The last day of Riot Fest always brings up a lot of emotions. Sadness, because the most fun weekend of the year is over. Happiness, because your sleep schedule will soon go back to normal. Most importantly, though, excitement, because for the most part, Riot Fest follows the tradition of saving the best for last, and this year was no different.
Riot Fest seemed to have heard the complaints about their lines, and I entered today without waiting in a line as soon as I got to Humboldt Park, and was able to watch some of one of the earliest bands to play, The Menzingers’, set.
I then headed over to the Rebel stage, where The Front Bottoms were set to play. The band opened with “Skeleton” off their 2013 album Talon of the Hawk, and as soon as their set began the relaxed crowd began to shove each other, and crowdsurfers came from every direction. As annoying as it was to be caught in the crowd, it was easy to tell how passionate all the fans of the band were. The Front Bottoms were one of the only bands at the Fest who really utilized the acoustic guitar (until Tegan and Sara), and singer Brian Sella strummed his along while belting out songs from all of the band’s releases. The members of The Front Bottoms brought friends on stage with them in the form of Minnesota-based band Tiny Moving Parts, who they introduced to the crowd as their friends who “taught me how to drink.” The band was also seemingly drunk throughout their whole set, even before Sella chugged a beer with the crowd egging him on, but that did not take away from their energetic and fun performance.
Billy Bragg played right after, and I missed part of his set trying to make my way over to his stage. I arrived in time to hear Bragg talking about the upcoming Scottish independence referendum, where the Scottish people are voting on whether or not to become independent from the United Kingdom. Bragg urged on independence for Scotland, and dedicated “A Pict Song,” a song originally about the Picts, tribal people who were the original people of Scotland until the Romans took the country over, to “our Scottish friends,” and compared the modern British government to the Romans. In addition to being a musician, Bragg is also a left-wing activist, and dedicated songs to fans “who support organized labor.” Although his message was clear, his reference to British politics seemed lost on some members of the crowd. He closed out his set with “A New England,” which brought even the members of the crowd confused by his references to unions and mines back to singing along.
One of the bands I was most excited for on Sunday was Motion City Soundtrack. I got to their stage after Bragg’s set finished, and so did an incredibly large amount of other people. There were no spots available to even see the stage, and even standing far back, I felt crushed into the crowd. While Motion City Soundtrack sounded great while playing “When You’re Around” and “Everything is Alright,” not being able to see a thing, and being crushed behind the man in front of me who was close to two feet taller than me made it a miserable concert experience and I unfortunately left early.
A positive aspect of leaving early was being able to get a good spot for Tegan and Sara. The Canadian duo is a band I have been dying to see for years, but have never gotten a chance to do so. Ironically, Tegan and Sara opened with “Goodbye, Goodbye,” and played a 45-minute set that happened to be really fun and energetic, yet at the same time had a mellow feel in the crowd. People were dancing and jumping around, but no one was pushing and no one was crushed, as the crowd was spread out really nicely throughout the Riot stage area. It was a much needed break from the rest of the bands, as Sunday was the first single day to sell out, and was packed with more fans than the previous two days.
One of the most unique aspects of Riot Fest is that it doesn’t only host over a hundred bands, carnival rides and games, but is also home to live wrestling, something I took advantage of far too late. After seeing Cheap Trick perform “Surrender,” off of their album Heaven Tonight, for another full album set, I went to go watch the wrestling events. One of the matches consisted of an incredibly large man in a wrestling singlet, fighting a much smaller shirtless man. Both of them left the ring covered in their own blood, but no one left the ring as hurt as the referee. The wrestlers presumably didn’t like his calls, and proceeded to throw the referee through a table. He was unable to get out of the ring on his own, and looked severely injured to the joy of the wrestling fans watching, including one who was overheard saying “I thought wrestling was all mediocre…until now!”
The biggest headliner of the weekend was The Cure, and they were also one of the bands I was most excited for. They are such a classic and influential band, and I couldn’t believe I was getting the opportunity to see them. The Cure had the longest set of any band throughout the weekend, and quite possibly the largest crowd. I had to stand hundreds of feet back since I didn’t line up at the beginning of the day to be front row. It was impossible to see the stage, and many crowd members had to rely on the video screens to be able to see anything, but the sound was working flawlessly. The Cure was an incredible live band, sounding just like their albums, especially during my personal favorite song by them “In Between Days,” off of their 1985 album The Head on the Door. The band didn’t talk in between any of the songs I saw at all, or interact with the crowd whatsoever, but Robert Smith doesn’t seem like the a-typical frontman, and it fit with The Cure very well. What they lacked in on stage charisma, The Cure made up for entirely with their flawless renditions of their songs.
My biggest dilemma throughout the whole weekend was whether or not I was going to leave The Cure early to see Weezer perform 1994’s The Blue Album in its entirety. Thankfully, I chose to see Weezer, and I don’t think I would have ever forgiven myself if I chose otherwise. Weezer easily had the best set of the entire weekend. Although they were performing all of The Blue Album, they started their set with “Back to the Shack,” their most recent single off their upcoming album Everything Will Be Alright in the End, which led into “Pork and Beans.” As someone who has seen Weezer nine times, I knew exactly what the band was getting up to. They were performing singles off each of their albums, and taking the crowd through a time machine all the way back to 1994, leading to them playing Blue. Other members of the crowd had no idea what was happening and proceeded to boo the band, in an attempt to show their dislike of the new material, but most members of the crowd were just excited to see Weezer.
This was obvious by the amount of people hopping the fence to get into the photo area, climbing the ferris wheel, and climbing high up in trees to catch a glimpse of the band. After going through all of their albums, including playing “El Scorcho” from the fan favorite album Pinkerton, Weezer left the stage and came back out dressed in clothes similar to how they dressed in 1994. My favorite thing about seeing Weezer play their older albums is instead of seeing them simply perform the songs, the band goes all out in their performance, and adopt the personalities that they each had in 1994. While going through their more recent albums, frontman Rivers Cuomo was talking to the crowd and joking around between every song, but the further he went backward in time, the most reserved he became and the less he spoke, similar to how he acted throughout the mid-90’s. Although Cuomo remained silent, the crowd was screaming the lyrics to every song of the classic album, including “Say It Ain’t So,” which got the loudest cheer of the night. As much as people wanted to make fun of Weezer while their earlier songs were being played, it was hard to find a person who wasn’t singing along to every song they played once Blue started, and it’s easy to argue that Weezer stole the show for all of Riot Fest.