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By Alli Klein, CHIRP DJ
Once again swaddled in the serene greenery of Humboldt Park, Riot Fest 2013 happened this past weekend. Part of the problem with covering an entire festival where many of your favorite artists are playing is that you have to make some difficult choices. This happened to me quite a bit this year, moreso than last year. There were a few repeats on the list from last year, such as GWAR and Andrew WK, which are both definitely spectacles to see at least once. And my ‘once’ was last year, so this year I was able to focus my attention on some acts I’ve never seen before, and let me tell you, there was a lot of can't miss artists this year. You can view my photos from last year's Riot Fest, which includes Andrew WK and GWAR here.
Friday, I attended the fest with my fiancé and his brother, and after getting our bearings and navigating the 5 (not 4 like last year) stages, I was happy to see many local bands on the bill this year. What better way to start my weekend than with the Smoking Popes. The Popes formed in 1991 in the far north suburbs of Chicago by the Caterer brothers: Matt, Eli, and Josh. They broke up around ’99, but reformed in 2005 and since 2008 have had Neil Hennessey, of the Lawrence Arms, playing drums. This was my first time seeing The Smoking Popes, and I was thoroughly impressed. They closed with “I Know You Love Me,” which seemed so fitting to be singing to this particular crowd.
After their set it was time to rush across the park to see the next local band I’ve always wanted to see, Screeching Weasel. Two of their records (out of twelve, yes, twelve) have always meant a lot to me, and their particular style of punk has been a favorite forever. A bald and bearded Ben Weasel was making menacing faces the whole set, and the whole band looked like they were having a great time.
Overlapping Screeching Weasel’s set, I had to head over to Bad Religion, a band I’ve never delved into as much as I should have. My fiancé has loved them for years and has tried to get me into them, and after catching their live set I may have to take matters into my own hands. Bad Religion pulled out all the stops when it came to playing the classics. The songs I recognized were “Anesthesia,” “I Wanna Conquer The World,” “You,” “Generator,” “21st Century Digital Boy,” and “American Jesus.”
Atmosphere took the main stage at 7:45, and told the crowd, "You smell like you're having a good time." He had the most positive and uplifting things to say during his set, and in his songs. When he went into "God Loves Ugly" he was very preacher like. Raising his fist in the air, he even mentioned how being at concerts is like going to church for some people. He got everyone's hands in the air and reminded people that the person next to you is here for the same reason. It really did feel like a communal experience. His two DJs kept the flow tight and background screens behind him were hypnotizing. One of my favorite performances all weekend for sure.
Joan Jett is a legendary woman and everyone at Riot Fest knew this. Hurrying over to the Rock Stage at the east side of the park, I found meandering my way through the crowd to get to the photo line was a rather tough task. Imagine you’re stuck in a clogged drain, because that’s what I felt like. She played some Runaways hits, like “Cherry Bomb”, and her biggest solo hits such as “Bad Reputation,” “I Love Rock N Roll,” “I Hate Myself For Loving You,” her fantastic version of Gary Glitter’s “Do You Wanna Touch Me” and her classic cover of Tommy James & The Shondells “Crimson & Clover,” which is much more punk rock to witness live than the recorded version I’ve heard. She also brought out Against Me’s Laura Jane Grace to do a duet called “Soulmates to Strangers,” a song they wrote together which will be on Joan’s new album Unvarnished, coming out at the end of this month.
I really wish I would have caught more of Sublime (With Rome) but I had one of those “Well this is not going to be the same without Bradley Nowell” kind of attitudes. Overhearing their set from across the park on my way out from the Joan Jett & the Blackhearts crowd, I wished I hadn’t thought that way. They sounded great, and even Rome made a few “RIP Bradley” shout-outs. Sadly, my camera ran out of battery before the Danzig 25th Anniversary special extravaganza thing, so my fiancé and I decided to call it a night. I heard there were a number of Misfits songs played and that Doyle came out and joined Glenn on stage.
OK, so listen, we're friends, yeah? I’m sorry (not sorry) but I’ve never been a Fall Out Boy fan. I can appreciate them as a pop band and as a local band and I’m glad for their success, really, I am. But I don’t choose to listen to them willingly. I could hear them all the way through the neighborhood though, as we boarded the Kimball bus going north. I could swear I could still hear how loud it got farther up near my apartment in Logan Square. Later, as if not to lose any real Chicago punk cred, I read that they brought out Naked Raygun’s Jeff Pezzati AND the Stanley Cup (Yay. Hockey is punk right?) (Sidenote: I do like hockey, actually).
A giant highlight of the entire weekend for me was outside the festival gates. It was not at official “after party” but it was an after party of sorts. I headed over to Township in Logan Square to see 3 guys from various bands play solo sets. First up was Mike Petrucelli, then Dave Merriman (of the Arrivals) who played an acoustic guitar and sang his heart out. The headliner and reason I was there was for Mikey Erg (The Ergs!, Dirt Bike Annie, For Science, countless others…) Having just gotten an Ergs! tattoo not 6 days before, only my second band related tattoo so far, you could say I was a little more than excited. I was caught in a whirlwind with other likeminded Mikey Erg fans, jumping around and dancing and shouting out lyrics. Mikey Erg has created so many tunes that I love that it would take pages and pages to write about them, so let me just say I enjoyed the hell out of his set and it gave me all the feels to sing “Books About Miles Davis” at the top of my lungs, arm in arm with some close friends.
Saturday started off right by seeing some more legends, named X. X comes from the Los Angeles 1980s era of punk (If you have not seen the Penelope Spheeris documentary The Decline of Western Civilization about that particular LA scene, you should really get on that, as X is one of the bands featured and where I first found out about them.) Amazingly, this was my second time seeing X and both times were phenomenal. I saw them a few years ago on their 31st anniversary tour that came to the Metro, and then again last weekend and they still sound great!
Billy Zoom is one of the most talented guitarists I’ve ever seen and he plays with such poise and such ease. Physically, he barely moves the entire set, he just kind of rocks back and forth in a stoic way and smiles big occasionally, teasing the audience with how great he knows he is. John Doe was a commanding presence and gels well with Exene, sharing vocal duties. Their voices have for sure stood the test of time, and I got a kick out of all of Exene’s quirky dance moves. They began with “Your Phones Off The Hook (But You’re Not)” and continued through a slew of career greats. They mentioned they did not want to waste a lot of time with banter in between songs because they wanted to give the audience more music, but Exene did take the time to thank Blondie for being great tour partners, and John Doe mentioned the rape case in India and how the guilty got the death penalty, before diving into a song with similar themes, “Johnny Hit and Run Pauline.” They closed with their version of the Doors song “Soul Kitchen” into “Devil Doll.” One of the best sets of the entire fest, and a shame they were put on so early in the day.
Next I rushed over to hear one of the only ska based acts on the bill, The Selecter. I was wearing my The Specials shirt, and I could swear that front man “Gaps” Hendrickson gave me a nod for it. Fun fact, the band's name is based on the term "selector", which is a Jamaican word for disc jockey. The Selecter wins for best dressed (and yes, even over GWAR) of the fest, donning dapper black and grey and white suits and hats. Pauline Black announced they were from England, and told the audience “So this is a punk festival, yeah? Well you can’t get much more punk than this!” referring to their 2 tone ska style. I could not help but make not that one of the saxophonists was a spitting image of Heisenberg (a la Breaking Bad).
I’ve been a Teenage Bottle Rocket fan for some time now, and everyone’s been telling me that I have to work backwards and check out the Lillingtons (they have the same vocalist, Kody Templeman). Lucky for me, I got to do just that on Saturday of Riot Fest. The Lillingtons have a lot of songs about weird, sci-fi related things so of course that speaks to me. When they played their song “I Saw The Ape Man(On The Moon)” well there’s no other way to put it other than the crowd went ape shit. Many people were crowd surfing to their set, many fists were pumping in the air. 3 out of 4 members of Masked Intruder, with their colorful ski masks, joined them on stage to help sing “Lillington High.”
On my way to watch Guided By Voices, a stranger grabbed my arm. “Holy shit, is that a Germs tattoo?” and I nod yes, because it is, and he opened his arms wide for a big bear hug. That’s something I love about the punk community is the genuine affection people show, the good vibes, and also the sense of belonging you get. So in that spirit, I went in for the hug. Kind of put off by the kiss I received on the top of my head, and maybe he sensed it saying, “Oh sorry, shit, are you married, you gotta boyfriend? That tattoo just makes you the hottest girl here!” We high fived and I took my place in the photo pit for GBV. (Mystery guy, if you’re reading this, yes, I’m getting married in less than a month.)
GBV sounded almost perfect. Guitarist Mitch Mitchell (not to be confused with THAT Mitch Mitchell, you know, the experienced one… ) looked bad-ass with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth the whole set. Singer Robert Pollard, looking a bit more like Kevin Costner in his old age, has still got it. I was really happy to have seen them, as you never know if this could be their last tour, because apparently in a July 2013 interview with Magnet Magazine, Pollard stated that English Little League could be the final GBV album. Pollard said “Ive always wanted to be able to say this… Stick around for Blondie!” and then adding after the applause, “…I hear she’s [Debbie Harry] got a nice ass.”
At this point it was time to find food, which meant skipping FLAG’s set. FLAG is one of two incarnations of the reformation of Black Flag. This one features original vocalist Keith Morris, original bassist Chuck Dukowski, drummer Bill Stevenson, Stephen Egerton (Descendents, All) and Dez Cadena (Black Flag, Misfits). I could hear them doing a pretty cool cover of The Kingsmen classic “Louie Louie” and the crowd went wild during “Rise Above.”
More dreams came true as I got to be about 10 feet from Debbie Harry and the rest of Blondie. Pushing 70, Debbie Harry looked great and was wearing a huge black wizard cloak, which she whipped around while dancing, and pointy black wizard hat. They started with “One Way Or Another” which had everyone cheering, but the highlight for me was the third song they did, “Hanging On The Telephone.” Again, I had to make some tough choices and leave the Blondie stage to run over and catch the end of the Lawrence Arms set. I was supposed to interview them that day, but they couldn’t make it and so I at least wanted to catch some of their songs. Brendan Kelly’s drunken banter is half the reason to see this band live. He pointed out there was not one, but two people wearing horse masks in the crowd, exclaiming “You guys should f**k!”
Their after party Friday night at the Cobra Lounge apparently sold out in something like two minutes and I’m sure it was a blast. Plus, I heard someone in the audience literally crapped their pants, so you know, full on success there. For their set at Riot Fest they played “Necrotism,” “Recovering the Opposable Thumb,” “In Transit,” “On With The Show,” “100 Resolutions,” and so many others that brought a smile to my face. Brendan also told the crowd to excuse him for taking a photo with his phone. They played a new song with lyrics that are mostly “F**k you” which is too bad we won’t be able to play it on the radio because it’s catchy as f**k.
I’ve already seen Public Enemy a few years back at Pitchfork and Rancid even farther back one year at Warped Tour. I chose Rancid this time and I was not alone in my choice. The crowd watching them was massive. I could not make it very far forward at all, and I stood near the VIP area for their set, where security were turning VIP holders away because that section was already too full. Their set was chock full of my favorites from …And Out Come The Wolves and Let’s Go. I walked up in time to hear “Journey to the End,” “Maxwell Murder,” “The 11th Hour,” “Listed M.I.A.,” “The Wars End,” “52nd And Broadway,” “Time Bomb,” “Ruby Soho,” and the one more recent hit that I actually like, “Fall Back Down.” Tim Armstrong has one of the strongest voices I heard all weekend. He talked about how Rancid has been a band for 21 years, calling the other members his “brothers.” I missed Lars’ gigantic iconic Mohawk a little bit, as he now has a shaved head.
This was my second time seeing the Violent Femmes. Celebrating its 30th anniversary, they played their self-titled 1983 record all the way through in its entirety, followed by a few other great tunes. I danced my butt off to “Black Girls,” and “American Music.” As I predicted, every time the band sang the word “Chicago” in the song “To The Kill,” the audience went nuts. Singer Gordon Gano mentioned he’d forgotten how much fun it was to play and thanked the crowd for reminding him.
My fiancé and I finished off our night watching some of Blink 182’s set from up on the ferris wheel. We heard them do “Feeling This,” “The Rock Show,” “I Miss You,” and “What’s My Age Again?” There were quite a number of people lined up outside the festival to hear Blink182’s set for free. In fact, you could hear them echo through the whole park as I walked home.
Sunday was miserable as far as the weather was concerned. I barely wanted to leave the house, but I didn’t want to miss out on some great acts on Sunday. I got there in time for the second half of Against Me’s set. Laura Jane Grace still has an amazing voice, something that has not changed with the rest of her (LJG, previously Tom Gabel, became one of the first transgender musicians to publicly transition and become an advocate for trans individuals). I admit I did not know many of the new songs but I’m really enjoying the new direction they’re taking. Most importantly, LJG looks like she is having so much fun on stage and she just radiates such positive energy.
Then came the downpour that would last the majority of the afternoon, placing many festival goers under various tents and trees to attempt to stay dry. Many people were adorned with ponchos and rain jackets, and I wish I’d had the foresight to do the same. The mud became caked to every inch of people’s shoes, but I’m glad to say we didn’t end up with a 1994 Woodstock situation. I couldn’t pull out my camera in the rain, but I got to hear some of Best Coast’s set while huddled under a tree and Bethany Cosentino’s sunny voice carried nicely over the dreary weather.
We got some food, found a new tree to stand under ‘til the rain let up, and then moved up to the Rise stage early so we could get a good spot for the Broadways reunion. This meant watching all of Suicidal Tendencies set. I have never listened to that band before, but I was impressed. These guys are psychos on stage, and actually have a lot of songs with the word "Psycho" in it. The singer made the crowd part like the red sea, so he could run all the way to the sound stage and back. This band had a pretty big circle pit happening, and probably the only one I was able to get close enough to watch, yet not get tossed into the mix.
For awhile, it seemed as if there were only going to be about 20 people watching the Broadways and I was the only person in the photo pit covering this monumental (for some) occasion. The Broadways are Brendan and Chris from the Lawrence Arm's band before the Lawrence Arms existed, plus Dan Hanaway and Rob DePaola. They first formed in 1996. Last year, Brendan Kelly and Dan Hanaway's other old band, Slapstick, played a reunion show at Riot Fest. The Broadways reunion was the number one reason my fiancé bought his Riot Fest ticket, and I think this was the case for a lot of folks I know. One friend I ran into, Amanda, said the last time she saw the Broadways, she was about 11 years old!
Once I exited the photo pit area, I saw how large the crowd had really gotten, and the band seemed just as shocked. Brendan addressed the crowd a few times, asking if the audience were sure they were at the right stage. They played a bunch of classics (well, they only really had two records, and they've not been a band for over fifteen years, so everything is technically a classic in this situation.) All I know is that every single person in that crowd had their fist in the air and a smile on their face. There were a few screw ups it seemed, like when Dan Hanaway (guitarist, vocalist, and local business owner. check out Ground Control, an awesome restaurant on Armitage) possibly forgot the words to one song and Chris noticed and ended up taking over. But this only gave the set more character and duh, they're only human. Humans who haven't been a band in a long time, and made a lot of other humans really happy by just being there playing their songs.
Joined by a different Kim than you’re used to (Kim Shattuck of the Muffs, replacing Kim Deal) Pixies played “Debaser,” “Here Comes Your Man,” “Caribou,” “Hey,” and “Where Is My Mind.” I already mentioned how The Selecter’s saxophonist looked like Heisenberg… well, Frank Black is looking an awful lot like DEA ASAC Hank Shrader (RIP) lately (sorry, I'm just seeing Breaking Bad characters everywhere).
I watched them from fairly far back, and enjoyed the aesthetic they had going with their smoky backlit silhouettes. The Replacements reunion was a pretty big draw for this year’s Riot Fest. I think the majority of people who bought the Sunday ticket was solely to see this Minneapolis band's first tour in 22 years. The group, led by original members Paul Westerberg and bassist Tommy Stinson, took everyone in the audience back almost 3 decades to 1981. We stayed pretty far back for the first few songs of their set but I could see why people give this band a ton of credit and now I feel compelled to dive into their catalog and discover what all the fuss was about.
Over all, despite the crummy weather on Sunday, I think I had more fun at this year's Riot Fest than I've had at ANY other festival in my lifetime.
See all my Riot Fest 2013 photos, including the Mikey Erg aftershow at Township, here.
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