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Punk Paradise

Going to the Vans Warped tour is like taking a trip to Taco Bell: It's cheap, there's dozens of configurations of essentially the same ingredients, and you know ahead of time how it's gonna taste. But damn if it doesn't hit the spot every now and again! It's a pretty...
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Going to the Vans Warped tour is like taking a trip to Taco Bell: It's cheap, there's dozens of configurations of essentially the same ingredients, and you know ahead of time how it's gonna taste. But damn if it doesn't hit the spot every now and again!

It's a pretty reliable fix, too. While other package tours come and go (and come again -- hello Lollapalooza), the annual punk rock summer camp is on its ninth straight year of bringing together scummy, mohawked old-schoolers and suburban Hot Topic-clad newbies in an exceedingly fan-friendly environment to pogo, skank, and mosh to their hearts' content under the blazing hot sun.

As always, this year's edition offers plenty of nonmusic attractions, too. There's the Balls of Steel, a stunt show featuring motorcyclists doing flips inside a steel ball; the Girlz Garage, a fashion and makeup tent; the country's largest portable rock-climbing wall; a fanzine booth; and even a "reverse daycare center," an air-conditioned tent where kids can drop off their parents to watch movies, get massages, don noise-proof headphones, and/or complain about today's wasted youth.

But the bands are the real draw, and there's more than 40 of them -- playing everything from screamo to emo to hardcore to popcore to skacore (and various combinations thereof) -- on six different stages. Here's just a few of the acts you'll find rockin' the chain wallets, ringer tees, and leather jackets.

The Used: This Utah quartet proudly leads the screamo faction with its melodic, angsty hardcore. Most of the attention has centered around frontman Bert McCracken, whether it's for his well-documented junkie past, getting into fisticuffs with Billy Corgan backstage at Los Angeles radio station KROQ-FM's annual Christmas show last year, or for a fleeting yet oh-so-televised romance with Kelly "Shut Up!" Osbourne. That ugly split prompted Miss O to declare onstage that her former flame "thinks he's Kurt Cobain, but he's really not." It's true: Cobain never puked onstage as much as McCracken does.

Rancid: Like the cagey old boxer who comes out of retirement to show those young whippersnappers how it's done, Rancid is ready to pummel its fans with its Clash-meets-Minor Threat style of adrenalized punk rock. Don't miss 'em, they're sure to be one of the highlights of the day.

Poison the Well: The local faves turned national metalcore heroes of Poison the Well just made their major-label bow with the brutal yet melodic You Come Before You. As blazingly intense as the album is, it can't hold a candle to the barely controlled mayhem that is their live show, which is all crazy-ass tempo shifts and gigantor guitar riffs more incisive than four hours spent lying on a surgeon's table.

Less Than Jake: Gainesville's Less Than Jake is still catching some (mostly) good-natured flak for hitting the road with Bon Jovi back in 2000. But hey, you can't blame them for trying to ingratiate themselves to a whole new audience after years spent in the ska-punk trenches. Or maybe they just wanted to meet Heather Locklear. In any event, they're touring behind the brand-new Anthem, which happens to be the best, catchiest album of their entire career.

AFI: If you like your rawk to have a little life-draining bite to it, these intriguing Bay Area gloom-and-doomers may just be the band for you. Frontman Davey Havok loves to toss out such bleakitudes as, "Oh, we dance in misery," and "I held the falling star and it wept for me, dying," while his crypt-dwelling bandmates kick out hardcore-lite jams that could be called "Bauhaus-182." Here's hoping they can play in the daylight without disintegrating.

Dropkick Murphys: Boston's Dropkick Murphys have your Irish drinking songs down pat, but only if you swap the whiskey in your mug for some high-octane jet fuel. Like a Pogues record with the volume turned up to eleven, these Southie lads get all Celtic-jiggy with the bagpipes while throwing in a three-chord punk monty to crush up their working-class anthems.

Simple Plan: Let's see ... back in 2001 there was that hit song "Addicted" by pop-punkers Lit which offered the clever couplet, "I'm so addicted to you/And you're such a dick to me." And then they vanished. Now in 2003 we have another hit "Addicted" song, this one by Montreal's Simple Plan. It goes, "I'm still a dick/I'm addicted to you." Boys, this doesn't bode well for your future -- enjoy the ride while it lasts.

Vendetta Red: Seattle's Vendetta Red could be a lot of things it's not, and that's a very good thing. Singer Zach Davidson may look like Tommy-era Roger Daltrey, but his shrieks and croons sound way more tortured than the Who frontman's. Though they do their hometown proud by tapping into its grunge legacy, they don't sound a bit like Creed. Instead they work the emocore angle with introspective lyrics and jagged, crashing guitars, all without sounding whiny or overly earnest.

Bowling for Soup: This pop-punk Texas four-piece sure needs your emotional support after getting a smackdown from Joan Rivers at the Grammy Awards last spring. You remember: The plastic-faced E! host blasted them on national television as the worst-dressed act of the night for their matching powder-blue tuxedos, and even went so far as to call horizontally challenged guitarist Chris Van Malmsteen a "fatso." Maybe they'll dedicate their concert favorite, "The Bitch Song," to her.

Time Will Tell: While you were daydreaming through first-period math class, the members of Time Will Tell were busy getting their shit together. Now that the rest of their recently graduated high school classmates are trying to figure out what to do with their lives, this energetic four-piece South Florida teen combo has an EP, Don't Walk Away, and a Warped Tour slot to their credit. Nice work, fellas.

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