Riot Fest returned to Chicago’s Douglas Park, toting a three-day weekend entrenched in pure nostalgia- rock n’ roll and otherwise. Yes, the “Original” Misfits reunited (we’ll get to that later), Deftones blew everyone away, and Bad Religion reminded folks why it’s synonymous with “punk.” The Specials had thousands of folks dancing in the balmy, midday sun, while Redman and Method Man spit heavy rhymes and Nas brought us back to ’97. Even emo-heavyweights like Jimmy Eat World and Brand New threw millennials back to the days of early iPods, Myspace, and Fuse TV’s relevance –really what could’ve led them down this path in the first place. It was quite the weekend, proving what goes around, comes around (and that we’re getting old, kids).
The first Riot Fest in Chicago in awhile that saw no rain, which meant no mud, saw droves of people taking advantage of the warm weather to break out their “festival best” one last time. Friday featured sets from The Dillinger Escape Plan (with plans to disband after October’s “Dissociation” LP), Julian Marley playing Bob Marley and The Wailers’ “Exodus” album, Ween (who made me feel like I had been listening to seven different band in the span of their hour-long set), and a headlining conundrum between The Flaming Lips and NOFX.
Following Meat Puppets’ stellar set, which was met with plenty of diehards in front waiting to hear songs like “Lake of Fire” and “Plateau,” Julian Marley provided a dose of island vibes (and…well, you know) in the early afternoon. It’s great to see Julian, like Ziggy, keep his father’s legacy alive as well as putting his own spin on the classics, emphasizing a different side or influence from his father. The Marley name, much like I’d imagine the Dylan or Lennon name, holds a lot of weight –but Julian seemed unphased and the ease of his set was more than enjoyable.
Glassjaw, another throwback-inducing band for many Riot Fest attendees, ripped the Rise stage apart. Frontman Daryl Palumbo (also of Head Automatica fame) was greeted with plenty of “fanfare” (we’ll leave it there, just use your imagination) before tearing into hardcore favorites like “Two Tabs of Mescaline” and “Ape Dos Mil.”
The best moment of Riot Fest’s kick-off was the Flaming Lips’ take on David Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” which they’ve been incorporating into appearances since Bowie’s death in January. Wayne Coyne (post-giant, multi-color fuzzy coat and Chewbacca ride) took to his hamster ball to serenade the crowd, in the crowd, one of Bowie’s greatest songs. Rest in peace, Starman – indeed.
Saturday was a full day of heavy-hitters from Morrissey and Death Cab for Cutie, Social Distortion and Descendents, to Method Man and Redman and Nas. By early afternoon though, it was clear the acts taking the stages at night were going to have many great acts to follow. Memphis punk outfit Nots gave an adrenaline-shot to the ears on the smaller Rebel stage. Singer/guitarist Natalie Hoffman’s guttural fire vocals accented by punishing drumming gave new life to songs from the band’s debut LP, “We Are Nots” and their latest “Cosmetic.” Pay attention to this band, they’re going to become your new favorite.
Jessica Hernandez and the Deltas made their return to Riot Fest, playing a much bigger stage than they did in 2014. Hernandez worked the crowd, with and without her guitar, like a seasoned vet. Her punk-sister blend of Amy Winehouse and Gwen Stefani undoubtedly inspired more female festival-goers to start bands, while her band kept the ska-neuvo pumping. The Walters, a Local Loop favorite, took to the Storyheart stage with cheers from a huge crowd and brought their loveable “hunk” grooves and relentless energy to their first, Riot Fest performance.
One of the most surprising (in a good, no great way) sets of Saturday belonged to The Hives –one of the breakout acts of that 2001-’02 garage rock revival that ravaged us all with the likes of The Strokes, The White Stripes, and The Vines. The band, decked in their signature black and white, rushed the Rock stage (maybe a little like The Beatles) and lit right into “Come On” and “Main Offender.” Frontman Pelle Almqvist should get an award for “Fastest Frontman in the Crowd,” followed by a climb up the side of the stage, followed by a hair-flip. Kudos gents, we’re going to revisit every album you’ve ever released now.
Nas closed out our Saturday night, since Morrissey allowed only 20 photographers (and reportedly no meat) at his headlining set. But Nas was not a consolation prize, nor an act to be missed. One of the best MC’s of the past 20+ years, there were no gimmicks, no posse, no substances on stage to distract from the man and the words he was delivering. The crowd packed against the barricade and out past the middle of the field was at Nas’ behest, with hands in the air for songs like “If I Ruled the World” and the booming “Got Ur Self A…”
By Sunday, it was clear 95% of Riot Fest had one thing on its mind: The Misfits. The reunion of Glenn Danzig, Jerry Only, and Doyle Wolfgang Von Frankenstein (with Dave Lombardo, formerly of Slayer, on drums) proved so polarizing that Riot Fest-only ‘Misfits’ shirts sold-out almost instantly. Despite the legions of skull-backed denim vests, leather jackets, hats, creepers, dudes in Doyle makeup, etc. –Riot Fest before the horror punks took the stage was still worth reliving (duh!).
LA’s Bleached set the tone for Sunday’s festivities, warming up the Rock stage for following acts, Frank Iero and the Patience as well as Juliette [Lewis] and the Licks. Playing songs from 2013’s “Ride Your Heart” and 2016’s “Welcome the Worms,” Bleached furiously pummeled their set with lead guitarist, Jessica Clavin’s mastery of her fret board (and all those extra-shreddy, glam notes) at the helm.
Frank Iero, formerly of My Chemical Romance fame, took to the stage with his band, the Patience to bring the angsty, no-need-to-fit-in-you-fit-in-here tunes he’s become known purveyor of. Compared to his role in MCR, Iero has a definite presence as a frontman, his voice and words still ringing true to many people (if the crowd surfers were anything to show for it).
Juliette Lewis and the Licks injected a necessary dose of female mystique in their brand of classic “cock rock,” with Lewis running across the stage and catapulting herself into the crowd in her version of an Evel Knievel jumpsuit. Ferocious headbanging, a lead guitarist that just would not quit, and Lewis’ raspy howl had the stage and crowd dripping in rock n’ roll swagger. Complete with a cover of “Proud Mary” dedicated to “the Queen,” Tina Turner –Lewis strutted off the stage knowing she and her Licks just did the damn thing.
Towards the end of the night, more schedule conflicts reared their ugly heads: Sleater-Kinney or Rob Zombie? I chose Zombie –for his horror sideshow, neon glowing-zombie stage set-up and promise to do “Astro-Creep 2000” in full had me all-in. That was before the crowd preparing for the Misfits began to post-up, leaving you stuck once you were that close even if you wanted to make it over to see Corinne Tucker, Carrie Brownstein, and Janet Weiss demolish the Rock stage. Zombie slinked and sauntered about the stage, complete with a metallic fringe leather jacket and studded cowboy hat like a night crawler you couldn’t help but want to know. His merry band of Halloween masked and make-up’d men thrilling and terrifying behind him –it was not only a great set, but a great inspiration for costumes!
Then, the main event…
From New Jersey…
IT WAS ACTUALLY THE MISFITS!
Glenn Danzig, Jerry Only, and Doyle Wolfgang Von Frankenstein with Dave Lombardo on drums in all their glory, horror, and stage makeup backed up giant, inflatable jack-o-lanterns!
Oh what a 90-minute finale it was. Playing tracks heavy from 1982’s “Walk Among Us” (to which a fan nearby commented, “Ya think they only practiced songs from ‘Walk Among Us?’”) and ‘83’s “Earth AD,” classics like “Astro Zombies,” “Die, Die My Darling,” and “Mommy, Can I Go Out and Kill Tonight?” sounded clean and energetically gripping as ever –complete with the band’s signature logo and comic-inspired art flashing behind them. As the only band during the 8:45-10 pm timeslot, the Misfits proved enthralling and deserving. Almost everyone seemed to know the sickeningly catchy “Last Caress” or “Skulls” –I mean who couldn’t catch on to a two and a half-minute song with that many people shouting the lyrics around you?
Danzig and crew weren’t half-assing it. They weren’t playing around as he refuses to ever be seen as a gimmick (he’s obviously too tough). The Misfits, for as awful as it could’ve been: fighting, the look, the sound; shut Riot Fest DOWN on Sunday night.
So here we are. The end of another music festival that looked to appeal to a music fan’s nostalgia and we’re already reading how it “wasn’t that great.” OF COURSE IT WAS GREAT, THE WHOLE WEEKEND WAS! But you’d never have the new bands giving it their all on the smaller stages if you didn’t have bands like the Misfits, Ween, Bad Religion or even Jimmy Eat World sticking around to help you remember what it was like to check out those bands on the smaller stages in the first place.
This year’s Riot Fest proved that what you really love never leaves you, no matter how old you get. The band reunion, the set that’s a favorite album front-to-back that takes you back to a place in time you’d never thought you’d see or feel again –that’s what music becomes for everyone anyway.
Just accept it and have fun.
And go to Riot Fest.