Riot Fest 9/15-16-17/17, Chicago

Dates: September 15, 16 & 17, 2017

Location: Douglas Park, Chicago IL

The scene of the 3-day crime was Douglas Park, and Detective Bruce was on the crime scene immediately to document the bloodshed. (Go HERE to check out more of her photos.) They may still be cleaning up the mosh pit area….

 

TEXT & PHOTOS BY ERICA BRUCE

Another September, another excellent Riot Fest ran this past Friday to Sunday in Chicago. Under sunny (but at times really, really hot) skies, crowds took over Douglass Park, raring to get its rock on. A number of bands played seminal records in full like Dinosaur Jr (You’re Living All Over Me), Mighty Mighty Bosstones (Let’s Face It), Wu-Tang Clan (Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)), among others. But the big, special, super cool, and awesome highlight was what Riot Fest always seems to do best, and that’s to get a seminal band to reunite and close out the weekend. This year, it was Jawbreaker. One of the best summations of the show was by music critic Dan Ozzi who tweeted, “People tweeting about the Emmys like Jawbreaker didn’t just put a hole in the fuckin earth.”

 Here’s a bit about what we saw at Riot Fest 2017:

Day 1

American Airlines lost part of my luggage, so much of the day on Friday was spent waiting for its return then, recreating my bag at CVS when it failed to show. (FYI: CVS in Chicago sells liquor and wine, who knew!) As such, we only got a couple acts in for Day 1, but boy, were they mighty.

Ministry

“Hey Chicago, nice to be home,” said Ministry frontman Al Jourgensen, who grew up there. It was kind of surreal seeing a band like Ministry play any other time but the dead of night somewhere, but the heaviness and political commentary that Jourgensen is known for was out in full force. I found myself wondering if he has a bear of a time going through security scanners at the airport (LOTS of piercings).

New Order

The crowd for New Order was delighted that the band filled half of its 11-song set with the popular stuff like “Bizarre Love Triangle,” and songs from popular records like Power, Corruption, and Lies and Substance 1987. Lead singer Bernard Sumner’s voice is still strong, a lulling force atop the electronic lullabies for which the band is famous. They didn’t play it all safe though, pulling out “Ultraviolence,” a song Sumner said they hadn’t played in a long time, in spite of it having to be stopped and restarted to adjust guitarist Phil Cunningham’s guitar. Bathed in blue light with photos of what looked like Manchester showing behind them, Sumner also gave a nod to his old band, Joy Division, at the start and end of the set, with “Disorder” and then “Love Will Tear Us Apart.” I’m sure the young 20-something I saw bawling during the latter was not the only one in the crowd doing so.

Nine Inch Nails

NIN was the headliner for night one, and lead man Trent Reznor made sure it was dramatic throughout. From a kicked over keyboard over at the end of the first song (“Branches/Bones”), to the live debut of “The Backward World,” to “The Day the World Went Away” played for the first time in four years, Reznor and the band filled all of Douglass Park with keyboard and bass sounds. He even included a unique cover, David Bowie’s “I Can’t Give Everything Away” from Blackstar. It was all as loud and lovely and bombastic a set as you could want.

 

Day 2:

Probably the highest in high energy of all three days, it was full of punk, funk, and dancing gypsies.

Fishbone

Seeing Fishbone live is a better kick to the nervous system than three cups of coffee and 38 Red Bulls combined, so why wouldn’t one kick off Day 2 with something so awesome? Their combination of punk, funk, and soul has long been copied, but nothing can ever touch the original that is the mighty Fishbone.

Peaches

I’ve never been much for electronica music but Peaches is so much more than just that; she’s part performance art, part DJ, plus, she can sing her ass off. Her “big fat vagina” as she called it, was the celebrated part of her set, from her head piece, to her backup dancer costumes, to her bodysuit adorned with pink fuzz in the correct spot. But it was obvious that women and men alike love Peaches-at one point, she walked atop the crowd’s hands like Jesus walking on water, without dropping a note. With songs like “Boys Wanna Be Her,” “Dick in the Air, and “Fuck the Pain Away,” it struck me that Peaches is to women what the music of the Afghan Whigs is to dudes-affirming, powerful, and sexy as all get out.

FIDLAR

It’s been a few years since FIDLAR released a record, but, like all good things, time has only proven how much their straight-ahead punk rock sound has been missed. Always joyous and raucous live, Saturday afternoon’s set was fast, loud, and animated. Lead singer Zac Carper looks healthy and sounds great, and made the large Riot stage area as intimate as a little LA club. “Wake, Bake, Skate” live is still a blast to hear.

Bad Brains

If anyone proves the power of “having that PMA,” for 40 years, it’s the Bad Brains. Given the recent health scares of lead singer H.R. (brain surgery in Feb) and guitarist Dr. Know (cardiac arrest in 2015), D.C.ers like myself were more than a little concerned that the sun had set on one of our most cherished local bands. But their show on Saturday proved all was well, in spite of less than stellar stage sound. A young second guitarist, apparently, the grandson of musician Richie Havens, played lead with Dr. Know throughout the set, and Lamb of God singer Randy Blythe joined the band at the end for “Big Takeover,” “The Regulator,” and “Redbone in the City.”

Mike D (DJ set)

Mike D used his set to give Chicago a little musical geography lesson about NYC, rapping and talking as his DJ spun the originals of artists from each borough. He started with his hometown of Manhattan using the Beastie Boys “Sabotage.” Queens was represented by Run DMC, to which he said, “”We couldn’t have done what we did without this next band from Hollis, Queens, Run DMC. RIP Mr. Jam Master.” Brooklyn got the biggest cheers though with Jay Z’s “99 Problems” and the Beastie’s “No Sleep Till Brooklyn,” home of another Beastie Boy, MCA.

Gogol Bordello

Going from NYC rap to Ukrainian gypsy punk by way of NYC in the form of Gogol Bordello as the sun was setting was slightly surreal and perfect. The dancing onstage and off was so frenzied, I half expected to someone to spontaneously combust at some point. With members and influences from all over the world, Gogol Bordello remains the craziest live show in town.

At the Drive In

No less powerful was At the Drive In. Lead singer Cedric Bixler jumped off the drum set and threw his body about the Roots stage so hard, you know bruises the next day were eminent. The majority of the set came from Relationship of Command rather than the new record, in*ter a*li*a, and, if you’re wondering, Bixler’s voice seems to be back and in stellar form.

QOTSA

The bluesy, swampy rock that is Queens of the Stone Age was hard-driving and perfect way to cap off Day 2. Lead singer Josh Homme rocked, and rolled, and even gave the audience a rendition of Danzig’s “Mother” which was frankly, better than the original.

 

Day 3:

A little less punk, a little more post punk pogo!

 

Beach Slang

The things we learned about Beach Slang lead singer James Alex in their 12:40 PM set that kicked off Day 3:

-He’d been drinking since early that day

-He does better with straws (in a drink)

-No guitar can hold him

-He somehow doesn’t pass out wearing a buttoned-up tuxedo shirt and a corduroy jacket in direct 86 degree sunlight

-He knows how to play a cover that will win your heart (“Girl Who Lives on Heaven Hill” by Grant Hart)

Hot Water Music

Lead singer Chuck Ragan’s voice is one of those that as soon as you hear it, you know who it is. You had to smile as that sandpaper scrubbed growl bounced off the Ferris wheel and hit you back again.

Mighty Bosstones (Performing Let’s Face It)

Ska music never really goes out of style, it just merges with other styles to take on a different form. 90s ska was infused with a bit more post punk than before, and a major force of that was the Mighty Mighty Bosstones. Celebrating the 20th anniversary of Let’s Face It, lead singer Dicky Barrett and company brought the plaid, the killer horns, those great songs, and of course, their great stage dancing guy, Ben Carr, to get a whole new generation skanking to the Bosstones beat.

Minus the Bear

Minus the Bear? Minus the energy. Songs? Good. Stage presence? So so. Energy level? Zzzzz

GWAR (candids in the press area)

The minute GWAR walked into the press area in costume, they were surrounded by everyone and their cell phones requesting to take a photo (including TV on the Radio lead singer Tunde” Adebimpe, which was a wonderfully random  dichotomy). It got so that their handler had to ask that people stop so that they could actually attend their interviews. Once completed though, the band did hang out for a bit and posed for every last person who asked.

Built to Spill

Another band performing an anniversary record was Built to Spill, doing their fourth record, Keep it Like a Secret. They didn’t say much from the stage, but this post-punk version of a jam band didn’t have to; from the first incredible hooks of vocalist/guitarist Dough Martsch in “The Plan” to the ethereal trippiness of “Broken Chairs” was all you needed. Their performance made me fall in love all over again.

TVOTR

I’ve photographed TV on the Radio quite a few times since 2008, and I can honestly say that I’ve never seen them as energetic as Sunday’s set. (Seriously: Even the notoriously stationary guitarist Kyp Malone was pogoing about at times.) Lead singer Tunde Adebimpe jumped around and swayed so much it was like he was trying to exorcise any nearby demons straight into the ether. And, based on the scorching version of “Wolf Like Me” which closed the set, I’d say the exorcism was a total success.

Prophets of Rage

Tom Morello once told Rolling Stone about Prophets of Rage,  “We’re an elite task force of revolutionary musicians determined to confront this mountain of election year bullshit, and confront it head-on with Marshall stacks blazing.” And he wasn’t kidding. The sound was so intense coming off the Roots stage during their set  that even J. Mascis would have been jealous. Playing tracks by the collective bands that are represented in Prophets of Rage-Rage Against the Machine, Audioslave, Public Enemy, and Cypress Hill-had the capacity crowd pogoing in unison like they were at Glastonbury. The audience was so frenzied and so loud, especially during the “Fuck no, I won’t do what they tell me” chorus in the set ending “Killing in the Name” by Rage Against the Machine, I was certain that aliens on Mars were asking each other, “What the hell is that sound?” Make America Rage Again indeed.

Jawbreaker

Probably the first sign of how big a deal this Jawbreaker reunion was to people was seeing the sides of the Riot Stage prior to the set, all so packed with people standing to watch the show, it almost seemed dangerous. But this was a reunion few expected to happen. In front of a giant “Jawbreaker” curtain, the trio slammed into 15 tracks that sounded just as fresh today as they did 20-plus years ago, including  five that were last performed live between 1995 and 1996 (“Want,” Million,” “Parabola, “Kiss the Bottle,” and “Bivouac”). Much like at The Replacements show a few years ago, I ran out of fingers and toes counting the sheer number of bands playing today whose sound was obviously influenced by Jawbreaker. And the band seemed genuinely awed by the reception and thanked Riot Fest for making the reunion happen.”We are honored and humbled to be in your city. Dance and be nice,” said Jawbreaker lead singer Blake Schwarzenbach.

 

Boy, did that park dance.

 

Erica Bruce’s contact info and gallery of Riot Fest can be viewed HERE.

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