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Paul Mann: Vans Warped Tour Throws Massive Pre-Party

Music fans pack Club Nokia in Los Angeles for a six-band unveiling

The Vans Warped Tour 2012 was officially unveiled at a huge party on March 29 at Club Nokia in Los Angeles.

While Lakers fans were swarming the Staples Center across the street, young rock fans were lining up for a marathon blowout party at the luxurious club.

The event kicked off early with a news conference attended by global media and offering up a swarm of musical performers scheduled for this year’s tour. The tour will also go to England for the first time this summer. Frenzied interviews with founder Kevin Lyman and the various performers took place amid a bombardment of Vans swag and fueled by a full bar.

Lyman has been criticized in the past for putting such a huge corporate face on one of the longest-running music festivals in the country. In fact, with each one of the nine stages sponsored by a different corporation, and Vans the crowing sponsor, the festival is one of the biggest corporate sponsorships in the music industry today. But in reality, Lyman has been able to ingeniously get the top echelons to sponsor one of the most socialist and artistically free expressions of modern music on the planet. At the same time, he has given a launching platform for up-and-coming independent new bands that exists nowhere else in the music world. Rock music in general is one of the most corporately controlled entities in the world today.

Typical live music shows program fans on when to sit, when to stand and when to leave a venue, offering up live performances with the same vigor as a Saturday afternoon matinee. Add to that ticket prices that disenfranchise most of the youthful fans who wish to attend, and many shows end up with an underwhelmed crowd of pompous, boring patrons. But the Vans Warped Tour harkens back to the earlier days of live rock shows that were adventurous, unpredictable and at times even dangerous events, where true young music fans could express themselves in complete freedom. The Warped Tour also has become a social experiment of sorts, where musicians from many genres of music are forced to work together as a cooperative.

For young music fans at the Nokia Club, the festivities kicked off early with a premiere of the documentary No Room for a Rock Star by Santa Barbara filmmaker Stacey Peralta. The film eloquently illustrates the social experiment on the road where a cooperative democracy exists with the bands on the tour. The film also portrays the pure joy and passion that young music fans have for the festival.

For many young American music fans, the Warped Tour is their first experience with a live music event. The tour, which features more than 90 bands this year on no fewer than eight stages, immerses young fans in a sea of eclectic performances, which this year includes music from hip hop, rap, reggae, dub step and rockabilly. But it is the hard rock, metal and punk acts that have always been the glue that holds the tour together.

In a sea of frenzied fans, there are scantily clad young crowd surfers, slam dancers and stage divers that would make any normal venue security cringe. The Warped Tour offers up one of the most uninhibited environments for dancing fans to celebrate the music. Young fans also stand in long lines to have their swag signed by music celebrities on the tour. The bands loyally endure long hours at the signing tents to please the enraptured young fans.

After the film, young fans quickly swarmed the stage for a six-band marathon of diverse Warped Tour performers. Opening the show was Forever Came Calling, a young band from the remote desert town of 29 Palms.

Featured in the film No Room for a Rock Star, the band is a classic Vans Warped Tour success story. The young group of dedicated musicians spent one summer relentlessly following the tour in their van across the country. They camped out in front of each show, trying to sell people their CD and sign a petition to get them a spot on the tour. Their relentless and exhausting efforts were finally rewarded with a one-shot slot on the tour, which led to their breakthrough as a professional touring band. Their short opening set was well received by the young crowd.

Matt Toka and his band followed with an explosive, extended set, showcasing this animated singer/songwriter’s skills as a seasoned performer. The crowd responded ecstatically, launching into the first full slam dance mosh pit of the night during his opening song. Since his debut with his original band Cherry Monroe, in 2005, the young singer from Youngstown, Ohio, has already become a veteran songwriter. His musical style shaped by his gritty personal life growing up in “Murder City” is an amalgamation of all things revered by most Warped Tour music fans, including metal, punk and classic hard rock. Backed by an impressive hard-rocking band, Toka kept frenzied fans entertained throughout the extended set.

The third act to perform at the pre-party may be the next big breakthrough in pop music. Dead Sara performed the most musically intense set of the evening, sounding a bit like Led Zeppelin with a female singer, or a pair of female singers to be precise. The four-piece band plays classic indie hard rock jam music and is fronted by explosively animated singer and guitar player Emily Armstrong. The enthralling performer prances about the stage, writhes on the floor and jumps from speaker tops, all while wailing like a 1970s rock star in an outdoor stadium concert.

It is easy to overlook the comparatively demure Siouxsie Medley, who also exhibits remarkable vocal skills, while laying down wailing lead guitar riffs. The male rhythm section composed of bassist Chris Null and drummer Sean Friday complete this powerhouse quartet, most likely destined for a chart-topping assault on pop music in the future.

The two surprise acts for the evening were both well-known veterans of passed Warped Tours, and both have returned to the spotlight after recent hiatuses. Yellowcard can trace their roots back to 1997, as a band from Jacksonville, Fla. The band returned to playing in 2010 after a two-year break. The band distinguished themselves with their own brand of pop punk highlighted by their integration of a violinist. Members of the band, including singer/guitarists Ryan Key and Ryan Mendez and violinist Sean Mackin, played a soothing acoustic set.

The Used, another veteran band of the Warped Tour, was also coming out of a tumultuous hibernation period. The hard-rocking band, who revel in the fact that they are hard to define in any particular hard-rock genre, are poised to play their first significant summer tour since 2010. In the decade since the band was founded, the group has sold well more than 3 million records worldwide, and their explosive and unpredictable live shows have become legend in the alternative rock world. Fans responded emphatically to the band’s short, intense set.

As the midnight hour approached, the final act of the evening, the Las Vegas screamo band Falling in Reverse, hit the stage. Fronted by lead singer Ronnie Radke, formerly in the band Escape the Fate, this fast-rising new group is reminiscent of The Ramones with their simplistic and witty anthem rock approach to indie rock.

It was obvious by the frenzied response that this was the band many of the youngest rockers in the crowd came to see. Led by the animated, anamorphic expressions of the bombastic Radke, the crowd swirled in a frenzy, like a mass of mice following the pied piper. The band laid down strong, solid music, and the party ended in a sweaty dance craze — nearly seven hours after it began.

Tickets for the Vans Warped Tour are on sale for $35, with the closest venue, the Ventura County Fairgrounds, set for June 24. The venue is one of the favorites for many of the veteran performers on the tour for many reasons, including the cool summer sea breezes and the location right on Surfers Point, allowing many to surf during the stop. Other Southern California dates include Irvine on June 21 and Pomona on June 22.

— L. Paul Mann is a Noozhawk contributing writer. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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