Words and photos by Scott Murry
After the first day of Riot Fest, people don’t tend to go home and go to sleep. Chicago is a serious music city (aftershows!) and it likes to drink. The festival organizers are aware of this, hence a starting time of noon—hearts of gold those Riot Festers. They take it one step further, by opening with a band like The Toasters. They’ve been doing ska since before half of the festival kids were a twinkle in the parent’s eyes. If there was no coffee, this third-wave ska band would be the perfect substitute. People were bobbing their heads with a mellow smile as synapses started to fire. By the end, the hit “Don’t let the bastards grind you down” came on, pressing the crowd to full attention. A mighty skanking pit broke out and the day officially began.
Hearing the name Fucked Up can prompt confusion and jokes. “We gotta get up to see Fucked up … sounds like a fuck up.” Those unable to look past the name are missing out with these hardcore Canadians. Damian Abraham is one of the most energetic lead singers—a big dude with a shimmering bald dome, he dresses on stage like he’s going to the gym—because his performance is serious cardio. Abraham runs through the audience, somersaults across the stage, and likely gives security a logistics headache. It’s a positive experience for everyone though as he smiles from ear to ear with photographers chasing him around to catch one of his endearing fan interactions. Just look at those shots—they’re posi as fuck.
Jessica Hernandez & The Deltas comes from Detroit, a town that has had its fair share of struggles in recent years. This seems to inform their sound as Hernandez projects a rich, soulful voice that blazes powerfully through the mic. Dressed in bright orange tones, she literally appears to be on fire. Their blend of pop and soul is reminiscent of Amy Winehouse, but Hernandez layers in rougher indie tendencies. Across her EPs and LP, the sound continues to develop around her alluring voice.
Jessica Hernandez & The Deltas
Southern California produces memorable punk bands, with The Vandals shining bright on the orange county. Incredibly poppy and cheeky, their stage presence borderlines ADD obnoxiousness. During this weekend’s Riot, Warren Fitzgerald on guitar nearly stole the show in his head to toe in bright green and red with bright blues socks to match his Fender. If I wore that outfit I’d look like a Christmas tree asshole, but he epitomizes the vibrant humor of the band as he tries to play riffs from behind his back bent like a pretzel. Their setlist was littered with tracks that got the crowd to sing along, and moved speedily with Derek Grant of Alkaline Trio/Suicide Machines behind the drum kit. There were definitely some extra bass beats and snare pops thrown in to boost the tempo along.
The Hives are a garage rock style of band that you know very well whether you realize it or not. “Hate to say I told you so” is one of the biggest hits and has been prominent on air waves for its 16 year existence. Like Refused, the Swedes know how to put on a highly visual show. Wearing all black and white, they appear as a stark, glossy set of classy car salesmen. Their lead singer Pelle Almqvist high kicks regularly and jumps off of everything he can while launching into the audience for some group sing along. On a hot day like Saturday in Chicago, those suits are likely ready for the dry cleaner.
I have never seen the Descendents. They haven’t always toured extensively as their lead singer is a molecular biologist, and when they’ve been in town I haven’t been able to make it. Let’s get one thing straight: People love the Descendents, they’re a “hot” band and probably always will be. Their logo of an affable dweeb, Milo, is simple, straightforward character logo that resonates with the masses. Along with a sturdy catalog of hits, the undying devotion isn’t a thing of hype. Their upbeat, rapid beats feed the soul.
At the start of their set, Wu-Tang’s Method Man and cohort Redman challenged the crowd that no one could smoke more weed than them, but it certainly didn’t stop the hordes of cheering fans from trying. A sweet, skunky aroma clouded the surrounding stage as some of the heaviest bass of the weekend blared right back. The two were swarming back and forth flowing off of each other, like two friends having the time of their life.
Method Man and Redman
As the sun came down so too did the mood, shifting as Death Cab for Cutie aimed to turn up the creeper romance. Their lights were dim and the bass lines put everyone under the spell of a sway. The band opened with “I Will Possess Your Heart,” as lead man Ben Gibbard banged the piano, flopping his hair to the beat. They performed the full eight minute instrumental opening.
Death Cab for Cutie
Stringent-vegan Morrissey is known for his on-stage tantrums, once leaving the 2009 Coachella stage midway as the scent of barbeque wafted past his nose whilst onstage. It’s important to stand for what you believe in, but this stint was rather unthoughtful to the fans. Riot Fest respects both sides, and agreed with the musician to halt the sale and cooking of meat during his performance. A smart move indeed to set the tone well for a big night-cap. He still came out to perform 33 minutes late to protest… fans? Ultimately he played his full set with a Smiths cover to boot.
Another Riot Fest night was in the books. With just one more sleep to go, fans anxiously awaited Glenn Danzig, Jerry Only, and Doyle to reunite as the Misfits. Would it happen? Would they play “Hybrid Moments”?
To be continued …