With beautiful skies, nearly 100 acts rocked Chicago’s southside Douglas Park this past weekend. The perfect September weather may have won some fans over in the end, because Riot Fest 2018 seemed like it came together at the last minute. With fans anxiously waiting for day-by-day lineups the week of the fest, combined with a Blink-182 dropout, none of the days had stacked schedules, leaving tickets available at will call throughout the weekend. Despite ambivalence from some, the 14-year standing festival still managed to draw punks across generations to North Lawndale for three days of memorable performances.
Sure, the fest and the performers would’ve like to see the weekend sell out, but what this meant for fans who committed were pretty spacious fields, short beer lines, and time to check out some vendors or even some of the carnival rides. Our Music My Body was a standout tent, as they are a campaign promoting consent throughout music scenes/festivals in Chicago. They were stationed appropriately upon entrance, where fans could buy merch with statements like “Riot Fest Sucks, Consent Rocks!” or carry hilarious yet important signs declaring “Sexism is not very punk rock of you.”
Friday’s kick off included politically-charged acts, genre-benders, and recycled headliners. Pussy Riot performed, adorned in ski masks, despite the recent poisoning of member Peter Verzilov just days before the festival. Their short set blended bass drops with calls for justice, accompanied by a banner that declared, “We Will Punish Those Who Poisoned Peter Verzilov,” making it uncertain whether it’s more complicated to live in Russia or America in 2018.
Then there were genre-benders like Atmosphere who, although being a hip-hop act, consistently draw rock fans who leave room for the Minneapolis duo’s sharp bars and simplistic yet classic boom-bap beats. Slug and Ant used their hour set to also share their new single “Virgo” from their forthcoming album Mi Vida Local, which debuts a more refined, reflective sound. The Twin Cities pair closed out by filling the crowd with sentimental bobs and heartfelt chorus’ by performing old staples “Yesterday” and “Lovelife.”
Young the Giant filled the coveted 7:40 slot at the Roots stage, adjacent to the headlining Riot stage. They drew a massive crowd, although many could be argued as Weezer fans waiting for the electronic-y indie kids to be finished. Vocalist Sameer Gadhia shouted out Sum 41 as long-time inspiration and also mentioned their new record’s upcoming October 12th release. They played both of their newest singles “Superposition” and “Simplify” which boast a light, electronic and folk-like synergy that creates a slightly trippy, fantasy-like sound, which transformed the crowd to a galaxy of their choosing. The crowd obviously woke up for their powerhouse “Cough Syrup” and stayed awake for a Blink-182 “All the Small Things” cover. Slightly grabby in my opinion, but most seemed into it. They closed with “My Body,” uniting the crowd and proving above all, these dudes know how to make a hit I’m-about-to-belt-my-lungs-out song.
Weezer closed out Friday, a mere four years after their 2014 headline. The kids from Kenosha opened with the power-pop hit “Buddy Holly,” kept up initial energy with “Beverly Hills,” and reignited every 90’s kids’ rebellion while shouting along to “Pork and Beans” and “Hash Pipe.” The video work during “Undone-The Sweater Song” was impressive, as screens flashed quickly between the band to intimately highlight rapid guitar strokes. The middle of their set was slightly awkward, moving from “My Name is Jonas” to a “Happy Together” cover that seemed sub-par to Simple Plans’. Frontman Rivers Cuomo hopped over to the Roots stage next door to play an acoustic version of Island in the Sun, which fell a little flat. The set stayed weird with an A-Ha’s “Take On Me” cover, but still got the crowd singing like they were wasted at their favorite karaoke bar. As some began weaving their way through the deep crowd practically spanning from stage to exit, Weezer closed with their classic “Africa” cover and ended the night with the Blue Album’s timeless “Say It Ain’t So.”
On Saturday, hometown heroes Twin Peaks returned to Riot Fest after five years since their festival debut back when Riot Fest was at Humboldt Park. The five-piece garage meets indie rock Chicago band were accompanied by a three-piece horn section to put on a high energy yet relaxed hour set. Whether it be Colin Croom switching between keys and guitar, or vocalist and guitarist Clay Frankel playing down to the floor, or even Today’s Hits’ James Swanberg crawling around in a Dalmatian costume while the band covered his song, ”What up Dawg,” these dudes flashed their rowdy yet centered personalities through acknowledging their roots and playing a kick-ass, lively, electric show. Moving from pop-ier hits like ”Making Breakfast” to a sentimental, pulsing song like “Holding Roses,” to the groovy yet introspective “Shake your Lonely.” Their Riot Fest reunion proved how quickly this gang is able to grow their sound and just how much fun they have while doing what they love.
As a friend put it, the Voidz, Julian Casablancas’ passion piece to his more famous work as the Strokes’ vocalist, sounds like the Strokes trying to sound like the Arctic Monkeys trying to sound like the Strokes. Full of quick-changing tempos, the show was undeniably thrilling with a sizable yet spacious crowd. The Voidz shred, no matter Julian’s arguably pretentious stage presence, and they rocked a pre-sunset set that included the politically-charged “We’re Where We Were” to their widely known “Leave it in My Dreams.” Fans experienced an eccentric, boundary-pushing show, making it clear that Casablancas and the Voidz not going to make music that feeds into ‘00’s Strokes nostalgia, rather they’re going to continue crossing genres and creating a sound that above all, they enjoy.
After the recent release of their sixth album Marauder, Interpol closed out the Roots stage Saturday night, opening with their heavy 2004 hit, “Not Even a Jail.” Dressed in all black, the group curated a quiet, almost ominous image on stage, letting songs like “Rage” speak for themselves. With a quick pick up, catchy bassline, and rhythmic chorus, “Evil” got the deeper crowd moving, contrary to the band’s rather stationary presence. “Public Pervert” was impeccably delivered, confirming contrary to not one but two confusing rap albums from frontman Paul Banks, that Interpol is still rock to their core. The crowd was locked in and vibing with the band’s newer sound, as they delivered a layered and electric “Complications” and continued this energy to close with “the Rover,” exciting fans with a grand, hard-hitting, sheer rock’n’roll melody. *set list*
Beck headlined Saturday night on the Riot stage, sporting a wide-brimmed hat and leather, he started off the set with his 1996 hit, “Devils Haircut.” Quickly transitioning into his massive radio hit “Loser,” the crowd sang along with the nonsensical yet forever catchy lyrics. With stellar lights accompanying him, “The New Pollution” and “Mixed Bizness” spread a jazzy, futuristic funk across the crowd. Come the middle of the set, Beck slowed his massive crowd with a mandolin-infused acoustic performance of “Lost Cause.” During his encore, Beck performed a medley beginning with an Odelay favorite, “Where It’s At” then surprised the crowd by bringing out special guest and earlier performer Gary Numan to perform his 1979 hit, “Cars.” He continued with incorporated parts of Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight,” and Talking Heads’ “Once in a Lifetime” to bring the exciting encore full circle by wrapping up with the “Where It’s At” chorus.
All in all, Riot Fest pulled it off. After a wide-ranging lineup, day two ended in a crowd of good spirits, promising that Douglas Park will continue to be filled with a blend of old punks and new wave rockers creating moshes and memories in Chicago next year.
– Alexandra Hansen