At the Windy City’s Douglas Park, the gathering of the tribes included Dillinger Escape Plan, Meat Puppets, Social D, the Hold Steady, Julian Marley, Smoking Popes, Hives, Descendents, Bob Mould, Fitz & the Tantrums, Andrew WK, Bad Religion, Deftones, Julie Ruin, Dee Snider, Chevy Metal and – pictured above – the Misfits!
TEXT & PHOTOS BY ERICA BRUCE
Everyone was saying you couldn’t get more perfect weather in Chicago than we did this weekend for the 2016 Riot Fest in its new home, Douglas Park. The sun was bright, the breeze was light, and there was so much to see. Here’s what Blurt caught this year:
Dillinger Escape Plan: Blurt started Day 1 with the screamy and thrashy hardcore intensity that is Dillinger Escape Plan. They’re wrapping things up as a band next year, so be sure to see them when you can.
The Meat Puppets: We segued from hardcore punk to the swampy country-punk of the Meat Puppets. The Kirkwood family and drummer Shandon Sahm play that psychedelic twang that’s covered in sludge and still shines bright. Watching guitarist Curt Kirkwood’s fingers fly across the frets so effortlessly was like trying to see a hummingbird’s wings in flight.
Julian Marley: Taking things down a notch, we saw Julian Marley, son of Bob, covering his dad’s classic “Exodus” in full. Given the political climate that “Exodus” was originally recorded in, and the topics of change, politics, and sex that it covers, it was a perfect choice for our current day landscape. Marley and his two female backup singers did it justice in a glorious way.
Jimmy Eat World: We had to wrap up the first day early, but managed to wrap things up with the more pop than punk sounds of Jimmy Eat World. (Anyone who ever thought this band was of the emo-variety obviously never heard of The Raspberries.) They played tracks from their forthcoming new record, but the best crowd head bobbing point was during “The Middle,” as you might expect.
The Smoking Popes: Day 2, Blurt started with those Chicago natives, The Smoking Popes. The Popes have been around the block or two now, but their stuff is still infectiously catchy.
The Hold Steady: Playing the seminal “Boys & Girls in America in full for its 10th birthday, and with keyboardist Franz Nicolay back on the keys, this set was definitely one of the most anticipated for this year’s Riot Fest. The crowd was buzzing with excitement even before the band walked out to a Spanish version of David Lee Roth’s “Yankee Rose,” and once on stage, it was like no time had passed. Lead singer Craig Finn locked in with the crowd immediately and the joy both onstage and off was beautiful to witness. Special guest Jessica Louise Dye, lead singer of the NYC surf-rock band High-Waisted, joined Finn and Nicolay for the vocals on “Chill Out Tent,” and the combination of Nicolay’s keyboards, and the guitars of both Tad Kubler and Steve Selvidge made a tremendous wall of sound. We ran into Selvidge later, and he said, “It’s been really exciting having everyone back together. And the chance to be onstage with Franz has been great.”
Bob Mould: Bob Mould is like a fine wine, a good friend, or the sun coming up in the morning, he never lets you down when it comes to a great music and a solid live show. Saturday was no different.
The Hives: “The Hives are back in Chicago. You now have two wishes left,” said The Hives lead singer Pelle Almqvist as they started their set. Still a complete force of nature live, Almqvist was non-stop with high kicks, stage scaffolding scaling, and sashaying between barricades, while the band behind him played loud enough to shake leaves from the trees. Let’s all be glad ACDC didn’t take him up on his lead singer offer earlier this year, and break this tight unit up.
Fitz and the Tantrums: Two big voices, non-stop energy, songs for some serious ass-shaking, and horns-Fitz and the Tantrums takes awesomeness to a whole new level live.
Descendants: Next to Misfits t-shirts, and a few Minor Threat ones, the award for the band whose t-shirt was most prominent at Riot Fest Chicago was the Descendants. Lead singer Milo Aukerman still sings his ass off. It’s a safe bet he inspired every dad in the crowd to start a band on Saturday, and made everyone else aspire to be as cool as he is when they get to be his age.
Social Distortion: Another set many were looking forward to at this year’s Riot Fest was Social D playing White Light, White Heat, White Trash in full for its 20th birthday. Sadly, the sound wasn’t great: Was it the mix? Was it Ness’ voice? Something was just not right Saturday night. I’m going with a weird alien invasion no one knew about.
Morrissey: No one can diva it up quite like Steven Morrissey. On Sunday, Twitter lit up with the news that Morrissey had banned meat from being sold by Riot Fest food vendors from 8 pm-10 pm, which shut some vendors down even though they still had patrons in line. Twitter posts were also about how he showed videos and hit the stage 45 min late. But when he finally did show, and launched into the perfection that is “Suedehead,” all grudges were forgotten. The Pope of Mope’s voice rang clear throughout Douglas Park for the next hour or so with 16 solo tracks and one Smiths song, “What She Said,” to wrap up the night. “‘As you know, as you must know, it’s a great privilege to be here,” he said at one point. And you believed him. Because while you just hate the Mozzer’s diva ways, you also can’t help but love him for the rest of what he brings.
Morrissey only approved a handful of photographers, of which Blurt was not one, so no photos were captured of his set.
Dee Snider: Day 3, Blurt kicked off Riot Fest Chicago with Dee Snider. Included in his set was a serious cover of Nine Inch Nails’ “Head Like a Hole.” Now, while we aren’t necessarily fans of his glam past, we do have to give props where they are due- Dee Snider can still bring the rock better than most half his age.
Andrew W.K.: One interesting thing we learned this weekend? Andrew W.K. is a motivational speaker, which sounds kind of bonkers. However, once you see him live, you get it, because you can’t walk away and not be smiling-the dude knows how to have a blast. Apart from the Misfits, we saw no other set this weekend that whipped a crowd into such an intense frenzy.
Chevy Metal: For a few friends who were so disappointed in the Social D and Misfits sets, they said the Chevy Metal set saved the weekend for them. Chevy Metal is a 70s rock cover band, but one that includes the killer talent of Wiley Hodgden (Birds of Satan), and Taylor Hawkins and Chris Shiflett (Foo Fighters). Juliette Lewis joined the guys on lead vocals for a white hot version of “Ain’t Talking ‘Bout Love” by Van Halen. (“What the fuck do you do after that?” said a clearly stunned Hawkins after the song.) Dee Snider popped up for lead vocals on “Mississipi Queen” by Mountain and “Tie Your Mother Down” by Queen. Sometimes being a cover band is boat load of fun, and boy, did that show on Sunday.
Bad Religion: Security only clears a photo pit when the crowd surfing gets to be so much that they can’t keep the photographers safe. The photo pit was cleared during Bad Religion’s set because how can you not crowd surf during Bad Religion?
Julie Ruin: We’d like to think there a direct correlation between the longtime positive pro-woman message espoused by Julie Ruin’s lead singer Kathleen Hanna over the years, and the massive amount of young women we saw crowdsurfing with gleeful abandon throughout the course of the weekend. Looks like Hanna’s message definitely got ingrained along the line in more ways than the obvious.
Deftones: The sound wasn’t great, and lead singer Chino Moreno kept going off-key. But the Deftones live show is one that is so energetic and powerful, you still get swept up in it and could care less.
Misfits: Riot Fest seems talented at making the impossible reunion possible (see: The Replacements), and, 33 years in the making, the Misfits reunion was the main reason so many bought tickets for Riot Fest this year. Places anywhere near the stage were staked out well in advance, and once the Deftones set finished, there was a mad push forward to be willingly packed like a sardine for the next 75 minutes. How was it depends on who you talked to: we heard “it was the greatest thing ever” to “it was so bad that I literally had tears in my eyes because I’d waited for this for so long.” The bad seemed to be due to bad sound and lead singer Glenn Danzig out of breath so often that there was surprise an oxygen tank wasn’t onstage with him. But for the most part, it’s probably a safe guess that just seeing Danzig, bassist Jerry Only, and guitarist Doyle Wolfgang von Frankenstein on the same stage again was enough for most, regardless of what they sounded like.
DAY 1: SEPT. 16
Dillinger Escape Plan
Jimmy Eat World
Julian Marley (doing Bob Marley’s Exodus)
DAY 2: Sept. 17
Fitz & the Tantrums
DAY 3: Sept. 18
(also above photo, with Chevy Metal)