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Warped Tour evolves from its roots in punk

Chris "Fronz" Fronzak and the rest of his bandmates in Attila perform during Thursday’s Vans Warped Tourat Cricket Wireless Amphitheater in Bonner Springs.
Chris "Fronz" Fronzak and the rest of his bandmates in Attila perform during Thursday’s Vans Warped Tourat Cricket Wireless Amphitheater in Bonner Springs. The Kansas City Star

Warped Tour, a festival founded as a showcase for punk and other forms of alternative rock, is celebrating its 20th anniversary. Startlingly few concessions to nostalgia were evident at Thursday's tour stop at Cricket Wireless Amphitheater.

More than 5,000 people attended the daylong event. While they were able to customize their experiences, even fans with narrow tastes couldn't fail to notice that the music once closely associated with Warped Tour was occasionally difficult to locate. A significant portion of the performances on eight primary stages and in the booths and tents of vendors bore little resemblance to conventional guitar-based alternative rock.

The transformation was welcome.

Breathe Carolina, an electronic band from Denver, entranced youthful fans with a fusion of hip-hop, dubstep and pop. The largely synthetic music wasn't diminished when two members of the band crowd-surfed in inflatable rafts. Moments after Breathe Carolina's effervescent set concluded, the Devil Wears Prada began playing on an adjacent stage. A metal band from Ohio with a Christian orientation, the Devil Wears Prada's attack sounded drearily antiquated and hopelessly unimaginative in comparison to the fresh output of Breathe Carolina.

Not only is undiluted rock at Warped Tour increasingly marginalized, it's often less artistically engaging. Performances by Watsky and K.Flay, intelligent rappers from California, for instance, seemed more relevant than the straightforward pop punk of Bayside or Of Mice & Men's aggressive metal.

The guitar-based bands that chose to incorporate non-rock elements into their sound fared better. Atlanta's Issues attracted one of the day's largest and most enthusiastic crowds with a fruitful merger of R&B and metal. Enter Shikari, an intriguing British band, effectively melded electronica with aggressive rock.

Two veteran acts from Florida were met with vastly different receptions. The members of the pop punk band Yellowcard were hailed as conquering heroes by thousands of admirers. Less Than Jake, ska stalwarts that first played Warped Tour in 1997, drew a surprisingly modest audience.

Other noteworthy bands also played to small crowds. The Protomen, hilarious rock parodists from Nashville, mystified a couple hundred onlookers. Marmozets, an incendiary British band that has yet to release its first album, showcased its riveting post-rock for a few dozen takers.

Unlike most of their tour mates, Marmozets managed to sound innovative while recalling the music heard at early editions of Warped Tour. Nonetheless, Warped Tour's evolution ensures the event's ongoing viability.

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