Tales of a First-Time Riot Fest-er
'Ello there Ladies & Gentlemen! Thanks for leaving the lights on for me! Been a while since I've been here, hope you all have been having a great summer and are ready for the fall. In fitting with the new, lo-fi version of ABOG, I'll be adding articles without editing as well. No more spell check, no more paragraphs, run on sentences....okay okay, I'll keep it a little professional...
So this year my friend Gary and I finally pulled the trigger and went to Riot Fest Chicago located in Douglas Park. We have read about it the last few years and it has always sounded like a great time, so we wanted to experience it for ourselves. Lots of great acts this year - Nine Inch Nails, Queens of the Stone Age, Jawbreaker(!) and tons more. We ended up staying in Rosemont with easy access to the "L" system for transportation to the grounds. Which took about an hour but better than driving and parking! What follows is our story....
2:00PM (All times approximate): After a late lunch at Lagunitas Brewery Taproom, we proceeded to enter the grounds and get the lay of the land, figure out where the stages are, check out the merch tents, etc.
3:05PM: We head over to the Roots Stage to catch the legendary X play. I haven't seen them in at least ten years and it's good to see them still out playing, celebrating 40 years.
4:00PM: Off to the Riot Stage to catch The Buzzcocks' patented brand of punk. They put on a great set - played every song you would expect them to play. The crowd is starting to fill in...
5:00PM: Next up - Death From Above come out and just kill it for 55 minutes. Solid set from them and the crowd was really into it.
6:00PM: Ministry is up next, and the crowd is now here in force. The sight-lines on these stages are not the greatest and there were video screens up, but they aren't quite high enough. Regardless, Ministry launch into their set and it's full steam ahead. I've seen them several times, so we chose to go get something to eat halfway through the set...
7:30PM: After waiting in line and eating, we head back and see the last half of New Order play. They sound tight, and finish up with the trifecta: Blue Monday, Temptation, and Love Will Tear Us Apart. Then we start to make our way over to the Riot Stage for Nine Inch Nails.
8:35PM: Trent Reznor & co come out and just destroy for 90 minutes. Packed crowd and very hard to see anything. Sight-lines prove to be a problem for those of us who are shorter. Still, this is one of the better shows that they have put on that I have been to. Trent comments that he was very humbled to be playing the same stage as New Order and Ministry. Those of you who missed it really missed out....
11:30AM: We are already on our way to Douglas Park, an hour ride by bus and L train. Today's line up will prove to be a tough one for us, as it is stacked with lots we want to see. Later in the afternoon we will have to make choices as there are a lot of overlapping sets. Sometimes you got to take the good with the bad....
1:00PM: We grab a brew and head to the Riot Stage, where old-school punkers GBH come out and just kill it. They have a new album coming out, the new stuff sounds good next to the old stuff, and I can tell already it's going to be a good day. No sooner said than the stage starts to have sound problems. Oops, spoke too soon.
1:45PM: We make our way to the Radicals Stage, one of two that play the somewhat smaller tier acts, to catch Fishbone. We have seen them fairly recently, but here they're playing the Truth & Soul album in it's entirety. Good set, there's a few songs on there that they say they haven't played in 30 years. Cool. I begin to catch a few whiffs of the day's first marijuana smoke. No, it's not mine, but it's prevalent in great quantities. I look at who's headlining this stage tonight: Wu-Tang Clan. No further explanation is required.
2:40PM: Back over to the Riot Stage for Peaches. I know very little of her stuff, but I've heard the stage show must be seen. It's just her and two female dancers, with a DJ rig set up for her to trigger her electro-dance songs. The bass is way up in the mix, but it sounds good. She's got some weird outfit on, her dancers are dressed in vagina costumes, and yet this will not be the weirdest moment of her set. Peaches is not shy, neither are her dancers. Costume changes are done right on stage. The costumes will progressively get less and less, until there are three topless women on stage. Simulating sex acts. I have not been disappointed by this set.
3:25PM: Dead Cross start their set on the Roots Stage, conveniently located right next to the Riot Stage. Dead Cross are a hardcore group made up of Mike Patton, Dave Lombardo, and two guys from Retox, Mike Crain and Justin Pearson. They have an album that is just over 30 minutes long. Gary and I look at each other and wonder how they are going to fill an hour set. And just like that, we find out: lots of stage banter from Mike Patton. Lots of talking about the nudity just witnessed a stage over. (Also, Mike Patton gets off the best one liner of the event: when asking the crowd if they were excited to see Fidlar, there was a resounding cheer. His response: "Of course, this is the Midwest, you'll listen to anything!") And two cover songs, one from GG Allin, one from Dead Kennedys. I was just glad to see Dave Lombardo in action, since I've never gotten to see Slayer. And the sound is way better on this stage than the Riot one next door.
4:50PM: After a small break to get another beer (and some water, it is hot in this park and not much shade to be found. Luckily, they have water stations that allow you to fill up water bottles so you don't have to pay every time for bottled water. It's one of the better perks of this festival.) we head over to catch the legendary Bad Brains on the Radicals Stage. All original members, including guitarist Dr Know, just seven months removed from brain surgery. Amazing. Age has taken it's toll on these guys, it is obvious that singer HR can't keep up to the band with the faster songs, such as "Pay To Cum" and "Soul Craft". Most of their set tends towards their reggae songs. Sound is not great here, either.
5:30PM: Bad Brains are finishing their set, I take a look around at the crowd. They seem into it, and when I look back at the stage, HR is gone, and some dreadlocked white guy is pacing the stage, the rest of the band is still there. Turns out Randy Blythe, singer from lamb of god, is in town. He sings three songs with the band, and it is awesome.
6:00PM: Small break in the action for us, we grab something to eat, check out the schedule at the Rise Stage, which is the other mid tier stage and see that it is filled with latter day Warped Tour emo bands like Bayside and New Found Glory. We decide to check out the Heather Owen stage on the other side of the grounds. This is the smallest stage here, but it's got a good lineup of lesser known bands. We see The Regrettes, who are great as always, and then make our way towards the main stages. On the way there, we stop for a few minutes of Beastie Boy Mike D's DJ set. I'm not impressed, he and his DJ (why it's Mike D's DJ set I'll never know, since he had someone on the deck for him) are just playing snippets of rap songs and asking the crowd what they want to hear next. At the Roots Stage Danzig is playing and he sounds bad. His voice is shot. I haven't seen him before, so maybe he always sounds this way live. I don't think I will ever find out if that's the case.
6:40PM: Gogol Bordello takes the Riot Stage for a fun set. Lots of energy from all the band members, it's fun to see. If you don't know them, they play a style of gypsy punk that is just infectious. They haven't quite captured that sound on record, so definitely see them live if you can. The sound is muffled somewhat. This is the stage that Queens of the Stone Age will be playing around 8:45. Great.
7:45PM: At The Drive-In take the stage and the sound has been boosted somewhat. They are loud, but unfortunately the stage they are playing on does not have sound problems. So now it's really loud. They played great, but at about halfway through their set we need to make the trek back to the Heather Owen stage to catch a little of Streetlight Manifesto. This involves making a rather large loop around the Radicals stage that is currently hosting Wu Tang. The festival made a tactical error putting them on a smaller stage, it is overflowing with people. Sounds great though. They were playing their debut album, and that's a good one. We do make it for Streetlight, then have to wind our way back to the Riot Stage for Queens.
8:45PM: By the time we get there, Queens has already started, and as expected, has an overflow crowd. We hang out near the back, sound is muffled, but the stage is very brilliantly and colorfully lit. The camera operators, who throughout the festival have shown off very limited capabilities and have tested audience patience with special effects that are better left alone, choose this set to show everything in black & white. It's nice to have the screens, but the light show was very colorful. Too bad they didn't translate that to the screen. Overall, Queens plays a solid set, but finish early and don't play an encore. Sigh.
12:00PM: This is about the earliest we have arrived. Beach Slang play on the Riot Stage at 12:40, so we have some time to check out the merch tents and talk to a few people. One thing I have found at Riot Fest, the people are overall nice and get along well. There is a minimal security presence on the grounds, especially away from the stages, but you don't feel like things are going to collapse. Honestly very refreshing for a concert as big as this. Beach Slang come out and put on an amusing show, the lead singer is funny as hell. He is obviously jazzed to be playing the same stage as Jawbreaker, who headline this night.
2:00PM: Hot Water Music are playing the Roots stage and sound really good. We are not watching them as we have seen them before and have not really been impressed. For some reason, this time they sound very raw and in your face, not at all what I am used to from them. However, we skip that and head back to the Heather Owen Stage for the performance art based Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black. I cannot describe them, you'll have to look them up for yourselves. I would say Peaches beat them out for a stage show, but just barely.
3:20PM: Next up is Mighty Mighty Bosstones, celebrating the 20th anniversary of Let's Face It. They come out and just take command of the stage. We have seen them many many times and they have not lost a step. Full of energy, killer playing and great songs. Singer Dickey Barrett praises Hot Water Music, telling the crowd that "if you missed them, you fucked up." Oops. Sorry Dickey. Next time.
5:00PM: A small break to eat then it's back to the smallest stage for The Flatliners. We are missing Pennywise for this. Even though you can still hear them from way over at the main stage. Apparently, sound problems are fixed. Flatliners play great. We stay at this stage to see Mad Caddies play their brand of ska-punk. They are tight and sound fantastic. They never disappoint.
6:45PM: We decide to catch the last 15 minutes of TV On The Radio. They are playing some slower, quieter songs. Why? Because they want Dinosaur Jr to drown them out apparently. It seems an odd fit, them being at Riot Fest. But they sounded good. The crowd was mostly bored, so I guess I don't know why they were there and not checking something else out. At this point, I'm tired, so probably they were too.
7:00PM: We are headed off the grounds. We decide to skip Prophets of Rage (next time!) and Jawbreaker (not a fan anyway). Probably should have stayed, but we both had long drives back home that night, so we left.
Overall a great experience being there. I'm glad we went. Would I go every year? Probably not. It would depend on the lineup. We will see what next year brings. Hopefully a few changes to the audio and video systems. The people who put on Riot Fest do a great job of getting acts though. Every year there is something worth making the trek for. See you next year, punkers.