Last year, Bob Mould celebrated the 25th anniversary of his debut solo album, Workbook. But when he played Monday night (June 23) at Millennium Park, the mostly acoustic rock of that album was nowhere to be heard. Mould launched his unrelentingly loud and energetic set of feedback-drenched power pop and punk with the first three songs from Copper Blue, the 1992 album he made with his band Sugar.
Then he said, “Let’s play some new stuff and some new real stuff.” And that’s precisely what he did, playing some tunes from his most recent records, including the excellent new album Beauty & Ruin. One of the tracks on that record, “I Don’t Know You Anymore,” is as catchy as anything Mould’s ever written, and it was a standout during Monday’s show.
Mould had two top-notch musicians backing him up: Jon Wurster of Superchunk on drums and Jason Narducy on bass. Narducy has played with several bands over the years (including a recent stint as Superchunk’s touring bassist), and he also opened Monday’s concert, singing and playing guitar with his pop-punk band Split Single — a good match with Mould’s music.
Just about the only relief in the onslaught by Mould’s trio came when he mellowed out for a few minutes during the wistful “Hardly Getting Over It,” a song he originally recorded with his first band, the legendary Hüsker Dü. By the end of his set, he’d played five Sugar songs, five Hüsker Dü songs and 12 from his solo records. Nothing from Workbook, though. He wasn’t in that mode on Monday night. This was Bob Mould in full-on, guitars-cranked-up mode.
The Act We Act (Sugar) / A Good Idea (Sugar) / Changes (Sugar) / Star Machine / The Descent / Little Glass Pill / I Don’t Know You Anymore / Kid With Crooked Face / Nemeses Are Laughing / The War / Hardly Getting Over It (Hüsker Dü) / Helpless (Sugar) / Keep Believing / Egoverride / Hey Mr. Grey / If I Can’t Change Your Mind (Sugar) / Come Around (Sugar) / Tomorrow Morning / Something I Learned Today (Hüsker Dü) / Chartered Trips (Hüsker Dü) / Fix It
ENCORE: Flip Your Wig (Hüsker Dü) / Makes No Sense At All (Hüsker Dü)
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 & 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.
Saturday was filled with strong sets by “oldies” acts including an intense early-afternoon performance by X.
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’ 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.
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 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.
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.
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.)
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 Sunkenshows 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).
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.