TVD Live: Riot Fest Chicago at Humboldt Park, 9/13–9/15

PHOTOS: DAN JARVIS | Chicago’s Riot Fest has come and gone, and I am in still recovering from the three days of musical nirvana I experienced in Humboldt Park. The weekend, full of rain and expensive beer, luckily also included an uncanny amount of powerful musical acts that ranged from punk rock to rap and many genres in between. 

Friday was “Riot Fest Lite” for me. Arriving later in the afternoon, the first day was in full swing as we passed through the gates. The wristband, beer ticket, and beverage lines were all a mile long, and after a quick hour-long wait I was ready to enjoy some music.

That evening, I floated between stages, catching GWAR, Sublime with Rome, and even a minute or two of Fall Out Boy’s performance with an occasional stop to see the fire spinners and hula-hoopers.

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Never knowing what they’ll do next, GWAR once again hit the Riot Fest stage with their abrasive live show. Say what you will about their music, but do they ever know how to put on a show. Last year they aborted Snooki’s baby on stage, and this year they tore the head off Super Zombie Jesus, all done with a great sense of pride and in the name of their home planet of Scumdogia.

Friday’s line-up was great, but Saturday and Sunday each boasted some of the festival’s biggest draws. Saturday’s pristine weather made for maximum music enjoyment; unfortunately, Sunday did not pan out the same. Rain started just as Riot Fest opened its gates, keeping much of the crowd away for the first part of this final day.

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X took the stage Saturday afternoon. Keeping the banter to a minimum, they went right into performing their hits like “Los Angeles” and “Your Phone’s Off The Hook, But You’re Not.”

As a musician myself, it gives me immense hope to see a band like X sounding better than ever after so many years. What was even better was their appreciation for the audience that came out to enjoy their set.

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Later in the Day, Dinosaur Jr. took the Roots stage and brought the high energy alternative rock they are known for. The band led off the set with an extended version of fan favorite “Thumb” and continued to play a 10-song set of Dinosaur classics.

The raucous set even included the track “Training Ground” from J. Mascis and Lou Barlow’s pre-Dinosuar band Deep Wound, as well as their hardcore cover of The Cure’s “Just Like Heaven.” Barlow, Mascis, and Murph are as strong as ever, and it was so good to see them grace the Riot Fest stage.

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Blondie’s set started like some sort of cult meeting with front-woman Debbie Harry walking onto stage with all the swagger she’s always had, but in a wizard’s robe (or something along those lines). It was difficult to wrap my mind around, but as her hat came off and the set progressed, confusion was replaced with pure enjoyment.

Blondie took the stage with authority and tore through hits “One Way or Another,” “Call Me” and “Heart of Glass.” Harry doesn’t seem to have aged a bit, nor has her voice; this seems to be a positive side effect of wizardry.

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One of the best performances of Riot Fest was, undoubtedly, Violent Femmes. Beginning with their hit “Blister in the Sun,” they plowed through their self-titled debut in full. The band sounded as sharp ever.

From beginning to end, the Violent Femmes were everything fans could hope for, and played every song I had hoped to hear. Up until this point, I hadn’t heard the Riot Fest crowd cheer for an encore, but this audience pleaded for one (without success) after this phenomenal Violent Femmes performance.

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Feeling quite at home with the gloomy Manchester-esque scene on Sunday, Peter Hook & The Light took the stage early in the afternoon, performing a set of Joy Division classics as well as the New Order favorite “Ceremony.”

For a Joy Division fan like myself, the set turned out to be one of the most enjoyable of the entire weekend. Being able to hear songs like “Transmission” and “Love Will Tear Us Apart” live was a treat, and although we will never see a true Joy Division reunion, (primarily due to the loss of singer Ian Curtis) Peter Hook & The Light were about as close as it gets.

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As the closing notes of “Love Will Tear Us Apart” rang out, many folks quickly headed to the Roots stage to catch Boston post-punk legends Mission of Burma, myself including. Finding my way through a sea of mud that was once a baseball diamond, I was in awe at the experience of seeing this band after countless spins of their early ’80s albums Vs. and Signals, Calls, and Marches. 

Pounding their way through notable classics like “That’s How I Escaped My Certain Death” as well as some newer material from after the band’s reunion in 2002, the three-piece sounded great. Impressing old fans and creating a whole generation of new fans all at once, Mission of Burma was a joy to see live.

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My experience with Pixies, however, was a bit underwhelming. Headlining the Roots Stage, they delivered a set of classics from two of their best releases, Doolittle and Come on, Pilgrim with a few new songs like Bag Boy peppered into the mix. I’m not entirely sure what I was expecting, but their stage presence wasn’t engaging, and I left a little disappointed.

The band played well, and former bassist/vocalist Kim Deal’s replacement, Muff’s front-woman Kim Shattuck, filled the original Kim’s shoes fairly well, but still the set was lacking the energy that Pixies are known for. For as much as I was anticipating this performance, it sure wasn’t at all what I thought it might be.

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Closing out this fantastic weekend were the highly anticipated Replacements. A full afternoon of near-constant rain had me feeling uneasy about the evening, but the weather knew better than to interfere with a reunion I had been waiting 22 years for. On stage, The Replacements played an impressive 25-song set, including some crowd favorites such as “Alex Chilton,” “Can’t Hardly Wait,” and “Waitress In The Sky.”

For a minute, Westerberg spun the stage clock around to the audience, “I’ll turn this clock toward you, and you can tell us when to stop,” he said a few songs in, before picking up the stage clock and smashing it behind him. “I’m an old hat at this,” he joked, “I’m a music business professional.” In true form, Westerberg joked with the audience throughout the set and threw plenty of light-hearted jabs and inside jokes at his bandmates, new and old, even threatening to replace new guitarist David Minehan with Bob Mould, when Minehan missed a chord or two.

Living in Chicago certainly means that we have become spoiled with amazing summer music festivals, namely Pitchfork, Lollapalooza, and North Coast. Riot Fest is a unique end to the Chicago festival season in that it seems to favor classic musical reunions and diversity rather than more modern, up-and-coming artists. All in all, Riot Fest was the best festival experience of the year for me, and I can’t wait to see what they bring us next year.

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