Once again, Fall begins to roll around in Chicago, and so does the annual Riot Fest. This year, there were significant improvements compared to past years: there was not as much stress about where the festival was going to be held – finally finding its place in Douglas Park following the (justified) drama of having to leave Humbold Park last year.
Overall, for a punk rock festival, the crowds stayed relatively calm, save for some organized and contained mosh pits during some of the sets, proving once again that Riot Fest is one of today’s most genuine music festivals. We danced, we raged, we moshed, we had the time of our lives. This year, members of UIC Radio got to experience some amazing sets at the festival, from melancholy indie rock to classic punk reunions to experimental hip hop and beyond, we saw the best of the best. Long live Riot Fest.
(Check out our reviews and image gallery below!)
Friday, September 16, 2016:
“I know it’s early, but if we pretend it’s night time…”
Right before going into a new frenzied synth-heavy workout, “Change Your Life (You Can Do It),” Dan Deacon didn’t shy away from the fact that he had an afternoon set. That determination to bring a small slice of Friday night to daytime included starting a dance off in the middle of the field, where the goal was to “be sassy like Snagglepuss going to meet Sylvester at his house, and Tweety Bird is going to be there too.”
Technical issues brought the set to a brief halt, but Deacon’s banter was still entertaining as he discussed people who don’t believe the moon is real. The set ended with another dance off where one side of the crowd was encouraged to “dance as though Game of Thrones took place in a universe not run by the patriarchy.”
– Ivan Mitchell
“There’s a natural mystic in the air…” Marley crooned, opening his hour long set at the Riot Stage on Friday. And there was indeed a certain mystic in the air that afternoon, some sort of magic that could have only been Bob’s ghost itself, conjured up by tunes he wrote almost 40 years ago and the crowd singing along to each and every song of the set.
Julian Marley performed his father’s Exodus to an enamored, albeit, hazy crowd, smoothly easing the audience into the evening shift of Riot Fest with classics like “Jamming,” “Waiting in Vain,” my personal favorite, “Turn your Lights Down Low,” and of course, “Exodus.” His large backing band expertly created the transportive musical backdrop for Marley’s political, sometimes sensual lyrics, with the pulsing, wavy, sometimes psychedelic voices that are so familiar to reggae. Coming from a family of award-winning reggae artists and activists, Julian Marley and his band did not disappoint.
– Flora Monacelli
The lineup may not be the same as it was when the band formed in England almost 40 years ago (Gary Powell of The Libertines is backing them on drums this tour, for starters), yet there’s no denying the vitality of The Specials’ catalog, whoever is performing it.
That was evident in the first song of the set, “Ghost Town,” which is arguably their most popular track. It’s typically festival blasphemy for an artist to start with their biggest hit, so as to avoid a mass exodus of the crowd. However, the legendary ska band still had plenty of classics to go through for the faithful devoted, including the rocksteady “A Message to You, Rudy” and “Nite Klub,” which started several skanking circles across the field. By the time they got to “Little B—h” towards the end with its shout-along refrain of “One! Two!”, the energy had hit such a peak that another half-hour from the band would have likely been welcome. With a heavy dose of political commentary and bouncy rhythms, The Specials had enough ammo to create a full-on party, but not one without substance.
– Ivan Mitchell
Jimmy Eat World
Due to Chicago’s unpredictable traffic and my poor sense of direction, I almost missed Jimmy Eat World’s set. However, I was lucky enough to make it in time to see the remaining half of the band’s performance for my first ever Riot Fest! I remember first getting into the band back in the early 2000’s when I heard their song “The Middle” on the radio. It’s been a long time since Bleed American was released (it was released back in 2001!). In fact, the band is already on their ninth studio album, titled Integrity Blues, and it’s set to be released next month.
That being said, their set included some of their latest tracks from their upcoming album like “Sure & Certain,” a recent single. But the band tied things up at the end of their performance by bringing back the good old classics, like “Sweetness,” washing over the crowd with a collective feeling of nostalgia and wishing for a little more time with the band. And of course they ended with “The Middle.”
– Pearl Shin
All Time Low
The sun was becoming dreamy mixture of blues and purples as I waited for All Time Low to take the Rise Stage on Day 1 of Riot Fest. Shortly before they began, the intro to Jay Z and Kanye West’s song “Ni**as in Paris” played through the speakers. As I wondered about how young pop punk fans became slightly older Kanye fans, All Time Low entered the stage, greeting the audience energetically with “How are you guys? I’ve missed you so much” before diving right into 2010 hit “Lost In The Stereo.”
All Time Low’s set brought me back to the days of early high school in which early 2000s rock was my life. I was surprisingly proud seeing them go from underground music venues to a pretty large-scale Chicago music festival. The band’s likeness to the ways they performed and interacted with the crowd was uncanny, and I wondered if they tried to evolve their presence to go along with the present, but it turned they didn’t need to in order to still have a following. Even after a few years of growing up and forgetting some of the songs, I found myself shouting along to the finale of “Dear Maria, Count Me In” and realizing that not everything has to change in order to still be interesting later on. Long live early 2000s era rock!
– Sonia Vavra
Ween was the best show I’ve seen in years. And I’m not just saying that because I love Ween. Seriously, what could be better than sublime-inducing guitar solos, lyrics that simultaneously make you cringe and smile, (or cringe and cry, whatever you’re into), and goofy banter that could double as a comedy act?
Sonically, Ween drifted from a fast paced rockin’ first 45 minutes to a psychedelic, abstract soul shredding second half of the set with the performance of “Tear for Eddie,” a song written in respect to the great Eddie Hazel, early guitarist of Funkadelic, and in the style of his masterpiece “Maggot Brain.” This awe-inducing instrumental song mesmerized the entire audience, the crowd was quiet as they watched Dean Ween solo, doing his best work.
Before “Tear for Eddie” changed the tone of the set, Ween played classics such as “Baby Bitch,” “Touch My Tooter,” and “I’ll Be Your Jonny on the Spot.” Their energy never wavered and the crowd, an eclectic group of men and women, young and old, excitedly shouted out the lyrics with Gene Ween, the lead singer. After “Tear for Eddie,” Gene asked the crowd, “Are you ready to continue on this spaceship?” which as mentioned previously, brought the set a new palette of psychedelic, sci-fi, time warped colors, especially with jams like “Zoloft,” “The Stallion Part 3,” and finally ending with the magically transportive “Buenas Tardes Amigo.”
This is a set I will be talking about for decades to come. The sonically and visually immersing performance left us all screaming, “90 more songs! 90 more songs!” even after the final lights had turned on.
– Flora Monacelli
The Flaming Lips
Day 1 of Riot Fest had gone by so quickly I realized as I was dashing to the other side of Douglas Park to catch The Flaming Lips’ set. With a short greeting, The Flaming Lips went right into it, opening with “Race For The Prize.” I stood in wonder of the stage and at frontman Wayne Coyne in his long, fuzzy-trimmed trench coat. The show began with a burst of energy: confetti was popped, fog cannons exploded, and giant balloons were released to bounce amok over the audience. This foreshadowed what a trip the rest of the performance that Friday night: bright, colorful, and completely mind-blowing.
Not far off into the show, The Flaming Lips brought out giant, crown-wearing butterflies and a huge grinning sun to join them on stage for the performance of “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, pt. 1.” Right after singing the first line, “Her name is Yoshimi / she’s a blackbelt in karate”, the audience shouts out “Hey! Hey!” to follow the chronology of the song. It turns out, they sang it so well that Coyne actually stopped the performance mid-song to say, “That karate chop part was so great, I think that’s a good indicator of how the rest of the show is going to go. Maybe how the rest of your lives are going to go!” The positivity brought through in the performance was much needed.
The continuity of the set was rather ragged at times, such as waiting for inflatable characters to shimmy their way to their places on stage or to suit up Coyne in a light-up fringe cloak and place him on top of Chewbacca for a song, there were minutes of uninterrupted quiet on stage. This, however, made for a great payoff in more situations than one: the highlight of the show was when Coyne took one of these moments to climb into an inflatable hamster ball mid-performance. The band lightly strummed a guitar for a few moments, then dove into their cover of the late David Bowie’s “Space Oddity.” During the musical break, Coyne rolled onto the audience in the hamster ball to sing the last verse held up by fans’ hands. It was an emotional performance for all.
The Flaming Lips concluded their set with their hit “Do You Realize,” but before delving into it, Coyne gave an emotional speech about how fans come to their shows who are often very sad, and that he was glad he could help these people be less sad for a while, even if that is just a few hours. No matter who you were or where you came from, we all all shared a moment of happiness together at this set.
– Sonia Vavra
Saturday, September 17, 2016:
The Hold Steady
Continuing the Riot Fest tradition of classic album sets, The Hold Steady performed their 2006 effort Boys and Girls In America in its entirety during the middle of a sunny afternoon. At the time, it was one of the most critically-acclaimed albums of the year and cemented the group as an indie rock stalwart, a reputation that still has them performing at major festivals. Evidence of how much the album still resonates could be seen on the lips of festival goers as they sang along to such Hold Steady standards as “Chips Ahoy” and “Stuck Between Stations,” and even deeper cuts like “You Can Make Him Like You.”
The Hold Steady delivered their songs with such a force and earnestness that it’s not hard to see how they’ve maintained their loyal following. With a good dose of piano and songs of woe, the group could easily have had another life as the best bar band in America. Onstage in front of a big crowd, they’re just simply one of the best bands on a weekend loaded with good ones. Plus, what’s a Hold Steady show without “Your Little Hoodrat Friend”?
– Ivan Mitchell
Fitz and the Tantrums
There are few bands that can come close to Fitz and the Tantrum’s uplifting, positive, and energetic stage presence. Led by two incredible singers, Michael Fitzpatrick and Noelle Scaggs, the band brought back the bright, lively vibes of the summer to the Roots Stage on the second day of Riot Fest. Fitzpatrick and Scaggs strutted around the stage as they sang and interacted with the crowd; encouraging the audience to sing, clap, and dance along with them. Some of the hits that the band performed include “Hand Clap,” “Out of My League,” “Fools Gold,” “Roll It Down,” “MoneyGrabber,” and “The Walker.”
The band has been to Chicago many times in the past, but this was the first time that I actually had the chance to see them perform. Despite the unusually hot September weather, the band put their all into their show, never slacking in their performance. Their energy seemed endless. Fitzpatrick stated that the band has sold out many concerts that they played in The Windy City and I could clearly see why.
– Pearl Shin
Method Man & Redman
Between the two of them, Method Man and Redman can lay claim to some of the most raucous and enduring tracks in hip hop history. Although they only have two official albums together as a duo, their collective solo catalogs help the stage show serve as a brief highlight reel of ’90s East Coast rap. From Redman’s “Time 4 Sum Aksion” to Meth’s “Bring The Pain, the twosome’s Riot Fest set was as warmly nostalgic as it was bone-crunching.
Those classics, along with many others, were brought to life with a veteran presence that knew exactly how to work a large crowd over. Whether it was asking if they were for the legalization of marijuana or getting them to bounce up and down to snippets of House of Pain’s “Jump Around” and Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” Meth and Red provided no shortage of opportunities to make the audience feel engaged. Throw in an onslaught of certified bangers such as “Da Goodness,” Wu-Tang Clan’s “Method Man” and LL Cool J’s “4, 3, 2, 1,” and you got a performance that felt like getting two for the price of one.
– Ivan Mitchell
Death Cab For Cutie
While still in the rock spectrum, Death Cab For Cutie was a band that took the rioting down a notch for their Saturday night performance. Death Cab For Cutie is a band that I’ve loved since I was just beginning to form a taste in music back in early high school, and seeing them up close at a proper show of theirs for the first time was the highlight of my weekend.
The band opened up with 8-minute jam “I Will Possess Your Heart,” and the extended opening bassline was enough to get the crowd excited and ready for more. The setlist was a pretty even mix of new songs off of their latest album Kintsugi and other favorites, such as Transatlantacism and Plans. It was one of those concerts that dug into the warm, fuzzy parts of my memories with friends and my teenaged need to be the melancholic, angsty hipster that I knew I was but never would have admitted out loud.
Midway through the set, frontman Ben Gibbard dedicated his acoustic solo performance of “I Will Follow You Into The Dark,” which he dedicated to the Descendants, a band he said he was unsure of how he waited 20+ years to listen to. Nothing like mutual band love, I guess?
Ending with older hits “Cath…”, “Soul Meets Body,” and “Marching Bands of Manhattan,” Death Cab was the much-needed nostalgic cooldown amongst the moshing and head-banging of the weekend, and I left feeling a newfound sense of satisfaction and calmness.
– Sonia Vavra
“Back in ’83, I was an MC sparking
But I was too scared to grab the mics in the park and
Kick my little raps ’cause I thought n—– wouldn’t understand
And now in every jam I’m the f—–‘ man”
One has to wonder if NAS performs “Halftime” so often at shows just so he can say that line. Not that he needs any reassurance, but you’d have to be a fool to deny that he is officially the man at this point in his career. With each passing year, his status as a legend grows, given that he created Illmatic and can still hold his own among the current generation of MCs. With no true hype man, save for his drummer chiming in at times, NAS held down the stage by himself as he delivered intricately woven tales like “One Love” and “Get Down” that required more thought and less adrenaline than what the crowd may have been expecting.
Still, this is NAS that we’re talking about. He’s a natural-born storyteller with a gift that would cause any audience to pay attention. Not to say there weren’t moments where the field became unglued. NAS’ versatility was on display during tracks like “Hip Hop Is Dead” and “One Mic,” where his laidback demeanor took a backseat to his lively side.
With day two coming to a close, it was finally time for Saturday’s headliner, Morrissey, to perform. Knowing his history of no-shows, many people at the festival, including myself, were concerned whether or not the singer would actually decide to make an appearance at Riot Fest.
When the stage lights dimmed for his set, the crowd waited anxiously in anticipation to see the legend come onto stage. Moments later, the audience was greeted by a music video of The Ramones with no sign of Morrissey anywhere. Following the music video, other classic rock music videos continued to be played on the background of the stage, leaving the crowd very confused.
After a few more music videos, some people started to leave the crowd, assuming the Morrissey wouldn’t end up performing. There was no explanation as to what was happening throughout the streaming of the videos. Beginning to lose hope myself, I contemplated leaving as well. In the end, I decided to stick around just in case he would show up. That ultimately turned out to be a good call since Morrissey finally came on stage 30 minutes later, starting his set as if the awkward screening of the music videos never even happened.
During the entirety of his set, Morrissey performed songs from his solo career rather than the songs from his time in The Smiths. In between songs, he would discuss political views, referencing issues surrounding Brexit and the US’ presidential race among others. Before concluding his performance, Morrissey performed “What She Said” from The Smiths’ album Meat Is Murder, leaving me feeling bittersweet. Even with his late start, Morrissey’s performance at Riot Fest was truly the highlight of my second day at the festival.
– Pearl Shin
Sunday, September 18, 2016:
When someone who loves to party as much as Andrew W.K. does declare that he’s officially lost times of how often he’s partied at Riot Fest, it’s a wonder that he still has some left in the tank. Then again, who are we to doubt the man who sang “Party Hard?” Kicking the set off with “It’s Time To Party” and “Take It Off,” W.K. led the afternoon crowd in a flurry of fist pumps and rampant bodysurfing, all set to the tune of sugary metal anthems. Additionally, the visual of him at a piano furiously whipping his long hair only sent the crowd further into party mode and seemed to intensify as the set went along. The only downtime came when Andrew grabbed the guitar himself and went into a distortion-drenched version of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” only to return back to partying, obviously.
– Ivan Mitchell
Fifteen minutes after his scheduled start time, New York MC Joey Bada$$ finally walked out onstage. There were obviously some technical issues, judging from the comment his DJ, Statik Selektah, made about having never experienced anything like this in all his years of performing. Joey himself even apologized for the sound quality (to my ears, the music was way too low at moments), going so far as to call Riot Fest unprofessional. As he sulked through the first few songs, there was a feeling that the show could easily go off the rails. There was a clear lack of energy and whatever problems there were had started to affect the show. Luckily, by the time he got to “No. 99,” which had some added synth and guitars for the live version, the mood had changed back to a performance that was focused on entertaining instead of finger pointing. Technical issues aside, all had seemed to be forgotten as Joey encouraged the crowd to form a mosh pit for his latest single, “Devastated,” a more melodic, bottom-heavy song that probably features his most accessible chorus yet for casual listeners.
– Ivan Mitchell
Despite the bands performing at Riot Fest being on the heavier side of the rock spectrum, singers like Jake Bugg brought some diversity to the festival lineup with his softer, folk-rock sound. At only 22-years old, Bugg is a seasoned and accomplished musician, already having three full-length albums under his belt. His experience definitely showed as he performed his set with visible ease and comfort, singing confidently while strumming his guitar.
The singer breezed through his songs, wasting little time on stage banger. Some highlights of his performance included his performance of his older hits from his first, self-titled album “Two Fingers” and “Lightning Bolt.”
– Pearl Shin
(Note: Stay tuned for our interview with Jake!)
Me First and the Gimme Gimmes
This was the best, worst cover band I’ve ever seen. But that’s the point.
This punk supergroup is made up of musicians from NOFX, Swingin’ Utters, and the Foo Fighters, but their repertoire of music expands the boundaries of “punk rock.” They played everything from “Summertime” (popularized by Billie Holiday and Sublime) to Paul Simon’s “Me and Julio,” to R. Kelly’s “I Believe I Can Fly.” The audience laughed and cheered as the band moved from crowd pleaser to crowd pleaser, all the while joking “[Screw] bands that make original music!” and “We are the best cover band here!” I laughed along, although I couldn’t quite get over the way they butchered some of my favorite songs like Dolly Parton’s “Jolene.”
I was impressed by their sound, however. Two kick drums! Jerry Copeland on that rhythm guitar! It was a fun, easy way to transition into the more serious acts of the night like Death Grips and The Misfits, which I definitely needed to save energy for anyways. Overall, like I said…this was the best, worst cover band I’ve ever seen, and probably the last cover band I’ll be seeing in a while.
There was a moment during the Death Grips set where I took one of my ear plugs out for only a brief moment. Within a fraction of a second, I could feel the entirety of my inner ear rattle while it was exposed. It was unforgiving, just like the music of Death Grips. True to how they portray themselves on record, their live show is a relentless assault of abrasive synths, rabid drum fills, and unintelligible guttural barks. There was no time for stage banter or even a breath as song after song violently segued way into each other with no very little space.
As aggressive as Death Grips are, their presence onstage was obscured with dim lighting that was only a few shades away from turning them into silhouettes. The effect was disorienting, which might not be far off from the band’s intention. It simply betrays your senses. Through all the nightmarish sounds and frontman MC Ride stalking across the stage like a crazed predator, the chops of drummer Zach Hill shone through brightly with virtuoso playing for an hour straight that defies belief.
If you haven’t heard of The Misfits before, you have definitely encountered them second-handedly through your pop punk and/or trying-to-be-cool friends from your teenage years wearing the band’s black and white skull face plastered on their t-shirts. This trend was not lost among fans and attendees at Riot Fest all weekend. That being said, the anticipation of The Misfits’ reunion at this year’s festival was a pretty big deal – and the turnout at their 90-minute set on the last day of the fest was just another reminder of how huge the band was in the punk scene.
This was probably the most punk performance I’ve ever seen in my life (“seen” is an overstatement – it was so packed there that I wondered if there was a spot in the entire park that would be at least the slightest bit unobstructed). The band catapulted across the stage in leather and chains and face paint – the whole shebang. Not to mention the stage setup – two huge, scary jack-o-lanterns and the ominous Misfits skull logo pasted repeatedly across the backdrop.
This was definitely the loudest show I had been at all weekend – and we all know how loud Riot Fest can get (my ears are still ringing) and by far the most satisfying for fans who have been waiting years (more than 30, to be precise) for The Misfits to get back together and cause all sorts of chaos in the process. For my first full year attending Riot Fest, this was definitely one of the most fulfilling festivals I’ve ever attended.
– Sonia Vavra