Words and photos by Scott Murry
On the final afternoon of the Riot Fest, you’ve got something to say: you want to escape the mundane for the day. So you ask your mommy if you can go out and thrill that night. “For fuck’s sake,” you’re likely thinking, “how many Misfits songs is he going to try referencing in this post?” Well it’s a big deal, friend! On Sunday, September 18—The Misfits were reuniting one final time for a massively hyped show in which Glenn Danzig, Jerry Only and Doyle Wolfgang von Frankenstein would share the stage for the first time in 33 years. Would it be worth the wait? Would Glenn wheeze through the hits? Only time would tell, but first things first, dozens of bands would raise the bar.
And any good day starts with Bleached. The LA punk grunge group with sisters Jennifer and Jessica Clavin (formerly of Mika Miko) came on in the first wave of early afternoon. Their fast rhythms and hair-tossing stage presence are an ultra-hooky hybrid of the Breeders and Bikini Kill—which is convenient as they were warming the stage for Kathleen Hanna who would later be on with Julie Ruin. The guitar solos and catchy beats inspired the perfect blissful vibes to shake any hangovers. This band is damn good.
As Chicago’s second favorite band The Falcon took stage shortly after, the mood quickly transitioned into party mode. Uniting members of The Lawrence Arms, Alkaline Trio, and The Loved Ones—they’re a fast and wild group of seasoned punk rockers that released their first new album in a long stretch. Lead Brendan Kelly always appears as though he’s having the time of his life with drunken swagger and a shocked smile that implies he’s just seen two possum hot in a moment together. Playing their (mostly) hometown, it’s apparent that the festival has a soft spot in their hearts, and their primary objective is to make people sweat and giggle.
Also returning from a dormant recording period were Leftover Crack—hot on the heals of their first release in 13 years. All the crusty punks and anarchists flocked to the front of the Riot Stage for their crack-rocksteady beat that curiously, and effectively combines elements of ska, punk, hardcore, thrash metal, and classical? Kate Coysh and lead man Scott Stza assaulted the stage to kick off the apocalyptic set with “Archaic Subjugation.” The howling guitar feedback and tooth-crunching beats were sauntered with Stza’s keyboard interludes—keeping the audience just on the edge of chaos.
Juliette Lewis may best be known for her impressive acting career, ie: What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, Kalifornia, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, and a lengthy list that goes on. It brings us laughter and tears. Any time an actor wanders into the music business, results can be discountable, but Juliette & The Licks have shown that it’s more than a paltry glamor project as the lead woman has built an electric following. Though the band is on and off with its production and touring schedule, this rare appearance energized the day with Lewis in her daredevil American flag spandex. High kicks dominated the set, but I’ll be damned if the energy behind that tambourine didn’t inspire some new tambourine purchases.
Juliette Lewis & The Licks
As well-known musicians with a built-in devoted crowd occupy the main stages, Riot Fest is great at introducing the up and coming talent across their smaller stages. The thirsty youth. The Big Ups are one such crew from Brooklyn, NY that played over at the Rebel Stage, pacing and pounding around the stage like Henry Rollins with a stroke. Lead singer Brendan Finn stands tall and stiff, making pained, crooked expressions between fits of yelling. With downbeat rhythms and flat vocals, it also sparks connections to Fugazi. The continual faces get a bit overboard and gimmicky, but their sound is undeniably good.
The Big Ups
With two Foo Fighters and a charismatic 70s style lead singer, Chevy Metal are a stoner, classic rock rendition of Me First and the Gimme Gimmes. Or as drummer/singer Taylor Hawkins describes it, “Like a wedding cover band on crack.” This passion project plays their favorite songs and inspirations with added bravado for a new audience. They’re incredibly talented big names, but the low-key quality of their show makes it all the more enjoyable. Seeing those friends take stage for a kitschy joy ride is inspiring, you can see the happiness ooze from their pores.
As Professor Greg Graffin of Bad Religion and crew blazed onto the Riot stage with their amped up list of SoCal punk rock, middle fingers launched into the air for “Fuck You” from 2013’s True North. As the band enter their half-century of life, it’s akin to seeing your cool high school teachers play together. The band have played and recorded longer than many bands in any genre. A lengthy career in the often-nihilistic genre of punk rock leaves many to wonder, “How does Jay Bentley stay in such good shape and shred like a madman?”
Kathleen Hanna is one of the most influential and recognizable figures in the Riot Grrrl movement. A punk rock hero, her newest group is The Julie Ruin. No stranger to confrontation, Hanna has often been at the forefront of engaging discussion on gender equality. With a performance full of giddy cartwheels and mocking faux feminism, they ended their ten song performance with a cover of “Rebel Girl,” a nostalgic hit from her Bikini Kill days.
The Julie Ruin
Rob Zombie is a satan-loving, baby-eating heathen (according to many mothers) … and one hell of a performer. With elaborate stage props, video and blaring lights, Zombie shimmied in his studded jacket complete with leather wrestling tassles like a man with voodoo in his bones. Primarily performing the 1995 White Zombie opus Astro-Creep 2000, the band threw in additional head-banging bombs like “Thunder Kiss ’65” for good measure.
Taking stage at the exact same time were Sleater Kinney, another set of epic riot grrls. Hailing from the Northwest, hearing tracks from their newest album “No Cities to Love” staggered with decade-old hits like “Modern Girl” was wholly satisfying. On the flip side of Juliette Lewis swaying from acting to music, bassist Carrie Brownstein of Sleater Kinney has proven via Portlandia that she’s a talented actor—and funny as anything you can put a bird on. Super funny. Funny and excellent at wielding an ax makes watching her get lost in the jams of the evening extra fulfilling.
After a full day of headliners that would lure in thousands well on their own, the main event was about to begin. Holding the final slot of the evening and weekend were the original Misfits. On a stage flanked with three-story tall ghoullish pumpkins—the band came out to an eruption of cheers. While no photo pit was allowed, as is common for Danzig-related shows these days, cell phones popped up from every corner of Douglas Park to commemorate the once-in-a-lifetime show. Two days prior, Fat Mike of NOFX had joked that people should prepare for a set full of heaving and heavy breathing, insinuating that Glenn Danzig wasn’t going to be making it through the show with good cardio. This proved to be somewhat true as the 61 year old (genuinely) legendary frontman guided the 26 song performance. Many were convinced that the gimmicky reunion would be so full of chatter and buildup that there was no way they’d be as entertaining as hoped. As “20 Eyes” fed into “Eagles Dare” and into “Hybrid Moments,” songs continued to feed the sing-alongs scattered with “Whoa-oas.” Every track seemed like an epic encore bringing everyone into peak elation. Glenn frequently reminded listeners that this was a historic moment that could never have been anticipated by anyone. He and Jerry Only have had numerous, bitter legal battles that sealed their legacy as one that would never see them on stage together again. In the week that has passed, it appears that Chicago was a last chance to ever see them. True or not, to see them charge through the soundtrack of horror that continues to dominate adolescent memories was unbelievable. It lived up to the hype, and prompted tattoo shops all over Illinois to scrawl crimson skulls and fiends into the flesh of thousands … or at least 138.