Weezer had a lot of hype to live up to when they performed at Riot Fest on Friday, as they replaced Blink-182 who cancelled their performance due to health related issues. Kicking things off with bright lights, an illuminated W and starting with “Buddy Holly”–it’s fair to say they lived up to the hype. Weezer performed a good mix of their extensive catalog, including some covers. During their set, they treated fans to “Happy Together” (The Turtles), “Take on Me” (A-Ha), “Africa” (Toto), “Paranoid” (Black Sabbath), and paying tribute to Blink, began their encore with a cover of “All The Small Things”. More of a cover band with Weezer musicians? Maybe. A good time? Most definitely.
The Front Bottoms
Playing a perfect measure of old songs and new songs, the crowd for The Front Bottoms hardly missed a beat for every lyric and clap. A cocktail of emotional boys, girls, and nonbinary pals who ruined their vocal chords screaming every song, and I was one of them, reliving freshman year of college. I would be lying if I told you I didn't cry during The Beers and Twin Sized Mattress respectively, dear listeners.
Taking Back Sunday
Adam Lazzara was sitting on his porch less than a week ago when he got a call to come and play Riot Fest. It's likely Taking Back Sunday was brought on the bill last minute to help fill the void for Blink-182 but also because they are Riot Fest veterans. TBS has played Riot Fest for the past five years even taking the stage under a different name for surprise performances. TBS didn't disappoint this year opening with "Cute Without the 'E' (Cut from the Team)" and playing fan favorites "Timberwolves at New Jersey," "Liar (It Takes One to Know One)," and "You're So Last Summer" as the crowd sang along to every word. Adam Lazzara gave a heartfelt thanks and reflected on his years growing up in Chicago before closing with "Make Damn Sure."
Matt & Kim
I definitely did not go into Riot Fest expecting Matt & Kim to be one of the most high energy acts this year. But one full titty flash and several hundred balloons later, I was pleasantly surprised. Because Matt & Kim have been playing large festivals together for a while, they really do know how to put on a great show. To my surprise, Matt acted as a semi-DJ. He would remix top 40’s songs to get the crowd hyped before going into another song. After their first song, Matt tossed several packages of balloons into the crowd. He told everyone to blow up as many balloons as possible and to release them at the same time when the beat dropped. It was quite spectacular. Matt wasn’t the only one who knew how to work a crowd. Kim took the mic and kept repeating phrases along the lines of “power to the pussy,” and then proceed to flash the crowd of several thousand. After walking away from their set, I mentally added “flashing a crowd of thousands” to my bucket list.
As my favorite show at Riot Fest this year, I was actually surprised they played at all. If you didn’t hear, one of their members, Peter Verzilov, was poisoned by a nerve agent a few days prior to the festival. When Pussy Riot came out on stage, several members donned a neon green balaclava, in classic Pussy Riot style, and carried a huge banner reading “We will punish those who poisoned Peter Verzilov.” Lead member Nadezhda Tololkonnikova was the only member not wearing a mask. After a few high energy songs, Nadezhda came out on stage and took a seat. She pulled out her phone and read a monologue about Peter Verzilov. According to Nadezhda, Verzilov had been poisoned three days earlier and they were certain the Russian government was to blame. Verzilov was a central leader in Pussy Riot. He had helped several members of Pussy Riot come to recognition in 2011. He also helped them out when they were in prison. Pussy Riot cut their set short (understandably), but I don’t think it would have been possible to dance that hard for any longer in the heat.
What’s your favorite movie from the early 2000s? Chances are “Fat Lip” or “In Too Deep” by the Canadian pop-punk veterans makes an appearance. Starting a little late, they played the Rise stage on Friday as the sun started to turn golden, treating the sizeable crowd to a trip down the equally golden days when band slike them dominated the rock charts. A set full of their hits like the two songs mentioned, as well as “We’re All To Blame,” “Motivation,” and a punk cover of “We Will Rock You,” might seem initially like cheesy nostalgia, but this is how I chose to look at it. I had a feeling a lot of the crowd, no matter their age, was sort of like me - when you’re younger and you realize that you don’t really want to be like everyone else, what else is there? I bought a Sum 41 CD when I was a teenager and figured out what else there was to get behind and when I watched them blaze through some of their best songs and merge punk with metal riffs, when I saw the giant inflatable skeleton emerge on stage flipping off the crowd, and when I watched Deryck Whibley toss his guitar in the air to the roadies, I realized that’s one of the main things that Riot Fest is all about - tons of people who might have felt different from everyone else getting together for the music that they love.
Nothing feels more right than saying goodbye to a Chicago summer while dancing to Beach Bunny in that sweet summer heat. There were a lot of Chicago grown acts on the Riot lineup, but Beach Bunny was different. The crowd was filled with an overwhelming amount of local support for these young Chicago sweethearts who have taken off in the music scene with no intentions of slowing down any time soon. As the band walked out on stage, the crowd roared in excitement. Songs like “Sports,” “Six Weeks,” and “Painkiller” kept the fans on their feet. Lead singer Lili Trifilio introduced “Prom Queen,” the title track off the band’s latest EP, as a song addressing the pressures of beauty standards. Beach Bunny closed their performance with “Boys,” and as the crowd proudly sang along to every word, I might’ve shed a tear or two.
Philadelphia noise rock band Mannequin Pussy is one of the best live bands today. That’s because even though shoegaze noise and bombastic sludge make your ears buzz during the set, their songs - short and whalloping - are actually extremely catchy. In the blazing Saturday afternoon sun the band’s lead singer and guitarist Marisa Dabice, dressed in a red pants suit, opened to reveal her bra, wailed and pummeled the band through selections from their two studio albums to date, Gypsy Pervert and Romantic. Another memorable part of the set was Bear Regisford’s power bass plucking. I don’t know how he wasn’t dying of heat stroke in black jeans and long black sleeves but there he was pushing the noise riffs right into your stomach with the strong and deep bass. Not only are they a really good band that played a really good set, they’re also really nice people - be sure to check our interview with them from the fest!
Seeing Bully is a treat in itself, but seeing them in Chicago, now that is something special. For those who don’t know, Bully plays Chicago quite often, as the band has several ties to the city (they even mention parts of the city in their songs), and they are only a quick drive from Nashville. This was my first time seeing the band at a non-venue show, and watching them perform on the Rise stage at Riot Fest fulfilled my weekend with joy and happiness, as they are one of my favorite bands, and one of my favorite bands to see live. Having played a good mix of songs from both of their records, Bully provided a good mix of their discography to the Riot Fest attendees who witnessed their fantastic set.
The Districts have a special place in my heart, and I was happy to be able to see them this year at Riot Fest. When I first joined WLUW my freshman year, they were one of the first bands that I discovered while being a DJ. Being a few years removed from that experience now, I finally was able to see them perform some of the songs that had me pulled in at the beginning of my college radio experience. And I'll let you in on a little secret that only I and everyone who was in attendance shared, their live performance did not disappoint. For an early set on Saturday, the Districts made the most of their highly energetic and emotional performance. To learn more about the band and their set, be sure to check out our interview with them.
The sun was at its highest power when Gary Numan took the Roots Stage and its shine and heat only served to empower the electronic music pioneer. He and his band were dressed like futuristic, post-apocalyptic mummies; Gary himself (who looks great for 60) had this flowing, tattered robe on and danced better than most people 40 years younger than him. To go with the emotive, dramatic industrial music that’s dominated his career for the last 20 years of its output, he had his hands in the air, he dipped and jumped, he attacked the microphone, and though his biggest hits came out in the new wave era of the early 80s, he and his band sounded pretty fresh and urgent. I admit, I started walking away from the stage about halfway through the set, feeling content with what I heard, that is until at the very moment I was a couple steps away, the instantly recognizable and incredible opening synth riff of “Cars” hit my ears - so I ran back of course as fast as I could. Take a listen to our short conversation with Gary Numan.
With swarms of high schoolers (and Finn Wolfhardt from Stranger Things) pushing as close to the stage and they could, Twin Peaks ripped and riffed a powerful set, starting off with a few tunes from Wild Onion and leading into newer songs. Remarking the last time they played Riot Fest, as 19 year olds 5 years ago, they could not believe how much raw energy the crowd have for them as every song (yes, even the slow ones) had a raging pit and PLENTY of crowd surfing. The band felt at home, and we’re glad that we could have them in that beautiful mid-afternoon glow.
I wasn’t going to stick around for this entire set. I was intrigued by what it would be like though, since I’d heard The Voidz, fronted by singer for that tiny, unknown band that you probably don’t remember called The Strokes, Julian Casablancas, made music that was odd and much more electronic leaning than anything their members had done previously. But there I stood in the middle of the good size crowd for the entire set. I would say it was probably my second favorite set of the weekend (read our Sunday coverage for my favorite). Julian was dressed sort of like he worked at a gas station, he had one black, fingerless glove on his left hand, and hair he might have cut himself, but it’s him so it works...one of them was dressed like a mime, and the rest had your typical rock ‘n’ roll dress - denim, t shirts, etc. Julian looked kind of bored but thanked the crowd a lot in between Voidz cuts from their latest album from this year, Virtue, and 2014’s Tyranny. Some of the songs echo a Strokes-esque garage charm (esp the single “Living In My Dreams”), but stabby synths and electronics make it a bit more eclectic and hey, if Damon Albarn and The Horrors can reinvent themselves as electronic fiends, so can JC. Another interesting part of the set was the crowd. Riot Fest attracts a demographic that is mostly older than 30 or so - an older crowd to put it bluntly. However when I looked at the dancing crowd at The Voidz set on the Radicals Stage, it looked probably 98% kids my age - in their early 20s or late teens. Kids still know good music I guess, and the Voidz certainly make just that. They made a fan of me at Riot Fest.
The band of snappy post-punk New Yorkers played over the darkness of Saturday night on the Roots Stage, as one of the bigger bands on the bill. They’ve been around the scene for a minute and are always a good bet for some nice, smooth rock. Kind of dancy but also angular and rocky. They presented their reliable hits plus equally reliable cuts from their latest album Marauder, which only came out late last month. “The Rover” is my favorite song from the new record, so it was pretty cool to hear it play while watching the lasers shoot and wave from the stage from all the way in the back of the crowd. I assert that the best place to watch a festival headliner is all the way in the back. You might not see the band too well, but you’ll hear them and in the case of Interpol, you’ll be surrounded by darkness and dancing people, so it makes a pretty cool atmosphere.
Starting his set with Devil’s Haircut and Loser, Beck has truly demonstrated that he’s an indie Rock God as he led into a number of newer tunes, however pop-y they were. The crowd stretched as far back as they could, drawn like moths to a flame (or in this case, moths to a sick light show). If Beck could fit any more of a backing band I’m sure he would, but his strings, keys, instrumentalists and two full drum kits were pouring over on that tremendous stage.
This performance was just what I needed to kick off Riot day 3. As festival goes entered the park, they were summoned over to the Radicals Stage by the voice of Alyse Vellturo, the Brooklyn artist behind pronoun. I have always appreciated Velturo’s storytelling abilities as a lyricist, but during this set I got to witness her passion live and in person. Vellturo’s set included songs off her 2016 EP There’s no one new around you, as well as two unreleased songs “Stay” and “I’m Just a Loser.” The highlight of this set, though, was when Vellturo and her band played her two most recent singles, “wrong” and “run” off her upcoming album.
Mom Jeans was one of the bands I was most looking forward to seeing at this year’s Riot Fest. After seeing them last year at Lincoln Hall (with Tiny Moving Parts and Oso Oso, yeah, packed bill), I was really curious to see how their performance would change from and intimate setting to playing on the main stage at an outdoor music festival. The band put out on Twitter basically saying how not-used to they were to playing on a large stage, or even at a festival (it was their first festival performance), and asked their followers if it would be ok to play on the ground. Upon taking the stage, a large crowd turned out for their 12pm performance, leaving the band humbled and speechless from the support.
"I LOVE LOVING IN THE CITY,” “New York’s alright - IF YOU LIKE SAXOPHONE,” “BEEF BEEF BEEF! BEEF BALOGNA!” are all manifestos instantly recognizable to the old school punk fan. They all come screaming out of your speakers when you spin the classic Fear album from New York puni vets Fear. The band has been slamming around since the late 70s and at Riot fest, the energy wasn’t anywhere near depleted. Though the crowd had its fair share of older folks, the music of Fear has transcended generations and all ages revelled in the short bursts of energy that has meant so much to so many over the years.
My favorite set of the weekend was by none other than Johnny F*****g Marr (at least that’s what the crowd shouted). Known best perhaps as the guitarist for one of the most influential bands of all time, The Smiths, he also has an impressive repertoire of solo material and has played in a few other notable bands. He also happens to be one of my favorite guitar players ever. He came out on stage in one of the coolest floral shirts I’ve ever seen (in typical British guitarist style) and showed off for the cameras a little but with some poses and faces (also in typical British guitar player style) The set was made up of some solo songs like “Bug” but also some Smiths cuts like “Bigmouth Strikes Again,” “How Soon is Now.” (which was incredible), and one of my favorites “There is a Light That Never Goes Out.” He also banged out a more guitar based rendition of, as he put it, “a disco song from Manchester,” aka “Getting Away With It” by Electrocution, a synth band he was in with New Order’s bernard Sumner (that song has one of the greatest choruses of all time, written by Johnny F*****g Marr, just FYI). The songs had a good amount of distortion on them, giving those jangly Smiths songs a bugger attack and his solo material a nice indie rock punch to them. It was so good to be able to see him play from right at the front of the stage, one of my all time favorites - for sure the highlight for my Riot Fest.
Well, I had the pleasure of being in the photo pit for this show, and as I was getting set up, I heard the security guards talk to each other getting ready for a crazy amount of mosh pits and crowd-surfing. “Crazy” was an understatement. ST were one of the bands this year to feature an entire album at Riot Fest, and the audience had the pleasure to hear their self-titled album in full. Having that album be one of my early records that got me into the hardcore punk scene back when I was in middle school, and getting to see it performed live, at Riot Fest, it was a riot of a time (and quite literally).
Father John Misty
Festival-seasoned indie king Daddy (AKA Father John Misty broke out onto the stage in an iconic all white suit. The show started with Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings followed up with a number of bops from Pure Comedy. Every college kid there that day fled to the front and wormed their way into the pit of that aged california jams that FJM is known so well for. Sprinkled intermittently with older tunes, the colorful lights and that molasses voice were a match made in Heaven.
Matt Skiba was supposed to be pulling double duty at Riot Fest this year, playing with both Alkaline Trio and Blink-182. However, due to Blink's 11th hour back out Skiba would only be performing with hometown favorites Alkaline Trio. A huge crowd greeted the band as they took the stage and opened with “My Friend Peter.” Trio then played several songs from their newest release "Is This Thing Cursed?" including "Blackbird" and "Demon and Division." They appeased the crowd by playing "Radio" for their last song. Of interest, Skiba was oddly silent throughout the set, letting Dan Andriano take care of the stage banter. Overall the band put on a great set, but it didn't feel like much of a homecoming for these local heroes.
Charging the stage in neon green hair, Debbie Harry has not lost any bit of energy in her performances. Starting off with “One Way or Another”, fans flocked to hear Debbie Harry to play her gems and jewels, from “Hanging On The Telephone”, Blondie’s later albums, and of course “Heart of Glass”. If Debbie Harry isn’t punk rock, I haven’t the slightest clue what is. The crowd seemed to be entranced with her extended version of “Rapture”, and iconic and genre bending tune.
Run the Jewels
“And the crowd goes RTJ!!!”. My GOD this was a fantastic way to cap another fantastic Riot Fest. Being one of the acts added last minute, and only having an hour for a headlining set, Killer Mike and EL-P delivered one of the most energetic and best performances all weekend. Coming out to Queen’s “We Are The Champions”, the set started off to a singalong, and didn’t stop there. RTJ continued to perform hit after hit including “Close Your Eyes (And Count to F*ck)”, and “Stay Gold”, and, in addition, they threw in a cover of “Nobody Speak” by DJ Shadow. If you didn’t stay around to catch this set at the end of the festival, well, it’s fair to say you missed out big time.