Riot Fest

It didn’t seem like anyone else could fit into the space in front of the Riot Fest stage where Iggy and the Stooges were about to play on Sunday night in Humboldt Park. More and more people kept squeezing their way forward. But then, the stage lights came on, and the Stooges took their spots in the center of the stage, like they were guarding the drum kit from an onslaught. Iggy Pop bounded to the microphone stand, his hair flying, his torso as bare as always. Within seconds, the crowd somehow managed to surge forward, and the moshing commenced. It felt like everyone was swaying and bouncing in unison as the Stooges pounded out their proto-punk riffs and Iggy showed his miraculous powers to keep on rocking with rambunctious abandon well past the age when most people slow down.

Guitarist James Williamson, an old member of the Stooges who rejoined the band after guitarist Ron Asheton’s death, sounded even more confident than he had playing at the Riviera in 2010. Drummer Larry Mullins filled in for one of the other original Stooges, Scott Asheton, who has been ailing of late. Bassist Mike Watt pushed and pushed the grooves, while saxophonist Stave Mackay threw on a layer of grungy jazz. Iggy was more talkative than usual, urging audience members to bum-rush the stage, playfully taunting the video camera operators (“I’m over here!”), and asking everyone if they wanted to see… well, you can guess what he offered to show. (As far as I could see from where I was standing among the moshers, Iggy did not pull a Jim Morrison act onstage, despite his offer to do so.) Iggy seemed to be having the time of his life, feeding off the audience’s energy. I’ve seen a couple of Iggy Pop solo concerts and three Stooges shows now; they’ve all been thrilling, and this was one of the best.

I did not take photos at Riot Fest, alas, but you can see my previous pictures of Iggy Pop & the Stooges at Lollapalooza in 2007 and the Riviera in 2010. (And many Riot Fest photos are posted on other websites, including Time Out Chicago.)

Although things got a little close for comfort in the Stooges’ lawn-sized mosh pit, the overall scene at Riot Fest on Sunday was quite pleasant, with plenty of space for fans to spread out throughout Humboldt Park. Riot Fest has been going on for years, but this past weekend was the first time it became a full-fledged outdoor festival, with one night of music at the Congress Theatre, followed by two days of live rock and carnival rides in Humboldt Park. Based on my experiences in the park on Sunday — and the comments I heard from people who were there on Saturday, too — the festival was a well-run affair.

Riot Fest also boasted an impressive lineup of bands. As in past years, the main theme was punk rock, but Riot Fest defined itself broadly enough to include acts such as Built to Spill, the Jesus and Mary Chain and Elvis Costello and the Imposters. Those were the best of the groups I saw on Sunday up until the Stooges stole the show. Built to Spill’s triple-guitar epics were like sharply defined sonic sculptures. The reunited JAMC’s 1980s tunes were nicely crunchy and catchy, leaning more towards pop than shoegaze. And Costello raced at a breakneck pace through many of his early hits, climaxing with lively versions of “Pump It Up” and “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding.” At first, it seemed a bit odd that Costello was playing at Riot Fest, but he reminded everyone that he used to be a punk, too.

I was less excited by the music I heard by the Alkaline Trio, NOFX, Gogol Bordello and the Promise Ring, but that’s mostly a matter of taste. Overall, Riot Fest was a winner of a festival.

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