The Spin appreciates the prog rock of the '70s — in retrospect, such bands as King Crimson, Genesis and Yes really did add new musical components to the rock vocabulary, though what prog usually lacked was a subject. Listening to prog rock is like watching a late-'60s Gerry Anderson-directed science-fiction movie in which carefully groomed British super-marionettes fly rocket ships into space and perform international espionage without spilling a drop of their afternoon tea. Like Anderson's great 1966 movie Thunderbirds Are Go, prog combines the sublime and the ridiculous, and that's the case with Yes, who copped elements of the styles of Igor Stravinsky and The Beatles to create such landmarks of the genre as the 1972 full-length Close to the Edge. Yes is likely the definitive prog band, so we were curious to see how the new version of the group would compare to what we know from previous Yes shows and our well-worn copies of their '70s and '80s records.
Representing the future of prog, English rockers Syd Arthur kicked off the show with a tight set. From Canterbury — an English town famous for producing such prog rockers as Soft Machine and Henry Cow — the quartet played songs from their new Sound Mirror full-length and demonstrated a sure grasp of the oddball time signatures, pseudo-funk rhythm-section dynamics and blithe chord changes that characterize prog.
With brothers Liam and Joel Magill providing melodic guitar and bass parts, Syd Arthur gains much of its power from Fred Rother's aggressive drumming. Raven Bush adds color with his keyboards, violin and mandolin, but Rother makes the music move. Many of their songs are in 5/4 time, as if the influence of American jazz performers such as Mal Waldron and Dave Brubeck had been passed down to a group of English rockers imitating the jazz-classical fusion that was avant-garde in 1971.
Yes came onstage to a packed house — the audience seemed familiar with the territory the band was getting ready to explore. Vocalist Jon Davison does a credible Jon Anderson imitation, while keyboardist Geoff Downes is a less flashy replacement for Rick Wakeman. The core of the band remains guitarist Steve Howe, bassist Chris Squire and drummer Alan White, and Howe proved the indispensable member of Yes, just as The Spin has always thought he was. As Yes fans know, Howe's first appearance with the group on 1971's The Yes Album signaled the beginning of the band's greatest period.
The quintet opened with "Siberian Khatru," one of their greatest songs, or compositions, or pastiches. Whatever the song is about, it's a superb piece of rock formalism — Howe's hypnotic nine-note guitar lick powers a slice of rock Stravinsky, complete with goofy, mystical lyrics. Howe added quasi-chicken-picking bite to his playing, while Squire's Rickenbacker bass grounded the song. They played Close to the Edge from finish to start, stopped to essay two new tunes, and played all of their 1972 breakthrough full-length Fragile — their frenetic take on "Heart of the Sunrise" was a highlight.
It seemed like everyone in the audience knew every oddball lick and every bit of post-Byrds harmony, and Yes encored with "Owner of a Lonely Heart" and 1971's "Starship Trooper," which summed up their debt to British Invasion rock, science fiction and Howe's guitar prowess in exemplary fashion. They were old-time rock super-marionettes hurtling into deep space, and you couldn't see anyone pulling the strings at all.
Warped Tour is not real life; attending Warped Tour, the 20-year-strong punk/metal/hardcore-and-the-rest fest, is like playing a virtual reality video game wherein the goal is to see as much as possible without depleting your life sources, which are constantly being threatened by enemies both big and small.
So we wove through the Tennessee State Fairgrounds on Tuesday, looking for the gems that made all our efforts worth it, while powering up on the free promotional candy and dodging obstacles like creepy dudes demanding free hugs and wearing shitty T-shirts that said stuff like, "TAKE YOUR PANTIES OFF." If you can get through the day without heat exhaustion, debt or a broken sense of self-worth, you win! We made it through intact, but it was a very close call.
Most of the day's early sets, featuring artists we weren't at all familiar with, were neither good nor bad, and only memorable because the bands chose to play someone else's songs. Beebs and Her Money Makers, a ska band that wore matching outfits and had a very high confetti budget, covered TLC's "Waterfalls" and Miley Cyrus' "Wrecking Ball," dedicating the latter to John Stamos. Me Like Bees, a Modest Mouse/Lumineers hybrid without the indulgent "Hey!" vocals, covered Toto. No real threat there.
Life sources started to drain, though, when we stumbled upon Blood Brothers wannabes Plague Vendor. They were not good, and the lead singer's gyrating hips in pants tight enough to cut off our circulation made us uncomfortable. But we regained energy during Allison Weiss' set, and not just because her performance was in the acoustic tent, giving our skin a reprieve from the sun. She was perfectly aware of her surroundings, knowing her anthemic pop songs — she delivered them solo as opposed to giving them the full-band treatment they have on her records — stood out from the rest of the day's lineup. "There's a faint hint of metalcore everywhere you turn at Warped Tour," she said. "I'd like to rise above the metalcore, if you're interested in coming with me." Us too, Allison Weiss. Us too.
Because we don't support bands with lead singers who were arrested for domestic assault and also write songs about beating up a woman and then telling her that she "better tell the cops that she fell," we smartly avoided Falling in Reverse's set, opting instead to watch the fun, pogo-happy pop-punk band Mixtapes. But we did earn extra points earlier in the day for making time to heavily crop-dust the garbage band's merch tent. It felt like an admirable protest.
Speaking of women-haters, we were actually looking forward to seeing Less Than Jake, as the band was a big part of our adolescence (we, too, daydreamed about telling everyone to fuck off and escaping the small town we grew up in). But while their songs sounded as good as ever, the band's banter was evidence that they've clearly evolved into something less than awesome.
Twice singer Chris DeMakes referenced how awful women are because they're always "bitching." At the beginning of the set he said Nashville was the only state on Warped Tour where he hadn't yet hooked up with a girl, and invited any of the ladies in the crowd to change that. Later he asked everyone in the crowd to flip him off because he made the big mistake of getting married three months ago. Man, aren't women the worst? Unless you're just using them for sex, of course.
With only about 20 percent of the day's bands featuring women, it's not inaccurate to say Warped Tour is a dude party, despite the fact the audience is pretty much a 50-50 ratio. You can't even buy a shaved ice without facing a dick joke. That's a bummer, yes, but Warped Tour doesn't seem interested in changing anything, and that's their choice. But if you're not going to book more female artists, it'd be cool if the bands could at least refrain from bashing them from the stage.
And with that, wah-wah-wah, GAME OVER. Self-worth damaged. Return to main menu to play again.