Insanity, by Einstein’s definition, is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results. While this may or may not be a true attribution, it is a fair statement and the most accurate to how I approach any music festival. For those of you keeping track of my writing (see: my review of the Shaky Knees festival in May), you will know that my experience is a predictable one as shittily illustrated by the graph below.
Day 1 is a fury of alcohol, high fives and shenanigans that usually peaks around 1:30 a.m. when I’m taking shot after shot before the bar closes because god forbid I want to feel like a real human being the next morning or make the first batch of bands I want to see. And Riot Fest was no exception. Considering that I spent the previous day drinking crotch smuggled whiskey and drinking to easycore jams all night long, Saturday was set up to be a slow start. And that it was. Shooting well past the 12:30 and 1 p.m. start times of both Plague Vendor and Canadian darlings Fucked Up, we arrived to Douglas Park in time for two things: a press happy hour in which I could not bring myself to drink more than a single sip of beer and to lay in the grass and listen to hometown crooners, The Smoking Popes.
If you have never listed to the Popes picture the dad-est punk band to ever happen. Like white, short sleeve button up shirts and cargo shorts. Wikipedia lists their influences as “crooners like Tony Bennett and Frank Sinatra.” They have been around since 1991 and while I am sure they were not actually dads back then, they have been dads the whole time. But please do not take this as any kind of slight on the band or their music…I’m merely setting the scene to say that they are the perfect band to listen to whilst sitting in a grassy field on a sunny Saturday afternoon. Always a solid live band, I highly recommend them for anyone looking to take a breather in between a full day of festival sets or, alternatively, those arriving late and hungover and looking to ease their way back into the real world.
After cleansing my musical palate on the smooth tunes of the Smoking Popes, I was ready for the bitter sweet taste of Motion City Soundtracks large format farewell show. While they were set to play their officially official farewell the next night at the world famous Metro, I was not one of the luckily 1,100 to get a ticket to that sad boy/girl fest. For me and the thousands gathered around the roots stage, the hour would be our goodbye to a band that was our introduction to a lot of the music we listen to day in and day out. In the wake of their decision to call it quits, Noisey published an article articulating just that…that Motion City dug their niche as an often underappreciated gateway band that really did much more than they were ever recognized for at the time.
It was with this mindset that I watched the Twin Cities catchiest export work their way through 60 minutes of perfect hooks, witty lyrics and constant crowd singalongs. I kick myself for the years of “oh, I’ll see them next time they’re in town” and “yeah, I’ll get around to listening to the new album”. They only took a few short pauses in between songs to thank the audience and collect themselves, as singer/guitarist Justine Pierre was never one for the extravagant…just an earnest band trying to play as best and as much as possible in their given time. Motion City was a truly special band and incredibly fun to watch live. I’ll especially miss the onstage energy and antics of keyboard player Jesse Johnson. RIP the days of keyboard stands.
The end of their set, appropriately closed with “The Future Freaks Me Out,” left me a little sadder than I expected to be.
But reprieve was in sight as The Hives were slated to start shortly after on the nearby rock stage. If you have written the The Hives off as ‘one of those bands that was popular when it was super popular to call your band The Somethings’ you are foolish and have done yourself a disservice. Garage rock at its rockiest, these Sweedes know how to perform at a level last seen in the 1970’s heyday of rock itself. Lead singer Howlin’ Pele Almqvist (I KNOW RIGHT? HOWLIN?!) is the closest we’ll get to seeing Mick Jagger strutting his stuff across the stage without the assistance of a walker or other mobility device. The ultimate showman, he knows how to work a crowd. Bouncing around all over the stage, climbing the side trusses, inciting cheers from “ladies, gentlemen, and everyone else” there was never a dull moment. Introducing the band at the start of the set, he let the crowd know that The Hives are here and we all had two wishes left.
As a band, their stage presence can only be matched by the likes of Gwar…though obviously in a more subtle fashion than giant, mutoid, murderous space demons. The Hives take the black and white motif to an extreme that would make a 50’s diner jealous. Each member of the band donning a split black and white suit, playing black and white instruments (to include drumming with one black and one white stick), and having their stage techs dressed as one black and one white ninja while handing off freshly tuned guitars and adjusting drum kits before, during, and after the show. They are a monochromatic whirlwind of rock and roll fury and an absolute blast to watch live. As they do not play the states very often, with their last US performance coming in 2013, you should take every opportunity to see their show. Learn the lessons taught by Motion City Soundtrack.
With some time to kill before Brand New was set to make everyone sad again, our little band of hungover heroes sauntered over to the food vendor row in hopes of snacks and salvation. While browsing the selection of fried and un-fried items alike, I began to notice a sign posted to each vendor booth. These sheets were announcements that there was to be no meat cooked, served or sold during Morrissey’s two hour set that evening. He has famously barred venues from even having meat in the building during his solo performance, so I’m not terribly surprised by this move. However, I do think that it is a complete and utter crock of shit. These are the same forced down the throat, border line fascist mentality of the fringe religious groups and other general nut jobs that hold a ‘holier than thou’ ideal to their beliefs. This move hurts every small business that spent massive amounts of money on vending space at the fest, for the will of one moody performer. While I agree that there needs to be more vegan friendly options at events like Riot Fest, this was not the way to go about it. But Morrissey has never been known for being a reasonable person, que sera sera.
Luckily it was about this time that I stumbled upon a stand serving plates of pierogis complete with sour cream and apple sauce. If anything can put out the fires of indignation in my soul, it is a belly full of doughy Polish delight. Making our way back towards Brand New I could feel life coming back to my liver. Knowing full well that press happy hour started just after the beginning of their set, we camped out on the right side of the riot stage in anticipation of the metaphorical dinner bell for all of us writers. If there is anything that can bring together a group of literary minded people: it is the promise of free booze. Of course we immediately found our other friends from For the Love of Punk and Punktastic waiting around for the same thing.
Brand New kicked off their set with a jolt, heading right into the familiar bass intro to fan favorite “Sic Transit Gloria.” Hot damn! Jesse Lacy and company are known for their temperamental nature, especially in festival settings. Maybe this is growing up? As they rolled through the next two songs, also from Deja Entendu, we were in shock. What is this? Where are the Daisy songs scattered in the set to break up the rhythm? Following up this run of hits with the acoustic “Mix Tape,” Jesse actually broke out a smile when getting to the line “and I’m sick of your tattoos and the way you always criticize the Smiths, and Morrissey.” I’m sure playing on the same stage that Morrissey would walk onto just an hour later (note: it would be two hours later because Morrissey is a fucking dick and was late to his headlining set) made his sad heart warm for just a moment. But the moment was fleeting as the set closed out with tracks from The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me and Daisy. During this time I sang my way back and forth from the press tent, getting ready for the rest of the evening, which was to be the annual Pop Punk Pizza Party for my business, Soothsayer Hot Sauce.
After Brand New closed out, we started our stroll to the car as I wound through my mental checklist for the evening. Last year, in a fit of nerves, I threw up in a Walgreens parking lot before getting to the venue. This year I was doing much better, some jitters were called down through my Chief Sauce Operator/Right Hand Woman Rachel and the help of my good buddies Steph, Jim, and Travis. But I believe someone else has covered that show, so I’ll let you get the juicy details from them. To preview: amazing sets from Turnspit, Nervous Passenger, Devon Kay and the Solutions, and our secret guest…Bad Cop/Bad Cop! We ate close to 50 pizzas, drank enough Malort to kill a small village, and named a dog. Ya know, usual punk shit.
* See photos from Kendra Sheetz
* See photos from Zack Jacob:
Check out other coverage from Riot Fest & Carnival in Chicago below.
Day 1 | Day 3 (coming soon) | The People of Riot Fest (coming soon)
Check out other coverage from Riot Fest & Rodeo in Denver below.