Photos: Meat-Banning Morrissey Amazingly DGAF At Riot Fest Day 2

By Tankboy in Arts & Entertainment on Sep 18, 2016 2:22PM

Photos by Tyler LaRiviere/Chicagoist. Additional reporting by Stephen Gossett

Knock on wood, but this may be the first Riot Fest since it moved to a single outdoor venue during which we actually see nice weather for all three days! This, coupled with an updated stage layout that makes navigating the grounds the easiest it has ever been, means that the logistics around the festival have been rather pleasant. It also means we've been able to run from stage to stage to see as many acts as possible, so let's go over Saturday's highlights.

Being the sad-sack aesthete he is, Morrissey bookended his headlining Saturday performance with giant, projected images of Renée Jeanne Falconetti in The Passion of Joan of Arc, art-house cinema’s most iconic portrait of holy suffering. But the evening’s audacious, bizarre, ultimately amazing show was much more about Morrissey, the defiant one, than Morrissey, the self-pitying romantic. First of all, there was the news that, per the vegetarian artist's wishes, no meat would be served at the festival during the length of his set. Then, for the first 30 minutes of his timeslot, Moz and band were nowhere to be seen. In their place was an assemblage of vintage video clips: mostly old music videos (Ike & Tina Turner, New York Dolls, Ramones) and clips of art-trash cult films (Joe Dallesandro in Warhol’s Flesh, a Kuchar brothers snippet). It was all textbook Morrissey iconography, of course, but oh boy, did the unexpected wait make the natives restless.

The ensuing set perplexed some nearly as much. (Overheard quote: “Play the hits, motherfucker!”) Favoring late-period solo material—the set-closing “What She Said” was the only Smiths cut—Morrissey was also aggressively political. Videos of brutal police violence accompanied “Ganglord,” the image of a black child with “Rise Up!” scrawled on his hands punctuated “World Peace Is None of Your Business” and laments for the failure of Bernie Sanders and England’s post-Brexit morass passed for stage banter. In terms of song selection, one could argue that Moz was being willfully alienating—as animal-rights anthems go, “Meat Is Murder” is a better song than “The Bullfighter Dies;” “The Queen Is Dead” is a more classic swipe at nationalism than “English Blood, Irish Heart.” But as a whole it all played like a defiant gesture of negation: the Pope of Mope as Pope of Nope.

2016_09_hives.JPG
The Hive karate KICK, photo by Jim Kopeny / Tankboy
On the opposite end of the sonic spectrum from Morrissey lay The Hives. The only thing they had in common with Morrissey was taking the stage late—in their case by only five minutes—but they made up for that with a show that was pure RAWK AND ROLL SPIRITUAL REVIVAL.

We should have had an inkling of what to expect when we spotted them jumping up and down and doing karate kicks backstage as they amped themselves up to hit the stage. But even that early warning didn't prepare us for the non-stop whirlwind the Swedish quintet executed. Their music is straightforward; uncomplicated rock and/or roll, sped up as fast while still maintaining melodies firmly rooted in '60s garage-band, Nuggets style. Singer Pelle Almqvist took cues from old-school frontmen from both '50s era R&B and '70s nihilist punk as he clambered across scaffolding, unable to keep himself from repeatedly running out in to the crowd—and the rest of the band kept the energy going even when you couldn't see the singer amidst the sea of people. The Hives closed their all-too-brief set with an extended version of their hit "Tick Tick Boom," which ended on an explosive note that left us wanting more. The best set of the day was all too short.

Motion City Soundtrack drew a massive crowd earlier in the day, which made sense since the Riot Fest set was their second-to-last show before they disband after their Metro performance on Sunday night. We admit the group was always just off our radar—we made the mistake of writing them off as just another emo-pop group—and now we regret that, since their Saturday set was a pure and unadulterated joy. The band also took the day's award for Most Crowdsurfing During a Single Song; at one point we counted five kids in the air at one time, and that was before the crest. The band's songs are smart, huge sounding and packed with hooks and sing-along choruses that make you glad to be alive no matter how miserable you felt before. Singer Justin Pierre exclaimed, "This song goes out to all the humans who fell flat on their faces and got back up to do it all over again!" before launching into the strangely optimistic "L.G. FUAD." The crowd sang along to every lyric and didn't slow down the intensity of their dancing throughout the entire show. And the band was also nakedly willing to pay tribute to their heroes.

2016_09_mcs.JPG
Motion City Soundtrack, photo by Jim Kopeny / Tankboy
Near the end of the set Pierre gushed, "I can't believe we're sandwiched between Smoking Popes and Bob Mould. That's fucking unreal! It's crazy. It's a good day." It figures we'd finally become a Motion City Soundtrack convert just at the point of never getting to see them live again.

Odd electronic excursions aside, all of Bob Mould’s outlets have been more or less complementary, but the various corners of his estimable catalog have never sounded so of a piece as they did today. The American-underground éminence grise moved seamlessly from Hüsker Duü rageaholic classics to Sugar’s buzzsaw ear candy to the best of his revitalized, difference-splitting solo career. No foolin’, a reunited Huskers couldn’t top the Mould power trio at this point. If any of the graying rockers that predominated the crowd (hi!) needed lessons on how to age with vitality, they found the case study.

On the other side of the Motion City Soundtrack Sandwich was Chicago's Smoking Popes. The local mainstays have started recording new music again, and this was the first time we heard their new single "Simmer Down" performed live. It held up well against a setlist anchored in classics, including "Rubella" and "Need You Around," and their cover of "Pure Imagination" was a sweet tribute to the late Gene Wilder. And, on the Moz tip, singer Josh Caterer made the observation, "II's nice to see so many Morrissey t-shirts in the crowd today. It's about twice as many as we usually see at our shows."

Perhaps our most insightful takeaway from Day One of Riot Fest was, sweet lord, don’t forget sunscreen again. Day Two’s first highlight was a band that, despite being from California, seemed equally ill suited to the blazing sun, but ploughed valiantly through anyway. Plague Vendor play a kind of West Coast version of jagged guitar noise a la “Death Valley ‘69”-era Sonic Youth—but made more conventionally rawk by the singer‘s howling delivery and a general openness towards riffage. Still, it was much more abrasive and sinister than most of Saturday’s acts. Here’s hoping the fest follows their lead a bit more.

By the afternoon, the Rise Stage was basically the 90’s Hip-Hop Stage, with GZA giving way to Method Man & Redman then Nas. It’s a weird thing to hear one dude rap songs created by a 10-man crew, as GZA did with select Wu-Tang cuts, especially when we know that one Wu member and another affiliate are waiting directly in the wings. But the crowd faithfully flashed the “W” nevertheless. (Some solo classics helped.) Also, we’re pretty sure we heard both GZA and Method Man & Redman do separate versions of ODB’s “Shimmy Shimmy Ya.” Like we said, kinda weird.

2016_09_no_meat.JPG
Oh Morrissey..., photo by Jim Kopeny / Tankboy
We were en route to see ascendant Kill Rock Stars punks Summer Cannibals in the afternoon, but you always call an audible when you come across a wild-eyed, amped MC breathing absolute fire (figuratively speaking, we should clarify, this being Riot Fest). One of XXL’s 2016 freshmen, Miami rapper and onetime SpaceGhostPurrp affiliate Denzel Curry was all mobilized righteous anger and mile-a-minute-but-musical dexterity; and his bizarre RZA-meets-Young-Chop beats were somehow even better. Broader hip-hop landscape, please make this man a star.

Stray thought: there are a million worse ways to spend a late-summer day than sitting in the shade, munching on a Los Comales burrito and listening to the Descendents’ “Silly Girl” off in the distance. In the same vein, we were bemused by The Vandals' set; even though these West Coast punks are getting on in years they've lost none of their sharp, sophomoric humor. As the photographers left the pit in front of the stage, sInger Dave Quackenbush made a simple request, "Take some pictures from when we were younger. We looked better then," and then launched into "Live Fast, Diarrhea." It gave guitarist Warren Fitzgerald a chance to pull out all of his Angus Young-as-juvenile-delinquent stage moves, all of which were highly entertaining. This was also the only set where we actually saw someone do a somersault while crowdsurfing. Impressive!

Finally, another highlight was The School Of Rock, the band made up of teen and pre-teen music students from the area, and they absolutely crushed and killed on their version of The Beastie Boys' "Sabotage." We would actually venture to say the intensity of these "kids" rivaled quite a few of the mainstage acts during the day—and this filled us with joy. They play again on Sunday, so if you have the time, it's highly recommended. What's more punk rock than seeing the next generation of musicians who are already on fire?