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.
The weather was pitch-perfect the first two days of Riot Fest – so you know that it wouldn’t last, and rain came down on Sunday morning. This left some mud on the ground, but people were relatively prepared, and only once during the day did it actually rain hard. Still, it didn’t help with turnout, especially early, so you might have missed veterans like Peter Hook & The Light doing a special Joy Division set, or Mission of Burma actually playing their old classics along with their new not-as-greats.
One act that certainly didn’t let the cloudy skies get to them was Japan’s Peelander-Z, who were all you would have hoped for – costumes, craziness, crowd surfing (by the band), limbo line, and more. They would introduce their songs with cardboard signs, which did help, as even Peelander-Yellow noted, “I cannot play guitar very well; I cannot speak English very well.” That was when he was handing off axe duties to Peelander-Yellow 2; at another point, he climbed on the shoulders of Peelander-Purple to not only play guitar, but also sing from a very elongated mikestand…
The worst rain of the festival came during the end of Against Me! and the start of Bob Mould, but thankfully hurt neither the performances nor crowds. The continued success and love for Against Me! after singer/frontman Tom Gabel’s (QRO interview) announcement of his sex change operation into Laura Jane Grace has been quite heartening; such an act, and so public, is still hard to accept in any sphere of life, and one really would have feared the sometimes-macho punk scene wouldn’t have handled it well, but instead, it’s been smooth.
Sort of akin to twenty years ago when punk rock icon Bob Mould came out as gay, and just kept on rocking. The rain was hardest during his set, and one could definitely have feared that the young Riot Fest crowd wouldn’t have respect for an elder (like at the thin, rain-soaked audience he had last month in Montreal at Osheaga Music Festival – QRO photos), but it was a strong one. Mould did basically the same set he’s been doing all year (QRO live review from earlier in 2013), starting with tracks from Sugar’s Copper Blue (which celebrated its twentieth anniversary last year with a deluxe re-release – QRO review – and full-on Copper shows – QRO live review), then from last year’s new Silver Age (QRO review), and then some Hüsker Dü (QRO spotlight on), so it wasn’t that surprising if you were a longtime fan, but it showed to the many in the crowd who probably didn’t know Mould, what all the fuss was about. He actually lived in Chicago at one point, and will be back in the Windy City in a month to record his new album.
After Against Me! and Bob Mould, it was mostly newer bands that didn’t shine. The Dismemberment Plan may have made their fans happy with their reunion & new record, Uncanney Valley, but Chris Conley of Saves the Day sounded kind of emo-pleading at the too-distant Rock Stage. Suicidal Tendencies were just speed metal, and All Time Low just screamo, but you knew that already. And AFI was just as overwrought as you expected (plus, they did a cover of The Cure’s “Just Like Heaven”?!? That’s the territory of Day Two’s Dinosaur Jr.!).
A more surprising disappointment, maybe the biggest disappointment of Riot Fest, was the Pixies – though not for the reasons you’d have expected. Kim Deal left the reunited band, again, to focus on her Breeders (QRO live review), but replacement Kim Shattuck (of The Muffs) was more than capable of filling the ‘Kim slot’ on bass and for female vocals. The group, who reunited way back in 2004 at Coachella, basically starting the indie-rock reunion trend of this century/millennium, are finally putting out some new music, after touring their admittedly classic original stuff in the dirt (QRO live review), but the new stuff didn’t drag down the performance.
No, it was the volume that dragged it down – namely that it just wasn’t loud enough. There were lots of people in the large, spread-out crowd who were annoyed by the lack of volume, how it wasn’t louder than the chattering-amongst-themselves that it invited the crowd to do. It even inhibited all the singing-along that should have been happening. Thankfully, the sound was much better at their intimate club shows the following week in NYC (QRO review).
And even the Pixies umpteenth reunion show couldn’t compare to the main event at Riot Fest, not just on Sunday but the entire festival – the return of The Replacements! Now, yes, this is just singer/guitarist Paul Westerberg and bassist Tommy Stinson (QRO solo album review) from the original band – Bob Stinson is dead, Slim Dunlap is sick, and Christopher Mars didn’t want to work with Westerberg, but this is The Replacements, the band that defined ‘college rock’ in the eighties with eight amazing albums, first four independent (QRO deluxe edition reviews), then four on major label (QRO deluxe edition review). This is the band that broke up right there in Chicago way back in 1991, with each member leaving one-by-one during final song “Hootenanny”, to be replaced by roadies (a.k.a., ‘It’s Not Over Until ‘Til the Last Roadie Plays’…). This was only their second reunion show – and the first one was the month prior at satellite fest, Riot Fest Toronto (QRO photos). This is The ‘Mats!
What’s more, this was The ‘Mats having fun. Back in the eighties, The Replacements were notorious for wild, drunken performances that could be amazing or a total screw-up (they reportedly had a gig in Portland that was so bad that they wrote the b-side “Portland”, with the closing line, “Portland… I’m sorry”). But that was a long time ago, and they’re a lot older, so would they be buttoned up? Far from it. Westerberg was in a great mood from the get-go (maybe not having Bob Stinson or Christopher Mars up on stage with him had something to do with it…), joking with the crowd and more. Early on he took out the stage clock that was telling him when it was time to end, swinging it around his head by the power cord and tossing it off stage. He more than once forgot the words to a song, even remarking, “Tarzan stink. Tarzan not care.” He picked up and ‘played’ a guitar stand at one point (“Glad this always stays in tune…”). When he asked if the crowd wanted to hear “‘Waitress [In the Sky’] or [‘Kiss Me On the] Bus’?”, he replied back, “Both? Okay!” And at one point, when he was giving replacement Replacement guitarist David Minehan crap (on drums that was the best utility player this side of Tommy Stinson, Josh Freese), he added, “We could have Bob Mould up here in a second…”
The set was all old songs (nothing from the recent benefit Songs For Slim EP – QRO review), but that’s eight-plus albums of greatness – and emphasis on the ‘plus’, because not only was there a b-side from the group’s amazing posthumous greatest hits/b-side compilation All For Nothing/Nothing For All in “Wake Up”, but the greatest cover band this side of Yo La Tengo (QRO live review) also had some great covers mixed in (sometimes literally mixed in, fitting in some bars of Jimi Hendrix’s “3rd Stone From the Sun” into “Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out”, or seguing directly from “Love You On Friday” into Chuck Berry’s “Maybellene”). With any other long-awaited reunion of a band with so much great original material, covers would be a disappointment, but one of the easy highlights of the highlight-heavy set was their version of “Borstal Breakout” by original punk rockers Sham 69.
Of the original studio material, the evening began back at the beginning with debut Sorry Ma, Forgot To Take Out the Trash in such rockers as “Takin’ a Ride”, “I’m In Trouble”, and “Hangin’ Downtown”, not to mention “Color Me Impressed” from third album Hootenanny, before shifting into usually regarded as their greatest record, the following Let It Be. Not only did Tommy get his tonsils out, but also there was “Favorite Thing” early, and “Androgynous” & “I Will Dare” back-to-back (with an outro cover of “Hey, Good Lookin’” in between). After Borstal was broken out of, the rest of the performance was devoted to fifth & sixth albums Tim and Please To Meet Me, especially Tim, which included killer singles like Tim’s “Left of the Dial” (the anthem of college-rock), “Kiss Me On the Bus” & “Waitress In the Sky” together, and, of course, “Bastards of the Young”, not to mention Pleased’s amazing tribute “Alex Chilton”, and “Can’t Hardly Wait”, with “I.O.U.” closing out Riot Fest.
Naturally, with so many great Replacement songs, there were gonna be a ton of songs that you wished that they played, not just from albums (“Someone Take the Wheel”, “We’ll Inherit the Earth”, “The Ledge”, “Here Comes a Regular”, “Answering Machine”, “Lovelines”, “Go”, I’m-in-love-with-a-girl-who-works-at-a-store-but-I’m-nobody-‘cause-I’m-a-“Customer”…), but also b-sides (“Satellite”, “Beer For Breakfast”) and even other covers (“Another Girl, Another Planet”, Songs For Slim’s “Busted Up”). It was interesting to note that there was nothing from second record Stink (save “Hey, Good Lookin’”, a cover of which as in the deluxe edition extras), and only one each from final two albums Don’t Tell a Soul (“Achin’ To Be”) and All Shook Down (“Merry Go Round”) – but Stink was only seven songs long (with no-longer-age-appropriate pieces such as “Kids Don’t Follow”, “Fuck School”, and “God Damn Job”), and Soul & Shook were the softest, most ‘just Westerberg’ Replacements albums. And it would have been really awesome had either Laura Jane Grace come up for “Androgynous” (which she covered at a show in NYC, just after announcing her change – the closest was Westerberg name-checking Day One’s Joan Jett during the song, just before he forgot the lyrics…), or Mould for “Something To Dü”, The Replacements’ early kiss-off song to their rivals in Minneapolis (apparently, they couldn’t get Bob up there in a second…). But those are minor quibbles about one of the best reunion performances ever.