Riot Fest was my favorite Chicago music festival this year, and the experience was made even more enjoyable by helping cover it for Chicagoist. The festival continues to expand in scope and popularity every year, but at the heart of it are fans who actually enjoy the music more than the spectacle.
From reuniting The Replacements to featuring badass ladies like Joan Jett and Blondie, who knows how Riot Fest plans to top this year’s lineup in the future. Until then, I hope you enjoy some of my recaps and photos.
“Sorry I don’t have any music with me today,” said Saul Williams about halfway through his set on the Riot Stage. The crowd didn’t seem to mind, intently taking in his expressive slam poetry performance. Williams tackled themes of race, politics (“The greatest Americans have not been born yet.”), sex (“Your weapons are phallic, all of them.”), and creativity (“The heart is the philosopher’s stone. Music is our alchemy.”) with his trademark blend of ferocity and eloquence. It was a different start to the festival weekend than the early arrivers who had busted out of work expected, but Saul’s challenging verses set the tone for a weekend themed around the word “riot” in a way that few other billed acts will. “God grant me wings. I’m too fly not to fly.” No one disagreed.
“I think this next song is about partying,” Andrew W.K. ventured during his late afternoon set on the Rise Stage. Folks packed it in for the express purpose of getting wet with AWK and crew to “It’s Time to Party,” “Party Hard,” and “She is Beautiful.” Circle pits formed upon AWK’s request, “Let’s make a whirlpool” while others revelers crowd surfed toward the back (sigh). The band, which included Mrs. AWK, Cherie Lily, kept it fast and fun with a heavy sound and light hearted showing for their first of two shows yesterday. “We played Riot Fest last year and I can’t believe we were invited back,” said AWK. Looks like a Riot Fest party tradition in the making.
“I think this next song is about partying.” – Andrew W.K.
So Joan Jett still rocks. I caught the start of her set with The Blackhearts where she proved she hasn’t slowed down in the least. Rabid fans sang along to Jett classics including “Bad Reputation” and “Do You Wanna Touch Me,” as well as Runaways fare like “Cherry Bomb.” The crowd was treated to new material from the Jett’s forthcoming album. [Tankboy here: Jett also brought out Against Me!’s Laura Jane Grace to play a song the two wrote together. That was a pretty amazing moment.]
I ran over to the Roots Stage to catch the end of Sublime with Rome. It was surprisingly the most egalitarian set of the day attracting punks, bros, hipsters, hippies, and anyone under the banner of pot and reggae enthusiasm. As someone in the crowd said, “The bass was bumpin, the weed was burning, and Rome killed it.” Sublime closed with classics “What I Got” (where Rome shouted out “Rest in Peace Bradley’) and “Santeria,” for a feel good set as evening closed in.
I haven’t listened to Pennywise in years, but the rest of the crowd was rabid as ever. The band delivered one of the most aggressive and vigorous sets of the weekend.
Blink 182 brought Saturday to a solid close with their headlining set on the Riot Stage. The trio proved they still know how to party, treating fans to show packed with favorites. Blink focused on the more recent end of their material including “Wishing Well” and “After Midnight” off 2011’s Neighborhoods as well as “Down,” “Rock Show,” and “I Miss You.” Fans jumped up and down to Enema of the State classics like “All the Small Things” and “Dumpweed” with a few reminders from Mark to “take two steps back” as things got crazy up front.
There was less silly stage banter than Blink fans are used to with the band packing in hit after hit for a quick moving show. Travis Barker didn’t miss a beat behind the drums, and it was good to see him hammering away after sustaining severe injuries in a plane crash a few years back.
After a pause for their “fake encore,” Blink 182 ran back onstage to bring it home with “Carousel” and “Dammit.” We would have loved to hear more deep cuts from their first few albums, but the performance was fest perfection proving that after all this time Blink still ain’t no small thing.
It rains every time Bethany is in town.
Blame it on the rain or on three straight days of pit frenzy, but by Sunday night the rowdy riot fest crowd had subdued. Yet with a draw like the crowning finale of Riot Fest weekend, back to back sets by The Pixies and The Replacements, the waterlogged fans would have braved worse to converge at the Roots Stage. Some people even left during the deluge and returned just for the final shows, bucking the no re-entry policy.
The Pixies returned to the Chicago stage opening with a cover of “Big New Prinz.” The question on everyone’s mind was alleviated with Kim Shattuck taking over bass after Kim Deal took leave of the band earlier this summer. There’s no replacing Deal, but Shattuck’s integration was seamless, bringing a fresh energy to the stage with animated bass work and lively vocal contributions. The set was
The set was frontloaded with well-received new material from the band’s recently released EP, including “Indie Cindy,” “What Goes Boom,” and “Bagboy.” Black Francis led the quartet yowling through their classic catalog including “Debaser,” “Monkey Gone to Heaven,” and “Here Comes Your Man,” with the nostalgic crowd never missing a lyric. Joey Santiago’s wailing lead and drummer David Lovering rounded out the dynamic delivery. By the time they closed with “Where Is My Mind?” everyone had revived and spirits were high heading into The Replacements set. As exciting as it was to look back with The Pixies, they confirmed there’s plenty to look forward to as the band begins a new phase.