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Where Mouth Geysers Meet Cheesy Macaroni – Warped (Tour) Indeed

It was as if the tattooed hand of a punk rock god reached down and anointed Andrew W.K. The hard partying rocker was enthusiastically playing his anthem “I Get Wet” as the skies opened up and a torrential downpour put an early end to the eighth stop on this year’s Vans Warped Tour. He always sports a maniacal smirk and a dirty T-shirt, but even W.K., surrounded on the stage by a dozen head-banging fans, couldn’t help but laugh.

Just one week into a grueling cross-country summer trek, the ninth edition of the punk and extreme-sports tour experienced both kinds of Warped weather: intense heat and drenching rains. You would have never known it, though, from the goofy grins on the faces of the 50 pumped-up bands or the 7,000 waterlogged and sunburned fans who braved the unpredictable weather to take part in punk rock summer camp. There was Rancid’s Tim Armstrong, rocking his band’s afternoon set in a leather jacket, AFI’s Davey Havok in vinyl pants and a long-sleeved mesh shirt, and Used singer Bert McCracken not letting a little sweat bother him as the heat made the red face-paint across his eyes drip all over his face.

Though it was inconceivably plastered with more signage than Cincinnati’s new baseball stadium (not that the fans would know, since nearly everyone was wearing a shirt promoting their favorite band), what continues to separate the Warped Tour from other summer festivals is its egalitarian vibe. Indie label bands such as Rise Against, Vaux, Eleventeen and the Unseen mixed with up-and-coming major-label acts in the massive pavilion, while the Ataris, Face to Face and Rancid humbly hit the midway. Everyone got 30 minutes, regardless of whether your name was Less Than Jake, Anatomy of a Ghost or Scallywagon. Coupled with the cheap ticket price ($25), Warped might not be much of a payday for the bands, but it could teach its fellow festival tours a lesson or two about keeping fans happy.

Yes, it’s cheesy to have Kraft Macaroni and Cheese on-the-go samples right next to a stage and Yoo-Hoo-branded beach balls ping-ponging across the crowd. But it’s kind of cool to find bands like Simple Plan, who could easily headline the city’s biggest club, playing early afternoon sets on side stages and not complaining about it. It’s also cool to see veteran Irish punkers the Dropkick Murphys getting one of the most raucous receptions of the day with their bagpipe, beer-and-blitz chord sing-alongs.

The Used got things cranking early thanks to McCracken’s spastic stage presence. Spewing water into the air with his mouth and making huge geysers, the scrawny singer played the part of a slightly crazed arena rocker as he got the audience to shout along to such cathartic punk ballads as “The Taste of Ink” and “Blue and Yellow.”

Like many of the acts, McCracken told the crowd that the Cincinnati stop was the best one on the tour so far, in between his bouts of thrashing around the stage, stringy hair plastered to his gaunt face.

It was a totally different scene across the midway though, where AFI looked like a group of daytime ghouls who’d accidentally opened their crypts a bit early. Singer Havok, with his pasty face and jet-black hair, looked like a cross between the Cult’s Ian Astbury and Elvira, and definitely like someone more used to dark clubs than bright daylight shows. As he yelped the lyrics to the band’s breakthrough hit, “Girl’s Not Grey,” and “The Leaving Song, Pt. II,” Havok repeatedly performed what was the unofficial, but mandatory mantra of the day, “who-ooh-ooh.” That simple pop refrain could be heard from nearly every band on the bill, from Police-like reggae punkers Maxeen to SoCal old-schoolers Face to Face and Detroit garage rockers the Fags.

Bowling for Soup did their best to lighten things up with canned stage patter that would make Poison blush (“Look at all the great t–ies out there!”), but Rancid showed the kids how it’s really done with a hit-packed set that snuck in just as the blazing sun gave way to thunderclouds. Singer Armstrong paid homage to his heroes in the Ramones by entering the stage in a black leather jacket, as well as black pants, a black baseball hat and black sunglasses, not removing the jacket until the fifth song, despite the choking heat. The band blitzed through energetic versions of “Journey to the End of the East Bay,” “Ruby Soho,” “Roots Radicals” and “Maxwell Murder.” During the latter, bassist Matt Freeman ripped off a nimble-fingered, jazzy solo that seemed to even surprise singer/guitarist Lars Frederiksen. The band unveiled the new song “Red Hot Moon,” from their upcoming album, Indestructable (August 26), and invited pal Skinhead Rob on stage to do a mid-song rap.

Once the rain began to fall, the midway offered more than mac ‘n cheese, CDs and T-shirts to the punks whose liberty spikes were beginning to sag. Nearly every act took time to sign T-shirts and CDs for fans and there were dozens of booths supporting political causes and selling the usual festival fare.

Parents could even dip into the air-conditioned “Reverse Daycare” tent and sink into comfy chairs while “About Schmidt” played on a big-screen TV. With so much music, the “extreme” part of the tour – demos from professional skaters and BMX riders – was shunted off to a corner of the midway and seemed less prominent than in the past.

By the time the Ataris hit the stage around 5 p.m., the rain seemed like it was there to stay. The hard-cores held on, but if the young crowd recognized that the band was covering a Don Henley song with its punked-up take on “Boys of Summer,” they didn’t show it. They did, however, react wildly when spazz rockers S.T.U.N. laid waste to Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall,” especially when singer Christiane J. amended the lyrics to “another brick through your wall!” Huddling under the pavilion to avoid the rain, hundreds of fans watched as J. hurled his microphone across the stage, perched himself precariously on the kick drum and danced around like a disco insect to songs such as “Movement,” during which he repeatedly howled the refrain, “We are just a moment away!”

Glassjaw and Poison the Well got washed out as the side stages closed early, but, in the end, there was Warped sophomore W.K., whipping the soaked crowd into a frenzy with “Party Hard,” and looking up at the rain as if it were just another party favor on his nonstop summer punk bash.

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