CHICAGO, IL Riot Fest 2017 brought us Nine Inch Nails, Queens Of The Stone Age and a re-united Jawbreaker for a weekend filled with excellent music and unseasonably warm weather. Temperatures regularly hit the upper 80's while Douglas Park was engulfed in music, food and even the occasional circus act. Below are our set by set recaps as well as some additional interviews we got over the weekend.
1:25pm Roots Stage
One of the side projects of Refused front man Dennis Lyxzén is the perfect early act for Friday. It's not too hard (which was a necessity as the temperature hovered close to 90 with high humidity) while also not being mellow in the least. Lyxzén routinely spilled some of that energy which makes Refused such a popular act while never going full on into scream mode. One thing is for certain: anything Lyxzén is involved with is guaranteed to be something worth watching.
2:45pm Rise Stage
A provocateur in every way, Saul Williams confidently walked to a thick crowd on the Rise stage to simply recite a spoken word monologue regarding the norms of today in both music and culture, rising the topic to politics and religion as he entranced the crowd with his anti-establishment rhetoric. Likely to receive divisive reactions, Saul ignored the banter from the (mostly silent) crowd as he continued an acapella version of “Black Stacey,” and then a reading of yet another profound sermon of his own.
3:05pm Roots Stage
One of the first major punk rock groups in America took the stage in front of a backdrop paying homage to their home town of Los Angeles. Considering that most of Chicago had yet to leave work, the crowd present to see them perform was quite large, proving that the attendees of Riot Fest know their legends and also fully understand this festival wouldn't even be possible without trailblazers such as this band. From their first song ("Beyond And Back"), the aptly named "Los Angeles" to their rendition of "Soul Kitchen" (The Doors cover) to close the set, X was on their game from beginning to end, making you forget that they've been at this since 1977.
4:05pm Rise Stage
Perhaps the busiest afternoon crowd of Friday, one of television’s hip hop favorites (who repeatedly plugged his latest book and renewed television series involving his favorite food recipes and restaurants,) came out to a flood of waving arms. A mostly down tempo set, designed to highlight the artist’s flows and humorous punchlines, Bronson did take several pauses to address a few key banners in the crowd protesting his infamous controversy regarding the content of his lyrics.
Death From Above
5pm Roots Stage
How is it that so many two piece acts exist today and play louder and better than most traditional four piece bands? Death From Above is yet another example of this and showcased just that for their hour long set that highighted their three albums to date, the most recent being "Outrage! Is Now" released just one week ago. A common closer for them, "Right On, Frankenstein" kicks off their show to the surprise of many. That can tend to happen when your portfolio of tracks grows. Their newest single "Freeze Me" fit right in after their hit single "Virgins". Despite the now brutal heat burning up Douglas Park, fans of Death From Above go absolutely nuts for 60 straight minutes seemingly matching the energy that Death From Above are giving them.
6:05pm Riot Stage
Ministry is known for constantly changing up their setlist and were no different today. Fans were given a welcome addition to their set with the grossly underrated "Bad Blood". Through the entire set, Jourgenson menacingly stares into the crowd daring anyone to deny that today and forever he is the godfather of industrial music. Other classics littered the show including "Just One Fix" and "NWO", a song never more needed than today even though it was written over 25 years ago. For their closer, Ministry goes back in time to give us "So What?", the over eight minute industrial metal ballad. Only Ministry would close out a Riot Fest set with an eight minute track, and you know what? It worked.
7:10pm Roots Stage
Following X's and Ministry's lead, another legend of music graced the stage in New Order. Quite frankly, this was the perfect act to place after Death From Above and Ministry. The crowd needed to cool down, especially with Nine Inch Nails waiting in the wings.
New Order did a great job of showcasing their greatest hits ("Bizarre Love Triangle", "Blue Monday"), tracks from their previous outfit in Joy Division ("Disorder" and "Love Will Tear Us Apart") and including tracks from their 2015 release "Music Complete".
At times the guitars seemed to bleed out versus the keyboards but that's just a minor gripe all things considered. This was more than made up for via their background imagery, constant clips that one could only assume would be done in similar fashion during Nine Inch Nails.
Nine Inch Nails
8:30pm Riot Stage
The largest crowd of the weekend were easily Nine Inch Nails and for good reason. For over 25 years, Trent Reznor & Co. have been giving some of the most electric, strobe and smoke filled shows on the planet. The crowd could be seen as far back as the souvenier tents which are a little bit of a trek from the main stage.
Reznor's visit to Douglas Park is his first trip to Chicago since releasing a pair of EPs, 2016's "Not The Actual Events" and this year's "Add Violence". Songs from both graced the setlist from Branches/Bones, to Less Than and The Background World (performed live by Nine Inch Nails for the first time ever).
For those who camped out for the oldies, Nine Inch Nails didn't disappoint. "Closer", "March Of The Pigs", "Wish" and frequent closer "Hurt" filled out a performance that easily matched their previous festival stops in Chicago in 2008 and 2013 (both Lollapalooza). When the show was over, all the Riot Fest attendees had to agree that Douglas Park was the perfect place for Nine Inch Nails to make their return to the city. Just don't wait so long next time to come back.
12:30pm Radicals Stage
Controversial from their inception, the two piece rockers pounded their way through blistering anthems to a bouncing and moshing crowd (at 12:30 in the afternoon, no less,) amidst a strange collection of stage shenanigans, from bunny helmets to destroyed instruments.
Smith Street Band
1:15pm Rise Stage
Australian emo rockers reveled in their first Riot Fest after being repeatedly told by fans how much they would love it – they seemed satisfied with the crowd’s intense cries between songs and chants during their choruses. A powerful mixture of Motion City Soundtrack-like hooks with Frank Turner-style lyricism blending the purity of folky punk rock and the riff-filled cacophony of pop rock.
Black Pistol Fire
1:45pm Roots Stage
If you haven't seen Black Pistol Fire live, go do it now. There's seriously very few acts today that can give the audience the high octane, in your face show that Black Pistol Fire does every single night. Also, there are very few bands out there who take seriously the belief that you should treat every show as if it's your last. If you're curious: yes, they do that as well.
Using the stage as if it was his own personal track course, lead singer/guitarist Kevin McKeown leaps from speaker to speaker and side to side as if possessed by the ghosts of Buddy Holly and James Brown. The crowd did their best to keep up, going nuts the entire time. When leaving the set, I made eye contact with someone leaving the front of the crowd, drenched in sweat. With his eyes bulging he asked "did you see that??!!" From the looks of others leaving the stage, that man pretty much summed up what everyone else was thinking: Black Pistol Fire quite possibly gave us all the set of the weekend.
We caught up with the band after their show and asked several questions regarding the band, their upcoming new album and the band they'd love to see reunite in 2018.
Why do you think there's currently such success with two piece bands?
Eric Owen (drums)- The quick answer is probably the simplicity of it, the democracy involved with (song writing).
Kevin McKeown (vocals/Guitar)- And if you can get away with it, it makes more sense lucratively but there's also something that connects (with the audience) when there's two people engaging and they can pick up (more easily) what they're doing on stage. I always think back to the late 50's and early 60's with Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf, and some of those guys just started out with a guitar and a harmonica. There's just something really raw and organic when you only have two elements and seeing what you can do with those elements.
What are your influences that drove you to becoming a musician?
Kevin- I was obsessed with Elvis as a kid when everyone else was listening to Nirvana, Silverchair and The Offspring.
Eric- Zeppelin I and II. Also Dark Side Of The Moon. We did "Stairway To Heaven" once at our neighborhood hockey arena. We weren't very good yet but we tried. We attempted "Stairway to Heaven" and honestly? It was atrocious.
What was the direction with writing you new album?
Eric- It didn't start as an album but more songs that had a very different feel.
Kevin- We wanted to make and album that was different than anything we've ever made. You can get into a real "easy streak" of making this one album (over and over). It comes from our listening habits including James Brown, The War On Drugs, Arctic Monkeys...
For 2018, which band would you love to see reunite at Riot Fest?
Eric- I would love to see Oasis. We grew up listening to them and would love to see them getting on stage and just feel their hatred...Maybe signing up for the train wreck would be worth the price of admission!
...And a food you'd like to see available?
2:35pm Riot Stage
Peaches easily wins the weekend's contest for set you should not bring your children to. In fact, just about everything sang or witnessed on stage for her entire set can't be described here because we're the internet's version of all ages. Just rest assured that Peaches is one of the more entertaining performers on the planet and if you think about it, she's making more of a political statement doing what she does than the majority of artists on the planet today.
3:25pm Roots Stage
The much-hyped super group featuring members of Faith No More, Slayer, Retox, and The Locust demolished their PA system as the clock struck 3:25 and Mike Patton’s scream deafened everyone within a half mile radius. Dave Lombardo’s signature double bass pedaling and Just Pearson’s distortion filled the space as the band bled over the sound of every other stage in the park to perform their debut album filled with thrash metal beats and hardcore shrieks.
4:40pm Radicals Stage
How good were they? It really doesn't matter in the grand sceme of things. What is important is that guitarist Dr. Know, once on life support after a heart attack and lead singer HR, recently diagnosed with SUNCT syndrome, were there and able to perform. Just one year ago, many would call such a show impossible and with a lot of deaths in the music world as of late, it was nice for one day to support a band that survived health scares versus fall victim to them.
Oh, and if you're still wondering if they were good. Yes, of course they were. Bad Brains doesn't know how to be bad.
5pm Heather Owen Stage
The two most underrated bands on the lineup this year performed back to back on the Heather Owen stage Saturday. Massachusetts natives Potty Mouth were up first (we'll get to the other act soon). The three piece, all female outfit did what they do best: play rock n' roll. It was a nice and welcome addition to the day mostly void of female acts outside of Peaches and the act who played after Potty Mouth.
Potty Mouth have been awfully consistant since getting national attention in 2013. If you go to one of their shows, you're all but guaranteed to enjoy yourself whether you know every song of their's by heart or if you're brand new to their music. Saturday night was no different.
5:20pm Roots Stage
Known for not always consistently loving the festival scene, Glenn Danzig and his latest band of misfits (okay – not those Misfits,) showed up promptly on time to delve straight into their promised album set of the band’s third album, How the Gods Kill. Most of the songs sounded fantastically brutal live, though may have felt shorter than were originally heard on record. The collective time saved at the end was just enough for Glenn to insist on bringing back some crowd favorites (“Mother,” “Her Black Wings,”) as well as one new song from Danzig’s latest album, Black Laden Crown.
6pm Heather Owen Stage
One of the best tracks of 2017 so far is "A Living Human Girl" (yes, technically released in 2016 but featured on their debut full length "Feel Your Feeling Fool!" released at the beginning of 2017) by The Regrettes. This is the type of track so good that you can almost see Joan Jett passing the riot grrrl torch right to the hands of lead vocalist/guitarist Lydia Night. What makes this band's talent even more remarkable is the fact that not a single member of the band can legally drink yet. If you are this good in your teens, then it's almost scary to consider the potential for this group.
Riot Fest got a glimpse of that talent even if only for 30 minutes. While the song writer tends to have a lot of the spotlight in bands, fellow band mates Genessa Gariano (guitar), Maxx Morando (drums) and Sage Chavis (bass) add their own two cents to each song and it shows. Talking to several people who attended the set, one opinion seemed universal: they were glad to have decided to make the walk to the Heather Owen Stage and also when are they coming to Chicago again?
We caught up with The Regrettes right before they hit the stage for a couple of minutes. Below are some highlights from our interview with the band.
Being a young band, what has it been like to have this kind of exposure this quick?
(Lydia Night, vocals/guitar) I don't think it's any different than if we were older and got this kind of exposure this quick. We're pretty mature and have been playing now for ten years.
(Genessa Gariano, lead guitar) I do think it would be easier if we were older just because of insecurities and that's definitely something I seem to have an issue with just being young and not really knowing who I am.
(Sage Chavis, bass) I almost think it would harder being older because you're tempted with status and people automatically assume things of you. Plus you're tempted with drinking and partying. There's a different kind of pressure put on you (being younger) and I like surprising people. I like the pressure we get being younger.
The Regrettes also started as a two piece. What is it that makes two piece bands so popular in the 21st century (IE- The Black Keys, Royal Blood, Black Pistol Fire)?
(Maxx Morando, drums)- I think there's a way to do a two piece and a way to not do it. There's a lot of two pieces that are not good but there are a few that are good. I feel the bands you named are bands like Lydia said it's hard to find people to play with and they have themselves made it work and made a completely different sound that we've never heard before.
(Lydia Night)- I think it's really easy when only dealing with one person. It's really easy when agreeing on things, travelling, etc. And when you're starting, it's hard finding people that are into and and have the same kind of tastes and are willing to commit. It's easier to find that one person that you have that connection with. At the same time, when you find a bigger group, for me personally, it opens so many doors and opened my brain a lot. There's just so many possibilities (with a band larger than a two piece).
6:20pm Radicals Stage
What was interesting about this set was how many people who attended it were dumbfounded that Mike D wasn't performing, but merely DJing. Why did this come as a surprise to anyone? The lineup literally says "DJ Set" by his name. In the age of EDM, one would think we'd all know by now what that means and entails. With that said, Mike D did MC on occasion to the delight of those who attended. Granted, his work as a DJ could use some improvement but I'm willing to cut the guy some slack. He's only one of the founding members of one of the greatest hip hop outfits ever.
Queens Of The Stone Age
845pm Riot Stage
This year, not only did Riot Fest yet again snag one of the most talked about reunions of the year (Jawbreaker), they also happened to get two of the better headliners of all the Chicago festivals in Nine Inch Nails and tonight's headliner, Queens Of The Stone Age. Queens didn't waste any time getting down to business, beginning with "Millionaire" and "Feel Good Hit Of The Summer" before gracing the crowd with two tracks off their newest album "Villains" in "Feed Don't Fail Me" and "The Way We Used To Do".
Frontman Josh Homme crooned his way through a packed setlist (although it felt brief with the band leaving clost to 10 minutes on the table) which also included favorites "No One Knows", "Make It Wit Chu" and "Go With The Flow" before closing out the night with their blistering song "A Song For The Dead" which showcases the insane ability of Jon Theodore to mirror what drummer Dave Grohl did when the song was originally recorded.
Queens Of The Stone Age will soon embark on a North American tour and if this is any indicator of how those shows will be, well those who have purchased tickets should be grinning ear to ear after tonight.
Hot Water Music
1:25pm Roots Stage
Chuck Ragan’s band returned just days after their first album in 5 years, Light It Up, was released. Known to only sporadically play festivals or short tours when the timing lines up, Hot Water Music arrived to stage early and still played up to their allotted end time with virtually no breaks, assuring the crowd with almost an hour of favorites and new tunes. The band went on that night to perform a packed after show at the Cobra Lounge, revealing even more tracks from the new album and unearthing some old favorites to appease the hardcore fans who had waited outside for hours.
After their set, we asked bassist Jason Black if there was a reason for the five year gap between albums and he replied, "Honestly? We work when we can. Everyone's got families, jobs....it took this long just for us to schedule studio time!"
As far as playing music festivals, Black said "We're not very good at festivals! This is probably my favorite festival of the states and this year was even better (setup) than when we last played a few years ago."
2:15pm Riot Stage
On most festival lineups, That Dog. would stick out like a sore thumb. Indie darlings since their self-titled debut in 1993, That Dog. had been inactive since 1997 outside of a couple reunion shows in 2012. However, this year, Jawbreaker were prepping to close out the festival, their first show since 1996.
Loyal fans of the band packed the rails in front of the stage, some holding signs begging the band to continue performing together (maybe going the route of The Replacements, who did indeed perform additional shows after their Riot Fest reunion). Never has an hour gone by so fast, especially when realizing how long you've waited for this hour with the band alone.
3:00pm Rise Stage
If Johnny Rotten were a millennial born in the Chicago suburbs, he would be the clone to Orwells lead singer Mario Cuomo. Leaping from one end of the stage to the other, Cuomo had the front of the crowd in a frenzy, screaming every single lyric almost louder than Cuomo himself.
Most known for their Apple Music used single "Who Needs You", The Orwells are so much more than just that one song. In fact, it's better you never heard it before. That way, you can really appreciate the band for what they are: one of the hardest working, talented and in your face bands in America today.
The Mighty Mighty Bosstones
3:20pm Roots Stage
Back when The Mighty Mighty Bosstones performed in 2014, the crowd was so large that it was honestly difficult to hear them performing. Thankfully not only did Riot Fest bring the ska legends back, they had them perform their platinum selling release "Let's Face It".
The entire band played with enough energy to make you forget they've been at this for over 30 years. Lead singer Dicky Barrett danced his way from one end of the stage to the other, providing more than enough reason for the crowd to reciprocate his energy.
Even better than hearing all of "Let's Face It" was having the band give us all six additional tracks including their hit "Someday I Suppose". By the end, this set was easily one of the best of the weekend.
Built to Spill
4:20pm Rise Stage
Performing Keep it Like a Secret in full, the performance as a nice change of pace on another blistering hot day, with a large number of the crowd relaxing and enjoying the soaring melodies of Dough Martsch, Steve Gere, and Jason Albertini amidst a rather relaxed album, atmospherically and sonically.
Minus the Bear
5:30pm Radicals Stage
With their latest album, Voids, on their heels after a five year gap since Infinity Overhead, the math rockers took to wooing a crowd of both old school guitar-based rockers and new age pop punks teens with their reverbed solos and effects, fitting in plenty of new tunes as well as hits like “My Time,” and “Knights.”
TV on the Radio
6:00pm Rise Stage
One of the more awe-inspiring sets, placed directly on the Rise stage during a Chicago sunset, TVotR had no trouble commanding their audience even with the newer, less punk influenced tracks from 2014’s Seeds. Frontman Tunde also had no problems unabashedly speaking on the current state of things in the political world, speaking in defense of institutions like DACA and immigration, which helped his very band become the pinnacle success that it is.
8:00pm Radicals Stage
With frontwoman Hayley Williams reuniting with original drummer Zac Farro, the pop punk titans jammed with their (eccentrically vocal) fan base to the latest synthpop tracks from their newest album, After Laughter. Sprinkled throughout the set were some old Fueled By Ramen era favorites, like “Ignorance,” and “That’s What You Get,” and of course “Misery Business” – which featured one lucky guest from the crowd to join the now-blonde Hayley on stage for the finale.
8:45pm Riot Stage
One of the quintessential classics of the original emo movement in the 90’s, Jawbreaker promptly walked on stage to a humble setup of just amps and drums, backed by an army of fans that danced throughout the entire set behind the band. Opening with their biggest hit, “Boxcar,” the band proceeded to fill their 75 minute slot with as many songs as fans could have hoped for – several still being played for the first time since the 90’s, despite their warm up shows in California the month prior.