Dissent is alive and well at Warped

He lambasted religion, wooed the crowd with witticisms and tossed an oversized rag doll into the audience. In a more spontaneous bit, chartreuse-haired Fat Mike of the punk band NOFX ridiculed two older, white-haired, red-faced punk rockers who’d sung along with a cover of Rancid’s 1993 EP, “Radio, Radio, Radio.”

“You’re sunburned,” Fat Mike said, after inviting men on stage. “Tomorrow, your whole face is going to peel off.”

The men seemed thrilled to meet the band. At Mike’s command, they gave him what he dubbed the “arthritic finger.” The singer proposed that no one over age 33 should be allowed at Vans Warped Tour, an annual music fest featuring dozens of known and unknown bands.

My unscientific estimate gauges the average attendee age at about 16. Fat Mike Burkett is pushing 40. Born the same year as Kurt Cobain, Fat Mike breaks the Western code for “rock star.” The band records on its own label. It answers to no one, as brags the new song “60%"—"We get to play loaded and only three months a year.” Despite almost no radio play, NOFX sells millions of records.

“Did you know [guitarist] El Hefe owns five houses?!” Fat Mike asked the audience.

El Hefe added, “Thanks for buying our records.”

NOFX’s 30-minute set at Sleep Train Amphitheater in Marysville, Calif., kicked off with Fat Mike calling Sacramento a “shithole” then launching into a Herb Alpert (yes, that Herb Alpert) cover to showcase El Hefe’s trumpet skills. A thousand or so sweating fans loved every minute. The set ended with the not-yet-recorded, “Idiot Son of an Asshole.”

“This song is not about George W. Bush,” Fat Mike joked. “It’s about Jesus Christ.” He turned to El Hefe. “Now everybody hates me.”

The lyrics to “Idiot": “Cocaine and a little drunk driving? Doesn’t matter when you’re commander-in-chief.”

Often considered nonjudgmental, NOFX is hard on religion of late. A T-shirt plugging its new EP Never Trust a Hippy features a cartoon Jesus hoisting a pistol and bottle of booze. Fat Mike reportedly attended the Warped Tour’s Bible study recently and quizzed Christian kids about their sex habits. (More at Aversion.com.)

I was surprised. The Warped Tour has a Bible study?

Earlier in the day, I’d survived the outskirts of a mosh circle at Anti-Flag. The band serves up intense politics and easy sing-alongs: “You’ve gotta die, gotta die, gotta die for your government? Die for your country? That’s shit!” Between songs, concert goers were urged to visit Militaryfreezone.org for info on opting out of military recruitment during high school.

Florida punk band Against Me! performed “From Her Lips to God’s Ears,” which addresses the U.S. Secretary of State: “Condoleeza, what are we gonna do now? … After all this death and destruction, do you really think your actions advocate freedom?”

A clean-cut security guard raised his eyebrows and his middle finger to another guard. I wasn’t sure how to take that.

My Most Unlikely Performance Award went to Joan Jett & The Blackhearts. Jett, who I admired back in high school, performed in a bikini top that revealed her sculpted abs. The 47-year-old has the energy of a 20-something. But though she’s releasing a new album this year, the dynamo who gave the world “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” and her cover version of “Crimson and Clover” still doesn’t have much to say. The paltry representation of women in rock never ceases to depress me.

The kids weren’t terribly interested in Joan Jett. When she enthused, “This song is about fucking!” several turned and walked off.

On the other hand, a nearby middle-aged guy screamed with orgasmic gusto, “Put another dime in the jukebox, baby!”