Words and Riot Fest Chicago photos by Scott Murry
Visiting Riot Fest Chicago is the modern day equivalent to Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. You’re experiencing multiple surreal and fantastic moments in one day and it starts to feel like you’re breaking the rules somehow. You wake up, meet your friends, eat some great grub, and catch a baseball … or at least some Gwar blood on your face. This isn’t just a single day though—it sprawls out across three extensive shifts. You’re challenged with remembering if you saw 12 0r 15 bands in one day. Sleep becomes optional as you try to take in as much of this delinquent circus as possible. It is so choice. If you have the means, I highly recommend checking it out.
Here’s another tip for your thunderous Riot weekend. GET THERE EARLY. You can’t rely on public transportation in any city to get you to a stage in a hasty fashion. De-boarding the 52 bus outside of Douglas Park, I could hear the swooning harmonies of Bad Cop/ Bad Cop sweeping across the grassy fields as I raced through the festival main entrance. Arriving midway through the set was a bummer, but the endorphin blitz that ensued was undeniable. The four piece was punching through an upbeat set that conveys pure bliss. Our Riot Fest had begun—we had made it.
Bad Cop/ Bad Cop
Festival goers expect a wealth of memorable experiences. In 2002, Dillinger Escape Plan lead singer Greg Puciato shit in a bag at the Reading Festival and threw it into the mortified crowd. That was 14 years ago, but I’m sure it’s always a modest fear of at least one fan out in the humid set of onlookers … unless GG Allin is out there. The band are hanging their hat and calling it a day this year however. With an album release and final tour in action, they’re going out on a high note. No doodie was thrown on this day, but Puciato rippled every muscle looking like a human explosion as he belted out each note. He looked like a man living his last day, holding back nothing in his performance.
Dillinger Escape Plan
Dearest Gwar, the finest theatrical metal act to ever exist, even in a riot. Upon Oderus Urungus’ unfortunate early departure from Earth just a couple of years ago, the emotional scars remain with their rabid fans. His cod piece rests in piece however, as the vibrant blood and guts show remains. This is how he genuinely would have wanted it. A rotating cast of Antarctic monsters, it is a broadway show for the low brow. A brain-swelling blitz of riffage and false fluids, political figures are often the butt of jokes. On this day, a Gwarred-up Donald Trump bared the most damage smearing organs of his own across the stage.
Julian Marley as you might guess, is indeed the son of Bob Marley. And, as you might imagine, there was a plume of smoke that swayed in the area as they took the stage. Julian has made a massive career for himself following in his pops’ footsteps as a reggae musician. On this night as the sun set across Chicago, Julian was covering his dear old dad’s album Exodus. It’s the album that boosted the Marley legacy with tracks “One Love” and “Jamming.” A mood of peace and reflection engulfed this audience … it was a distinct variation coming from the Gwar stage.
Laura Stevenson took the Storyheart stage midway through the day. With her folksy, sweet tones it’s tough to realize the sentiment pushing through the mic is pretty dire. Her albums are gut-wrenching and self-loathing at times, including lyrics such as, “Wash another sedative down, she said that she’d ask for help and that she’d stay out for, another hour or so, so we’d all better leave her alone.” On this sunny Midwest afternoon, all of the songs are bright and intense.
As Jimmy Eat World took the stage, fans screamed from deep in their bellies. Formed in the early ninties, Jim Adkins and crew have amassed a collection of songs that connect with feeling like an outsider. They get emo, most notably with their breakout hit “In the Middle.” It’s a catchy song with a video in which people party stripped down to their skivvies. While this is the dream for many a high-schooler, it follows a kid who feels incredibly awkward as the only one dressed until he meets a gal just as unwilling to derobe. They leave the party together and it’s a sweet moment. The band wrapped their set up with the track at Riot—I’m pretty sure I saw some couple walk away with their hands in each other’s back pockets.
Jimmy Eat World
There was a dark age in hardcore music when Refused had released a capitalism-smashing tome The Shape of Punk to Come, and then immediately split up for over a decade. With Dennis Lyxzén penning a fiery note of departure, it seemed we’d never see them live again. In 2012, thankfully the silence was broken with a reunion. We’ve now even received a new album from the Swedes! Tonight at the Riot, Lyxzén reaffirmed his legacy as hardcore’s Mic Jagger, shimmying across the stage and kicking air like a man possessed. Using his stage for good, he even called out the festival for having such a low percentage of female performers—lambasting everyone in attendance for equal opportunity. The man hasn’t lost his fire. And did I mention they played Slayer’s “Reign in Blood” during their hit “A Deadly Rhythm”?!
For the final sets of the evening on day one, NOFX pouted over having the same shift as The Flaming Lips. Fat Mike was not pleased with this, continually griping that the band’s lead singer Wayne Coyne was being extremely inconsiderate. He also professed distraction and feeling distraught by the absence of his Chicago pals Brendan Kelly of The Lawrence Arms and Matt Skiba of Alkaline Trio. With this cloud over his head, perhaps this is why they played a bit sloppy. Although they did open with “60%,” a song that proclaims little effort goes into their career efforts, so perhaps there was fair warning. The evening had a massive setlist that sprinkled in skatepunk classics “Linoleum” and “Bob” aside brand-spanking new snark like “Oxymoronic” and “Six Years on Dope.” The crowd celebrated the set until the very end, even as Melvin played a prolonged accordion finish to “Theme from a NOFX album.” Their 60% still holds up quite well.
Day One closed and the surrounding Chicago bars flooded like their patron’s livers. Brief rest followed for Riot Fest Day Two, but hey—Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it.
To Be Continued …