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,
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 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).
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.