Riot Fest Recap

I’ve never been in a riot
I’ve never been in a fight
I’ve never been in anything
That turns out right
— Mekons, “Never Been in a Riot”

The only thing I saw at Riot Fest that came close to an actual riot was the young guys slam dancing amid the middle-aged Replacements fans on Sunday night. Or maybe the squeals of delight and grasping arms of all those teenage girls and 20ish women who’d thronged a barricade to watch the young men of the pop-punk band All Time Low might qualify as quasi-riotous.

Riot or not, which I wrote about earlier). But Riot Fest featured plenty of other noteworthy bands, including a number of iconic punk, post-punk and new wave acts who have been playing since the 1990s, ’80s or even the ’70s.

Joan Jett
Joan Jett

Joan Jett & the Blackhearts were the high point on Friday; even their new songs sounded good, though the crowd clearly wanted to hear the old hits, which Jett and her band delivered in style. The other bands that I caught on Friday — Screeching Weasel, Bad Religion, GWAR and Danzig — didn’t interest me as much, but I was impressed by Bad Religion’s ferocity. I stayed out of the way when GWAR began spraying fake blood at the crowd. See more photos from Day 1.

X
X

Saturday was filled with strong sets by “oldies” acts including an intense early-afternoon performance by X.

Dinosaur Jr.
Dinosaur Jr.

Dinosaur Jr. jammed out in the afternoon sun, closing its set with a great cover of the Cure’s “Just Like Heaven.”

Guided By Voices
Guided By Voices

Guided By Voices’ Robert Pollard looked tipsy as he came onstage, quickly chugging down some whisky, but as soon as the band started playing, he was kicking up his leg and twirling his microphone cord in classic GBV style.

Former members of the punk band Black Flag announced, “This is not Black Flag — this is Flag” … and then proceeded to play a bunch of Black Flag songs, prompting youngsters to crowd-surf.

Blondie
Blondie

Led by a warlock-outfit-wearing Debbie Harry, Blondie inspired some swooning by the band’s longtime fans. The old hits sounded good, even if the newer tunes and deeper cuts were less distinguished.

Public Enemy
Public Enemy

Public Enemy gave one of the weekend’s most galvanizing performances, with Chuck D and Flavor Flav jumping in tandem to the group’s political hip-hop anthems. (The area near the stage was so jampacked that I found myself caught in a dangerous crush of people when we photographers had to leave the photo pit.)

The Violent Femmes opened their concert with their biggest hits — which seemed like an odd choice, until it became clear that the group was playing the entirety of its 1983 self-titled debut album in sequence. And it just so happens that the record starts off with the group’s best-known songs. The Femmes played faithful versions of those tracks, prompting the crowd to sing along, but the show seemed to lose energy later on.

See more photos from Day 2.

Rain came pouring down on Sunday, dampening the spirit at Riot Fest, but the music went on. I showed up in time to catch the last few songs by Mission of Burma, including a solid rendition of “That’s When I Reach for My Revolver.” A bit later, Bob Mould played one of the festival’s most intense sets, joined by Superchunk drummer Jon Wurster and Chicago bassist Jason Narducy (who’s also in the touring version of Superchunk) — an ideal lineup to play the crunchy post-punk power pop of Mould’s solo albums and his recordings with Sugar. Mould told the crowd that he’s coming back to Chicago soon to make a new album.

AFI
AFI

Other highlights on Sunday included Rocket From the Crypt, who made a joyous racket as the downpour continued. I was less familiar with some of the younger bands that I saw, including Against Me!, Brand New, All Time Low and AFI, all of whom inspired fervent responses from their fans. AFI bounced around on the stage so much that it felt a bit like watching a post-punk version of Riverdance; it all seemed too choreographed. (I skipped seeing some of Riot Fest’s other bands entirely, including Friday’s headliner Fall Out Boy and Saturday’s headliner Blink-182. Not a fan of either.)

Twin Peaks
Twin Peaks

I did greatly enjoy the rainy midafternoon set by Chicago’s Twin Peaks. They might have been the youngest band playing the whole weekend, but their excellent lo-fi home recording Sunken shows that they know some garage-rock history. Their exuberant performance at Riot Fest included at least one new song as well as a cover of They Might Be Giants’ “Boss of Me” (the theme to the TV series Malcolm in the Middle).

Pixies
Pixies

The rain cleared up by the time darkness fell, though the ground was still muddy in many places, including the goopy photo pit in front of the Roots Stage, where Pixies played the weekend’s penultimate set. This is the first time the band has gone out on the road since founding bassist and backup singer Kim Deal quit. She was replaced by Kim Shattuck of the Muffs. If anything, Deal’s absence may have reduced the onstage tension that was apparent at some previous shows. With lights shining behind them and their faces shrouded in darkness, Pixies opened their set with two covers: The Fall’s “Big New Prinz” and the Jesus and Mary Chain’s “Head On.” But by the time the Pixies were inspiring a crowd sing-along with “Wave of Mutilation,” I was heading over to the Riot Stage to get in line for the Replacements photo pit. It’s too bad you couldn’t hear the Pixies from over there; I would have loved to hear more of their set, but it was time to snag a spot for the Mats.

See more photos from Day 3 / Photos of the Replacements / A review of the Replacements

Riot Fest Day 2: Photos

Photos from the second day of Riot Fest, Sept. 14, 2013, in Humboldt Park, Chicago.

See: photos from Day 1 / Photos from Day 3 / Photos of the Replacements / A review of the Replacements


X
X

X
X
X
X
X
X
Circus performers wander the ground during the X concert.
Circus performers wander the ground during the X concert.


The crowd during the Lillingtons' set.
The crowd during the Lillingtons’ set.

The Lillingtons
The Lillingtons
The Lillingtons
The Lillingtons


Dinosaur Jr.
Dinosaur Jr.

Dinosaur Jr.
Dinosaur Jr.
Dinosaur Jr.
Dinosaur Jr.
Dinosaur Jr.
Dinosaur Jr.
Dinosaur Jr.
Dinosaur Jr.
Dinosaur Jr.
Dinosaur Jr.


Guided By Voices
Guided By Voices

Guided By Voices
Guided By Voices
Guided By Voices
Guided By Voices
Guided By Voices
Guided By Voices
Guided By Voices
Guided By Voices
Guided By Voices
Guided By Voices
Guided By Voices
Guided By Voices
Guided By Voices
Guided By Voices


Flag
Flag

Flag
Flag
Flag
Flag
Flag
Flag
Crowd-surfing during Flag's set.
Crowd-surfing during Flag’s set.
Crowd-surfing during Flag's set.
Crowd-surfing during Flag’s set.


Blondie
Blondie

Blondie
Blondie
Blondie
Blondie
Blondie
Blondie
Blondie
Blondie
Blondie
Blondie
Blondie
Blondie
Blondie
Blondie
Blondie
Blondie


Public Enemy
Public Enemy

Public Enemy
Public Enemy
Public Enemy
Public Enemy
Public Enemy
Public Enemy
Public Enemy
Public Enemy
Public Enemy
Public Enemy


Violent Femmes
Violent Femmes

Violent Femmes
Violent Femmes
Violent Femmes
Violent Femmes
Violent Femmes
Violent Femmes

See: photos from Day 1 / Photos from Day 3 / Photos of the Replacements / A review of the Replacements

Guided By Voices at the Riv


Some people say it isn’t cool to wear a T-shirt for a band when you’re at a concert by that band. Showing too much team spirit, perhaps? Well, it might have been a bit nerdy, but I wore a Guided By Voices T-shirt Wednesday night (Oct. 13) when the reunited band played at Chicago’s Riviera Theatre. It was a T-shirt I bought on the night of the final Guided By Voices concert — well, it was supposed to be the final concert, anyway. That was on New Year’s Eve 2004, a long, sprawling affair that saw Robert Pollard bidding a boozy farewell to his longtime bandmates. A very memorable night (which I blogged about here — please pardon a few of the broken links on that page).

The mega-prolific Pollard has continued cranking out solo albums and recordings with an almost bewilderingly long list of bands since then, and I have to admit that I’ve lost track of Pollard’s prodigious output. But when Pollard announced he was getting the boys back together for a short reunion tour, I was eager to relive the GBV experience. And this was the “classic” lineup from the early 1990s period when I first discovered and fell in love with the band, playing just songs from those years.

As the group played Wednesday at the Riv, it reminded me of the first time I saw GBV, in 1995 at Lounge Ax. There was Pollard in the center of stage, jumping around, kicking up his legs and twirling his mike like, well, Roger Daltry. Meanwhile, guitarist Mitch Mitchell and bassist Greg Demos were jumping around a fair amount themselves. In the small confines of the Lounge Ax, I remember feeling the sensation that the band was rushing toward the audience the entire time it was playing. The guys were playing on a bigger stage this time, without that feeling of small-club claustrophobia, and they were clearly older — but the energy and spirit hadn’t changed all that much.

Like many of the GBV concerts in the days of old, this one wasn’t perfect. At some moments, the band sounded sloppy. And there were a few lulls. But when things clicked, it sounded great, quickly pouncing on one great song after another. Pollard named almost every song before the band launched into it — a habit he said he was once berated for, by another musician he didn’t name. The crowd, clearly packed with some fervid GBV followers, responded with enthusiastic hand-waving and singing when the group played its most beloved songs, such as “Echos Myron” and “Game of Pricks.”

It was really nice to see a GBV concert with Tobin Sprout in the lineup, since Sprout used to be the band’s second voice, always singing a few songs on each album. More laid back than his fellow band members, Sprout nevertheless seemed to be enjoying himself, smiling as he played rhythm guitar and occasionally stepping up to the mike for songs such as “14 Cheerleader Cold Front” and “Awful Bliss.”

Filling out the reunited lineup was drummer Kevin Fennell. Pollard joked about how much trouble he had finding some of these guys to reunite the band. Where did he find Sprout? “He was swimming in the Great Lakes,” Pollard claimed. “We got them all back,” he said. “We’re the Blues Brothers.”

While Wednesday’s show wasn’t nearly as much as a marathon as that 2004 farewell show, the band did deliver 39 songs, including three encores. The songs came from some of GBV’s best albums: Propeller, Vampire on Titus, Bee Thousand, Alien Lanes and Under the Bushes Under the Stars — plus a sampling from various EPs and lesser-known records. I was especially excited to hear a couple of my favorite songs, both from an EP called The Grand Hour: “Break Even” and “Shocker in Gloomtown.” Both of those tunes have riffs built around distinctive, odd rhythmic gestures, unfolding like epic classic-rock suites even though they’re only a few minutes long. They’re prime examples of what made GBV so great.

SET LIST: Weed King / Exit Flagger / Cut-Out Witch / Gold Star for Robot Boy / Striped White Jets / Shocker in Gloomtown / Tractor Rape Chain / My Son Cool / Bright Paper Werewolves / My Impression Now / A Good Flying Bird / Watch me Jumpstart / Closer You Are / Awful Bliss / 14 Cheerleader Cold Front / Pimple Zoo / Buzzards and Dreadful Crows / My Valuable Hunting Knife / Echos Myron / Break Even / Gleemer (The Deeds of Fertile Jim) / Lethargy / Hot Freaks / Game of Pricks / The Queen of Cans and Jars / Goldheart Mountaintop Queen Directory / Motor Away / Unleashed! The Large-Hearted Boy / I Am a Scientist / ENCORE 1: Postal Blowfish / Jar of Cardinals / Matter Eater Lad / Don’t Stop Now / ENCORE 2: Dodging Invisible Rays / Quality of Armor / Smothered in Hugs / ENCORE 3: Johnny Appleseed / Some Drilling Implied / A Salty Salute

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The opening act was another Ohio band, Times New Viking — a good fit with Guided By Voices. The group’s songs aren’t as catchy as Pollard and Sprout’s, but they share some of the same to-the-point scrappiness. Times New Viking crammed a lot of songs into its opening set.

PHOTOS OF TIMES NEW VIKING



Guided By Voices’ final concert

As Robert Pollard asked the crowd jammed into Chicago’s Metro nightclub to help him perform a sketch at the start of Guided By Voices’ final concert, hardcore GBV fans knew exactly what he had in mind. The audience did an encore of its chant from a few minutes earlier — “GBV! GBV!” — and Pollard & Co. (bandmates, plus former bandmates like brother Jim Pollard) recreated the spoken dialogue from the beginning of the “Propeller” album.

“Are you ready to rock?”

“This song does not rock.”

“89.”

The exchange would be meaningless to 99.9999 percent of the population, but it meant a lot to this crowd. (Just what does “89” mean, anyway?) And with that, GBV launched into its great prog-rock anthem, “Over the Neptune/Mesh Gear Fox” … not a song the band has played that much in recent years, and a good sign that GBV planned to dig deep into its back catalogue.

Alongside the bins filled with beer bottles — a requisite component of any GBV show — a couple of white plastic buckets labeled “PUKE” and “PISS” sat on the stage. And GBV even had its own bar on stage, with Pollard pal Trader Vic serving as bartender. Thus… we knew much alcohol would be consumed by the musicians. So what else is new at a GBV show? Pollard’s famous for chugging beers, twirling beer bottles into the air and catching them (well, at least some of the time), and somehow managing to hang onto cigarettes and beer while spinning around his microphone on its cord and doing karate kicks at the same time. He’s apparently given up smoking, but he took it up again for this final show, bumming smokes off audience members and GBVmates.

After a strong start, the concert paused for a New Year’s Eve midnight countdown… balloons falling and mostly exploding upon cigarettes (except for the balloons in the net that got tangled up in a ceiling fan)… and more drinking…

Pollard promised this would be the longest concert of all time, and he almost lived up to his promise. He said the set list had 61 songs — the same as Roger Maris’ old home-run record — but thanks to Barry Bonds, GBV would now have to go for 78 songs. They didn’t make it quite to that mark, but they did play close to four hours (from 11:20 p.m. until 3:20 a.m.), with a grand total of… 63 SONGS!!!

What exactly is the record for single longest performance by one band or artist, either in minutes or songs? Whatever it is, this GBV show was one for the history books. With that many songs, I was hard-pressed to remember some of the more obscure tunes, which Pollard dutifully identified — saying, for example, that the next song was from the 1993 EP Clown Prince of the Menthol Trailer. Um, there’s one I haven’t listened to in a while.

I could quibble with the set order and a few of the selections, but GBV played almost every song I wanted to hear, with many great tracks from “Bee Thousand,” “Alien Lanes” and “Propeller,” plus a few of the early, early songs that the band rarely played on tour. Looking at the set list from the previous night’s concert (which I did not attend), my only regrets are not hearing “Gold Star for Robot Boy” and “Liar’s Tale,” as well as that night’s opening act, Tobin Sprout.

A few other songs I wish I could have heard one more time in concert: “Break Even,” “Weed King,” “Striped White Jets,” “Little Lines,” “Jane of the Waking Universe,” “Bulldog Skin,” “The Ironmen Rally Song” and “Captain’s Dead” (actually, I never heard that one in concert). Oh, well… When a band has 900 songs, you’re bound to miss a few of your personal favorites when it gets boiled down to a mere 63 songs.

It was great to see Sprout and several other former GBV members sitting on some songs. I liked GBV best when Sprout was in the band, adding a second distinctive voice to the group’s sound. Ah, it was nice to hear him singing on “14 Cheerleader Coldfront.”

Hearing “Demons Are Real” for the first time in a while as a live song — and hearing it out of its normal context on “Bee Thousand” — I was struck by how gripping and odd it is. The best GBV songs are the ones with unusual rhythmic touches and off-kilter vocal phrasing, the ones that might seem just peculiar the first time you hear them but grow on you with repeated listens. “Cut-Out Witch” did not initially strike me as one of the better songs on “Under the Bushes, Under the Stars,” but when I noticed the song was becoming a regular fixture of GBV concerts, I came to see its genius. Other songs of this ilk include “Shocker in Gloomtown.” Reaction upon hearing it the first time: What the heck was that? Reaction upon hearing it the hundredth time: Best song of all time! (Well, not quite…)

After seeing some great, great GBV concerts, starting at the Lounge Ax in 1994, I’d been disappointed with a few of their shows in the last couple of years. They weren’t necessarily bad, but at times, the band lacked the spark and spontaneity it had once had. This final show, though, was the best I’d seen in years, and surely the most unforgettable.

Pollard was in generous mood, even making forgiving comments about people he has slagged in the past, such as Jim DeRogatis. Most of all, he seemed proud of what he’d accomplished in 21 years with Guided By Voices. Over an instrumental break in “Secret Star,” he recalled his dad telling him, “Do you realize how many shitty bands there are out there? What do you have to offer to rock ‘n’ roll?” And he remembered telling his mom, “I’m a fucking genius.” Her response: “A genius at what?” In those early days of obscurity, Pollard’s motivation was simple, he said: “I just wanna have fun.”

Perhaps my sentimental feelings about the night made me more forgiving than usual toward Nate Farley, whose drunken inability to play much guitar has irritated me at a couple of earlier shows… You had to cut him some slack tonight, as he was clearly having fun.

Pollard’s own drunkeness started to take a toll on the show’s pace as it neared the end of the main set, and he stopped two false starts on the song “Heavy Metal Breakfast.” He began missing more of those beer bottles tossed into the air, slurring some of the words, or just handing the microphone out into the audience while he staggered over to the bar for more booze from Trader Vic.

But when the band came back for two encores and Pollard vowed to “kick ass,” the sounds were splendid indeed. A fast-paced hit parade of sorts, the kind that great GBV concerts also climax with: “My Impression Now,” “My Valuable Hunting Knife,” “Queen of Cans and Jars,” “Hot Freaks,” “Motor Away,” “I Am a Scientist,” “Teenage FBI,” “Echos Myron” (always one of my favorites, with that classic line — “And we’re finally here, and shit yeah, it’s cool, and shouldn’t it be, or something like that”). The audience, which had seemed lethargic an hour earlier (probably because of the late hour), was pumped up now, singing every word, waving fists and fingers into the air. After Pollard introduced “Smothered in Hugs” as the final GBV song ever and I heard the opening chords and that indelible melody, I actually found myself getting a little choked up. Is it ridiculous to feel this way about a band you’ve loved for more than a decade, whose albums and concerts have been important milestones in your musical life?

I thought that might be the end, but after emcee Beatle Bob briefly took the stage to extend GBV’s thanks to its fans, the group came back for more. Pollard said he’d given a lot of thought to the songs he would play for the last GBV encore ever, and it was a fine way to end things:

“A Salty Salute” … Of course! How could they end without playing that one more time?

“Postal Blowfish” … another one of those songs that vaulted from obscurity and oddity to a solid position in the GBV repertoire.

“Pendulum,” which Pollard introduced as “We’ll put on some Cat Butt and do it up right” … another rarely heard early classic.

“Dayton, OH 19 Something and 5” … an obvious sentimental favorite.

“He’s the Uncle” … seems like an obscure choice to me, but I guess I’ll have to listen to this song more to figure out why Pollard included it.

“Exit Flagger” … This was the final song of the first GBV concert I ever saw. I still feel compelled to sing along with it.

And finally, a song that Pollard introduced as “The Ballad of Guided By Voices.” You could feel his emotion as he acknowledged the members of his band one last time. The song was actually “Don’t Stop Now,” with a fitting title for the band’s coda. As Pollard calmly delivered his last lines, it was hard for a GBV fan not to get goose pimples.

The goof, Nate Farley, was the last one to leave the stage, unable to resist one more chance to slap the hands of adoring fans. The crowd tried to rouse one more encore with another chant of “GBV! GBV!,” carrying on for a couple of minutes even after the lights and canned music had come on, but this really was the end.

SET LIST

Over the Neptune / Mesh Gear Fox
Watch Me Jumpstart
Pimple Zoo
Everybody Thinks I’m a Raincloud (When I’m Not Looking)
Fair Touching
Things I Will Keep
(New Year’s Countdown)
Glow Boy Butlers
Lethargy (with Jim Pollard)
The Best of Jill Hives
Red Ink Superman
14 Cheerleader Coldfront (with Tobin Sprout adding vocals)
The Girls of Wild Strawberries
Back to the Lake
Demons Are Real
Do the Earth
Tropical Robots
Beg for a Wheelbarrow
My Kind of Soldier
Wished I Was a Giant
Bright Paper Werewolves (with Leland Cain)
Lord of Overstock (with Leland Cain)
Window of My World
Navigating Flood Regions
Goldheart Mountaintop Queen Directory
Tractor Rape Chain
I Am a Tree (with John Wuerster from Superchunk on drums)
Drinker’s Peace
Chief Barrel Belly
Game of Pricks
Pink Gun
Matter Eater Lad
Redmen and Their Wives
Gonna Never Have to Die
I Drove a Tank (with Greg Demos and Jim MacPherson)
Shocker in Gloomtown (with Greg Demos and Jim MacPherson)
Secret Star
If We Wait
Huffman Prairie Flying Field
Sad if I Lost It
Cut-Out Witch
Buzzards and Dreadful Crows
Alone, Stinking, and Unafraid
Unleashed! The Large-Hearted Boy (with Matt Sweeney on bass)
Glad Girls
Johnny Appleseed (with Jim Greer and Tobin Sprout)
Heavy Metal Country
Murder Charge

Encore 1:
My Impression Now
My Valuable Hunting Knife
Queen of Cans and Jars
Hot Freaks (with Tobin)
Motor Away
I Am a Scientist (with Don Thrasher)
Teenage FBI
Echos Myron (Tobin adding vocals)
Smothered in Hugs

Encore 2:
A Salty Salute
Postal Blowfish
Pendulum
Dayton, OH 19 Something and 5
He’s the Uncle
Exit Flagger
Don’t Stop Now