Pop-punk is coming home. In many ways, the much maligned genre — that basically mixes pop songwriting sensibilities with punk energy — never really went away but it undoubtedly became a dirty word. As the biggest bands of the genre such as Green Day, Blink 182, Good Charlotte and Fallout Boy gained popularity with teen and tween audiences, appearing more in Bop than Rolling Stone, and being admired for looks more than music, the genre lost a ton of credibility. Fans grew up and characterized pop-punk as “what I used to listen to in high school.” As one spin on the dial will tell you, Top 40 radio has basically abandoned rock in general, let alone pop-punk.
But music has always been cyclical, and many are calling this year’s Warped Tour lineup a return to its pop-punk heyday of the aughts. After a few years of Warped being heavy on the screamo, metal, post hardcore, indie and even bands who lean a little too far on the EDM spectrum, the 2014 lineup features several bands that were at the forefront of the genre’s popularity a decade ago. The following not- to-be-missed acts all represent different shades of the pop-punk umbrella, but they have one thing in common, genre aside: They’ve stood the test of time due to great songwriting and great live shows.
Bowling For Soup
Best-Known Songs: “1985,” “Girl All the Bad Guys Want”
Biggest Record: A Hangover You Don’t Deserve, 2004
Latest Record: Lunch.Drunk.Love., 2013
Despite what some would consider a silly name for a band, it’s actually a play on an old Steve Martin joke, thus making the name totally awesome. Bowling For Soup could be considered one of the most underrated and underappreciated bands of the past decade. Best-known for the brilliant Top 40 hit “1985,” BFS has managed to release record after record of catchy, hook-filled rock and roll for more than 20 years. As for the live show, arguably no band is more fun to watch; the in-between-song banter is second to none. There’ll be a lot of bands screaming at Warped Tour but only one can make you laugh while still rocking out.
Saves the Day
Best-Known Songs: “At Your Funeral,” “Freakish”
Biggest Record: Stay What You Are, 2001
Latest Record: Saves the Day, 2013
It’s quite possible that Chris Conley, Saves the Day’s chief songwriter and sole original member, is one of the best lyricists in rock and roll. Sound crazy? Read the lyrics to literally any song he’s ever written and it’s essentially poetry that works just as well without the music, and sometimes even more so. The song “Cars and Calories” could be put in a time capsule as a summary of the empty culture of materialism and TMZ celebrity worship that’s crept into society. In three devastating minutes Conley tells a story that could represent an entire generation of young girls raised on reality TV. When he’s on, he’s as good as a lyricist can get. He’s easily the Bob Dylan or Tom Waits of his genre. Best of all, the band’s most recent self-titled effort, is possibly its best record yet, and was one of 2013’s best records, period. A life-affirming, positive, roll–down-the-windows-and-contemplate-the-better-parts-of-the-human-experience type of record that hopefully will get the proper respect in years to come.
Less Than Jake
Best-Known Songs: “The Science of Selling Yourself Short,” “History of a Boring Town”
Biggest Record: Anthem, 2003
Latest Record: See the Light, 2013
If pop-punk fell out of fashion, ska fared even worse, not leaving much hope for the survival of Less Than Jake. But through the strength of its epic and energetic shows, plus just tremendous anthemic songwriting, the band has maintained a loyal fan base. It’s also probably in the running for most appearances on Warped Tour ever, seemingly on the tour ever other year, and for good reason. First-time concertgoers at Warped, a crowd whose demographic seems to get younger with every year, need to see a band like Less Than Jake to experience what a real live show should look like. No caked-in-make-up models or laptops duct-taped to folding tables in the center stage. Just grown men with guitars, horns and drums, singing and sweating and sending out an infectious energy. Musically, LTJ is a master of the epic anthem with a perfect blend of sing-along melodies and soaring horn lines. Drummer and chief lyricist Vinnie Fiorello, is a special writer who is gifted at expressing small-town angst.
Best-Known Songs: “Ocean Avenue,” “Way Away”
Biggest Record: Ocean Avenue, 2003
Latest Record: Ocean Avenue Acoustic, 2013
At the 2004 Warped Tour, the band to see, and the song to hear live, was Yellowcard and its monster hit “Ocean Avenue.” Complete with a back-flipping violin player, the band can lay claim to one of the biggest pop-punk hits of all time. With Yellowcard, there was enough seriousness to music and lyrics, emo if you must, that it was absolutely the right band at the right time. Yellowcard actually came to the Ventura County area from Florida in pursuit of fame and fortune in the music world and actually achieved it. Locals were able to catch the band, whose live shows were always tremendous, at all-ages venues including The Livery Theater shortly before the band became an MTV darling. After an uneven record or two and changing tastes on radio, the band took a hiatus but returned in 2011 seemingly energized and inspired with When You’re Through Thinking, Say Yes, a tremendous record that reminded everyone what made Yellowcard great in first place: solid songwriting that you could relate to. To celebrate the 10-year anniversary of its biggest record, Yellowcard just released an acoustic version of Ocean Avenue, but the songs are completely reimagined and offer a more mature feel. Yellowcard and Warped Tour go hand in hand. A generation of kids first saw it a decade ago on the tour and hopefully in 2014, a new generation will do the same.
Warped Tour, June 22, at the Ventura County Fairgrounds, 10 W. Harbor Blvd., Ventura. For more information, visit www.vanswarpedtour.com.