Okay, guys. For the first Worst. Night. Ever. of our new season, you decided to send me to Warped Tour, and so to Warped Tour I went—to the disappointment of my close friends and family, who know that nothing, but NOTHING, sounds worse to me than an "ecstatic dance DJ party." You effed the dog on that one, Internet. And I have even more bad news: It was belatedly determined that the band i was supposed to see, Falling in Reverse, was not in fact playing in Portland. So Steve and Ned picked out another band deemed suitably awful, the poetically named Like Moths to Flames.
Here's my disclaimer before we get into this: I don't know the difference between hardcore, metal, metalcore, and... whatever else. I'm sure those differences are profound and meaningful, but I'm going to use them interchangeably because I give zero fucks. Okay? Okay.
This year, Portland's Warped Tour was in the parking lot of the Expo Center. Fuck yeah, right? So I MAXed out there and got my ticket from a friendly ticket girl and underwent an almost insultingly cursory bag check from a kid who seemed certain there was no way I was trying to smuggle in drugs or booze (fine, I wasn't) and walked through the gates and this song was playing right in front of me:
And I was like, ohhhh my god, I am 400 years old, I am an Anne Rice vampire wishing she could just die already, I don't understand anything about this.
Which was the reaction I was expecting to have to the whole festival—out-of-touchness, confusion about the way the cultural touchstones of my own teen years were being reappropriated, etc. I mean, I'm 30. I don't know the first thing about what kids these days are interested in, aside from the timeless teenaged preoccupations of "finding someone to make out with" and "themselves." I figured I'd feel really old and out of place, given that Warped Tour is very pointedly targeted at teens.
That didn't really happen, though. Aside from the Cranberries cover and a disconcerting number of Pink Floyd T-shirts (really? them?) mostly it was a music festival in a parking lot. It seemed like a really good place to buy a shirt reading "Free Hugs" or "Fuck Hipsters," or to cheerfully shill for major corporate sponsors by hashtagging them on Instagram, or to get a bad sunburn because you didn't listen to your mom when she reminded you to wear sunscreen. I kept wanting to ask chubby girls if they were drinking enough water.
I did feel out of place, but it was less about age and more because I'm kind of a schlumpy hipster dork with no visible tattoos who OBVIOUSLY likes to read. There were plenty of other grownups around: Some were parent-chaperones being awfully good sports; some were middle-aged dudes with bad taste in music; some were leathery scenesters herding their own toddlers around. I took this picture, which I'm calling "Father's Day at Warped Tour":
When I was in high school, the dudes who went to Warped Tour were punk-rock jocks who dated cheerleaders and had Op Ivy stickers on the cars their parents bought them. I never really minded those guys, even if my cooler friends made fun of them for not being "real" punks. (This was in Tualatin; the entire authenticity-based pecking order rested on fairly shaky ground.) It all still seems pretty bro-y; I kept thinking, "God, these dudes with girl hair get laid waaaay too often." There weren't many women on stage—in two hours I only I only saw one, repping the Gwen Stefani big-pants-little-shirt look—and going through the schedule just now, I counted three women among about 20 randomly selected bands. Representation of women is important, even in shitty scenes.
Most of the music I saw, aside from being too damn loud—*shakes cane*—seemed vaguely self-helpy: Step one, validate their pain; step two, transcendence through hand-clapping. (There was a lot of handclapping.) "Reach out to us—put your hands forward to attest," one singer instructed. When the crowd complied, he chirped, "You guys are great, man! This is awesome!" Then the bass player did a Namaste bow. It was all kind of wholesome, really.
Like Moths to Flames WAS the worst band I saw, though not particularly memorable in their badness. The bass player was kinda hot and the lead singer sounded like a real douche. "Gimme a big-ass circle pit!" he yelled at one point. "Everyone start running in one direction and don't you dare fucking stop!"
Which was like a gift from heaven, because teenaged boys dancing in a circle pit is one of the funniest things on this earth. (I know they don't think of it as "dancing," but let's be real.) It's so fucking comical—hopping and air punching and posturing and chin-thrusting, all while enthusiastically running around in a giant circle. It reminded me of trying to start a whirlpool in my grandma's backyard swimming pool. (It also, of course, speaks to that gender problem again—the Like Moths to Flames pit was exclusively male, save for one girl on the edges who alternated between trying to dance and protecting her boobs with her elbows.)
All of the bands I saw near-constantly entreated the audience to jump up and down, clap their hands, raise their middle fingers, etc. It seemed very contrived; I imagined Like Moths to Flames getting a lecture from their social media manager on how to expand their brand: "One measure of audience engagement is whether or not they dare to fucking stop running one direction. Also, hand claps."
I think teenagers are funny and I don't really have anything too mean to say about ones who went to Warped Tour. There were lots of girls with pink hair who should've been wearing longer shorts, and lots of those skinny, probably-vegan hardcore kids with aggressively good posture. The music itself was shitty and annoying, of course, and the whole festival is so aggressively corporate-sponsored that the suggestion that anything legitimately "edgy" or "alternative" is happening under its auspices is patently ridiculous. ("Everybody give it up for the security guards!," one band yelled. It was given.)
At one point, a short blonde girl marched up to me and asked me to favorite her photo on Instagram so she could win a backstage pass. "I'm 'Mastershiznit'," she explained, adorably. She got her pass, apparently—got a little bit closer to whatever band she was dying to see, and all she had to do was get 60 likes and hashtag it #kiawarped.
So that sort of thing is where I actually did start to feel my age—it wasn't so much the music itself (barf) but how the entire thing felt like wandering through a marketing campaign. There were only two bands on the bill I'd actually heard of: Goldfinger and Reel Big Fish. I saw Reel Big Fish at the long-defunct Portland club La Luna when I was in high school—I went to the show because one of my favorite bands at the time, the Mr. T Experience, was opening. MTX slept on my friend's floor when they were in town, and we didn't have to hashtag anything to talk to them after the show; they were just around. I would be disappointed if kids these days aren't having experiences like that, but I assume some of them are. They're just not having them at Warped Tour.
IN CONCLUSION, you guys really are terrible at voting for Worst Night Ever. Most of you are probably in bands that would be worse to go see than this was. There were no baby pigs like at the fair, and no free cookies like at the sex club, but otherwise it was pretty tame. The end.