If it had been any other lineup, I probably wouldn’t have attended Chicago’s Riot Fest 2012 — simply because of its location(s). For one, I loathe the Congress Theater. I’ll never forget how their bathrooms look like set pieces from Seven or Saw, or how they let Man Man sound piss poor that one time, or when they closed coat check during a bitter cold New Year’s Eve party. The latter which resulted in yours truly getting heat sores all over his chest, all from having to wear a leather jacket on the dance floor for three hours straight. Then there’s Humboldt Park, a good mile or two away from the Blue Line, which is already too far west for my preference. I sound like a crotchety old nutbar, but I’m not alone in these sentiments, as I heard them for months leading up to the festival.
Well, thank god for that lineup then. This year’s setup of Riot Fest may have initially made me a skeptic, but 48 hours later, I’m a believer. Promoter Mike Petryshyn has done the unthinkable: He’s added another outdoor festival to Chicago. Eschewing from the SXSW model of using multiple venues — something Schubas’ Tommorrow Never Knows Festival executes to precision every January — Riot Fest opted for two days at Humboldt Park, which would offer a spin on the traditional Grant vs. Union Park options and also allow the festival to jog some.
More like run, really. They went all out in the inaugural year of this format. When the poster reads “and Carnival” they weren’t kidding. There were more carnival games and rides on-site than there were legitimate music stages. This added such a unique element to what’s admittedly become such a predictable format these days. All throughout the weekend, thousands upon thousands of patrons waited in line for either the ferris wheel, the tilt-a-whirl, or the fun house. It was surreal, but on paper it successfully pushed past the confines of what a music festival can be and what it can offer. Riot Fest, in a way, rewrote the rules. I mean, really, outside of maybe Coachella, where else can you hop on a ferris wheel and hear the Descendents blast through choice cuts off Milo Goes to College? It’s pretty cool.
Also, Humboldt offers such a beautiful escape. Within the grounds there were little meadows, ponds, and forested areas that offered more than enough natural variety and shade to keep things fresh and ethereal. Maybe it’s just me, but I appreciate setting just as I do a lineup, and the far out confines of Humboldt allowed for a compact, breezy, and relaxed adventure. That’s another shocker: Despite a fight or two during Iggy’s set, the majority of the festival remained so relaxed and calm. It was as if the aging punk rockers traded in their leather and ripped band shirts for lemonade and pulled pork.
That’s not to say there weren’t punks. As someone who has four tattoos himself, I still felt rather meek. Nary a body sported clean, undocumented skin, and if it wasn’t flagrant tattoos, it was a bevy of costumes, including Bee Ladies, creeps on stilts, and even a portly guy in a popular horse’s mask. This sort of fare littered the park with character, which coursed through its proverbial spinal column, and culminated in one warm, positive aura. Juxtapose all that with a slight chill in the air each evening and you had Chicago’s first bonafide fall music festival. Or: It was the closest thing to Utopia that one might achieve at a festival headed by the likes of Iggy and the Stooges.
You’ve gotta respect that.
Photography by Heather Kaplan.
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.
Sunday, September 16th
The Henry Clay People – Roots Stage – 12:00 p.m.
Who are these People? Joey and Andy Siara are brothers from California who craft addicting punk rock in the vein of Minneapolis titans The Replacements or even the eccentric math rock of D.C.’s Dismemberment Plan. Now in their seventh year, the Glendale quartet is out supporting its strongest album to date, Twenty-Five for the Rest of Our Lives, which they issued earlier this summer.
Keeping it DIY: The guys took the Roots stage only 30 minutes after the gates opened. Ouch. They didn’t look too stoked about it, but kept their heads up high, wasting little time to knock out new favorites like “25 for the Rest of Our Lives”. What started out as four old passersby quickly evolved into something amicable with several intrigued bodies. The foot traffic from the nearby autograph tent helped bring in a couple hundred souls, too.
Celebrity sighting: Bruno Mars, guarding the photo pit, behind a sleek pair of Ray Ban Wayfarers.
Kudos to baby bro: “The Backseat of a Cab” proves that Andy can hold a track on his own, which takes some weight off Joey, who more or less coughs up blood every time he takes the mic. It’s also a solid track that gets better and better with each listen, especially that bridge at the end.
Best sale of the weekend: “Anybody gets married today — we’ll play your wedding for free,” salesman Joey Siara announced.
The Siara brothers most dedicated fan: That teenager wearing Little Pete’s flannel shirt, a Rage Against the Machine tee, and one Eric Estrada ‘do. He refused to quit pogo’ing during “The Fakers”.
A track for tomorrow: “Working Part Time”, which Joey said is “about getting fucked up and calling into work sick the next day.” Amen, brotha.
Riotous Scale [1-5 fists]: Four fists of bacon, eggs, and PBRs. The most raucous brunch ever.
Less Than Jake – Riot Stage – 1:40 p.m.
Number of songs played off their last studio full-length: Zero. Although Less Than Jake‘s set was packed with almost nothing but fan favorites, the solid, back-to-basics GNV FLA was sorely underrepresented.
Number of songs played off In With The Out Crowd: Zero. Thank god.
Number of horn players missing: One. Saxophonist J.R. Wasilewski was nowhere to be seen, and the band opted for a second trombonist in his place. Sounded good, too.
Number of times my friend Casey almost got her eye impaled by some guy’s mousse-lathered mohawk spike: Three.
Biggest undercut of a song’s intent: When trombonist Buddy Schaub mock-fellated a balloon penis during “Look What Happened”, arguably the ska punkers’ saddest tune.
Breakfast of future hospital patients: Yogurt and Jameson, consumed by Schaub shortly before going onstage.
Song with biggest number of crowd surfers: Surprisingly, the laid back, almost reggae groove of “The Science Of Selling Yourself Short”.
Creepiest thing worn by a crowd member: A horse mask. What was initially slightly unsettling became enormously endearing when vocalist/guitarist Chris Demakes invited the equine helmeted gentleman onstage to give Schaub a ride. Things got kind of creepy once more whenever the fan faced the audience directly, allowing them to see his oh so human eyes through the mask’s mouth hole.
Riotous Scale [1-5 fists]: Five and a fistful of horse mane. Less Than Jake may be celebrating their 20 year anniversary as a band, but their shows remain wild as ever.
The Promise Ring – Roots Stage – 2:20 p.m.
What’s the deal here? The Promise Ring has always unfairly been labeled as emo, often credited with bringing one of the most polarizing sub genres to a wider audience. In reality, their songs veer more on the side of earnest, carefully crafted indie pop. While their inclusion in Riot Fest was a welcome one (especially given their reunion last year), the crowd was one of the stiffest of the day, consisting mainly of older folks who were probably never much into dancing or moshing to begin with.
Best quip toward the static nature of the crowd: “We are waaay less than Jake,” courtesy of frontman Davey von Bohlen.
Missed opportunity for a danceathon: Most of the band’s music is more sprightly than they get credit for, and it’s a wonder that even the jangle of minor hit “Why Did Ever We Meet” didn’t get the crowd moving.
Song title that best summed up the band/audience relationship: “Is This Thing On?” Oddly enough, also the title of an unplayed Less Than Jake tune.
Number of horse mask sightings: One. Seems our friend from the LTJ set is also a Promise Ring fan. But instead of getting up on stage, he merely stood by the fence staring. And staring. And staring…
Most contradictory image of the day: A smiley face balloon slowly floating into the stratosphere during the lyrics “Nothing feels good…”.
Riotous Scale [1-5 fists]: Two.
Built to Spill – Riot Stage – 3:00 p.m.
Hey man, that roadie looks a lot like…. Doug Martsch? Yeah, because that’s him. One of the best things about Built To Spill (apart from the band’s other worldly guitar rock) is how well they deconstruct the mythology behind playing live. Rather than let fans stew excitedly in their juices for ten, 15 or 20 minutes before coming out onstage to rapturous applause, the band spent a good 20 minutes or so tinkering around onstage tuning before jumping right into their set. No pretense here.
Best way to deal with a broken string: Keep playing. As mentioned before, there isn’t much of a road crew to save your ass when you’re in Built to Spill, who run a pretty self-efficient, DIY operation. So when guitarist Jim Roth popped a string not once, but twice during the band’s 40 minute set, the band paid no mind, moving right along without interruption while Roth fixed the glitch. When he was ready, he jumped right back in without missing a step. The band’s tendency for jamming and improvising went a long way toward masking the mishap, but man, talk about a well-oiled musical machine.
A side of onstage banter: “It’s such a beautiful day today. I’m just going to tune my guitar here.” Seriously, quit blabbing away Doug, will you?
Headbanger’s Cut: With nothing new to promote, the band’s set was a taster’s choice of Built to Spill set mainstays. But even among that elite group “You Were Right” and “Strange” take top billing.
Riotous Scale [1-5 fists]: Three and a half fists for the music, but bump it up to four fists for their work ethic.
White Mystery – Rebel Stage – 4:10 p.m.
Mirroring resemblance to Marissa Ribisi in Dazed and Confused: Alex White, whose afternoon wardrobe consisted of just about everything involved in the original 1968 Broadway performance of Hair.
No, that’s definitely Workaholics’ Blake Anderson: Nope, just Francis Scott Key White, literally rocking a Toni Kuko? jersey.
So, The White Stripes? It’d be easy to think that, especially with the duo’s trademark Detroit ’70s sludge punk influences, but there’s too much ’60s regalia here to tie it down to Jack White. On a tin can shaker like “Take a Walk”, Alex sounds less like anything post-2000 and more along the lines of a reanimated Grace Slick (of Jefferson Airplane). Oh, Slick’s still around? Didn’t know that.
Area of emphasis: Who could forget the prospective fan sporting a full-on DayGlo costume, complete with bunny ears, ski goggles, and a shirt that parodied Devo reading: “R U Men or R U Bunnies?”
Eat your heart out, Auerbach: “Birthday” exemplifies exactly what The Black Keys have been selling to millions of listeners worldwide for almost a decade now. It’s just less fluid and more bare. Alex keeps the riffs young and punctual, while Francis Scott Key throws in his two cents vocally throughout. It’s good stuff.
Riotous Scale [1-5 fists]: Three and a half fists of lots and lots and lots of product.
The Jesus and Mary Chain – Riot Stage – 4:40 p.m.
Nostalgic or current? Purely nostalgic, but what’s to argue? One of the finest exports out of Glasgow, and within the post-punk genre, JAMC has six studio albums and six EPs to swim in. Their downtempo progressions and William Reid’s bratty guitar work was a welcome vacay from the beer-battered punk rock of the past 24 hours.
That one time Dan Caffrey saw the future, or had the foresight of one minute: “That’d be awesome if they played ‘Snakedriver’,” he suggested literally a minute before they opened their set with it.
I never knew…: That Buzz Osborne’s long-lost brother is William Reid. The hair says it all.
Scribbled notes that sort of make sense but I’m not going to make anything of ’em: “So similar to Velvet Underground — even in style and appearance. If only Lou Reed had eschewed the commercialism of the ’80s and stuck to his guns. On-stage, so much of JAMC…Chuck Berry.”
Coolest anti-solo all weekend: Reid’s phaser/wah solo that tailors “Snakedriver” pierces even louder on-stage.
The likeliest reason most fans will be getting their ears checked by their doctors this week: “Teenage Lust” was quite an assault to the senses.
Number of fans that looked identical to Robert Pollard: I lost count at 24.
Most unfortunate non-ironic tee: Some guy’s back advertised, hands down, the most nightmarish bill of all time: Seether, Puddle of Mudd, Buckcherry, and I stopped there.
Best Directing for: Panning to the cute blonde in the red heart-framed glasses during “Some Candy Talking”. Nice touch.
The Jim Reid Quote: “This mic stand weighs, like, a ton. It’s the best exercise I’ve had in the last ten years.”
Craziest WTF moment that didn’t involve Marc Maron: When Jim Reid started to introduce “Just Like Honey”, only to get news that their set was cut a song, to which they skipped it. I had to stand on something to avoid all the tears flooding the area.
Riotous Scale [1-5 fists]: Five fists with painted sports jackets on them.
Elvis Costello and The Imposters – Roots Stage – 5:25 p.m.
Um, really? Yeah dude, really. Riot Fest committed itself about 90 percent of the way to being a punk and metal festival reminiscent of Warped Tour’s early days. But while the addition of a finely tuned pop songsmith amongst the rest of the punk, metal and indie rock lot might seem curious to some, let’s all remember that Costello‘s earliest and best work is shrouded in new wave fury and surly, punk rock attitude.
So how were those bluegrass songs? Funny, a-hole. To be fair though, it was hard to predict what exactly fans were in for given Costello’s hefty and sprawling body of work. Within the context of the Riot Fest set up, it was easy to hope and pray for at least a few Attractions-era rockers, and the rock icon delivered mightily. Decked out in a purple pinstripe suit and porkpie hat, Costello took the temperature of the crowd perfectly, loading his hour-long set with tracks from My Aim is True, This Year’s Model, and Armed Forces.
Lesson learned: Never rule out a legend.
Unsung hero: Drummer Pete Thomas. The Imposters are an amazing, incredibly tight band, but watching Costello bang out a set full of classics with his early Attractions-cohort behind the kit was enough to give seasoned fans a chill in itself. Watching Thomas effortlessly move and thrash around the kit helped keep the old catalog young and fresh.
Headbanger’s Cut: Can I cop out and just say everything? “Pump it Up”, “Less Than Zero”, “Radio, Radio”, “(What’s Sp Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding”, and “Watching The Detectives”.
Riotous Scale [1-5 fists]: Five big ones, all falling mightily on Fat Mike for talking shit about Costello during NOFX’s (also awesome) set. Love ya Mike, but you can’t do that.
Alkaline Trio – Riot Stage – 6:25 p.m.
Second most contradictory image of the day: Another smiley face balloon. This one stuck around longer, drifting above the crowd during several of Alkaline Trio‘s morbid pop punk ditties, which are pure examples of juxtaposition in themselves.
Song that proved two radios are better than one: “Radio”. Even though the band’s closer had the most energy in what was a fairly phoned-in set, it didn’t hold a candle to the Elvis Costello song of (nearly) the same name.
Hey, it’s high school again: Can’t fault the legs for dancing to “Armageddon”. Skiba will always nail that chorus.
Number of times Matt Skiba took off his sunglasses: Taking another note from Elvis Costello, zero.
Number of horse mask sightings: One, making me fear he’d be in my bed when I got home. Or at least my nightmares.
Riotous Scale [1-5 fists]: Three, two of which have tiny skulls tattooed on the knuckles.
Iggy and the Stooges – Riot Stage – 8:25 p.m.
A lot of pretty faces going to hell. It’s hilarious how much people think they know about rock ‘n’ roll until they see the Stooges. But it’s ten times more amazing to watch unsuspecting fans get completely swept up in the mass of humanity once Iggy and friends storm the stage. From the second Iggy, rail thin, leather skin and all, took the stage to “Raw Power”, fans surged to the front like a punk rock Running of the Bulls. It was hard to watch too closely amidst fighting for air and trying not to get trampled under foot, but they sounded wildly succinct, and the reaction from the crowd was surefire testimony that only one band could have possibly closed out Riot Fest.
Number of terror-induced panic attacks: 2, 344 (at last count)
LIVE IN THE NOW: The ten or 12 girls that were given access to storm the stage and dance next to Iggy spent a good chunk of it snapping photos on their phones or cameras. C’mon!
Most defiant act of sexual depravity not committed by Iggy himself: The legendary Mike Watt, champion of the thud staff, humping his bass suggestively against his monitor at the end of “Shake Appeal”. Odd, yeah, but who are we to question the Minuteman?
Headbanger’s Cut: It’s hard to reduce a Stooges set to just one great song or moment, but “Search and Destroy”, “No Fun”, and “I Just Wanna Be Your Dog” cannot, and will not, be beat. Ever.
Riotous Scale [1-5 fists]: Obliterated. You can’t quantify madness.
Photographer(s): Heather Kaplan, Megan Ritt