-hop town!"). To their credit, Dre and Snoop performed to beats delivered by a DJ who was visibly mixing and scratching, and the music sounded even better than on record. "Let Me Ride" and "What's My Name," both powered by undiluted hooks straight off the wax, drenched the arena in funk. And for getting a nearly all-white audience to pay $50 to witness an uncensored account of the raw realities of ghetto life, Dr. Dre is undoubtedly a genius, although some might preface that term with "evil."
The doctor had plenty of tricks in his medicine bag, including a 30-foot talking skull that punctuated the usual questions ("Do you motherfuckers smoke the weed?") with a "scary" laugh and firebursts that sent stifling heat waves through the crowd. Yet he let his most potentially entertaining option, an N.W.A. reunion, go untapped. For an encore, Snoop, Ren, Dre, and Cube performed a pedestrian new N.W.A. tune, then left while the beat from "Straight Outta Compton" accompanied their exit. "Y'all ain't ready yet," Dre said, although he might have changed his tune if it was possible for the fans to shell out $50 for an impromptu reunion set instead of waiting to pay the same amount for such a show in the months to come.
Perhaps the N.W.A. tour will roll through Kansas City, but this sneak preview suggests that although the quartet still claims to be "the world's most dangerous group," fame has tamed these tigers, who have gone from politically motivated outlaws who attacked the police and drug dealers to irrelevant thugs who exist only to degrade women and glorify black-on-black violence.