The Warped Tour—that musical ball pit of scrubbed and shiny punk sounds for teenagers—finally turns 18 this year. It is old enough to go to college. To vote. To move out of the house. To royally disappoint its parents.
In honor of Warped's landmark birthday, I spent a few days getting cozy with the summer institution's series of compilations, annual audio postcards that freeze each year's roster in time. What I found on these myriad discs was a secret history of just how silly and beautiful and sometimes unbelievably awful a music festival can be, and I have attempted to sketch Warped's wobbly march to adulthood so you will never have to consider doing such a hazardous thing on your own.
GREEN DAZE (1995-1997)
Green Day's Buzzcocks-derived brand of pop punk has never been well represented at the Warped Tour—Lookout Records types were always better suited to warehouse shows and basement bashes—but Warped never would have happened had Green Day not come around. The inaugural compilation in 1996 is evidence of an alternative-rock culture shaken up and downright befuddled by Green Day's incursion into a world still somewhat smitten with Candlebox. Once upon a time, there was a band called Hog. And this band sounded like Ugly Kid Joe on a "Basket Case" binge. And this band played the Warped Tour. And it was terrifying.
PRIME CUTS: Loud Lucy's "Down Baby," Hog's "Get a Job" and China Drum's "Can't Stop These Things."
SORRY, SKA PUNK'S NOT DEAD (1996-2001)
Say what you will about Green Day's tepid afterbirth—at least that viscid heave of suburban sound didn't skank. The rise of No Doubt, however, resulted in a blessedly brief moment in the sun for punk's most heinous offshoot, and the unholy bleating of horns swarmed Warped's stages while the resultant comps gave false hope to band geeks everywhere. Rudie can't fail? I beg to differ.
PRIME CUTS: Dance Hall Crashers' "All Mine," Reel Big Fish's "Snoop Dog, Baby" and Voodoo Glow Skulls' "El Coo Cooi."
YOUNG UNTIL WE DIE (1995-2001)
Warped is resolutely teen-oriented, but it is also surprisingly senior-friendly. Summer heat? Shitty parks? Awful racket with which to build kids-these-days imprecations? Mighty Mighty Bosstones? That's the goddamn American dream of dotage right there, which explains Warped's sideline in stoking the waning flames of punk's past masters. There's no wrong way for a kid to get hipped to the Descendents.
PRIME CUTS: Bad Religion's "New Dark Ages," the Descendents' "Coffee Mug" and 7 Seconds' "Sooner or Later."
BLINK AND YOU'LL MISS IT (1999-2005)
Any hope of a lasting revival of quality pop punk died with the rise of Blink-182 and got all sorts of icky and bloated in the subsequent flood of pandering, beer-bonging "snowboard punk" acts. Blink-182 wrote undeniably great hooks, and it even managed to work a reference to Warped into a lovely pop gem called "The Rock Show," but Blink gave Good Charlotte an all-access pass to teenage ears for a couple of terrible years, which I will never forgive.
PRIME CUTS: MxPx's "Tomorrow's Another Day," Yellowcard's "Finish Line" and the Ataris' "Carnage."
FALL OUT BOY FALLOUT (2004-2012)
With the help of like-minded suburban self-loathers Say Anything and New Found Glory, Fall Out Boy tricked out the Get Up Kids' 1990s emo-pop formula with bratty song titles and even brattier honors English lyrics, and at some point in the mid-aughts, the Fueled by Ramen/Drive-Thru Records "sound"—I lack a kind word for "sonic diarrhea"—wormed its way into Warped's annual shindig. Listening to Fall Out Boy's first few albums is actually revelatory in a scary and disgusting way: The songs are tight, anthemic and even sometimes beautiful. The same cannot be said for the bands that aped Fall Out Boy's inexplicably powerful inanity.
PRIME CUTS: Amber Pacific's "Thoughts Before Me," Denver Harbor's "Picture Perfect Wannabe" and Anarbor's "Let the Games Begin."
I WANT A MOHAWK, BUT MOM WON'T LET ME GET ONE (1998-2010)
Every young punk eventually reaches a fork in the road of his or her loser-ish life: Does a fan stick with the fairly accessible, and at times even parental, sounds of Bad Religion, NOFX and Lagwagon or does one fully commit to the brand and adopt the Manichaean politics and spiky peacockery of Punk Fucking Rock? Warped Tour lineups have tended to include at least one or two representatives from the latter camp of postcard-ready guttersnipes, and one can only hope the kids who chose this path eventually discovered Crass or found a job.
PRIME CUTS: The Casualties' "Fight for Your Life," the Unseen's "At Point Break" and Anti-Flag's "No Future."
THIS FAKE-DEEP BAND NAME IS AWFUL, BUT JUST WAIT UNTIL YOU HEAR OUR MUSIC, AND NO, I DIDN'T JUST SHIT MY PANTS, THAT'S JUST THE WAY I ROCK OUT (2005-2012)
Warped's last few years have been infected by metalcore's bastard offspring, bands specializing in the infernal marriage of woefully wholesome death metal to treacly mall-punk melodicism. The risible "crabcore" of Attack! Attack! seems to absorb most of the sensible world's perfectly understandable ire, but that band's pants-shitting moves constitute the tip of a very large, very dangerous and very unlistenable iceberg of sound. On the other hand, it's nice to see that a Hot Topic shelf somehow developed sentience and learned how to play music and mangle language.
PRIME CUTS: Of Mice and Men's "Purified," August Burns Red's "Meddler" and Woe Is Me's "[&] Delinquents."
THIS YEAR'S MODEL (2012)
While 2012's iteration favors Fall Out Boy derivatives and atrociously named ruiners of hitherto decent music, hope springs eternal in the form of Anti-Flag, veterans still capable of conjuring truly affecting, rousing punk rock. Chunk! No, Captain Chunk! is also playing, and the French band's contribution to this year's compilation, "In Friends We Trust," makes me a little bit less bummed about the fact the world will probably end soon.
PRIME CUTS: I Wrestled a Bear Onceâs âButton It Up,â We Are the In Crowdâs âBetter Luck Next Timeâ and Memphis May Fireâs âProve Me Right.â
SEE IT: The Warped Tour is at the Rose Quarter Riverfront (Aegean Lot, North Thunderbird Way) on Sunday, Aug. 5. Noon. $31.50. All ages.