What can I say? When it comes to sordid fetishes, I'm something of a prude. That is, unless we're talking about the Warped Tour. And then ... I ... get ... oh ... so ... ooooooohhhhh.
Does anyone have a towel?
Sorry. There's just something about it that feels so good. The sucker has been around for 10 years -- roughly a century in concert time -- and it's still one of the more entertaining musical carnivals around. A veritable feast for the eyes and the ears of a generation that grew up mixing Ritalin with its raisin bran.
Granted, when the tour hit Verizon Amphitheater on July 26, the atmosphere seemed a little tepid. A little tired. As if all these George W. Bush-bashing bands were somewhat unenthusiastic about the prospect of venturing into Republican territory.
But fuck it. Warped is still fun, even if it has gotten a little diluted, a little passé. It's fun because punk "purists" are the most self-righteous bastards this side of newspaper columnists, and Warped never fails to delight in serving a heaping helping of palatable punk.
Not that the tour hasn't maintained a DIY attitude. It's filled with burgeoning artists playing the dinky Some Band You've Never Heard Of stages, trailing the massive tour buses in their parents' battered Dodge Caravans when they aren't asking fans for gas money.
Warped isn't beyond providing opportunities for homegrown talent at its tour stops, either. A large local hip-hop contingent -- including Approach, Archetype, Mac Lethal and C.E.S. Cru with Human Cropcircles -- represented well at the Code of the Cutz stage. The only stumble came from Lethal. He earned some laughs with his parodies on masturbation and thuggish mothers, but the rest of the set was atypically haggard and uneven -- the kind of set you might expect from someone grinding out a performance while battling a hangover in the afternoon sun.
"I had a long night last night," Lethal told the crowd. "I'm going to go home and have a headache."
But he still managed to draw a celebrity guest when emo-rap poster boy Slug from Atmosphere made an appearance.
"Look who it is," Lethal said, pointing to Slug. "It's Jesus."
Lord help us.
But it was Salt the Earth that saved the day. The Lawrence quartet walked onto the Uproar Stage while most people were either watching Yellowcard and the Bouncing Souls or preparing to heckle Simple Plan. A couple hundred fans were in front of the Uproar Stage when STE began its set at 6:15 p.m. Unfortunately, most of them were sprawled, lifeless, on the grass.
That's when singer Marty Bush invited those who were conscious to join the band onstage. Dozens of kids eagerly complied, setting up camp on the drum riser and the amps to watch the most intimate show of the day.
Salt the Earth delivered a solid set of brooding, emotional hard rock. The band wasn't necessarily any better than any other band that played that day. But they weren't any worse.
"You guys fucking rock!" one fan shouted.
"You guys fucking roll!" Bush responded.
Bush and bassist Matt Morgus' guitar straps were held together with duct tape. A scruffy dude who looked like the homeless caddy from Happy Gilmore stood by the stage hawking STE albums for $5 from a cardboard box. The band's lone stage prop was Morgus' faded Salt the Earth T-shirt.
"We couldn't afford the big, fancy banner or the Metallica lights that go 'Salt! The! Earth!'" Bush told the crowd. "All we had was a T-shirt."
Still, during a festival that, guilty pleasure or not, struggles with bloat and bombast, a scrappy local band held together by duct tape but nonetheless engaging the crowd was a refreshing sight. Even when one of the fans accidentally knocked out power to the monitors midway through the band's finale.
"We were trying to go Andrew WK style," Morgus said of the communal vibe. "But it didn't quite work out."
That's OK, Matt. It was the most punk-rock thing anybody did all day.