Festival Review: Riot Fest Day 1

I’ve never travelled for a concert before. I’ve been on a trip where a concert happened to come up, but I’ve never travelled before with the primary intention of seeing a concert, at least not anything that really involved more than a day trip. But Riot Fest was held in Denver from 2013 through 2016 and I went every year it was held locally for me in Denver, during which time I found it to be amongst the greatest concert-going experiences of my life. I always say that some of the bands I’ve gotten to see at Riot Fest weren’t even bands that were on my bucket list because they were bands I just assumed I would never have the opportunity to see like The Replacements or The Original Misfits. So when Riot Fest Denver shut down after 2016 and the festival started focusing exclusively on their Chicago version of the festival, I made myself a promise that someday I would save up the money and get myself out to Chicago to make my triumphant return to my favorite festival. And so, when I was made an associate editor at New Noise Magazine, one of the first things I asked was “Can I go to Riot Fest?” Not that you need to be an editor to go to Riot Fest, just that I knew that I was in a good position to ask for a favor with everything I do for the site. And when our normal festival person had to drop out at the last minute, it all came together and I got to return to my favorite festival. If you are planning a concert or a music festival, this calgary production company can help set up the necessary audio visual system in your venue.

Riot Fest Chicago this year didn’t have any of the true beyond-the-bucket-list bands that have given me life changing concert experiences at past versions of the festival, but the lineup was nothing to sleep on either. I hadn’t seen the Foo Fighters since a I was 14 in the late-90s and I was not about to turn down another chance to see The Cure, even if I had seen them at a previous Riot Fest. So I saved up for a hotel, found the cheapest flight imaginable, and packed my bags to Chicago. The result was every bit as fun as the Denver Riot Fest had been, and I find myself immensely grateful that I made the trip. Here’s my roundup of the first day of Riot Fest.

Yo Soy Mujer (Fea)

Right off the bat, the festival gave me a very difficult decision to make, putting Fea, one of my favorite underappreciated bands, up against The Aquadolls, whose excellent new album Charmed I recently gave a favorable review to on this site. I was tempted to pick The Aquadolls because I had seen Fea twice before, but I had made myself a vow years ago that I was going to keep writing about Fea until people paid attention to them. That’s how much their particular blend of bi-lingual riot grrrl with just a tiny twinge of rockabilly means to me. But that meant that, for the very first band I wanted to see, I had to find my way to the Rebel Stage, which would be a recurring issue the whole weekend.

The Rebel Stage seemed to be where the festival would routinely put up-and-coming artists, artist likely to bring in a smaller crowd, and also all the bands that were clearly booked as a joke like Corey Feldman and Insane Clown Posse. Rebel was buried in the back near the exit, and, it being very early in the festival, I still hadn’t yet figured out my way around the grounds. There was a map on the app but, as I’m bad at reading maps, it wasn’t much help. (I would later find that the map has this handy feature that locates you on the map, which would have been much help had I known about it at the time.) Because of my difficulty, and the fact that asking multiple staff members to point me towards the Rebel Stage resulted in either confusion or wrong answers, I missed most of Fea’s set and just caught the tail-end of it, where the band was putting in their normal high-energy effort despite being relegated to the hard-to-find stage to open the festival. So I find myself unable to comment on their whole set, but Fea is a great band who were clearly putting in the effort in a difficult circumstance, so I still highly recommend them to anyone who gets a chance to see this awesome band.

Kobayashi Maru; or, There’s No Right Way to Play Early in the Day (Origami Angel)

Next up came Origami Angel, whose latest album, The Brightest Days, has been a particular favorite of mine. It’s bright and sunny pop-punk with occasional political observations that make for a really fun release. Unfortunately, I found their set to be rather lackluster compared to the album.

I didn’t realize that the band was a duo until seeing them live. There’s nothing wrong with that, although I would think that the kind of music they create would lend itself to, at the very least, a three-piece, but still there are great duos in rock music. But the lack of people and perhaps the fact that it was still so early led Origami Angel to put on a very low-energy show that seemed to almost suggest annoyance at having to play at all. Then again, playing early at a festival is a fairly thankless task and plenty of bands probably do much better playing night shows that they’re more familiar with. But I could have still used a bit more energy and engagement from this duo.

Give Up the Punk (George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic)

One thing I love about Riot Fest is that, even though they’re primarily a punk festival, they reach out beyond punk to find legacy acts that have an important place in music history without necessarily being punk. The 2018 Riot Fest appearance of Jerry Lee Lewis is one of the prime examples of this. Riot Fest also seems very interested in honoring the music of black artists important to music history, such as Public Enemy or Run-DMC, both of whom have played the festival. Thus it was exciting to see Riot Fest book the legendary George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic, but there wasn’t exactly anyone who thought it to be out of character for the festival.

Clinton and his band performed with the assured confidence of artists who are secure in their importance in music history, knowing fully well that they’ve earned more respect than even this festival’s headliners. Yet, with all that confidence, there was nothing that felt arrogant or unearned. George Clinton spent a lot of the set singing from a seated position, which he should certainly be entitled to at this point in his life at the age of 82 and with literally dozens of albums under his belt from his two combined bands. One simply felt honored to be in the presence of musical greatness. Even if you weren’t the most dedicated George Clinton fan, everyone wanted to be at this show if for no other reason than to at least say they had seen it once, since this was something legendary.

Vegan for the Animals (Meet Stop)

Look, I normally don’t like reviews that get too much into food at the festival, but I had to say a quick word about my favorite food vendor, Meet Stop. I’m vegan and was worried about what vegan options there would be. And, truth be told, there were a handful of vegan food vendors this year, but I didn’t try any of the others because I fell so deeply in love with Meet Stop.

Meet Stop advertised itself as vegan comfort food, and that couldn’t be a more apt description. They’ve got vegan chicken wings, cheesesteaks, loaded nachos, mac and cheese, and these amazing cinnamon rolls including the s’mores cinnamon roles topped with vegan marshmallows. I was such a fan of Meet Stop that I would be watching bands I had looked forward to seeing for months and think to myself “Man, I really could go for something from Meet Stop right now.”

Meet Stop doesn’t have a permanent location in Chicago and instead vends for major events like Riot Fest. But if you’re a vegan who’s going to their next festival, let me assure you that it’s one of the tastiest ways to get your vegan food that you’ll ever try.

She Got Arresting (The Interrupters)

I’m on record elsewhere as saying that I think that The Interrupters are a better band in the studio than they are in a live setting. I cited, amongst other things, Aimee Interrupters’ inability to (or refusal to, it’s hard to tell which) interact with the audience, and her awkwardness in the rare occasions where she does talk to the crowd. More often than not, Interrupter opts to leave all of the banter with the audience to guitarist Kevin Bivona. On the one hand, I understand that people are shy as I most certainly am, but, on the other hand, I’m also not attempting to be the lead singer of a ska band like Interrupter is. I would argue that the ability to get the crowd engaged with what you’re saying is a big part of the frontperson’s job and, if you can’t do that, then maybe you’re not cut out to be a lead singer. Still, I gave them another shot because, frankly, this festival was lacking in quality ska bands and I needed my regular live ska fix.

On this occasion, not only did Aimee Interrupter show much improvement, she improved in the specific areas I’ve criticized her in, which almost makes me flattered enough to consider she might be reading my reviews. She likely isn’t, but a girl can dream, right? But honestly, Aimee Interrupter seemed like a strong and confident frontwoman for the first time of all the times I’ve seen them live and made for my favorite live performance by this band I’ve ever seen by a lot.

Not a Pretty Set (Ani DiFranco)

I have to admit something that might result in my queer card being revoked, but I’ve actually never listened to much from Ani DiFranco. But I wanted to check her out because she’s an absolute queer legend and I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. DiFranco’s set was quiet and slow, which is fine because that’s the type of music that she makes, but it felt like a big change of pace following all the loud, fast punk music this weekend. What didn’t help was the sound bleeding over from the Quicksand set, which overpowered her quiet indie folk. Sound bleed would become a problem a few times this weekend, but it absolutely trampled over this set. Still, when you looked around you could see all the queer people at the festival reveling in the joy that is Ani DiFranco, and so it seems like her set was a success.

Cannonball Run (The Breeders)

There’s no question that The Breeders are a legendary band. Started in the late-80s as a new outlet for Kim Deal from iconic indie rock act The Pixies, the act is a showcase for Deal and her sister Kelley. They were doing one of the festival’s full album plays in which a band performs one of their records in its entirety, in this case the band’s debut album Last Splash. Kim Deal even went so far as to point out that they would even be playing the songs that were too slow and weird to play live, which kind of demonstrated why this was a bad choice for an album play. Last Splash isn’t really an album that’s remembered for much more than its lead single, “Cannonball,” and having to wade through the rest of that is just not enjoyable. Still, it meant we all got to hear “Cannonball,” which is an absolute classic, so it was worth it.

We Dance to All the Wrong Bands (Fake Names)

When it comes to my absolute punk idols, first and foremost comes Joe Strummer, followed by Laura Jane Grace, and then maybe Kathleen Hanna, and then next on the list comes Dennis Lyxzén. Lyxzén demonstrates some of the most amazing versatility in punk, having fronted experimental hardcore band The Refused, mod-punk band The (International) Noise Conspiracy, and his ever changing side project INVSN. His ability to jump between different styles with ease is a testament to what punk rock is truly capable of. And his philosophy towards punk, as explained in the Refused song “New Noise” (for which this site is named) has strongly influenced my philosophy on what punk needs to become to survive, which in turn influences all my reviews. In short, Lyxzén is a modern punk legend.

Lyxzén’s latest project, the supergroup Fake Names, contains such big names as Bad Religion’s Brian Baker on guitar. It’s not my favorite project Lyxzén has put out, but it’s still classic Lyxzén with its gorgeous pop hooks and left-wing politics. Fake Names got screwed over on placement at this festival, not only being relegated to the dreaded Rebel stage, but being put on opposite two of the festival’s headliners, with the set starting during Turnstile’s set and running 15 minutes into the Foo Fighters’ set. But you would never know that the band got a bum deal, as Lyxzén performed with his normal energy and vigor as if he was headlining the whole festival. It was such a captivating performance that it was almost enough to keep me from leaving a few minutes early to catch the Foo Fighters.

Almost.

The Best, The Best, The Best of Dave Grohl (Foo Fighters)

Like I said, it had been over 20 years since I last saw the Foo Fighters and, while they were a big name then, being the project from Nirvana’s legendary drummer, they were nothing compared to where they are now. The crowd was packed going back as far as you could see as everyone was gathered around to see the Foo Fighters.

The Foo Fighters actually put out a new record this year, which is a strong and poignant tribute to both the band’s drummer Taylor Hawkins who died last year and Dave Grohl’s mother who also died recently. But you wouldn’t know that from watching their set, which was nothing but a trip through the old classics. Knowing that he was at a punk festival, Grohl seemed to be trying to prove his punk credentials, both by focusing on the band’s early work and by pointing out all the other bands his bandmates play in. I’m hardly complaining because early Foo Fighters is their best era, but it was strange to see a music legend trying to lay down his credentials to a crowd that already knew who he was.

One thing I noticed was that he played “Breakout” and dedicated it to all the old-school Foo Fighters fans who he claimed were now over 50. For the record, I was a junior in high school when that song came out and, while I may not be as young as I used to be, I’m still a ways away from 50. I think Grohl needs to work on his math.

The Foo Fighters put on a fine show, but it was hard to get as excited about them as I did for some of the smaller acts during the day. The Foo Fighters aren’t a beyond-the-bucket-list band, but merely a band that everyone enjoys but almost nobody would call their favorite band. So it made for enjoyable fare to end the day, but was hardly my favorite performance of the festival, or even of that day.

Having survived the first day of this marathon music festival, I retired back to my hotel room to get some much needed rest before doing it all again.

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