For 14 years, the Vans Warped Tour has been a punk-rock's Who's Who. But this year's edition digs back to its roots, assembling the most diverse lineup since the turn of the millennium. "I'm exposing kids to a wide variety of music," says founder Kevin Lyman. "I don't think there's a scene in music right now. Kids are just exploring so many things. The internet's allowed us to do that. Maybe we're reflective of the times. Music's kind of a shotgun right now."
This year's traveling road show includes plenty of what you've come to expect from Warped: old-school heroes like Pennywise, melodic up-and-comers like Set Your Goals, alt-rap faves like Gym Class Heroes, and marquee names like Against Me! We've scouted the best artists worth showing up early for — whether you're a high-school sophomore or the only person in Hot Topic who can name three Social Distortion songs.
Perry is the one bona fide pop star on this year's bill. She's the husky voice behind the bouncy "I Kissed a Girl," a No. 1 smash that's scientifically calibrated to be, like, 36 times more titillating than the unrelated '90s song of the same name. Perry made a splash with last year's hilarious kiss-off "Ur So Gay" ("You're so gay/And you don't even like boys"); pop-rock ballads like "Thinking of You" should keep her on the airwaves well into 2009. Sadly, the lingerie-clad background dancers from the "I Kissed a Girl" video aren't part of the live show.
Kinda sounds like: Pink
Gen-X appeal: Perry's full-throated rasp recalls 4 Non Blondes frontwoman Linda Perry (no relation).
Not that it has much competition, but 3OH!3 has this alt-crunk shit on lock. When this Colorado duo — pronounced "Three Oh Three" — shouts out to A.I., they could mean the Nuggets' Allen Iverson or the Steven Spielberg flick. But don't mistake their pure aggro for a nerdcore offshoot. The group's live shows are sweatier than your average mosh pit. 3OH!3's new album, Want, builds on infectious keyboard hooks, adding broken beats, glitch, and drum & bass to pit-bull vocals.
Kinda sounds like: Lil Jon
Gen-X appeal: If you still drive around rapping along to "Paul Revere," meet your new favorite song: "Choke Chain."
Singer-songwriter-bandleader Charlotte Sometimes cut her teeth on high-school musicals, where she developed the seeds of a lively stage show that includes a live band maneuvering around programmed hip-hop beats. Charlotte has described herself as "the meathead's idea of an artsy chick." And while she appears to be a budding piano-girl archetype at first glance, she comes off like a tough-talking but happy diva on the soaring "How I Could Kill a Man."
Kinda sounds like: Tori Amos
Gen-X appeal: It's only a matter of time until one of her songs turns up on Grey's Anatomy.
Shwayze is the Jack Johnson of rap — a laid-back dude who rhymes about good times, beaches, beer, and backyard block parties. The rapper's "Buzzin'" might go down as 2008's summertime jam, although any of the cuts on his self-titled debut would do the trick. Whitestarr frontman Cisco Adler produced and co-wrote the record, flexing the skills he honed while producing and writing with smartass white rapper Mickey Avalon.
Kinda sounds like: Sublime meets Lupe Fiasco
Gen-X appeal: Shwayze does a semi-cover of the J. Geils Band's "Centerfold."
Oreska is an all-girl Japanese ska band that comes off like a high-pitched version of the Mighty Mighty Bosstones — with all-Japanese vocals. "They're super-awesome players," says Lyman. "They played a couple shows last year, and it was amazing to hear all the other bands going, 'Oh my God, you've got to go see that all-girl ska band!' People [walked] out saying, 'I had the most fun I've had seeing a band in a long time.'"
Kinda sounds like: Reel Big Fish
Gen-X appeal: The Cibo Matto factor.
The Pinker Tones
This Spanish duo dresses like the Hives (black suits, white ties) and sounds like the Beastie Boys (every era — simultaneously). On record, the Tones play airy funk on smooth jams like "Worker Bees." Live, they rock the party. Professor Manso and Mr. Furia bust out the vocoder, but they can pull off credible falsettos too. "S.E.X.Y.R.O.B.O.T." pretty much sums up their fun-tastic aesthetic.
Kinda sounds like: Vampire Weekend
Gen-X appeal: Recommended if the Beasties' instrumental CD The Mix-Up disappointed you.
Gil Mantera's Party Dream
Lyman personally invited the Youngstown synth-poppers on the tour, where they've been aggressively expanding their growing national cult with frantic hour-long sets. Dance producer Shane X. Conry helped Mantera shake the dubious distinction of being one of those you-really-gotta-see-them-live bands and turn them into formidable recording artists. Live, the dynamic duo cranks up the guitars.
Kinda sounds like: The Killers
Gen-X appeal: Frontman Ultimate Donny occasionally hauls out an Andrew Dice Clay impression between songs.
The Lordz starred in Fuse's reality show The Brooklyn Way, which chronicled two die-hard musicians' struggle to keep their dreams alive — when they weren't busy installing floors and raising families. The Lordz's album, also titled The Brooklyn Way, features guest appearances by rap-rock OG Everlast and Rancid's Tim Armstrong.
Kinda sounds like: Transplants
Gen-X appeal: The former members of Lordz of Brooklyn often perform a version of Jim Carroll's old-old-school punk nugget "People Who Died."
Paramore has been an indie-circuit standout for years now, playing a vibrant brand of female-fronted power pop. The super-catchy "Crushcrushcrush" — from last year's Riot! — finally broke the Nashville band into the mainstream. Yes, pixielike frontwoman Hayley Williams is a huge reason for the group's success, but she wouldn't be there without the pounding performance of drummer Zac Farro, the band's underheralded secret weapon.
Kinda sounds like: Avril Lavigne
Gen-X appeal: Williams is barely legal.