Chicago’s plethora of venues and underground music birthed the Riot Fest there in 2005, with punk acts from DIY to major label playing all across the city. In 2011 it spread to Philadelphia as the one-day Riot Fest East (QRO photos), but it was last year that saw the Fest graduate to the big-time with one big, central location in Humboldt Park, along with one-day satellite events in Brooklyn, Dallas, and Toronto. And in 2013 the festival has gone even bigger, with a two-day event in Toronto beforehand (QRO photos) and another two days in Denver the weekend afterwards – along with a massive three-day fest in the Chi-Town, Friday to Sunday, September 13th to 15th.
Being a weekday, Friday at Riot Fest started later than the subsequent two days, with the first band on a 4:00 PM, but unfortunately that meant that all the punks trying to catch the Division Street bus to Humboldt Park were not only all trying to catch it at the same time, but also at right around rush hour. Each bus was packed to the gills by/before the Ashland stop, much to the consternation of anyone trying to board it later on down the line – at one further point, an old woman cursed out what was likely the umpteenth full bus that passed her stop by, even motioning to kiss her ass…
So you might have missed early punks like The Flatliners or Smoking Popes, or only heard Riot Fest’s random hip-hop act, Saul Williams, doing spoken word, from the other side of the entrance – but the party only really started with the ultimate party-starter, Andrew W.K. Unlike other dates on his ‘Party Messiah Tour’ (QRO live review), W.K. had a full band behind him, making for a fuller party experience at the distant Rise Stage. Admittedly, everything works back to partying, every song, every comment (the sun might have still been out – albeit setting right in the eyes of many fans – but, “If you party, every day is night!”), but that’s what you wanted from Andrew W.K. (who also head bangs like no one else this side of the “Bohemian Rhapsody” opening sequence to the Wayne’s World movie…).
While Riot Fest was decidedly a punk rock festival (no hipster ‘chillwave’ here…), its punk roamed from mainstream to DIY, and from old to new to in between. For instance, do you remember Yellowcard? Well, apparently a lot of people do, because they had a big crowd for their set, who sang along to their closer (which was likely their one big hit from back whenever). More understandable in their longer longevity is Bad Religion – even if they’ve basically made the same agit-punk record over and over again, it’s a good record; it’s easy to have a favorite Bad Religion album, even if it’s hard to keep up with the group. At Riot Fest the group did songs from their latest, this year’s True North (including the title track), and even if you didn’t know the songs or understood Greg Gaffin’s literate lyrics, they sounded like pieces you did know – and they likely played one or two songs that you actually did know (for your correspondent, early piece “I Wanna Conquer the World” and still-relevant “21st Century Digital Boy”). Gaffin even remarked on the age of some the acts playing the festival, “Lot of eighties bands tonight – oh wait, we’re from the eighties!…”
But the best band whose songs you didn’t know at Riot Fest was easily GWAR. The mock-horror stage show, replete with demon costumes and buckets of fake blood, would stand out anywhere, and didn’t fail to do so in Chicago. What other group starts out with a beheading, and only a few songs in does the singer declare, “Let’s get some blood & death in here!” (with which the photographers in the photo pit rushed out…)? Oderus Urungus (a.k.a. Dave Brockie – QRO interview) led the defiling of just about everything sacred, chopping of Queen Elizabeth’s tits, crucifying Jesus with upgraded slave Bonesplitter (joking that he’s a troll, not a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle – and that they thought they’d ditched him at a rest stop in Kansas City…), creating, then beheading a “Super Zombie Jesus”, and more. The voice of God even challenged GWAR, remarking, “But first, you must remember: I DO NOT EXIST!” Even Oderus was taken aback, “Didn’t see that coming…”
Admittedly GWAR’s music plays second fiddle to the spectacle, but they still had a few memorable ones like oldie “Bring Back the Bomb” – Oderus introducing the piece by saying, “It’s good to see that Russia is helping Syria get rid of their chemical weapons – so they can sell them new chemical weapons!” He also shot his load over the crowd during “Pre-School Prostitutes”, and had a new song about his time on the gladiatorial sex planet of Scumdogia (“It sucked, but I still got laid!”). The new piece was from Battle Maximus, out right after Riot Fest and named after late guitarist Flattus Maximus (a.k.a. Cory Smoot), to whom Oderus paid tribute, remaking that he was rocking in the intergalactic sky now…
After that awesomeness, the rest of Riot Fest Day One couldn’t help but pale in comparison. Atmosphere was probably good for those at the festival who like rhymes, and Joan Jett & The Blackhearts were likely the oldest act of the entire three days – but played a set short even for a festival set (still was great to hear “Bad Reputation”, which was introduced to a whole new generation as the theme song to TV’s short-lived Freaks & Geeks – which itself introduced the world to the likes of James Franco, Seth Rogen, Jason Segel, and Linda Cardellini). One had to wonder why people were excited to see Sublime with Rome – the ‘with Rome’ is because the original ‘Sublime’ name is owned by the estate of late singer/guitarist Bradley Nowell; ‘Sublime with Rome’ is basically a Sublime cover band that happens to have the bassist & drummer from Sublime, but is fronted by fan Rome Ramirez – and Sublime weren’t that great in the first place. Danzig celebrated their 25th anniversary over on the Rise Stage by not letting anyone in take photos or video (not even the festival itself…), while Fall Out Boy proved whatever you already thought about Fall Out Boy, as they closed out the first night with a surprisingly metal set (which started with them all wearing ski masks).