Another year, another Riot Fest. It’s the 10th anniversary of this unique festival, which started as a bunch of punk bands playing at a handful of Chicago venues. Since then, it’s moved outdoors to one central location, added a carnival, and expanded its lineup significantly. This year is the biggest Riot Fest ever, with 130+ bands across 7 stages being held in a new section of Humboldt Park that’s better equipped to accommodate everything. Coincidentally this is also the first year I’ll be covering Riot Fest on the site, though be forewarned it’s going to be in a very quick and dirty fashion. This festival was built on punk spirit, and I’m going to maintain that by not writing too much and taking more time to truly enjoy myself. With other festivals like Pitchfork and Lollapalooza I get a bit more in depth and run everywhere to see as much as possible. Now that the weather is starting to turn colder and the general excitement of summer has all but worn off, I’m going to take in everything as it comes my way. Hopefully it will be a blast.
The lineup for this year’s Riot Fest is the best one yet, and points towards a bright future if they want to continue in this same vein. When it was first announced, I claimed it was the best festival lineup I’d seen in 2014, and I’m willing to stand by that assertion. There’s going to be plenty of things to see and do, so here’s a quick look at the bands and time slots you should make a priority this weekend when you’re not playing carnival games and such:
Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears [3:00-3:30, Riot Stage]
This festival opening set is going to put some funk in your trunk and some soul in your hole. Or something like that. Bring your dancing shoes and a whole lot of energy, because you’ll need it.
GWAR [4:15-5:00, Rebel Stage]
Thrash metal is not my thing, and it may not be yours either. Yet GWAR is a band you won’t want to miss for the sheer entertainment value. The elaborate costumes and fountains of blood are just the beginning. You may even want to try and get close to the front, just so you’ll be in the “splash zone.” It should be crazy fun.
The Hotelier [5:00-5:30, Revolt Stage]
Anarcho-punk and emo revivalists The Hotelier have released one of the year’s best records with Home, Like Noplace Is There. This is the sort of band Riot Fest was founded on, and as such should be one of the greatest things to come out of Friday.
Pussy Riot Panel [5:45-7:00, Riot Fest Speaks Stage]
Take a break from listening to music to learn more about the punk rock aesthetic and feminism from Masha and Nadya of the Russian punk band Pussy Riot. I’m sure most everyone is aware that band members were jailed for protesting Putin, and since their release they have been going around talking about their experience and how punk mixes with politics. This discussion panel will be moderated by Henry Rollins and include Bad Religion’s Greg Graffin, Rise Against’s Tim McIlrath, writer Marcelle Karp and Riot Fest founder Petryshyn.
Gogol Bordello [7:00-7:45, Riot Stage]
While Mastodon, who are also performing around this time, have the better overall catalog, Gogol Bordello put on the better live show. Their gypsy punk spirit is a perfect match with the carnival atmosphere, and it promises to be highly entertaining.
Pity Sex [8:00-8:30, Revolt Stage]
Once you get past their name, this co-ed quartet delivers catchy, scrappy pop-punk that’s in a somewhat similar vein to indie acts like Waxahatchee or Speedy Ortiz. Consider these young upstarts to be the future, while on the other side of the park The Offspring rehash the past by playing Smash from start to finish.
Slayer [8:45-9:45, Rebel Stage]
A classic metal band performing their 1986 classic metal album Reign in Blood. Sure, it won’t be the same without guitarist Jeff Hanneman (RIP) and drummer Dave Lombardo (who left the band), but enough of the key elements are there to make it worth your while.
The Pizza Underground [11:50-12:20, Riot Stage]
Show up bright an early to see actor Macaulay Culkin and his cohorts play Velvet Underground covers where key lyrics are replaced with the word “pizza.” Is it a joke or performance art? You be the judge. Their shows haven’t gone very well so far, with hecklers and things being thrown at the band, so it might be worth it just to see how badly this train wrecks.
Wavves [12:20-12:50, Roots Stage]
Why Wavves were given this early time slot and only 30 minutes to play is a total mystery to me. Hell, even at Lollapalooza they’d get better schedule placement. They’ve got a few solid albums out and put on a fuzzed out, high energy rock show.
The Orwells [12:50-1:30, Riot Stage]
They’re hometown heroes, having earned a wealth of popularity this year via the hit single “Who Needs You.” Their debut album Disgraceland is halfway decent, and as far as a live show goes the quality varies typically based on how drunk the band members are. Given the early time slot, they should be mostly sober, meaning it’ll be a good set.
Buzzcocks [2:20-2:50, Rebel Stage]
The Buzzcocks are an amazing punk band from a time when punk was hugely popular. Yet despite releasing a number of great albums and singles, they never quite got their due. Giving them a paltry 30 minutes in the early afternoon at Riot Fest seems to show that’s still the case.
Television [2:50-3:35, Rise Stage]
Television’s first two records from the late 70s were proto-punk classics, built on their discovery during the earliest days of CBGB. Though they haven’t released any new material since the early 90s, they remain a powerful, legendary live force you should see at least once.
Die Antwoord [3:45-4:30, Riot Stage]
The South African hip hop trio of Ninja, Yo-Landi Vi$$er and DJ Hi-Tek have attracted a lot of attention these last few years not so much for their music but the sensational and controversial ways in which they present it. I can’t really say you’ll enjoy listening to their set, but watching it should be purely thrilling.
The Afghan Whigs [4:30-5:15, Roots Stage]
Greg Dulli & Co. haven’t played a show in Chicago in a little over a year, during which time they released their first album of new material in more than a decade and a half. They always put on a great live show and might even pull out a cover song or two, anchored by Dulli’s incredible voice.
Paul Weller [5:15-6:00, Riot Stage]
Paul Weller doesn’t play a lot of shows in the U.S., perhaps because he’s not nearly as popular here as he is back home in England. Yet the man is responsible for some truly incredible material over the last few decades, particularly as part of The Jam, where he earned the nickname “The Modfather.” It’ll be fascinating to hear how much of his extensive catalogue he’ll touch on in the 45 minutes he’s been given.
Wu-Tang Clan [6:00-7:00, Roots Stage]
The legendary hip hop collective hasn’t spent a lot of time together over the last decade, considering that many of them established strong solo careers. But they’ve most recently reunited to record a new album and are touring in advance of it. There’s sure to be at least a couple of new tracks in their Riot Fest set, and it’ll be a thrill to see such a great collection of stars all sharing the stage.
Metric [7:00-7:45, Riot Stage]
Metric have become quite popular in the last few years, and even though their last synth-pop heavy album was a bit of a flop, they remain an essential live band. Frontwoman Emily Haines has a smooth as silk voice and knows how to work a crowd. Don’t worry so much about the music and just make sure to have a great time.
The Flaming Lips [7:45-8:45, Roots Stage]
Wayne coyne loves to stir up some controversy, whether it’s via nudity-filled music videos or by getting into fights with (now-ex) band members. Yet The Flaming Lips’ music and live experience is an insanely joyous thing to behold. Confetti canons, dancing costumed characters and a gigantic inflatable hamster ball are only part of the fun.
The National [8:45-10:00, Riot Stage]
The National sold out four shows at the Chicago Theatre earlier this year. They’re on an almost unprecedented run of amazing albums as well. I’ve got no complaints about their live show either. Go see them!
Samhain [8:55-9:55, Rebel Stage]
Unlike The National, you’re probably not going to have a chance to see Samhain perform live again. This was the band formed by Glenn Danzig in 1983 after he left The Misfits. They were done by 1990, when Danzig went on to a solo career. This Riot Fest set is a much-hyped reunion for Samhain, and they’ll be playing the 1984 horror-core album Initium in full, among other things. Should be thrilling.
Kurt Vile & The Violators [1:45-2:15, Riot Stage]
The first song on Kurt Vile’s latest album is nearly 10 minutes long. If he plays it at Riot Fest, it will take up a third of his set time. The man needs some more room to work his lovely folk songs and impressive guitar solos. Still, it’ll be the perfect soundtrack to your Sunday afternoon.
The Hold Steady [2:15-3:00, Rebel Stage]
Around 10 years ago, The Hold Steady were about the biggest indie band in the world. Their Springsteen-esque party anthems continue to inspire, though they’ve lost some of the prestige these last few years. In spite of it all, their live shows continue to be ridiculously fun, which is more than half the reason why you need to see them.
Andrew W.K. [3:00-3:45, Rise Stage]
When it’s time to party, we will party hard! That’s basically Andrew W.K.’s motto and anthem. If you ask me, most of his songs start to sound the same after awhile, but all embody the positive, extremely high energy and fun spirit he pours out by the bucketful on stage. If you want or need a life-affirming celebration on a Sunday afternoon, don’t miss him. Or Superchunk. Superchunk is a fantastic choice too.
Naked Raygun [3:35-4:30, Roots Stage]
As part of the “10 Years, 10 Classic Albums” surprise of this year’s Riot Fest, post-punk legends Naked Raygun will be whipping out their 1985 classic Throb Throb from start to finish. Expect nothing less than a strong lesson in how to make music and put on a killer show, even 30 years after your supposed prime.
Tegan and Sara [4:30-5:15, Riot Stage]
Tegan and Sara’s last record Heartthrob was sort of a reinvention for the duo. They basically abandoned guitars in favor of keyboards and synths, even though they’re plenty of all three on the album. But they’ve sustained a career so long because of a loyal fan base who are supportive no matter what direction they take. They also put on a really delightful and engaging live show that will have you dancing one minute and laughing the next.
Dads [5:00-5:30, Revolt Stage]
With the “emo” genre coming back in a big way this year, New Jersey duo Dads represent one of the better bands to discover and enjoy from that side of the tracks. They’re extremely self-deprecating, but intensely smart in equal measure. In that sense they remind me a lot of Sunny Day Real Estate. Their forthcoming album I’ll Be the Tornado is likely to significantly boost their profile, so get on board with them now!
Patti Smith [6:00-6:45, Riot Stage]
This is the toughest time slot of the entire weekend, as both 90’s grunge band Mudhoney and Chicago ska legends Blue Meanies are all performing at the same time. Yet I’m voting in favor of Patti Smith, since she’s kind of THE legend among legends. Not only does she have a solid music career built around a few classic albums, but she’s also a poet, activist, photographer, author and a whole host of other titles. She’s basically the James Franco of the music world. It’d be a thrill just to hear her talk on any subject, but we get to hear her play some amazing songs instead.
Cheap Trick [6:40-7:40, Rebel Stage]
If you live in Illinois, it’s almost a requirement that you like Cheap Trick to at least some small degree. They’ve been going strong since the mid-70s, and will be playing their 1978 classic Heaven Tonight in full. That record starts with “Surrender,” just so you know what you’re in for. Should be a pretty solid set in a time slot that’s kind of weak in the competition department.
The Cure [7:45-10:00, Riot Stage]
Giving The Cure more than two hours was gracious of Riot Fest, as the legendary goth-pop band has more than enough catalog to fill it. As with their Lollapalooza set last summer, expect the set list to be about half deep cuts for hardcore fans, and half singles to satisfy anyone and everyone. There will be dancing and loud sing-alongs, and just generally a fun time.
Weezer [8:40-9:55, Rebel Stage]
If you want to see Weezer perform live, you can’t do much better than seeing them perform their classic Blue Abum in full, which is what they’ll be doing at Riot Fest. It’d be nice if they did Pinkerton all the way through as well, but I suspect they’ll be looking to play some of their more recent, not so great material once they finish off their debut. My advice? Take a break from The Cure for 40 minutes to see Weezer do The Blue Album, then go back to The Cure. You didn’t really NEED the full 2+ hours of The Cure, did you?
So that’s a wrap on my preview guide for Riot Fest this weekend. I’ll be attending all three days and will be posting some brief recaps after each, so check back for that! I’ll also be live tweeting all weekend, so follow me on Twitter for the latest and greatest updates!