Saturday, September 15th
Nobunny – Riot Stage – 12:45 p.m.
What’s the deal here? Justin Champlin’s been carving out bubble gum pop and syphoning it through cruddy pipes of distortion and worn out cassettes for over ten years. To date, he’s worn enough goodies on-stage to stock both Party City and your local meat market. In a word, he’s a mindfuck.
How’d it go at, uh, lunch time? Pretty good, though Champlin was certainly tame — at least compared to previous outings. Still, one can’t fault a frontman who looks like an Olympian Leatherface, wearing nothing but black underwear, a leather mini-jacket (absolutely no irony whatsoever that a pin on his collar read: Not Wearing Underwear), an odd headdress, sparkles, and a stitched up mask. While most of us were reaching for OJ, Champlin swung his mic stand and kept things scummy glam when it sounded anything but. Basically, he said it best whilst signing off: “It’s been a real kick in the pants.”
Headbanger’s Cut: Tied. “Motorhead With Me!” and “Tina Goes to Work”. The latter had the edge with it being dedicated to a Chicagoan. Everything else sounded like Chuck Berry on meth.
Best unexpected fuck you to Chicago: The tall dude wearing a soccer shirt emblazoned with ’70s-styled photos of hot dogs topped only with ketchup.
Number of Nobunny fans on the nearby Super Sizzler ride: Zero
Riotous Scale [1-5 fists]: Three fists and a teaspoon of glitter.
Cursive – Roots Stage – 1:15 p.m.
What’s changed? Cursive‘s last LP, I Am Gemini, is both an exercise in art punk and theatrical rock — on-stage, the band manages to string both sides together. Be forewarned, this isn’t the same act from three years ago, spitting out chords and angst without any tissues. They’re a tad progressive, slightly more controlled, and mightily aggressive. That’s not to say older material won’t fit.
How? On Saturday, newer atmospheric gloss like “This House Alive” and “The Cat and Mouse” locked into crunchy, more cow punk material (think: “Art is Hard” or “Rise Up! Rise Up!”) seamlessly. That affords them a door to the future, no doubt. Toss the yearbook aside.
That moment where the earth started to die: It wasn’t purposefully, but Kasher’s stage antics do rub off. Whether it’s the audience’s devotion or their ability to just exude action, diehard fans never stopped trampling about.
Prospective jobs waiting for Kasher, based solely on his wardrobe: High school history teacher, preferably for sophomore students looking to learn American History — maybe post-1950s stuff. Stunt double for Noah Wyle in anything not involving Falling Skies.
Percentage of fans in black: A scorching 70%.
Headbanger’s Cut: “Art Is Hard” – Kasher pummeled his fist into the guitar, and I’m pretty sure the strings screamed.
Riotious Scale [1-5 Fists]: Three fists and a piece of straw to chew.
Frank Turner – Riot Stage – 2:00 p.m.
Gimme some context. Originally a solo act, Frank Turner has beefed up the arrangements of his personal and often political brand of folk punk with every album. Since 2009’s Poetry Of The Dead, backing band The Sleeping Souls has joined the British singer-songwriter almost everywhere he goes, whether it be live or in the studio. The result sounds like a cleaner, more accessible version of Billy Bragg. Less of an accent and meticulous political bent, but far more hooks. Although the songs are primarily anchored by acoustic guitar, they tumble along with charismatic electricity.
Song that deceptively hinted Turner might be doing a solo show: The Sleeping Souls were in plain sight during frequent tour opener “If Ever I Stray”, but when the song began with nothing except Turner and his guitar, you almost forgot they were there. This abruptly changed when they all burst in with the throaty “1, 2, 3, 4!” that kicks off the chorus.
Obligatory name drop of The Windy City: Turner relocated his wayward drinking pals from Vienna to Chicago during a steamrolling version of “The Road”, inducing an expected but uproarious cheer from local fans.
Riotous Scale [1-5 fists]: Three fists and a half bottle of Beefeater. Turner fans are thankfully more into singing along than moshing, and crowd surfing sightings were scarce.
GWAR – Roots Stage – 2:45 p.m.
What’s the deal here? Anyone who’s been to a GWAR show knows that the music is almost an afterthought. In a spectacular satire of shock rock, the members suit up in elaborate rubber costumes to play their alien alter egos, who are especially fond of partying, taboo humor, and dismemberments. Riot Fest fans were treated to the band’s usual thrash metal maelstrom of violent sci-fi battles and celebrity killings, not to mention an endless oil well of fake bodily fluids. We’d try and explain the story to you, but you’re better off checking out the official mythology. It gives The Armory Wars a run for its money. Sort of.
Coolest costume piece: The live, liquid-spewing phallus of frontman (frontalien?) Oderus Urungus’ Cuttlefish of Cthulhu never fails to surprise, but it’s always a pleasure to see guitarist Balsac The Jaws Of Death deftly clomp around the stage in his gigantic minotaur hooves. He makes something so hard look so easy.
Most repulsive fluid: While the fake blood and semen at GWAR’s concerts are the stuff of legend, the black toxic sludge poured onto the crowd looked especially icky in the midday sunlight. The culprit? A zombified Dr. Josef Mengele. Oderus Urungus slew him afterwards with the help of his assistant Bonesnapper the Cave Troll, proving once and for all that GWAR doesn’t put up with Nazis.
Celebrity sighting: The band kept things current with the death of a mutated Snooki.
Most socially celebrated use of the “c” word throughout all of history: Prior to aborting Snooki’s unborn, two-headed child, Oderus Urungus growled “Let me see your disgusting…” Well, you get the idea.
Riotous Scale [1-5 fists]: Four fists and a vial of fake semen.
Photo by Heather Kaplan
Hot Water Music – Riot Stage – 3:30 p.m.
Still around, eh? Yeah, save for a noticeable lapse in new material from 2006 to 2012. But fortunately the band’s latest, Exister, is as strong and kinetic as anything they’ve ever done.
Oh cool, are they any good still? Hell yes. Hot Water Music has always been a band that has lived and died by their passion and ferocity, especially onstage. The band had no problem tapping into that energy for a hungry and eager Riot Fest crowd, who gladly ate up offerings from fan favorites like “No Division” and “A Flight and a Crash” as well as the new material, which they weren’t shy about playing. The band did its best to show off some modesty, with Chuck Ragan insisting that “I know not a lot of people here know us, but thanks for coming out,” but the respectable draw of zealous fans proved otherwise.
Headbanger’s Cut: For a set that slanted generously toward the band’s newest material, it’s still hard to beat old gems like “Paper Thin”, “Remedy”, and “Old Rules.” The band’s well-placed cover of Pegboy’s “Strong Reaction” alongside Tim Mcllrath also offered up a nice tip of the cap to a few long lost Chicago legends.
Most unexpected celebrity look alike: About halfway through the band’s set, a bearded Chuck Ragan, untended mop of scraggled, long brown hair and all, began to take the shape of one of the Geico Cavemen. If it needs to be said, that just made the whole set that much fucking better.
Songs by The Draft were noticeably absent.
Riotous Scale [1-5 fists]: Three fists with a healthy side of sweat.
Photo by Heather Kaplan
Andrew W.K. – Roots Stage – 4:15 p.m.
So, who brought the party? Survey says the crowd.
That’s impossible. Okay, just a little overzealous of an observation, but they did one hell of a job. It’s hard to compete with a guy who squeaks through too-awesome-to-be-crappy solos on a pizza-shaped guitar, pummels the keys like Jerry Lee Lewis channeling Hulk, and twists and shouts amongst five (yes, five) guitarists. There’s just a lot to love about Andrew W.K., whether it’s his endless enthusiasm for making people smile or his near-hypnotic fanaticism with the primal tenets of rock ‘n’ roll. His hungry urges carried over to the surrounding thousands.
Except… That one guy who looked like Peter Parker in the Kobe jersey. Not even a fist pump, man?
Best advice to tell your grandkids: “Just rock on — just enjoy yourselves.”
Easiest way to give the crowd an existential crisis: “Can you make that pit even more circular?”
Solid observation from a frontman singing in mid-air: “We’ve got a ferris wheel!”
Headbanger’s Cut: You’d think his new track, aptly titled “Headbanger”, would be a shoe-in. But nothing — literally nothing — can stop anyone from attempting to snap their neck during “Party Hard”.
“Let’s Get Physical”: My legs and ass thank W.K.’s wife Cherie Lily for getting us to jump up and down during overwhelming cuts of “I Get Wet”, “Long Live the Party”, or “She Is Beautiful”, and while she tossed free shirts into the crowd.
Choice shirt to have grabbed: That white one with W.K.’s evolutionary scale.
Riotous Scale [1-5 fists]: Five fists, one big grin, and a bloody, beer-soaked shirt.
The Gaslight Anthem – Riot Stage – 5:00 p.m.
Nostalgic or current? It’s tricky. The Gaslight Anthem has always bothered me for trying too hard to be Jersey’s next Springsteen. They’re never going to topple The Boss (nobody will), but that hasn’t kept Brian Fallon from staving off his idol. Not only has he appeared alongside the guy on stage, but he’s also aped his persona and style, too. Hell, every once and awhile Fallon makes surprise stops at The Stone Pony as if he’s recreating his own “Legends of Springsteen” a la The Ben Stiller Show.
So, nostalgic? Maybe. Look, I’ll always dig Fallon’s work behind The ’59 Sound — and granted, exciting cuts of “Great Expectations” or its title track rang proud and true Saturday evening — but everything following this has felt either derivative of everything they’ve done previously or anything you-know-who has. Much of American Slang still trots around in this lethargic, syrupy, and cyclical state, and almost all of Handwritten leaves an aftertaste on par with Melba Toast. Well, not “Biloxi Parish”, that one’s got some jam on it.
It’s still rock ‘n’ roll to me. Can’t argue there.
Number of minutes before the word “cadillac” was uttered: 36 seconds.
Heisenberg sighting: One, scoping out the crowd via some creepy guy’s shirt.
That 90’s moment: A surprising, if not forgettable cover of Nirvana’s “Sliver”.
You can’t take the Jersey Shore out of Jersey: Bassist Alex Levine is looking vaguely like The Situation these days. No lie.
Missed Opportunity: How could you not perform “The Patient Ferris Wheel”…when you’re staring at a friggin ferris wheel?
Riotous Scale [1-5 fists]: One fist with sparklers, another with a tattered, vintage American flag.
Coheed and Cambria – Rock Stage – 6:00 p.m.
I can’t hear my ears. Claudio Sanchez, after nearly 20 years in the game, can still deafen fans with his same ol’ progressive hardcore. How he hasn’t lost his hearing is beyond me — must be that goddamn ball of hair of his.
Does anyone remember that song about the guy killing his parents, or that one about the Keywork, or that ship Camper Velourium? It’s slightly eerie how fast all that mythos comes back to haunt you. Having skipped the past couple of Coheed releases — admittedly, I wasn’t missing much with 2007’s Good Apollo, I’m Burning Star IV, Volume Two: No World for Tomorrow or 2010’s Year of the Black Rainbow — I hadn’t thought much about the convoluted adventures of Claudio Kilgannon. (I’ve moved on to other more adult things like stories about dragons and a family called the Starks. Duh.) Yet one whiff of “Blood Red Summer” had me reeling in ecstasy, singing along like some gushing kid screaming:”What did I do to deserve this!”
One song I remembered most of the words to but couldn’t recall its title strictly from memory: “Ten Speed (Of God’s Blood and Burial)”
Why The Second Stage Turbine Blade will always be the best Coheed album: The last two minutes of “Everything Evil”, which is like, ugh, so good live. Sanchez loves it, too. He hopped on the drum set, gnawed at the back of his guitar during its solo, and shimmied around the stage like Jacko meets Angus Young.
Are you drinking the Claudio Kool-Aid again? Nope.
Not so fast, Roffman. You’re streaming their songs on Spotify! That was just for research, bro.
“Stay classy!”: Gotta love a woman who drops her cigarette near the Port-o-Potties and remains bold enough to pick it up off the ground to use again, only to spill the contents of her entire beer on the ground in the process of picking it up.
Riotous Scale [1-5 fists]: Seven disassembled IRO-bots and a mysterious black rainbow.
Dropkick Murphys – Riot Stage – 6:45 p.m.
What’s the deal here? These veteran Celtic punkers have become synonymous with their stomping ground of Boston. Beyond detailing the struggles of the city’s working class heroes and losers alike with gruff dueling vocalists, Oi! inspiring energy, and heavy licks of mandolin, banjo, accordion, and bagpipes, Dropkick Murphys have opened the NHL Winter Classic at Fenway Park, and bassist/singer Ken Casey manages both a Beantown bar and boxing up-and-comer Danny O’Connor. Their original lead throat even left the band to become a Boston firefighter before returning to music with his new band, The Street Dogs.
Number of vocalists who stayed at the same microphone: One. Al Barr kept his cordless handheld close to his chest for the entire set, but Casey and the backing vocalists (pretty much everyone else in the band) were in a constant round of musical mics. The frequent stage-dashing contributed to the ferocious camaraderie of their live show.
Number of new songs: Four, a whopping number for a festival set. Although Signed And Sealed In Blood, the band’s eighth studio album won’t hit stores until next year, the new material was a strong indicator that fans can expect more of what they love and know from The Murphys.
Number of songs that non-fans could sing along to: Two. A cover of AC/DC’s “T.N.T.” and Dropkick Murphys’ own “I’m Shipping Up To Boston”. The latter soundtracked The Departed and has been used in countless sporting events. With lyrics penned by Woody Guthrie, the tune is arguably his most well-known after “This Land Is Your Land,” and with only one verse, it’s easy to memorize after hearing it only twice.
Riotous Scale [1-5 fists]: Five. The relatively friendly fans were still the most active audience of the day, perpetually singing, crowd-surfing, and most appropriately, jigging.
Descendents – Roots Stage – 7:45 p.m.
MUG MUG MUG!!! There’s always been a sort of “little band that could quality” about the Descendents. Their short, punchy caffeine-fueled bits of adolescent pop punk have aged well amongst the band’s ever growing cult of punk fans and bands, but it’s always been hard to gage the band’s standing through a wider lens. Maybe they benefited from playing to a crowd tailor-made for them, or maybe the band’s influence extends a bit further beyond punk rock’s sometimes stifling confines. And then again, maybe it’s both. But whatever the reason, Milo Aukerman and friends delivered arguably the best set of the day on Saturday.
Were they worthy of their co-headlining slot? A thousand times YES. From the opening ear-shredding chords of “Everything Sucks” through just about everything else, fans slam danced, crowd surfed, and pumped their fists as they reveled in the band’s treasure trove of punk rock classics. Older, grayer, and little fatter, the band’s wide-eyed songs about food, girls, bikes, and petulant teen angst hold up as well now as when Milo went to college.
Headbanger’s Cut: Oh man, too many. “Coffee Mug”, “Hope”, “Jean is Dead”, “I Don’t Wanna Grow Up”, “Pervert”….do you need more?
Segment of the set better suited to a kids show: Milo brought a handful of young Descendents fans in training up to read the band’s commandments, providing for some lighthearted levity amidst the manic energy of the band’s set. Take that Yo Gabba Yabba!
Riotous Scale [1-5 fists]: Four fists and one middle finger.