Festival Reviews

Riot Fest 2017 Festival Review: From Worst to Best

The Set From Hell


danzig 6 Riot Fest 2017 Festival Review: From Worst to Best

“Is it fucking hot enough out there for you?” “Fuck, it’s bright out here.” “[Irreverent bellowing]” Shocker: Glenn Danzig’s all-black wardrobe was no match for Saturday afternoon’s spectacular heat. For over an hour, the stocky frontman stomped around the Roots stage, seething with rage as radiant oranges, yellows, and pinks scorched his band like one of his song’s spooky demons sizzling in hell.

Still, that didn’t stop them from putting the boogie in boogeyman with a full performance of 1992’s Danzig III: How the Gods Kill, save for “Sistinas” as Danzig argued Riot Fest didn’t want to pay for an orchestra. (It’s a shame Cypress Hill wasn’t playing this year.) This meant that fans saw the first live performance of closing track “When the Dying Calls” and rare deep cuts like “Anything”,” Heart of the Devil”, and “Bodies”, all of which haven’t been played in over a decade.

danzig 4 Riot Fest 2017 Festival Review: From Worst to Best

But nobody cared for any of them as much as hearing “Mother”, which obviously closed the set, hilariously when the sun began to dwindle over the horizon. It was like God was laughing at the fallen angel from above, but really, the joke was on Him. Because, while, yes, it was a little fucking weird seeing Danzig in broad daylight, it was also kind of cool feeling like we were burning in hell to the sounds of  “Devil on Hwy 9”. Besides, we might as well get used to the burn, seeing how we’re headed down that highway anyways.

Get those devil horns up, people. –Michael Roffman

We Learned That Harry Dean Stanton Died During This Set

Death From Above

Get as close to Death From Above (no longer 1979) as you can if you really want to appreciate them live. Their drum and bass dance punk reverberates to such a degree that the physical sensation of their sound is almost as appealing as the songs themselves. As such, their impact is lessened somewhat by a festival setting, where much of their audience is at such a remove that the visceral nature of their music can float into the ether. That said, it’s still a wonder to marvel at how much mileage the duo has culled from its limited palette. Sebastien Grainger’s vocals have a sinister quality that’s never not appealing, while Jesse Keeler’s distorted bass is a booming cannon of sound—almost too much of one; rough mixing during their Friday set found Keeler’s contributions dwarfing the drums and vocals. But new single “Freeze Me” sounded like a dream, as did You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine standouts “Little Girl”, “Romantic Rights”, and “Black History Month”. An hour is a bit too long to spend with them—they whipped through an exhausting 16 songs—though I may just be saying that because I found out Harry Dean Stanton died during their set. –Randall Colburn


Quadrupled Doubt Mortality

At the Drive In

Energy and volume have never been an issue for At The Drive In. Even now, frontman Cedric Bixler-Zavala and guitarist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez are two of the most entertaining musicians to watch in the genre, a blitzkrieg of chaos that’s always unpredictable and consuming. But, it’s different in a festival setting, where if you’re not within at least 200 feet of the band, it all starts to crumble into a garbled mess. That’s kind of what happened on Saturday night, when the Texas outfit arrived fully armed with favorites at their disposal, from “Arc Arsenal” to “Pattern Against User” to “Napoleon Solo”.

By all means, they brought their A game, only that A game doesn’t exactly translate to the great outdoors like it does in, say, a small venue such as Austin’s Mohawk, where we caught them earlier this year, and they splattered our brains with ease, all with essentially the same stage show. Of course, it worked for The Mars Volta, namely because they had broader spectacles that could afford the vast, dizzying landscapes that festivals provide. But At The Drive In has always leaned more on that primal rage from within, and that rage has certainly allowed for a little ignorance on the listener’s behalf.

Because, from afar, everything starts to look exactly like how everything actually is: a bunch of 40-somethings screaming their heads off over songs designed strictly for 20-somethings. And really, when you’re not evolving that sound, and only trying to live in it again, as they did with this year’s mildly disappointing comeback album, in•ter a•li•a, that reality hits a little too close to home. You start to wonder why you should still connect with these songs as you did 15-20 years ago, back when you had all the time in the world to deconstruct Zavala’s poetry, and dream of jumping off guitar stacks.

Then again, maybe it’s just the distance. It’s gotta be that. Please be that. –Michael Roffman

Best Patterned Band Uniforms

The Mighty Mighty Bosstones

At Riot Fest, it’s easy to get swept up in nostalgia; the festival’s programming invites it, and particularly in the case of the fest’s increasing interest in full-album sets, a band can take audiences back to a specific era of their choosing. But where some have failed to deliver on their albums’ classic status over the past few years, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones brought an abundance of life into their 20th-anniversary performance of Let’s Face It, which the crowd met even for all the songs that aren’t “The Impression That I Get.” Dicky Barrett’s gravelly vocals and the band’s staccato horn hits might call back to the past, but their highly enjoyable early-day set suggested that the Bosstones are still going as strong as ever, even after all these years. –Dominick Suzanne-Mayer


Best Bang For Your Bucket List


You know what’s great about old punks? They wrote short songs. Not that we’d ever want a song like “Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve)” to end, but there’s something to be said for a little brevity. Okay, there are a couple things to be said: For starters, the energy’s always shifting about. But also, you can jam a shit load of tracks into a setlist, and that’s key for festival sets. That’s why it was great to see Buzzcocks on Friday afternoon. The English outfit, which dates back to 1976, squeezed 19 tracks into their hour-long set, naturally leaning heavily on their 1979 I.R.S. singles compilation, Singles Going Steady. It was a definitive medley for diehards and passersby alike, especially those looking to scratch their name off their proverbial scroll of Bucket List Bands. Riot Fest is a good place to catch up on those acts, and Buzzcocks did not disappoint. –Michael Roffman


Best Story About Trying and Failing to Kiss Dan Auerbach


“Who was there at Sub-T?” Zac Carper asked near the end of FIDLAR’s scorching Saturday afternoon set, referencing an old show at Chicago’s Subterranean. “I tried to kiss Dan Auerbach from Black Keys and he wasn’t feeling it.” Earlier in the set, he described the spiderweb design on his guitar as “Tim Armstrong’s head,” a detail he must’ve regrettably told to Armstrong once upon a time as he concluded by saying “I don’t think he liked that.”

So, yeah, FIDLAR might not have the deftest hand when it comes to bonding with their heroes. That’s okay, though, because the dirty California burnouts haven’t slowed down since surfacing in 2009, having punctuated a wild history of thrilling, breathless live shows with two incredible albums of infectious, cleverly subversive punk. Their Riot Fest set was understandably heavy on songs from their party-hearty self-titled debut—“Cheap Beer”, “Stoked and Broke”, “5 to 9”, “No Waves”—and though it was as joyous as any FIDLAR set it did suffer from not weaving in at least a few of its more introspective tracks. Songs like “Bad Habits”, “Stupid Decisions”, and “Hey Johnny” are such a step forward for the band in terms of songcraft that it’s a bummer they got bumped. That said, their cover is “Sabotage” is white fire. –Randall Colburn


Most Inadvertant Commercial for An Animal Rescue

The Hotelier

Riot Fest raised the banners on the Heather Owen stage about halfway through The Hotelier’s Friday afternoon set on it. Lord knows why it took them so long, but the banners’ melange of adorable, animated dogs (Heather Owen is involved with a Chicago animal rescue) made for an odd pairing with the band’s searingly emotive music. Lyrically and musically, songs like “An Introduction to the Album”, “Two Deliverances”, and “Your Deep Rest” throb like open wounds onstage, with frontman Christian Holden angling for those high notes as if his life depended on it (and maybe it did; he confessed to nearly passing out due to the heat). There’s nothing cuddly about the Hotelier’s music, but seeing this ad for an animal rescue during their set nevertheless conjured up the themes of “goodness” surrounding their last album. There’s an aching for care and kindness contained in the screams of their songs, and all those adorable dogs weirdly served as a reminder that there’s so many places to find it. (Heather Owen’s rescue, by the way, is One Tail At a Time. You can get involved–Randall Colburn

Nicest Mosh Pit

The Regrettes

Here’s something: A mosh pit that’s only purpose is to get people dancing. That’s what unfolded during The Regrette’s Saturday afternoon set on the intimate Heather Owen stage, where the four-piece outfit’s punk-meets-doo-wop sound simultaneously got feet moving and bodies slamming. What was so charming about it all was that nobody was really moshing; those that started the thing just wanted to break up the central mass, so all those hilariously gentle slams eventually transformed into a circle pit of happy dancing. The LA punks’ fierce, feminist songs certainly warrant it; “Seashore”, “Hey Now”, and “I Don’t Like You” are beyond catchy, not to mention lyrically relevant in the face of all the “mini-Trumps” lead singer Lydia Night made sure to call out during the set. Some actual moshing ignited in the set’s final moments, when Night organized a “wall of death” that split the audience in two and sent them crashing into each other. The Regrettes are many things, “punk as fuck” being among them. –Randall Colburn

Most Anatomically Correct Stage Attire


That Peaches’ early-afternoon set was the talk of Riot Fest most of the afternoon should come as little to no surprise to the initiated. Her solid, tawdry, sex-positive electroclash offers one of the rare examples of an artist whose work feels as bold and relevant years down the line as when it was initially released, and “Boys Wanna Be Her” remains a damned great rock song in the Joan Jett mold. But if the crowd came for the jams, many certainly stayed for the everything else happening onstage from start to finish. Peaches dominated the Riot stage on a hot afternoon by going for absolute broke, whether with her candid onstage costume transitions or the point at which she and her backup dancers brought a song to its climax by pantomiming anallingus in the style of The Human Centipede. Yet in all of the onstage frontal nudity and vaginal head attire lies the point that’s driven her work since the beginning: everybody is a little nasty, bodies are bodies, and we spend far too much time obsessing over genitals as a culture when we could just as easily dance around in them, pay musical tribute to orgasms, and lighten the hell up once in a while. –Dominick Suzanne-Mayer

Smoothest Bits

Beach Slang

Beach Slang’s James Alex was toasted by the time he took the stage just past noon on the final day of Riot Fest. Naturally, he began with “Noisy Heaven”: “The night is alive, it’s loud, and I’m drunk” go those now-iconic lyrics, and he punctuated that ode to intoxication with a delivery of donuts to the hungover crowd. That alone would’ve been enough to make Beach Slang’s set one of the weekend’s best, but Alex and his band—which now includes guitarist Aurore Ounjian, who is amazing—were chock full of bits, many of them involving Santana and Rob Thomas’ “Smooth” (Ounjian can nail that opening riff).

Between songs like “Halo on My Heart”, “Bad Art and Weirdo Ideas”, and “Ride the Wild Haze”, Alex paid tribute to Gene Simmons — “horrible man, helluva rock star” — and rolled out capsule covers of Lit’s “My Own Worst Enemy” and Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Give it Away”. Surprisingly, Alex did play an excellent cover of Pixies’ “Where Is My Mind” and ended by singing a snippet of Hüsker Dü’s “The Girl Who Lives On Heaven Hill” in tribute to a mixtape that “changed everything” for him as a child. This dude (and his music) is seriously so fun. –Randall Colburn