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Nothing Now

  by Lissa Townsend Rodgers
  photos by Liz Chae & Lissa Townsend Rodgers
August 10, 1998

CitySearch Music

2:25pm: Hauling Ass to Harlem
We are nearly an hour and a half late for the Vans Warped Tour by the time we haul ass up to Harlem. The trip to Randall’s Island already feels like the Bataan Death March--walk to the train, transfer to another train, then transfer to some mysterious shuttle bus. The intersection of 125th and Lenox is crawling with white kids in sneakers who don’t know where they’re going. You don’t even have to ask for directions--just look bewildered and someone will tell you the bus across the street goes to the concert.

2:49pm: No Boards, No Blades, No Bikes
We disembark in an empty parking lot beneath a tangle of overpasses. The ticket booth--really just a double-wide trailer with windows cut out--is mayhem. Each window has two different signs; each sign gives different directions. About 200 people shuffle between lines, looking like they’ve misplaced something. No one is allowed to bring in boards, blades, or bikes. A Metropolitan Ambulance pulls through the chain-link fence, hauling away the first casualty of the day.

3:19pm: Checkpoint & Entry
We march down a vast grassy knoll, through more chainlink and two security checkpoints. At the first, they take our bottle of Evian, which really did only have water in it. Further up, two red-shirted security guards keep watch over a box of confiscated spiked belts, bracelets, and dog collars. "I hope those kids can remember what’s theirs," says one. "A lot of this sh*t is the same."

Finally we come out into an enormous field, acres of dirt bound by miles of chain-link. There are kids everywhere. I still get carded in liquor stores and here I feel like someone’s old auntie. Everyone is between the ages of 15-19 with short hair, wearing baggy jeans and T-shirts. The only difference between genders is that the girls’ T-shirts are a little smaller and their sideburns are a little shorter. A racing rockabilly guitar wafts through the air and I take off running for the second stage--just in time to see the Amazing Royal Crowns finish their set. Literally, 30 seconds of thumping and jumping and they’re off. The kids go wild. I can’t believe I missed them. I celebrate my arrival in teenland by throwing a tantrum.

3:44: Psychobilly Freakout & The Looney Bin
Reverend Horton Heat
is flailing it out on the main stage. The Rev. is wearing a nifty powder blue and brown suit and Jimbo’s hopping around on top of his bass, but I’ve seen them play better. Then again, you can’t have a fresh light show outdoors in daytime and twang needs walls to reverberate off of. The only acoustic bounce on Randall’s Island comes from the vast, enigmatic stone façade of the Ward’s Island Mental Hospital looming above us. I wonder how all the psychos and schizos are handling eight hours of death guitars and mediocre horn sections resonating through their rooms. Maybe it’s better that The Reverend didn’t close with “Psychobilly Freakout," after all.

4:19: The Only Girl
Save Ferris
is on, a bunch of clean-cut kids playing happy ska songs. Or one happy ska song eight different ways. Monique, the lead singer, is the only female we’ve seen on stage thus far. Thirty-five bands and this was the best they could do? Sure, as the lady herself says, "this isn't fu$%ing Lilith Fair," but c'mon. Anyway, Miss Monique gets extra points for shouldering the responsibility of representing womanhood and knowing that her position requires wearing wedgies and taping her tits. And she does have a better voice than No Doubt nasal queen Gwen Stefani

4:28: Cops, Journalists, & Small Purebred Dogs
We shove past a few affable security guards and into the backstage area, which is about as big as the sandbox all the kids are frolicking in, but with trees and grass and water. There are about 20 tour buses ringed like covered wagons, about 20 semis for added security and storage, and one limo. And cops everywhere. Hundreds of them. Cops by the dozen, sunglasses on, nightsticks swinging. It’s not like any of these kids are going to do anything--if anything, they’re too well behaved, tending to sit quietly in the dirt. They don’t need so much security--then again, the ranks are artificially swelled by the band in cop uniforms, which makes matters somewhat confusing over by the interview tent. Because, along with the army of security, is the media feeding frenzy--herds of grownups with tape recorders and microphones and cameras skittering about like little purebred dogs, cornering passing band members and yammering away. There must be 200 musicians here, not that you can tell which band any of them are in. They seem to be having a better time than the young’uns they’re playing for--loitering about, looking for beer, ducking into each other’s buses, hitching rides on golf carts, sitting by the East River smoking butts and listening to NOFX reverberate off the walls of the psycho ward.

4:51: Cigarettes & Hair Goo
We have finally made it to the beer truck, a lengthy process of the security corridor and ID desk--given the demographic in attendance, the Yoo-Hoo truck draws more patrons. The Aquabats are on the second stage, a perky, punky ska combo that set themselves apart by wearing vaguely amphibious superhero-alien-boxer shorts costumes, accessorized with blue Adidas. One of them even does battle with an evil clown, drunken-dork kung-fu style. But, shtick aside, they’re your standard ska band. There are too many damn ska bands here. And absolutely no hip hop. This is supposed to be a celebration of skate culture without hip hop? They could get 20 ska bands and 10 passing-to-lousy punk bands, but not one friggin’ minor rap crew? This thought will gnaw at me for the rest of the day. We go around the back of the "black bus stage," where we run across two Swedish guys, who are in some outfit called Wade which, they assure us, is “not a punk band.” They don’t know why there’s no hip hop, but agree that it is wrong. The bassist for the Amazing Royal Crowns spends a long time adjusting his pompadour in the reflection of the door of their van; the dashboard is covered with tins of hair goo and packs of cigarettes.

5:11: Anyone Can Do It
Now it’s punk rock karaoke. Any grubby 18-year-old can be a punk rock frontman, though most of the vocalists seem to be older and wear backstage passes. We also see the second and last female of the day onstage.

5:21: But You, You May Not Skate!
The half-pipe is enormous--plenty of room for mountain bikes or anything you may want to jump off of it. Only professionals are allowed on the ramp, and it’s kind of sad to see all these little skaters with their noses pressed against the chain-link, gazing at that big, beautiful, smooth ramp, wishing they could get on it. It is on one of these forlorn creatures that I see the first and last Spice Girls T-shirt of the day.

5:41: Rancid
Rancid are running rampant on the main stage, to much yelping and body surfing, though the people standing in the wings are more excited than the audience is. I’ve avoided Rancid for a long time--something about those “I’m gonna be a punk rocker for Halloween” costumes puts me off. And they’re good, they do a decent Clash impression, they’ve got catchy hooks and big pink guitars, they rock out nicely but, on the whole, I’m not believing the hype. I keep thinking of a story a friend told me, about one of them being half-retarded because he once refused to leave his apartment when it was being fumigated for roaches and the chemicals rotted his brain. The whole time they’re on, I'm trying to figure out which one’s the 'tard.

6:00: No More Budweiser
They turn off the beer and begin breaking apart the half-pipe. The sun’s at a 60-degree angle in the sky and they’re already shutting the party down.

6:13: The Deftones
The Deftones occupy the main stage, which is engulfed in a cloud of dirt. They are reminiscent of the Bad Brains, not only in the wailing vocal style frequently employed by Chino Moreno, but in their sheer solidity. It’s got the same tight, heavy bass-and-drums combo, no shrill speed guitar, a lot of textures battering into one another--it's a little like old Soundgarden too.

The security guys are wearing wet rags around their mouths and noses against the flying dirt as filthy screaming kid after filthy screaming kid tumbles over the barricade and into their arms. It’s mayhem. “Give me the camera and hold my backpack--I'm going in." And out into the mob of deranged grimy children I go--I'm not sure why I continue diving into the pit at my advanced age. There is the joy of clobbering some obnoxious kid--"Step aside, junior! I was kicking Nazi skinhead ass when you were in preschool!" And there is something gratifying about the complete physical awareness: just holding your ground demands that you keep moving and remain alert. Stand still and space out and you’ll be on the ground and in trouble before you know what happened.

The Deftones continue their cathartic roar, sounding like distilled hate and, hence, perfect right now. The pit is a nightmare. Everyone is coal-miner filthy, black teeth and soaked in sweat, coated in self-generated mud, screaming, smacking the hell out of each other. The haze of dirt is so thick you can’t see more than twenty feet and breathing is difficult. I swear a fleet of helicopters is landing and about to spray us with bullets--the music is howling, the dirt is flying, the wind is blowing, and it’s ninetysomething degrees. Watch the guy on your left who’s about to stomp your feet, the one on your right trying to push you to the ground, the two guys behind who keep kicking you, and the guy in front who’s flying through the air and either you catch him or he snaps your friggin’ neck. It feels like war and I wonder if this is what Andy, the guitarist for Rocket from the Crypt, meant when he said doing the Warped Tour was "like Vietnam. I'm still having flashbacks," and began ranting about half-pipes. I’m starting to feel like Dennis Hopper amongst the savages myself. I will sneeze dirt for the next 24 hours.

6:48: “Beat His Ass to the Ground!”
On the second stage, the lead singer of Hatebreed is doing a particularly dreadful Glen Danzig impersonation. He shouts, “I want everybody to look at the guy next to you. Now beat his fu*%ing ass to the ground!”

7:27: Hepcat
Yet another ska band, Hepcat, is shaking it up on the main stage. Hepcat, however, rule. They play real deal, old-school Jamaican ska with two fabulous lead singers. One does the classic Horace Andy style--a lot of sweet falsetto croon. The other has a goatee and a deep, gutbucket Big Joe Turner growl. The call-and-response is fabulous, as are their stylish dance moves--ska is soul music, after all. Their horns have more of a fat, low-brass burble than the usual snappy, shiny ska-band variety and the rhythm section hits the groove right in the pocket. How good are they? So good that they get most of the clumsy, somewhat uptight crowd skanking in time to the music. Sure, there’s still a few kids trying to put a few too many beats in there per minute, but most of them are swinging right with it. The dirt cloud subsides slightly.

8:11: Breakdown
The last band flogs out the last punk riff on the second stage--roadies begin tearing it down immediately. Bad Religion are beating a dead horse on the main stage.

8:30: The Specials
The last act of the evening: the legendary Specials. Yes, I know: no Jerry, no Terry, it’s not 1984 anymore, nyah nyah, but the Specials whup hell out of every other ska band on the bill (except Hepcat). They’re professionals, the songs are still brilliant and the band is still sharp as a straight razor. They sarcastically dedicate “Rudy (A Message to You)” to our own Il Duce, which provokes much cheering and passing out of “Giuliani Sucks” stickers in the audience. And the new songs--especially the rockabilly-ska “I Shot JR”--are good, too. There’s still a bit of a pit, but mostly everyone is merrily bopping and skanking. For their encore--the Specials are the only band who gets an encore--they gratify all those screeched requests for “Nightclub” and pull about 15 thrilled kids on stage to dance, though most of them just look kinda embarrassed and shake their shoulders slightly.

9:11: Goodnight, Mr. Softee
And that’s it. The park is already half-cleared of booths and tents by the time they kick on the emergency lights and begin hollering at us to go home. Beyond the last ring of chainlink, beneath a sole streetlight sits the Mr. Softee truck, churning out the ice cream theme, swamped by grubby kids who are digging deep in their oversized pockets for enough change to get extra sprinkles.