Review: Friday At Riot Fest 2013

By Tankboy in Arts & Entertainment on Sep 14, 2013 7:00PM

The opening of the 2013 edition of Riot Fest will be remembered as “the day everyone froze their asses off.” The temperature were unusually low, leading to lots of shivering when the breezes picked up. Luckily, if you just inserted yourself deep into the crowd at any of the stages, you warmed right up and the weather was less of an issue. Aside from that it was business as usual in Humboldt Park as attendees took in music, ate food from a stunning variety of vendors, were entertained by twisted circus acts and, yes, rode carnival rides. Oh, and there was Butter Stamos. Sweet, creamy, beautiful Butter Stamos. The fest crowd is still largely on the rawk side (spanning from teen punks to older rockers) but there were signs that the more mainstream festival crowd was starting to seep in. While a few rowdy frat boy types were largely tolerated, the idiotic practice of bringing some huge totem on a stick to mark your spot in the crowd was treated like a virus. One person thought it would be a great idea to wave a huge flag during Joan Jett’s set, blocking the view of hundreds of people behind them, so they were treated to a few cold sodas to the back of the head. Just another reminder that, behind “have fun,” a leading rule at Riot Fest truly is “don’t be a dick.” — Jim Kopeny / Tankboy

Dessa, 4:15 p.m. at the Roots Stage
Dessa was one of the three acts to kick off Riot Fest 2013. Hers was an unexpected name to see on the lineup—her hip-hop stylings were somewhat out of place among the mostly punk program. But Dessa and her backup band proved themselves a solid addition, starting things off with a chilled-out vibe: warm rhythms, gorgeous, resonant vocals (even when she was rapping) and clouds of pot smoke wafting overhead. While Dessa slipped in a little something from each of her releases, she stuck mostly to tracks from her newest album, Parts of Speech, like the stunning “Call Off Your Ghost” and “Fighting Fish.” Soundwise, the sat was fairly flawless, though the stage performance was underwhelming. Not for lack of effort—Dessa sings with inimitable passion, but her bluesy poetics are made more for intimate venues than massive festivals platforms. — Sarah Cobarrubias

Saul Williams, 4:45 p.m. at the Riot Stage
“Sorry I don’t have any music with me today,” said Saul Williams about halfway through his set on the Riot Stage. The crowd didn’t seem to mind, intently taking in his expressive slam poetry performance. Williams tackled themes of race, politics (“The greatest Americans have not been born yet.”), sex (“Your weapons are phallic, all of them.”), and creativity (“The heart is the philosopher’s stone. Music is our alchemy.”) with his trademark blend of ferocity and eloquence. It was a different start to the festival weekend than the early arrivers who had busted out of work expected, but Saul’s challenging verses set the tone for a weekend themed around the word “riot” in a way that few other billed acts will. “God grant me wings. I’m too fly not to fly.” No one disagreed. — Jessica Mlinaric

Smoking Popes, 5:15 p.m. at the Roots Stage
Smoking Popes don’t need an introduction in Chicago, so they didn’t give themselves one. The pop-punk idols went straight into an oldie but goodie—“Writing a Letter”—and within a minute fans were circle pitting and throwing beach balls, stuffed dolls and other children’s toys about. As you’d expect, they delivered the old favorites, like “Not That Kind of Girlfriend” and “Megan,” interspersed with some of their newer stuff, serenading the crowd into a state of youthful pep and bittersweet nostalgia. That’s one of the best things about Smoking Popes: Their performances are reliable, never failing to deliver what the fans want, and they closed out with a best-for-last streak of “Off My Mind,” “Need You Around” and “I Know You Love Me.” Oh, and being a man of manners, frontman Josh Caterer took a moment to recognize the people who made it all possible: “Thank you Mayor Emanuel for your unflinching support of our band… And I’d like to thank Hot Topic for providing the uniforms for the festival.” — Sarah Cobarrubias

Andrew W.K., 5:45 p.m. at the Rise Stage
“I think this next song is about partying,” Andrew W.K. ventured during his late afternoon set on the Rise Stage. Folks packed it in for the express purpose of getting wet with AWK and crew to “It’s Time to Party,” “Party Hard,” and “She is Beautiful.” Circle pits formed upon AWK’s request, “Let’s make a whirlpool” while others revelers crowd surfed toward the back (sigh). The band, which included Mrs. AWK, Cherie Lily, kept it fast and fun with a heavy sound and light hearted showing for their first of two shows yesterday. “We played Riot Fest last year and I can’t believe we were invited back,” said AWK. Looks like a Riot Fest party tradition in the making. — Jessica Mlinaric

Yellowcard, 6 p.m. at the Riot Stage
Any performance that plays the Star Wars theme as the band steps onto stage is probably going to be good. Yellowcard attracted a surprisingly massive crowd around the Riot Stage—admittedly, we didn’t realize the pop-punk act had such a dedicated following, but fans young and old were dancing hysterically and singing along to every word, not to mention the horde of young girls screaming deliriously at the front of the stage each time frontman Ryan Key spoke. It only makes sense: They have an incredible energy on stage, with witty banter and back-and-forth, plenty of 90s movie references and on-stage backflips. Along with favorites like “Rough Landing Holly” and “Always Summer,” much of their set took from the release that kicked off their career, Ocean Avenue, and the band closed on a strong note with the album’s title track. But ultimately, you didn’t need to know the lines to enjoy the set, as Key said, “All we’re asking for is total chaos and destruction, so it doesn’t even matter if you know the songs.” — Sarah Cobarrubias

Screeching Weasel, 6:30 p.m. at the Rock Stage
It’s hard to believe Screeching Weasel, now in its fourth incarnation, is older than more than half the attendees milling around Riot Fest. When Chicago’s own pop punk heroes hit the stage it felt like it was sometime in the mid-’90s at the Fireside again. While a band like Weasel is much better in a small sweaty setting, the chilly air and big stage didn’t put a damper on hearing hits like “Veronica Hates Me” and “My Brain Hurts.” Whether you were in your 40’s reliving the good old days or seeing them for the first time, Weasel’s set was a great way to get the night going. — Aaron Cynic

GWAR, 7:30 p.m. at the Rise Stage
My skin is still stained bright red after 2 showers and a decent night’s sleep, because GWAR has a way of leaving an indelible mark on both your eardrums and your face. Last year their theatrics were the easy highlight of the fest, and though there are still two days to go, the horror metal heroes could easily be this year’s highlight as well. It’s hard to keep track of a set while taking a shower in multi colored fluids, but Gwar is just as much about their theatrics as they are music. — Aaron Cynic

Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, 7:30 p.m. at the Rock Stage / Sublime With Rome, 8:45 p.m. at the Roots Stage
So Joan Jett still rocks. I caught the start of her set with The Blackhearts where she proved she hasn’t slowed down in the least. Rabid fans sang along to Jett classics including “Bad Reputation” and “Do You Wanna Touch Me,” as well as Runaways fare like “Cherry Bomb.” The crowd was treated to new material from the Jett’s forthcoming album. [Tankboy here: Jett also brought out Against Me!’s Laura Jane Grace to play a song the two wrote together. That was a pretty amazing moment.] I ran over to the Roots Stage to catch the end of Sublime with Rome. It was surprisingly the most egalitarian set of the day attracting punks, bros, hipsters, hippies, and anyone under the banner of pot and reggae enthusiasm. As someone in the crowd said, “The bass was bumpin, the weed was burning, and Rome killed it.” Sublime closed with classics “What I Got” (where Rome shouted out “Rest in Peace Bradley’) and “Santeria,” for a feel good set as evening closed in. — Jessica Mlinaric

Danzig, 9:30 p.m. at the Rise Stage
Much like 2011’s Legacy Tour, the 25th anniversary Danzig set was split between classic Danzig songs like “Blood and Tears” and “Long Way Back From Hell” and Misfits anthems like “I Turned Into A Martian.” Though the setlist seemed pretty similar to the show at the Congress two years ago, it was a leaner and meaner performance. The even split between meatier metal cuts like “Twist of Cain” and a barrage of Misfits classics gave everyone something good to chew on. Glenn even seemed friendlier, polling the crowd at time for favorites to finish the night after Doyle took the stage. While most punk shows are better suited in small clubs, Danzig simply does better on a big stage, feeding off both the energy of the crushed crowd at the front of the stage all the way to the scattered staggering drunks singing along at the back, nearly a full block away. — Aaron Cynic

Fall Out Boy, 9:45 p.m. at the Riot Stage
Fall Out Boy had to pause at the beginning of their set because of concerns the massive crowd might hurt itself. The only other show in recent memory that had to be stopped like this was was Rage Against The Machine at Lollapalooza; proof that teenage girls are just as dangerous as testosterone-laden male metalheads when given the proper stimuli. Luckily everyone chilled out, pulled back from the stage a step or two and proceeded to jump around and sing along to material both old and new. Fall Out Boy brought a stadium size stage show, and all three members who were mobile got LOTS of use of a ramp in front of the drum riser as they ran back and forth and struck the appropriate poses. Patrick Stump’s voice was in great form, and whether you’re a fan of the band or not, there’s no denying his soulful pipes’ power. I only planned on seeing a song or two since I had to go see Andrew W.K. at Double Door (a terrific set, by the way) but Fall Out Boy’s songs were so fun I ended up staying around far longer than I planned. I had to cut out early though so missed when they brought Naked Raygun’s Jeff Pezzati, and later the Stanley Cup, onstage. In a weekend sure to contain further surprises I’m looking forward to seeing what day two has in store for us. — Jim Kopeny / Tankboy