Let me take a moment to tell you about the Law of Standard Deviation. In short, it states that 99.7% of all occurrences of an event or action will take place within three deviations of the mean (or 0 deviations). This is the principal behind that bell curve that your teachers always talked about. Everyone pretty much does the same except for the burnout who tanked the exam because they spent seven hours geeked up on Adderall looking up conspiracy theories over the “real Paul McCartney” and the kid who had the Casio watch with all the buttons on it that you could totally use to cheat but you know he never did. The extreme highs and lows are rare, but a possibility.
Why did I just give you a math lesson on basic averages? Because sometimes you wake up from a three day bender of punk rock, malort, pizza, Old Style, more malort, various other illegal substances, and more malort and feel absolutely incredible. Sometimes you wake up on the .3% of mornings where no matter what you did to yourself the night before, your body has rallied like an Olympic athlete and repaired itself in the four hours you’ve slept since your last drink. Aided by a stomach full of tacos from the night before, I woke up on Sunday morning feeling like a golden fucking god.
I could not say the same for my Riot Fest companions Rachel and Steph. As both were hurting, I took the Uber ride of triumph, the opposite of the walk of shame, to move my car from its post of abandonment outside of Quenchers Saloon from the previous night (where I guess I loaded out hot sauce gear while blacked out, came to trying to sing Fall Out Boy karaoke, and flashed back into consciousness as I woke up at the bar counter of an all-night taco spot). My driver was as surprised as I was about how chipper I was at such an ungodly early time of morning, asking me if I’ve been to “The Riot Fests” over the weekend. An interesting and often unnoticed trend about the baby boomer generation; they will add ‘The’ and ‘s’ to anything of youth culture. I first noticed this when, despite how much I talked about it, my dad always referred to Tony Hawk Pro Skater as “The Tony Hawks.” As in “you’re always on The Tony Hawks, have you even studying?” The answer to that was no, because I never studied due to the fact that I am a smartass-know-it-all. But I digress…
My partners in crime aka two legs of the traveling tripod were hurting and this needed to be rectified. They’ve put in so much work helping Soothsayer Hot Sauce get where it is today and the best thank you I can think of is delivery coffee and breakfast sandwiches when hungover. A quick stop through to Dunkin Donuts later and we were in business. The brace-faced teenager burned our everything bagels, but that’s alright. The previous evening we had smoked cigarettes like we were sponsored by Philip Morris so it’s not like our taste buds were working at 100% anyway. What really matters is eggs and friendship…eggs being the most versatile and delicious food stuff to ever happen. When people say “oh, I could totally go vegan if it wasn’t for (insert non-meat animal product here)” it is usually cheese. But I’ve tried some amazing vegan cheeses thanks to my pals in Typesetter and I could live with that reality. But I could never live without eggs.
After dropping off food to Steph, I made my way home to my very hungover girlfriend for budget breakfast in bed. It is at this point I wish I could tell you that we all instantly rallied and started the final trek to Douglas Park, but that would be a lie. The reality is that we basked in the air conditioning and watched Netflix until the very last possible second needed to leave in time to catch Thursday shake off the cobwebs and remind everyone how fucking depressing it is to grow up in New Jersey. Yeah, I know. We missed The Bronx, The Falcon, and Andrew WK. Sometimes you just want to start the day lying in bed with the only person you really want to be around while you laugh at cheesy cop shows, ya know? But I had a literary responsibility and some back assed semblance of journalistic integrity that would make Joseph Pulitzer vomit in his mouth just a little bit, so we dragged ourselves off of the memory foam mattress and got our shit in gear.
Making it just in time to see Thursday take the stage, I thanked our dark lord and master for my uncanny sense of timing that allows me to be late, but not too late, to everything I do. That and the fact that once again the security guard didn’t find the chillum in my shoe. Before I got too much time to reminisce on that (or pack a bowl), they kicked right into “For the Workforce, Drowning,” the lead track on 2003’s War All the Time. I know that many argue that Full Collapse is Thursday’s crowning achievement, but I would argue that they are fucking wrong. Of the emotionally driven music to come out of the early aughts, War All the Time is one of the most powerful. They portray the pain, confusion and anxiety of that place and time in such a way to make it beautiful.
Their four-year hiatus hasn’t hindered them one bit, Thursday is still an impressively powerful live band. Driven by the gap-toothed smile of Geoff Rickly, they tore through a hits-only 40 minute setlist that made all of our former scene kid hearts smile. Wishing that I still had at least one of my white, Hot Topic pyramid belts, they barreled through “Jet Black New Year” while trailing into the chorus of Prince’s “1999.” To close their set Rickly bid the crowd adieu, saying “you might recognize this next song from your local bar’s emo night” as the opening notes to “Understanding in a Car Crash.” The irony being that Mr. Rickly would be hosting the emo night at local standby Beauty Bar later that evening.
One of the best things about festivals like Riot Fest, is the opportunity for back to back sets from some genre heavyweights that otherwise wouldn’t be sharing the stage together (or the opposite, where you get “WHAT IN THE ACTUALLY FUCK” moments like Me First and the Gimme Gimmies playing a set on the Rise Stage just before Death Grips). If you would have told me two years ago that I would be hanging around waiting for Underoath to play after seeing a set from Thursday I would have said you were crazy. Both bands, defunct for the last number of years, have recently gotten back together for some high profile reunion events. Thursday giving it another go at this year’s Wrecking Ball fest in Atlanta, while Underoath spent the winter/spring touring a dual album anniversary set for 2004’s They’re Only Chasing Safety and 2006’s Define the Great Line.
As a former Myspace era scene kid (see: black swoop, white pyramid belt, Norma Jean shirt) this was a dream come true. I had already driven up to Grand Rapids earlier in the year to see the reunion/album tour and was excited to see what they had to offer for a non-linear set. Kicking off with “Breathing in a New Mentality,” the opening track from 2008’s Lost in the Sound of Separation, Underoath showed both the fans and the curious alike that they still have it. One of the central aspects of their reunion was the return of drummer/singer Aaron Gillespie, who hadn’t played with the band since 2010. If you are unfamiliar with Underoath, you’d recognize them as the band that really started the ‘clean/whiney singer trading vocals with a second, screaming vocalist’. Love it or hate it, they made it popular and arguably did it the best (and goddamn if keyboardist Chris Dudley doesn’t look fucking adorable while he’s trying to look like he’s really contributing to the song).
My lovely girlfriend, who indulged me through two albums worth of scream goodness earlier in the year, wanted to check out English songwriter/pipsqueak Jake Bugg…so I hung up my low v-neck and retired my neon Supra’s a little early and left Underoath to wrap up as we went to find a nice, shady hill spot at the Rock Stage. Only having heard Bugg a few days prior, I was intrigued to see what this 22-year-old had to offer. Playing a garage rocky, folky, blues forward style this kid has somehow amassed almost 100 million listens on his top five Spotify songs…most of which came on an album he released when he was 22. As the theme today was ‘general chill’, it seemed like a good way to close out the last of the daylight, and that it certainly was. Surrounded by a backing band, Bugg played a solid 45 minute set while mixing his faster/slower songs. I was impressed, at 22 I would be lucky if I could be on a stage that size for 5 minutes without throwing up…let alone entertain a couple thousand people for the better part of an hour.
At this point in the evening, the things I had to give a shit about were pretty much over. Ever curious about large scale spectacles/general bullshit, we wandered over to see the first part of Death Grips set. Admittedly, I haven’t spent much time on what is one of the more polarizing bands around. I know they leaked their own album ahead of the release date to piss of their label, I know they have an album cover that is just a big ole boner with the title written on it, and I know they notoriously just don’t show up for performances. But those I know who love them, LOVE THEM…so I wanted to see what it was all about. We made it all of about two minutes before trading looks of “what the fuck is this shit?”and fleeing as far away as possible. Death Grips have been added to the list of things that I just don’t get. They were by far the loudest set all weekend, abrasively so. And with the stage lights set so dim that you couldn’t really see anyone on stage, so the only thing one had to focus on was the pooling of blood in your ear canal.
As I could give a fuck about Rob Zombie playing just about anything that isn’t “Dragula” repeated for 60 straight minutes, this seems like as good of time as any to circle back and talk about what Riot Fest did right and wrong this year. The biggest check in the plus column for the crew responsible for punk rocks biggest carnival would be their adjustments to the layout at this year’s installment. While last year’s location details were filled with stress and uncertainty, having to move from Humboldt to Douglas Park and then facing last second threats from St. Anthony Hospital, they were able to work on solid ground this year and damn if they didn’t do it right.
Issues with sound bleeding from stage to stage were all of non-existent from what I could tell and in terms of maneuverability; it was incredibly easy to get from one act to the next. Having one main gate made finding your way in very easy, with all will call/VIP/press check in’s occurring right in one spot. You would think that shuffling thousands of people through one gate would cause a huge backup and bottleneck? Not the case, entry was quick and easy on all three days. Compared to what I experienced at Shaky Knees in Atlanta, Riot Fest has set a standard for urban music festivals. They did a fantastic job providing a wide variety of vendors, both food and otherwise, while placing them in three central locations (food stand, food truck, retail vendors) for easy access. Unlike the rambling views of near blackout drunk Kyle, I would say that there were plenty of available port-a-potties and I never had to wait very long to relieve myself in the stuffy blue box we all know and love.
I’m really happy to see this year go so well for the Riot crew, as they’ve worked really hard to make this festival what it is. As someone who has seen all the phases of the fest, from the multi-venue city hopping weekend, to the Congress Theater takeover, to the Humboldt Park introduction…they have come a long way. The rains held out, for the first time in three years, and they didn’t have to stare down a $100,000 repair bill. They booked the biggest/most surprising reunion in punk history (more on that shortly) while filling out the rest of a very solid lineup with new and old favorites. In the era of major festivals, I’m glad they’ve done what they can to give punk rock their say. My only complaint: more water stations. While September in Chicago is not known to be a sweltering month, having one water station (and a small one at that) for thousands of attendees is a poor showing, if not a dangerous one given the amount of alcohol consumed onsite…both legally purchased and snuck in like some kind of boozy joey for alcoholic kangaroos.
Now that that’s out of the way, a brief review of the reunited Misfits: they played well. Seriously, that’s about all I have to say. They had a rad set for a band who hasn’t been a band for the entire time I’ve been on this planet. Danzig only freaked out once, calling out his stage tech for microphone placement, and sounded out of breath in between every song…the kind of out of breath that you get from eating too many McDouble’s, not the kind you get from running a marathon. But they did well, everyone had a great time, and I got to hear “Where Eagles Dare” from the comfort of the back of the crowd before we made our traffic beating, early exit home.
All in all: 10/10, would do again, thx fr th mmrs, tip your bartender, etc.
* See photos from Kendra Sheetz
* See photos from Zack Jacob:
Check out other coverage from Riot Fest & Carnival in Chicago below.
Check out other coverage from Riot Fest & Rodeo in Denver below.