Riot Fest goers kicked things off on Friday with Diarrhea Planet; Nashville’s power-punk sextet. With the lead singer joining in on Hawaiian Shirt Friday, the band ripped through many songs in a short half-hour set composed of cuts from all three records, but focusing on songs from their latest: Turn to Gold. The band had an astonishing four guitarists, bass, and drummer. Each of the guitarists and bassist (sorry drummer) took turns singing in harmony over the heavy, distorted, punk rock guitar rhythms and heavy drum beats.
All the way from Brooklyn, NY, Eskimeaux were “being some rebels” according to Gabrielle as this was her first performance in sunglasses while and the band’s first time on the Rebel Stage. Eskimeaux delivered a humbling and soothing performance as the rest of Riot Fest was roaring. Their set was a calming and relaxing pleasure to the swiftly moving fest. Their set opened strong with tracks from OK such as Broken Necks and The Thunder Answered Back. Gabrielle’s soft vocals were a great addition to the base; however, at times, the instrumentals overpowered her voice. But, Year of the Rabbit was Gabrielle’s best vocal delivery, as one could hear the passion and volume of her voice rising with each uttered lyric. Eskimeaux debuted a brand new song, definitely a great one, but a little more upbeat than their usual mellow stylings- no name for this gem yet unfortunately.
Not many electronic artists get to perform at Riot Fest, let alone perform two sets on the same day, but Dan Deacon was the exception. Having 5 albums of music to draw from, and two 30-minute sets, Dan played two completely different sets of music, including a new song called “Change Your Life”. Both sets consisted of Dan leading the audience to form an open circle in the center of the crowd and prompting a dance off between two random people every 10 seconds. Both times these dance circles turned into a mosh pit of people dancing to upbeat electronic dance music. Aside from the comedic and political banter, conspiracy theories of the moon not being real, computer malfunction for both sets, and saying that Gremlins 3 was being filmed at the festival, Dan Deacon recovered well from his mistakes, and the crowd of all ages loved his sets.
The Flaming Lips
The first major headliner of Riot Fest was none other than the legendary neo-psychedelia band, The Flaming Lips. Their little-over-an-hour long set consisted of many stage antics, fan favorites, and good vibes all around. From having giant dancing caterpillars and a giant dancing sun, to singing on top of a person in a chewbacca-like costume draped with a glorious cape of cascading LEDs, to rolling around the crowd in a big inflatable ball singing “Space Oddity” by the late David Bowie, the show was an absolute marvel. The Flaming Lips have long been known for their spectacular blasts of confetti and thousands of mesmerizing lights, and one look around at the faces of the astonished youths and contented older fans showed that they had not failed to live up to the 33 year old reputation. Just before closing out their set with the emotionally charged “Do You Realize??”, Wayne Coyne gave a particularly touching speech to the crowd. He reminded the audience that somewhere amongst them, there were at least a few people going through a really hard time in their lives. He expressed hope that the music The Flaming Lips performed that night would bring some happiness into their lives, and remind them that they are not alone in this world. Thank you, Wayne.
Night Riots did not let the heat of Saturday afternoon keep them from having a good time during their set. They came on stage to the sounds of cheering female fans and started right up with their song, “Follow You.” Lead singer Travis Hawley and the band danced around stage, even getting fans to join them. The band surprised the audience by playing a new song, which got a warm reception from everyone. They ended with their big hit “Contagious” off their latest album Howl. Hawley jumped off stage and ran down the front row, high fiving everyone as the band finished up the song. Many fans were sad to see them go.
People Under The Stairs
Los Angeles based Hip-Hop duo People Under The Stairs (PUTS) has been representing West Coast boom-bap since the 90’s. They made their roots clear right off the bat with Double K spinning and scratching behind Thes One addressing the audience about the difference between Old School and Trap Rap. A seamless transition into the classic “Trippin’ At The Disco” set the mood for their upbeat set which included a healthy dose of freestyles by Double K and Thes One both. A major highlight of the set was a live beatmaking session that culminated in Thes One operating the drum machine with some pretty erotic pelvic thrusts. PUTS didn’t mind that the majority of their audience for the day was clad in hardcore punk attire, their only demand was that everyone enjoy a good beer. The set closed out with their world-renowned track “San Francisco Knights,” setting a solid underground foundation for the legends taking the stage later Saturday night.
Fans at Bob Mould’s set weren’t too keen about the last Motion City Soundtrack song, as they were eagerly waiting for them to get off stage so Mould and his band can go on. When the trio took the stage on a warm Saturday afternoon, the first three songs of the set were Husker Du classics. A little old-school, light-hearted punk rock had older fans feeling nostalgic. With the exception of a few Sugar songs mixed in, Bob Mould stuck to playing most of his solo work from then on. With only having an hour to play songs from a large catalog, Bob ripped through a 17-song set with riveting solos of some good ol’ punk rock and roll.
Mish Barber Way definitely stole the stage at Riot Fest. She loved strutting around the stage and being the center of attention, but she earned the spotlight with her passionate vocals, dramatic movements and even an almost-crowd surf attempt. Mish’s ability to work the entire stage by crawling, lying down and even climbing down into the audience gate accompanied the hard notes of the guitar and drums. She stayed sitting on the gate and leaning into the audience for about two songs, getting the crowd even more pumped than they were. Before she walked down they were throwing water bottles and making a mosh pit, but when she joined them the excitement escalated. White Lung played tracks from a mixture of their albums including Face Down from Deep Fantasy, I Beg You and Below from Paradise. The show would not have been a punk rock performance without Mish’s swing of the microphone to close out the set with a shriek.
Wu Tang Clan’s GZA put on easily one of the heaviest sets of Saturday. With a consistent and always impressive flow, GZA’s content is anything but light, yet is always spoken with an enthusiastic rhythm. With an equal balance of Wu classics and his own solo material, GZA ambled onto the stage to a body-shaking instrumental dressed in a considerably unremarkable outfit of loose-fitting blue jeans and a plain t-shirt. This Wu legend bodies beats even dressed as a middle-aged dad. The highlight of his show was without-a-doubt his closing three minute acapella verse that walked listeners through an extensively detailed description of the Big Bang and the beginning of the universe. The verse was so urgent that it gave you the feeling he felt he had some sort of moral obligation to educate the crowd on the beginning of time. He is, afterall, the Genius.
Setting conflicting set times with the ever-elusive Morrissey, Riot Fest separated its fan’s by genre, creating a fairly intimate set for Nas as opposed to other large festivals. Time and time again Nas’ lyrical style has been bitten by countless other MCs, so seeing his live set was just as striking as one would imagine; this dude is truly a master of his craft. The seasoned MC performed an equal amount of material from his “Illmatic” days as from more recent releases, showing both his roots in the very beginnings of Hip-Hop and his status as modern musical icon.
Most bands, even the best bands, get on stage, play some songs, and exit stage left. But not Morrissey. His presence made a statement before he even took the stage with his signs posted around the fest indicating that meat would not be served during his set. Whether festival attendees thought it was "ridiculous" or "ridiculously awesome," no doubt it started more than one intelligent conversation about the consumption of animals.
Fast forward to 8:15pm and Morrissey greets his guests with his 30 minute pre-show video compilation, which led to grumbling about whether he would show up or cancel yet another show. When Morrissey did take the stage he began his 17 song set with "Suedehead," and continued with other fan favorites like "You Have Killed Me" and "Everyday is Like Sunday." He also addressed police brutality, the "Shame in Spain," and his support for Paris. Morrissey closed his set with his only Smiths song "What She Said."
If you've never seen Morrissey live, know that when you do it will be contentious and it will be surreal. Either you're someone who understands what the anti-rockstar is doing, or you miss one hell of a show.
In the midday heat of Riot Fest’s Rise stage, fans were anything but pleased when Joey wasn’t out performing at call time. With clear audio difficulties, namely his keyboardist’s nonexistent connection to the main line, all parties were on edge before the set began. Joey apologized to his fans numerous times in front of the backdrop of angry band members and distraught sound technicians, but regardless of the sound difficulties Joey and Pro Era’s longtime DJ Statik Selektah (also closely associated with MC’s the likes of Freddie Gibbs and Action Bronson) put on a seriously powerful show. They performed a number of cuts from 1999 peppered throughout the performance and closed out with Joey’s recent single “Devastated.” Joey channeled his energy positively and had the crowd really going. Fans turned their frustration from the late arrival of the set into enthusiasm, and had several mosh pits going on either side of the crowd. After the rocky situation with Riot Fest’s sound staff it doesn’t look like Joey will be coming back to the festival in the near future, but one can only hope that the bad experience with a large Chicago show will push him into smaller venues for some more intimate shows with the underground crowd that has rocked with him from the start.
Riot Grrrls take on Riot Fest
After performing at last year’s Pitchfork festival, Sleater-Kinney returns to the Chicago festival scene in 2016 to a large crowd for their headliner set Sunday night. The all-female punk goddesses had palpable energy radiating throughout their performance. Playing classics like “Dig Me Out”, “Modern Girl”, as well as new favorites like “Bury Our Friends” , they had fans grooving and jiving without any outward direction from the band. Cult followers from all over came to see this power group perform with positivity and strong energy. Sleater-Kinney has always been a platform for grrrl power, which was oozing from this performance. They even gave Riot Fest a shout-out for their Anti-Harassment Policy, which resulted in a large applause from the crowd. You could easily tell how connected everyone was on stage with the constant give and take between Janet, Corin, and Carrie in terms of balance. From Carrie’s funky dance moves as she ripped on guitar, to Janet’s blast-beat drums, and Corin’s powerful vocals, the Sleater-Kinney show was one for the books.
Riot Fest did what seemed to be the impossible and reunited the original Misfits. Yes, this happened, and they treated fans of the horror punk band to a long 26 song set. This was the second time (the first time was at Riot Fest Denver) that they all played together since October of 1983. From what seemed to be almost everyone at Riot Fest, fans of all ages were rocking out. With mosh pits up near the stage and fans in the back singing along to songs like “Halloween”, “Mommy, Can I Go Out And Kill Tonight?”, and ending with “Attitude”, the Misfits and their indistinct vocals, fuzz-powered guitars, crashing drums, and aggressive punk rock was perfect to cap a great weekend at Riot Fest.