The Vans Warped Tour has been bringing the best pop punk has to offer around the nation for seventeen years, so it’s getting harder and harder for founder Kevin Lyman to top himself. This year’s tour, however, featured a return to the festival’s roots, as several classic bands that made early Warped Tours must-see summer events came back to show fans what real DIY punk rock is all about.

My first article for LA Music Blog was a review of last year’s Warped tour, so my return to the festival marks my one-year anniversary with this wonderful blog. This fact had me even more pumped up to relay the sights and sounds of the event to LAMB’s readers, and when I arrived at the Pomona Fairplex the day of the festival, it was the most crowded I had seen in years, all thanks to the perfect balance of punk rock staples and promising up-and-comers on this year’s lineup. Over 16,000 SoCal music fans packed the grounds, almost filling the venue to capacity, and I was thrilled to be in the middle of this year’s Warped Tour chaos.

My first stop of the day was Yellowcard, whose show last year at the House of Blues blew me away. A huge crowd packed in front of the main stage as the band began with “Breathing” before transitioning into “Way Away.” Lead vocalist Ryan Key announced that 2012 marked the band’s ten-year anniversary on Warped Tour. They played songs off early albums, such as Paper Walls, and despite the band’s two-year hiatus, they didn’t miss a beat. Violinist Sean Mackin told the crowd, “We know it’s early, but look how many people are here! Thank you!” before playing the appropriately-titled “Always Summer” off their upcoming release, Southern Air, out August 14th. The high-energy “Lights and Sounds” and “When You’re Around” lead into the classic songs that drew the gigantic crowd, “Only One” and “Ocean Avenue,” which provided an incredible, feel-good summer sing-along and perfectly kicked off my Warped day.

Four Year Strong followed on the Kia mainstage, and I stuck around to head bang along to “Saturday” and “Stuck In The Middle.” Four Year Strong blends elements of hardcore, like double bass drumbeats and breakdowns, with catchy, pop-punk melodies, making them an instant crowd pleaser. Their set spanned four albums and included the tracks “Stuck In The Middle, “What The Hell Is A Gigawatt,” and “Heroes Get Remembered, Legends Never Die.” The five members of the band wore matching Four Year Strong Hawaiian print shirts, not only as a nod to the laid-back summer attitude on Warped but also as an advertisement for the shirts themselves, which were being sold at the group’s merch booth. The crowd loudly sang along and pointed fingers during “Heaven Wasn’t Built To Hold Me,” and “It Must Really Suck To Be Four Year Strong Right Now” resulted in a huge circle pit before the band closed with the infectious track “Wasting Time (Endless Summer)”

Next for me was We Are The In Crowd, a mainstay in the pop rock, Glamour Kills scene. They began with fan favorite “Rumor Mill,” and spunky front woman Taylor Jardine kept the audience dancing throughout the group’s set. Guitarist Jordan Eckes lent his voice to the mix, and I can always get behind solid harmonies and overlapping vocals. The back and forth during “Never Be What You Want” and “Exits and Entrances” was impressive as well, and Eckes told the crowd, “You’re looking sexy as always.” (Note: as part of the audience, I was called “sexy” more in a single day by Warped Tour bands than in my entire life previously. Clearly, a lot of love was present at this festival.) “Both Sides of the Story” and the textbook poppy love song “Kiss Me Again” ended We Are The In Crowd’s fun, lighthearted set.

New Found Glory headlined Warped Tour a decade ago and closed out last year’s Pop Punk’s Not Dead tour, proving this band and the rest of the classic acts in their genre aren’t going anywhere. The members of New Found Glory were the pop punk heroes of this year’s Warped Tour, barreling out of the gates in matching basketball jerseys, opening with “Understatement.” They played classics like “Anthem For The Unwanted” and “All Downhill From Here,” during which vocalist Jordan Pundik jumped into the crowd. Every time he lost his balance and the guards caught him, he was back up again just as quickly, high-fiving fans and letting them sing into the microphone.

“Summer Fling, Don’t Mean a Thing” and “Hit or Miss” followed before the band paid tribute to another Warped Tour veteran, Green Day, with their cover of “Basketcase.” The group ended with the teen-angst anthem “My Friends Over You,” and the crowd went wild for the pop punkers who proved that when you return to the bands that carried you through your best and worst high school moments, sometimes they are even better than you remembered.

We The Kings rounded out my pop bands of the day, and I joined a huge crowd to hear their upbeat, power pop rock openers “Skyway Avenue” and “She Takes Me High.” We The Kings might not move past themes of young love and summer nights, but they corner the market on that genre, as the audience loudly sang along to “Say You Like Me” and “Secret Valentine.” Frontman Travis Clark wanted us to lose our voices (a goal of several Warped Tour bands) and told the crowd, “You are the only reason we are here, so thank you so much! We The Kings aren’t just the people on stage but all of you too!” before sending fans into a frenzy with their wildly popular song “Check Yes Juliet.”

The Used was one of many bands celebrating their ten-year anniversary on the tour, but they performed with no less gusto and showmanship than their first year on the festival. Singer Bert McCracken told the crowd, “In case you didn’t know, we are the fucking Used!” before beginning “Take It Away.” They only played one track, “Put Me Out,” off their newest album, Vulnerable, which McCracken encouraged the crowd to “steal from Walmart if you don’t have it already.” When the band, clad in identical The Used shirts, announced they’d “play some old shit,” the crowd cheered as the beginning guitar riff of “I Caught Fire” rang out. “Taste of Ink” and “A Box Of Full of Sharp Objects” spurred crowd sing alongs and clapping as The Used showed why they are an unparallelled alternative rock/emo band.

The final act of the day was the most anticipated of all; Taking Back Sunday may as well have wrote the Bible on alternative rock/emo bands connecting with their audiences and crafting hard-hitting songs with spot-on lyrics that carry fans through their toughest moments. When Adam Lazarra reunited with founding member John Nolan after a seven-year rift, TBS fans celebrated their return and rejoiced that their reunion record was so on par with previous releases. The Kia mainstage was packed as the opening of The Lion King‘s “Circle Of Life” blasted before the kings of emo rock took the stage. The ever-cool Lazarra utilized two microphones as the group played the crushing “El Paso” before Nolan joined him with wailing, dual harmonies on “Error Operator.”

Lazarra’s attitude might make headlines on and off the stage, but there is no question this man was born to be rock and roll’s frontman. In between “Timberwolves At New Jersey” and “What’s It Feel Like To Be A Ghost,” he swung the microphone, wrapping the cord around his neck in a classic TBS move. He had the swagger of Mick Jagger as he strutted across the stage, hips jutted out, theatrically dancing and acting out the lyrics as the audience happily soaked it in. He shared the stage, however, announcing to the audience, “Ladies and gentlemen, John Nolan!” before singing “Faith (When I Let You Down),” a nod to the two’s shaky past.

When the opening guitar chords of “Cute Without the E (Cut From The Team)” echoed, the crowd exploded and crowd surfers multiplied. Lazarra barely sang as fans overpowered him with the anthem of young, angst-filled love. Yours truly couldn’t help closing my eyes, raising my hands, and flashing back to the first high school break up where lines like, “Why can’t I feel anything from anyone other than you?” were so incredibly consoling. Lazarra threw in the chorus of Bon Iver’s “Skinny Love” during the third verse (which was met with much confusion by fans) and looking around, I knew I wasn’t the only one reliving events that Taking Back Sunday carried me through as lyrics were joyfully screamed back by dedicated fans. Lazarra told the audience, “There are so many great bands so thank you for taking time to see us today,” before starting “MakeDamnSure.”

I’ll note that since there is only one of me, I missed some of the promising new acts on the tour. Check out Man Overboard if you are looking for your next favorite pop punk band. I’ve heard incredible things about the Australian, female-fronted pop rock band Tonight Alive as well. Friends said Mayday Parade drew a huge crowd and continued to solidify their place in the pop rock scene and I Fight Dragons led the nerd-core movement at Warped, incorporating electronic sounds from Nintendo gaming systems into their music.

Kevin Lyman, I applaud you. 2012’s Warped Tour will go down in the books for having one of the most solid lineups in years. With so many incredible bands that exemplify the classic themes of punk rock (having fun with friends, living in the moment, celebrating love, and most importantly, knowing that music can get you through anything), you proved to fans of pop punk, emo, indie rock, and the rest of the alternative genres represented by Warped Tour that not only are they not alone in their love of music, they are in good company.

For more info:

Warped Tour’s Official Site