Riot Fest 2013 recap

Music festival season in Chicago ended on a strong note Sept. 13-15 with Riot Fest in Humboldt Park. The three-day festival solidified and expanded on its punk attitude reputation with an even more diverse lineup in comparison to past years (who says that having Public Enemy on the lineup can’t be “punk”?). Riot Fest 2013 conjured up nostalgic feelings with a lineup that could make many pine for the good ol’ days, from pop-punk mainstays Blink-182 and Fall Out Boy to female empowerment bands such as Blondie and Joan Jett and the Blackhearts and to alternative rock pioneers such as The Replacements and Pixies.

Below are some highlights from one of the most anticipated Chicago music festivals of the year:

Friday, Sept. 13

The first day of Riot Fest started later than the other two days with the first acts starting their sets at 4 p.m. Crowds trickled in gradually as many were ready to end the work week and begin their weekend with the festival.

Andrew WK, the self-proclaimed “king of partying,” set the tone for the weekend ripping through his discography of feel-good tunes. His philosophy of “positive partying” was evident as he and his backing band Š—ê which includes his wife Cherie Lily on backing vocals Š—ê never had a dull moment during their set. From head banging to inciting circle pits amongst the crowd, Andrew WK’s set got the party started during Riot Fest weekend.

It’s ironic that Bad Religion began their set at sunset right as the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur was commencing Š—ê well, at least when it comes to their name. Nonetheless, the band showcased their ability to put a conscience behind punk music during their set. Lead singer Greg Graffin’s intellectual lyrics resonated with the crowd, especially with tracks “I Want to Conquer the World” and “Sorrow.” Bad Religion is also one of only few bands nowadays that can pull off vocal harmonies and still sound as punk as ever. The crowd sung along as well as passionately threw up their fists throughout the set.

GWAR is always a sight to see wherever they go. Making their return to Riot Fest for the second year in a row, the sci-fi, costume-clad band’s set did not go unnoticed. Their take on satirical heavy metal drew in a good crowd of people who wanted to be entertained by their onstage antics. A GWAR performance would not be complete without fake blood squirted onto the audience, which comes from various characters brought onstage and the band performing vulgar acts on them. To say the least, a lot of GWAR’s performance is “NSFW” but makes for a great spectacle.

No one can deny the charisma behind Joan Jett and the Blackhearts’ set. Even years later, Joan Jett hasn’t lost touch with her ability for the crowd to be absorbed in the performance. Some of the greatest sing-alongs from the entire festival stemmed from her set, especially with notable tracks such as “Cherry Bomb” and “I Love Rock ‘N Roll.” Jett even brought Laura Jane Grace of Against Me! onstage to perform a duet on “Soulmates to Strangers.” Indeed, in that moment it wasn’t only about “female empowerment,” but empowerment for all who embraced the spirit Jett’s set embodied.

Fall Out Boy’s appearance on Riot Fest’s lineup was one of the most anticipated and sulked at the same time. While some may say that the band “sold out,” the band inevitably drew in a massive Š—ê and rowdy Š—ê crowd. The band stopped their set twice to ask the crowd to step back as those at the front kept getting trampled. Each song played produced a loud sing-along as many lived out their middle school dreams of seeing them live. Fall Out Boy even brought on surprises such as performing legendary Chicago punk band Naked Raygun’s song “New Dreams” with its frontman Jeff Pazzati and taking a picture of the crowd while bringing the Stanley Cup onstage. Love them or hate them, Fall Out Boy’s performance solidified their status as one of Chicago’s most successful bands whose homecoming was welcomed by many.

Saturday, Sept. 14

Dinosaur Jr. brought on a set filled with songs that harken back to the classic rock of the ’60s and ’70s. Fronted by songwriter J. Mascis, the influential alternative rock band held up their reputation with Mascis’ signature twang-y voice and distorted sound.

Devotchka added diversity to this year’s lineup with their brand of oddball gypsy folk. They were probably one of the few bands – if not the only band – throughout the festival with a sousaphone and upright bass onstage. Their sound has grown from their days spent as a backing band for burlesque shows (side note: they even toured with burlesque performer and model Dita Von Teese) as the crowd bobbed their heads to festive numbers and became entranced with slower numbers such as “How It Ends.”

Flag’s appearance on the lineup drew in polarizing opinions between Black Flag fans. The supposed reunion of hardcore punk heroes Black Flag – which current members chose to distinguish simply by calling themselves Flag – left out even notable member and punk renaissance man Henry Rollins. Stranger feelings toward the reunion were conjured when current frontman Keith Morris bluntly told the crowd, “We are not Black Flag. We are Flag.” Despite how this statement may have rubbed some audience members the wrong way considering how many Black Flag t-shirts were sported throughout the festival, many appeared to still be into the set as the mosh pit never stopped existing.

New wave pioneers Blondie brought back feelings of the ’70s and ’80s with synth-driven tunes still regularly spun on oldies radio stations. Frontwoman Debbie Harry arrived onstage with a black wizard-like outfit implying that she was ready to bring magic to Riot Fest. Almost everyone in the crowd sung every word to signature hits such as “One Way or Another,” “Call Me” and “Heart of Glass.” Blondie even paid homage to The Beastie Boys by ending “Rapture” with a brief cover of “No Sleep Till Brooklyn.” A young woman in the crowd even attempted to call her mom during the set so she can listen in – for some reason, I was tempted to do the same thing. But alas, lack of cell phone reception impeded such a possibility.

Although I didn’t have a chance to watch hip-hop group Public Enemy’s performance in full, their set at the Rock Stage drew in a crowd large enough to overfill the area. Anyone who walked by could hear Flavor Flav – more famous nowadays for his reality show “Flavor of Love” – chanting his signature line, “Yeah boy, Flavor Flav!” Undeniably, many were engrossed in the group’s performance despite not fitting Riot Fest’s usual mold of punk acts.

Taking Back Sunday? More like taking many back to their angsty middle school days. Not that this is a bad thing – in fact, it’s a great thing. Frontman Adam Lazzara owned the stage as his melodic vocals kept up with the band’s driving sound, performed his signature mic-swinging moves while singing, and risking safety by climbing and bending backwards on the rafters during closing song “MakeDamnSure” off of their breakthrough 2006 album “Louder Now.” Many couldn’t take their eyes off the band’s performance as audience members were receptive to their energy throughout the set.

Blink-182 is one of those bands that can remind you of what it was like to live life in the late ’90s and early 2000s. Drawing in one of the largest crowds throughout the entire weekend, the one disappointment during the entire set was how the sound was low quality in that it wasn’t nearly as audible as it should’ve been. Technical difficulties aside, the band delivered on their pop-punk sound infused with toilet humor especially during “What’s My Age Again?” and “First Date.” Even a decade or so later, songs such as “I Miss You” and “Dammit” can make basically anyone relive the pains of growing up.

Sunday, Sept. 15

The final day of Riot Fest got off to a rocky start as the weather forecast predicted rain for most of the day. This deterred some from staying the whole day at the fest, which was indicated by how cellphone reception wasn’t impossible on this day. Nonetheless, the punk rock spirit of the festival couldn’t be deterred by a bit of rain.

Against Me! blasted through their set with punk songs that can make even their most remote fan passionate enough to scream lyrics at frontwoman Laura Jane Grace. Clad in all black, Grace’s confident appearance – especially noticeable during performances since coming out as transgender last year – fit the rock ‘n roll attitude of the festival. Unapologetic about who she is, Grace’s performance did not disappoint, especially during punk-folk infused “Pints of Guinness Make You Strong” and “Walking is Still Honest.” The only key track missing from their set was their hit politically-messaged “Stop!” but besides that the only other complaint one could have was how their 45-minute wasn’t nearly long enough.

Best Coast playing during Riot Fest’s rainy day was ironic with their California sunshine-tinged songs. Notable tracks such as “When I’m With You” and “Boyfriend” most likely made everyone in the audience yearn even more for warmer weather while the rain kept pouring.

AFI’s standout performance solidified their place as one of punk rock’s most compelling acts to see live. Their energy level was something to take note of as frontman Davey Havok’s magnetic appearance made it difficult to take your eyes off of their set. Guitarist Jade Puget provided dark melodies that complemented Havok’s versatile vocals. The band’s cohesion is one that many acts should find enviable. The set list was solid ranging from older tracks such as “Days of the Phoenix,” breakthrough hit “Miss Murder” and to recent single “I Hope You Suffer.” Every song was performed flawlessly as audience members never stopped singing along, even during a cover of The Cure’s “Just Like Heaven.” Havok also proved to be one of the most captivating frontmen ever with vocals that effortlessly switched between comforting and gritty and being brave enough to walk on the crowd.

Many acts owe their existence to Pixies as they were leaders of the alternative rock scene of the ’90s – even Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain considered their album “Surfer Rosa” as huge influence on his songwriting. Even with the absence of founding member Kim Deal, their set did not disappoint as they lived up to their legacy of adding diversity to alternative rock’s sound. Their signature hit “Where Is My Mind?” was sung along to by many, signifying that Pixies’ reunion is one that was well-anticipated.

Bands throughout the last day of Riot Fest expressed what an honor it is to share the same bill as alternative punk band The Replacements. According to an interview with Riot Fest’s founder, it was pure luck to have them on the bill as festivals even as big as Lollapalooza attempted time and again to have them. Dreams came true for many as Riot Fest nabbed their first reunion shows in a long time. As the band opened with “Takin’ a Ride,” they provided one of the most priceless experiences at the festival and allowed many to cross off one of the top bands in their bucket list – in other words, ending Riot Fest 2013 on the most perfect note many could ever ask for.