Van’s Warped Tour’s here again, and as the legions of fans who helped spawn the movement grow older, a new generation has assumed its place at the forefront of the punk counterculture.
With the success of last year’s bands — Good Charlotte, New Found Glory, Anti-Flag, etc. — the major-label vultures are circling the fresh meat like some aging lothario cruising a fern bar on ladies’ night. Small-stage bands such as Vendetta Red, S.T.U.N. and Yellowcard — as well as main-stage acts Thrice, the Ataris, A.F.I. and brutal Florida metal band Poison the Well — are all supporting major-label debuts.
Working through the throngs at the Indianapolis show, it’s hard not to be struck by the crowd’s callowness, from spiky-haired munchkins in baggy shorts to full-bloom teen girls in halters whose mere acknowledgment could invite charges of pedophilia. But amid all this teen spirit, bits of the old guard remain, with tour vets Dropkick Murphys, Less Than Jake, Pennywise, Rancid and our own underappreciated Suicide Machines holding down main-stage slots, as they have for years.
The Machines already did the major-label thing and have since retreated to the more accepting arms of Side One Dummy for their minor-label debut, A Match And Some Gasoline. Guitarist Dan Lukacinsky repeats a now age-old story in describing their move away from — after four full-lengths — a label notorious for its inability to break rock bands.
“Hollywood Records didn’t want to work for us anymore, and we didn’t want to work for them anymore because they didn’t do jack-shit for our last record. I had kids coming up to me nine months after our record came out, and going, ‘You’ve got a new record out?’” Lukacinsky explains with a pained expression. “We didn’t want to deal with the bullshit you have to deal with on those kind of labels. We wanted somebody that we knew, that we respected and that we were friends with.”
Metro Times catches up with Lukacinsky backstage, near the bands’ hospitality tent, where lunch scraps are scattered across the floor and tables like bodies at Gettysburg. He laughs as he recalls how he and lead singer Jason Navarro met back in 1991 at a suburban 7-11 where Lukacinsky worked.
“We just started talking and we found we were both into old-school hardcore. We started talking about stuff — he was about 17, I was 20 — and we were like, ‘let’s get together and play some music,’ or whatever. I knew this dude who played drums, so that’s kind of how it started.”
After various lineup changes and declining record sales, the new album, according to Lukacinksky, is a return to form.
“I think by now we know what we do well, and it’s good to stick with what you do well in a lot of cases. Musicians always want to evolve, and there’s always this inner need to do something different, but you try to trace a course between what you do well and branching out. So I think we’ve kind of gotten back to doing similar stuff to what we did with [their debut recording] Destruction by Definition.”
And what a live environment it is. Playing the Warped main stage, Navarro successfully transforms the area before him into a massive mosh pit. Little of the band’s ska-influenced tunes are in evidence during the blistering shout-along set, as Navarro repeatedly flings himself into the heaving mass, still singing into the mic, held aloft by a sea of fans. This makes it peculiarly touching to see him backstage a few hours later with his wife Sandra, playing gently with their 3-year-old daughter, Adeliane.
The scene reminds you that the Suicide Machines aren’t kids anymore, that they’ve managed to grow up in the confines of a rock ’n’ roll band, which is not an easy thing to do. “It’s not a normal life,” says Navarro with nary a trace of irony.
But even performers have needs, as Lukacinsky would agree after the show. He’s ecstatic as the band transfers their gear to a new bus, after surviving four breakdowns and endless hours of travel in an air conditioning-free tour coach. You’ve not experienced asphyxiation until you’ve stepped on a bus whose bowels have percolated for days in 90-degree-plus heat.
Lukacinsky and I down beers and wander about backstage watching kids jump skateboards over an empty MGD case while beer-quaffing band members coalesce with pals and crew. Lukacinsky recalls his entry into punk via Black Flag’s “Slip It In,” which somehow found its way onto late-night WRIF years ago. A fleeting moment, timed just right, that caught a tender set of ears and altered the course of more than a few lives.
Twilight is setting in, and because of the early bus call there will be no backstage barbecue, traditionally a wonderful opportunity to see bands interact, cut up, and slowly get drunk, like some punk-themed Big Chill. As I bid Lukacinsky farewell, I’m struck by how much this offstage scene resembles the crowds here earlier. Still, an unself-conscious peculiarity permeates the night, as everyone does as they please, enjoying themselves and each other. It’s the spirit of the tour, one we wish was more prevalent in society at large, instead of solely within this community of Warped rock ’n’ roll.
Suicide Machines hit the Pontiac Silverdome (West M-59, west of I-75, at Featherstone and Opdyke Roads) on the Van’s Warped Tour, Sunday, Aug. 3. For info, call, 248-456-1600.Chris Parker is a freelancer writer. Contact him at email@example.com