Sure, some may say I’m getting too old for Warped Tour. But as long as there are good bands, I’m going to tackle a long day in the sun and battle my way through sweaty crowds to rock out with the best of them. And while the age-old battle over whether the tour is sticking to its roots or selling out constantly goes on, the real important thing is what bands are there and the performances they bring. So, I’ll try to keep my personal feelings for the tour out of the way as I dive through the best of this year’s myriad of offerings that hit Darien Lake.

Starting off the day was ska legend Reel Big Fish. Trumpets and trombone sections were tight as always, and their tongue-in-cheek approach to the genre was a great way to start off the day. Plowing through their hits, such as ‘Beer,” and their wildly popular ‘Sell Out” (which front man Aaron Barrett introduced by saying that the band was going to try out a new song), the Fish was far from being out of water and a great way to start off Warped Tour.

The Celtic punk genre saw two upcoming challengers to the well-established Flogging Molly and Dropkick Murphy throne, with both The Mighty Regis and Flatfooot 56 carrying the Celtic torch on the tour this year.

Also from Los Angeles(hailing from the same bar that Molly started at, actually), The Mighty Regis played a pretty solid set; however, they suffered from my typical complaint of newer groups and a lot of Warped Groups in general: turn that fucking bass down. I want to hear the rest of your band, and we all know the short sets at Warped aren’t the best in terms of live mixing. Regardless, The Mighty Regis was still enjoyable, and while they are far from their older brethren, they are sure taking aim at the highest of goals and chugging along.

Next up was Chicago’s Flatfoot 56. Closer to the Murphys in style (so much in fact, that their rendition of Amazing Grace was very familiar to anybody who has been listening to Celtic punk as long as I have been), Flatfoot 56 was something like a more Celtic Street Dogs with high-powered and fast punk rock that hits you in the face with mandolin licks and bagpipes floating to the top of the band’s sound. I only made the second half of the set(I had to see at least some of the household name All American Rejects), but it was another solid set from a good punk rock band, and we all know how rare those are at Warped these days.

The Riverboat Gamblers was another one of the more punk-leaning bands on the tour. I hadn’t had much experience with their music before the show, but saying the very least, they knew how to put on an entertaining set. When people in the front row were caught texting, lead singer Mike Wiebe took not one, but two cell phones and called random people, putting them on speaker phone to listen to the set.

As if his already-commanding presence and wild prancing about the stage wasn’t enough, for the last song he walked off the stage and over to a standing wire fence . He climbed it and kept right at his singing, while then hanging upside-down from the fence. Needless to say, their set packed a solid punch and energy, though I wish I had paid a little more attention to the music rather than the stage antics.

Try as I might, I do wish to apologize to Far From Finished. I have been waiting to see them for several years, but a timing conflict with another band caused me to miss them. Rest assured, if their live show is half as good as their albums, FFF would have been another solid punk act to check out this year.

However, they were trumped by one of the bands who I was most looking forward to seeing again: Naples, Florid- based Fake Problems. Last year’s ‘It’s Great to Be Alive” was one of my favorite albums of the year, and Fake Problems is one of those up-and-coming bands that seem to just be tottering on that big break that they deserve.

Irony of ironies, Fake Problems took stage right after some really bad metal band, but hey, the luck of the draw at Warped. My only real complaint about their set was the inclusion of what seemed to be more than the several expected new songs, and with their new album still a few months away, the crowd wasn’t able to join in.

To nitpick, it would have been nice, as well, to see the entire and elaborate several drum set and conga-riddled percussion section with them on Warped as well, but with a schedule as winding and demanding was Warped is, I could deal with the missing extra additions from the last time I saw them as a headliner. Though it just felt like something was missing (I’m talking about you, vibraslap interlude in ‘Don’t Worry Baby”).

I still can’t find an exact way to describe their sound, except really, really good. A folksier and more musically intricate Against Me! comes to
mind(Naples influence, no doubt), but Fake Problems covers enough new ground that few other comparisons come close, or really even matter. Songs can go from soft and sweet to powerful and moving flawlessly, and lead singer Chris Farren sang with a near unrivaled passion. Song wise, Fake Problems brought out one of my personal favorites, ‘Born and Raised,” and played many of the best tracks off of Great to be Alive, including ‘The Dream Team” and ‘Heartless.”

Touting themselves as the only true indie punk band on the tour, bands as unique, good, and talented as Fake Problems are hard to come by. While their Warped set might not have been their full show of antics and surprises, even their A-minus game is better than most bands’ A-game could ever be. These guys are going places, mark my word.

And last, but not certainly not least, if there was one reason I managed to weave in and out of teeny boppers and put myself through overhearing the same horrible excuse of a band under several different any names, it was the great and powerful trio that is the Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band.

To say it was a breath of fresh air to see this blues power house of a band take the stage at Warped would be a severe understatement. Bringing their high powered live show was just the medicine that the Warped doctors ordered, and any chance to see this band live should not be missed. Powered by the Reverend Peyton himself on vocals and slide guitar, his wife Breezy Peyton on washboard(perhaps the first time a washboard has graced Warped’s stages), and their cousin Aaron Persinger on drums, The Big Damn Band was not only one of the best acts on the entire festival(and that’s putting them against main-stage headliners Motion City Soundtrack and The All American Rejects, neither of whom really impressed me as much as I had hoped), but is one of the most entertaining and energetic bands performing today. Hot off of their best album yet, ‘The Wages,” the BDB will tear you apart in the same way that the Reverend tears and shreds his guitars. Truly a sight to be seen and experienced.

While it is a never-ending shame that the majority of the people at the show were probably off watching some band that couldn’t quite fit into their pair of girl pants and wouldn’t know great music if it hit them over the head with a washboard, Reverend Peyton’s presence was a testament that Warped still brings in great live acts and that any band with a washboard means business.

And yes, Breezy did in fact smash her washboard into smithereens on the last song before tossing out pieces of it.

And after that, catching guitar picks just doesn’t seem nearly as cool anymore.

So all in all, it was another solid year at the Warped Tour. While I actually spent most of my time on the smaller stages, since , this year, that was really where the talent on the tour shone, and shone brightly. Regardless of who is headlining or what other bands Warped brings along, as long as it keeps enough good bands together under one roof like it did this year, I’ll keep going back, even if it means having to dash through more screaming cookie-cutter bands to find the next diamond in the rough.

Clark is a member of the class of 2012.

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