Photos by Geoff Henao. This post was originally published by our affiliates, Ruby Hornet.
After a long year, Riot Fest finally returned to Humboldt Park last Friday, and with it was an unseasonal chill and rain that attempted to damper the good mood that spread across the crowd. The move to the Northern end of the park was necessary for the festival to grow, adding a couple more stages to the festival grounds. Unfortunately, this also meant trampling through muddier grounds that weren’t covered by baseball field dirt. Nevertheless, the fatigue and callouses that formed on Riot Fest attendees’ feet were more than justified by the amount of talent that performed at the three day event. Here is our full recap of Riot Fest 2014 from Geoff Henao and Brynn Bixby. You can find our gallery at the bottom of the post; for more of Geoff’s photos, check out his Flickr page.
I started Day 1 off by checking out one of my favorite surprise performances from Riot Fest 2013, GWAR. As I mentioned in our “Bands to See” list, GWAR added a new vocalist following Dave Brockie/Oderus Urungus’ death earlier this year. In his place was a platoon of vocalists, including ex-GWAR bassist Mike Bishop. GWAR has quickly become one of my favorite bands to photograph thanks to their elaborate costumes and stage theatrics that include beheading politicians and pop culture icons (Barack Obama was this weekend’s victim) and spraying endless amounts of “blood” on the audience.
Following GWAR’s set, I headed out to the Root Stage to catch Stiff Little Fingers’ set. With my luck, they opened their set with their most popular song, “Suspect Device,” following that up immediately with “Wasted Life.” The crowd mostly consisted of older people, which made sense given the band’s longevity. However, that’s not to say their set was lacking energy; far from it. On a cold September afternoon, Stiff Little Fingers delivered a performance worth braving the mild drizzle for.
Afterwards, I soon made my way out to see NOFX. I’m not the biggest NOFX fan (or of pop-punk, for that matter), but my curiosity and cursory knowledge of the band led me to check them out. The band’s singer and bassist (as well as Fat Wreck Chords founder/owner) Fat Mike is known for his sense of humor and open-mindedness. Sure enough, just as the band was preparing to take the stage, he began to berate and insult Failure, the band playing just before them on the stage directly across the field from them. If you’re a fan of NOFX, especially Punk in Drublic, their Riot Fest set must have been magical for you. For myself, they were just a band to take photos of. Meh.
Unfortunately, I called it a night just after I shot NOFX due to the impending rain and not wanting to risk being sick for the rest of the festival. You can check out my photos of GWAR, Stiff Little Fingers, and NOFX below. We’ll have more from Days 2 and 3 throughout the week!
My day started off with The Pizza Underground, Macaulay Culkin’s The Velvet Underground cover band that replaces choice lyrics with ones about pizza. I admit, I was curious to see what they sounded like, as were many in the crowd that showed up just after 11am to catch their set. Unfortunately, our dedication and time commitment wasn’t justified with anything good. The band is, obviously, a one-joke gimmick band, which can be find so long as said band has talent (re: Aquabats). The five-piece is aware of this, however, and if you could take yourself out of the pretentious moment for a second and accept that the band really is nothing more than a joke band singing The Velvet Underground songs about pizza, then maybe a small piece of you could appreciate what they’re doing. I was not one of those people, and probably may never be one, but at least it was good to see Culkin have a legitimately good time on stage with his friends. – Geoff Henao
Saosin was at the top of my “must sees” for Saturday so I jetted over to the Rock Stage to catch their set, hoping to get a decent spot. Anthony Green hasn’t performed with the band much since he quit back in 2004, and although there are rumors he’s back for good, I didn’t want to risk it. Luckily I got there right when “Translating The Name” started, the title track off of Saosin’s first and only studio album with all original members. Green continuously thanked the crowd for sticking around, confessing that “It’s nice that people still give a shit about this music… it’s overwhelming, really.” After a few classics, the band strutted out their new material and seemed to be really enjoying themselves. Meanwhile, I had trouble really focusing on anything but my burning desire to hear “Seven Years,” along with pretty much everyone else there. Unfortunately, when Saosin eventually did get around to playing it, it was pretty disappointing. I understand that crowd participation is a big deal at festivals but do not decide to give up the best part of the song and bow out on the screech-tastic high notes we all know and love. It really just seemed like Green was phoning it in while he watched the crowd mosh and rage in front of him.. All though the lack luster presentation of my jam kind of ruined it for me, I suppose their overall show was a success, but I probably should have taken Green’s advice to go see Die Antwood a few songs in. – Brynn Bixby
Saturday, in a way, was a ska revival day for me. The first band up to task? RX Bandits. Granted, they’re not really a ska band, and they ultimately didn’t play any ska songs. However, with their humble beginnings as a ska-punk band (before going the prog-rock route), a small part of my soul hoped and prayed they would play something with an upstroke. I guess the band technically did as they didn’t shy away from playing songs from The Resignation despite the lack of the band’s horn section. While the absence of horns was noticeable, the songs still hold up on their own, especially my personal RX Bandits song “Decrescendo.” It’s funny to see a ska-punk band evolve and develop into a prog-rock band, but if ever a band were to do so with a modicum of success, it would be them. – Geoff Henao
I was feeling a little detached from the spirit of Riot Fest early Saturday afternoon due to the fact that I had missed the first day of the festival, was not happy about the ridiculous muddy disaster that was Humbolt Park, and had an almost dead phone so early in the day. All annoyance was forgotten as soon as Matt Pryor took the stage and announced The Get Up Kids would be playing their fan favorite album, Something To Write Home About in its entirety. The large crowd full of die-hard fans (everybody else was at Wu-Tang) screamed along with Pryor as The Get Up Kids plunged into “Holiday,” the first of twelve nostalgic tracks off their sophomore album. This set really just reinforced how much I love this band and this record. Every song is packed with sincerity and heart-breakingly emo lyrics that get your stomach in knots at the memory of how alive you felt as an angsty teenager driving around in your car and listening to these songs. Towards the middle-end of the set, Pryor slipped up and went out of order, playing “I’m A Loner Dottie, A Rebel” a song too early. “What can I say, I really wanted to play Dottie,” said Pryor after being called out about his mix-up. Most times when a band plays mellower tracks, they lose the attention of the audience, but even when the keyboardist began the soft melodic piano intro of “I’ll Catch You,” the crowd was right there, singing-along. “Somebody better have just gotten engaged up on that ferris wheel” joked Pryor, “that was the most emo shit ever.” The band was having a blast, passing around whiskey and rocketing through their hits like they just put out the record yesterday, exclaiming that “getting old doesn’t have to suck.” The Get Up Kids finished their set with one of their best tunes, “Don’t Hate Me,” which may have received the loudest sing-along of all. – Brynn Bixby
My “ska revival” continued immediately after RX Bandits’ set with Streetlight Manifesto, one of the most musically-gifted ska bands ever. The band played with a fierce energy that I haven’t seen at a show in years. I’ll admit, I even skanked (briefly) for the first time in seven years thanks to hearing one of my favorite bands live for the first time in so long. The horns were so tight and powerful in the way a ska-punk band should be, while singer Tomas Kalnoky’s machine gun delivery never skipped a beat. One complaint: They didn’t play “Point/Counterpoint,” arguably the best and most popular song from the band’s debut, Everything Goes Numb. Nevertheless, it was great to experience a band that meant so much to me 10 years ago with my friends, both old and new. – Geoff Henao
This was my first time seeing The Flaming Lips live and their performance went above and beyond any of my expectations. With epic lights, people dressed in mushroom and rainbow costumes, and the non-stop energy and whimsical demeanor of front man Wayne Coyne made for an unforgettable performance. I can’t over emphasize the insane light set-up for this set, it was truly spectacular and caused the only complete power outage on the Roots Stage just minutes into The Flaming Lips’ set. The crowd stayed put while Riot Fest production got the power up and running and the band took another stab at starting “Yoshmi Battles Pink Robots Part 1.” Coyne conducted collosal crescendos of sound and full band hits like a madman, instructing the audience to join in on the fun. After a dynamic cover of The Chemical Brothers’ “The Golden Path,” the band played some of their best originals including the larger than life single “Do You Realize,” a tune that surely everyone at Riot Fest could appreciate. Coyne entranced festival goers with every word, preaching love and understanding, while hypnotic rainbow visuals pulsed in the background. The set ended with an explosive cover of “Lucy In The Sky WIth Diamonds,” a preview of what is to be expected from The Flaming Lips’ upcoming release of “A LIttle Help From My Fwends, a tribute cover album of The Beatles’ Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band. Either you cover The Beatles spot on and exactly how they performed it, (to the best of your ability) or you re-create the song, producing a new and interesting version. In this case, The Flaming Lips accomplish both approaches, delivering the tune in their own style while staying true to the greatness of the original. I would definitely describe seeing The Flaming Lips live as a religious experience. – Brynn Bixby
“Ska Revival 2014” continued with the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, one of the pioneers of the ska-punk subgenre/sound. Personally, I never much cared for the band, but given the fact that the band doesn’t tour much, I had to at least check them out. Imagine my surprise when I found the band had a hype man – that’s not something you see much these days outside of hip hop, let alone for a ska band. It was also nice to see the entire band clad in the red Mighty Mighty Bosstones suits, as well, adding an extra element to their stage presence. Outside of that, I honestly couldn’t say much about their set. – Geoff Henao
Immediately after the Bosstones’ set, I made my way to the Radical stage to see one of my new favorite local bands, The Crombies. I absolutely fell in love with the band during last month’s Midwest Ska Festival thanks to their stage presence, covers of ska/2-tone standards, and all around amazing sound. Or it could just be because their guitarist resembles Tim Armstrong, both physically and musically. Nevertheless, The Crombies is made up of veterans of the Chicago ska community, and their ability to focus in on what makes ska so fun to listen to is what separates them from other ska bands. – Geoff Henao
It was a long day of mud and rock ‘n roll, so when I was notified that The National was running ten minutes late due to traffic, I was not thrilled. However, it was worth enduring the cold and the wait to witness The National conquer Riot Fest with a striking performance Saturday night. Though they were not necessarily everyone’s favorite choice for the headlining spot, they brought something different to the lineup, surprising first time listeners with their old hits and new tracks off their latest album, Trouble Will Find Me. Trouble has gotten a ton of buzz and has pushed The National even deeper into the spotlight. After lead singer Matt Berninger was done apologizing for their tardiness, (apparently they got stranded in Canada… blame Canada) the band charged into “Don’t Swallow The Cap,” which honestly isn’t my favorite track off of Trouble due to it’s lack of melody in the verses, but the longer they played, the happier I became. “Blood Buzz Ohio,” a tune off of The National’s fifth studio record, High Violet was played early on and the lovely but bloody visuals on the screen behind the band were the perfect compliment to the tragically beautiful song about debt, loss, and devastation. The band pulled out a few more tricks that night with a fantastic performance of “Fake Empire” with a horn section, and a heated performance of “Mr. November” which lead to Berninger jumping off stage. I intended to leave before the set was over because I couldn’t feel my toes, but as soon as a song started, I found myself singing along and never wanting to leave the sound of Berninger’s chilling and seductive baritone voice, until it was over and I didn’t have a choice. – Brynn Bixby
To end my night, I waited more than an hour after The Crombies’ set to catch the Descendents‘ headlining set. The wait was more than worth it. Frontman Milo Aukerman came out and played up the whole school/teacher thing, introducing the rest of the band (including original bassist Tony Lombardo!) to play their pivotal punk rock debut album, Milo Goes to College. Right off the bat, listening to “Myage” live for the first time was mesmerizing. Honestly, the hour-long wait for the photo pit was worth just hearing Milo screech “She don’t need no one” only a few feet away. What I lacked in terms of photos from the band (there was little to no lighting illuminating the band), I made up for with memories. – Geoff Henao
I began my final day at Riot Fest with Laura Stevenson and the Cans. I admit, my knowledge of Laura only comes from her collaborations with Bomb the Music Industry! and Brynn’s preview piece on her band. Their soft indie rock was the perfect way to start the final day of a long weekend and set the tone for a very relaxed, yet hectic Sunday. – Geoff Henao
The acts I most look forward to at Riot Fest are the emerging local artists who are over the moon to be a part of Chicago’s best (in my opinion) music festival of the year. Chicago’s very own original dude bro Clinton Sandifer aka ShowYouSuck has been waiting years for the opportunity to perform at Riot Fest and had no qualms about sharing this information with the gigantic crowd that accumulated around the Radical Stage Sunday afternoon. “Wow… I never thought there would be this many people here! It has been a dream of mine to play Riot Fest… I made it!” I’ve seen ShowYouSuck perform over a dozen times and it has been both rewarding and impressive to watch this artist top his performance every time. Fans got a taste of a variety of deep cuts, old and new, but ShowYouSuck had the crowd in the palm of his hand for pretty much the entire set. The set kicked off with “Big Gulp,” a track off the last installment of the three-fold One Man Pizza Party Series. Sandifer bounced around on stage in front of a giant cut out slice of pizza, hyping up the crowd with his signature call and response, “show is so awesome, show you suck!” At one point, Clinton parted the sea of people telling everybody to just “love each other” and on his command, the crowd charged at each other, creating complete chaos and catching the attention of onlookers in line at street vendors who were missing out on all the fun. ShowYouSuck introduced “80s Boobs, a quirky and oddball tune off his latest EP Dude Bro. “Get your hands up if you’ve ever loved someone no matter what they look like, that’s what this song is about…” and by the end of the song Sandifer had people cracking up as the rapper joked, “I just made you think about your mom’s boobs… you’re welcome.” At the end of the set fans were rewarded with literal slices of pizza that were launched into the crowd by ShowYouSuck and hype man/fellow Chicago rapper, Auggie The 9th. ShowYouSuck will be touring Europe at the end of the month and keep an ear out for his upcoming Bummer EP which Sandifer promises will be out “soon Bro.” – Brynn Bixby
I still can’t believe that I witnessed Weezer play the Blue Album Sunday night at Riot Fest. What an amazing way to end a killer weekend of great music. I snuck backstage to try and get a good view of the guys for their set but no one was allowed anywhere close so I braved the massive and somewhat terrifying crowd, and inched toward to the stage. I had a moment if panic when the band started the first song and it was “Back To The Shack,” but then my senses kicked in and I realized of course they will play some of their other hits before diving into the Blue Album. After a seven song mini-set that included “Beverly Hills,” and some tunes off the Green Album, it was finally time to journey back to 1994 and get weird. As soon as the familiar guitar riff in “My Name Is Jonas,” blared over the speakers, the crowd went insane. I was still pretty far out from the stage but literally everyone was singing along and as Weezer burned through each track, the crowd cheered and screamed for more. Rivers Cuomo’s performance was fantastic and I still can’t get over how spot-on he was vocally, it was just like listening to the record… with thousands of other fans. This performance reinforced the sheer fact that the Blue Album is pure genius and this band is legendary, although there was a bit of disconnect between the band and crowd at times, seemingly because of some technical difficulties. But between the angsty chorus of “Undone – The Sweater Song,” and the tight knit harmonies on my favorite song “Holiday,” I was in garage punk rock heaven. In my eyes, this set perfectly captures the whole point of Riot Fest — to rock out with a thousand of your closest strangers and re-live the music that made you who you are. – Brynn Bixby