Time Warped

An uneven sense of identity at the 'Fest

Warped Tour

If there was any doubt that Moog-punks Ludo always have local crowds eating out of the palms of their hands, the quintet's Warped Tour performance at the UMB Bank Pavilion on Tuesday, July 25, laid it to rest.

Playing an early-afternoon set on the Ernie Ball stage — basically a glorified porch attached to a truck in a parking lot — they implored the crowd, "Let me hear you say, ‘Hot!'"

The teenager-heavy audience yelled back in unison: "Hot!"

Band: "Let me hear you say, ‘Balls!'"

Crowd: "Balls!"

Band: "Let me hear you say, ‘Technically your balls are cooler than the rest of your body!'"

Too long a phrase to repeat? Think again: The crowd surfing-happy masses repeated the goofiness right back with gusto — capping a fierce, energetic Ludo set highlighted by a rousing version of "Jingle Bells."

Welcome to this year's Warped Tour, which in its eleventh incarnation has the punk-rock assembly-line timetable down cold. Set times are followed to a T in order to ensure that each of the insane number of bands earned their rightful time onstage. (Sadly, A to Z missed the Sounds, who played at 11:30 a.m.)

A to Z's unfortunately late arrival (and early departure, before sunstroke but aprés sunburn) means she missed seeing most of this year's area bands: Blinded Black, Nothing Still, Behind the Blindfold and Ava, Wait.

Aside from Ludo, A to Z managed to catch fellow locals So They Say, who sported the kind of extreme facial hair (and musical self-confidence) of a band that's spent a large chunk of the past year on the road. A disappointingly small audience saw them tear through songs from Antidote for Irony, their Fearless Records full-length debut, with professional flair.

The lack of turnout for So They Say perhaps underscored what was most apparent about this year's Warped Tour: that it's having something of an identity crisis. Instead of relying on the punk/hardcore/emo stalwarts of years past, the sheer diversity of acts at the St. Louis stop ranged from emo-goth to pure metal, from Christian screamo to dance-punk, and even political emo to new-wave pop.

This had the effect of dividing crowds rather sharply when it came time to choose which gigs to attend; A to Z spotted Juggalos, skater kids, metalheads, teenyboppers, goth-punks and every permutation of these stereotypes in between. And as a consequence, the national acts A to Z caught often had little in common with one another — or the crowds they drew.

The members of Mute Math sported dress pants and shirts, which, oddly, matched the majestic, experimental keyboard- (and keytar!-) heavy rock; bizarre, artsy percussion; and monkey-jumps from singer Paul Meany. Eighteen Visions really, really wanted to be the second coming of Metallica, what with their thunderous riffs, cries of "St. Louis, you guys are fucking awesome!" and sea of devil horns — but the toughened longhairs in Valient Thorr triumphed in metal-dom with a guttural roar and rants against the current government/war.

Cartel's pop-punk inspired more crowd surfing than even Ludo, while Australian punkabilly superstars the Living End unleashed one of the most impressive sets of the day. By featuring all of their hits ("Prisoner of Society," "Roll On," etc.) and amusing antics — Scott Owen lifted his upright bass aloft over his head, while vocalist/guitarist Chris Cheney donned a cowboy hat during a country-pickin' interlude — the seasoned band showed whippersnappers how veterans roll.

But in the end, these diffuse genres didn't produce a breakout star or a must-see set — which perhaps matches the state of the music industry today. Major labels are bolstering their rosters by cherry-picking the biggest sellers from indie labels (or upstreaming successful acts from indie labels with which they have sweetheart deals) or snatching up MySpace faves, without stopping to consider what acts might have career longevity or unfickle fanbases.

There's a real sense of uncertainty as to what bands will become (or stay) successful, or what genre will be the next to become a fad embraced by kids with purchasing power — manifested in a "throw it at a wall and see what sticks" mentality reminiscent of the post-Nirvana alternative nation. It makes sense that Warped Tour (which has become the premier arbiter of youth-culture taste-making, much like Lollapalooza was in the 1990s) would be the first to reflect this confusion.

Or perhaps Warped is feeling the pressure to cater to teens weaned on file-sharing and social-networking sites, kids who often don't feel limited to Breakfast Club-style stereotypes and will embrace metal bands and punk acts with equal fervor. Always known as a tour whose philosophies and bands for the most part bucked trends, it now has to try twice as hard to stay ahead of the game — while dealing with its reputation as a breeding ground for now-mainstream bands.

In non-soapbox news: Living Things make a brief stop home at the Creepy Crawl (3524 Washington Boulevard; 314-531-3888) tonight, Thursday, August 3. Tickets are $12 for the show. The year's second Pointfest isn't nearly as diverse or adventurous as the first one — unless one considers Staind, Breaking Benjamin and Blue October experimental. The festivities take place at UMB Bank Pavilion (14141 Riverport Drive, Maryland Heights; 314-298-9944) starting at 1:30 p.m. Saturday, August 5. And the annual Schlaffenfest comes to the Schlafly Tap Room (2100 Locust Street; 314-241-2337), with Bad Folk opening for, well, bad-dream folkies Murder by Death at 9 p.m. Friday, August 4; Maid-Rite, Rats & People and Strawfoot entertaining at noon Saturday, August 5; and Magnolia Summer playing before Bobby Bare Jr. starting at nine o'clock that same night. See Night & Day for more information.

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