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Riot Fest Saturday pics & review: Anthrax, GWAR, Wu-Tang, Bloc Party, AVAIL, more

I hope you’ll allow me to double down on the cheesy pun in the headline, because Slayer‘s headlining set at Riot Fest on Saturday (9/14) was fucking lit. And by that I mean Slayer melted our faces, destroyed our ear drums, and left us screaming our lungs out, but I also mean they had a killer stage show that used pyro in just about every single song. I’ve seen Slayer before, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen them or any other band use that much fire on stage through the entirety of a show. Combined with the relentless force of the band’s performance, it made for a night that I don’t think anyone will be forgetting anytime soon.

The set was billed as Slayer’s final Chicago/Milwaukee show, and it comes about a month and a half ahead of “The Final Campaign,” Slayer’s North American farewell tour with Primus, Ministry, and Philip H. Anselmo & the Illegals (playing Pantera). I can understand why Slayer — whose only remaining original members are Tom Araya and Kerry King (rest in peace Jeff Hanneman) — would want to call it quits at this point, but I don’t see how they can leave us for good when their current live show is still this powerful. If they stick to their word and the upcoming tour really is the very last time to see them in North America, I can’t recommend catching this tour enough. They’re going out on a much higher note than you’d expect from a band who feels the need to throw in the towel.

Before Slayer wrapped up day two of Riot Fest 2019 with a fire set, the festival hosted tons of other great acts throughout the day. As mentioned in my Slayer review, the main Riot Stage was an entirely metal stage — which was probably convenient for any Slayer fans who just wanted to camp out there all day — and it started bright and early with Mongolian folk metal band The Hu, who had a few YouTube videos go viral and then released their debut album one day before playing Riot Fest. The Hu’s crowd was pretty huge for a 1 PM set, and whether or not everyone in attendance were already fans of the band, they were definitely won over after that set. The Hu had everyone pumping their fists and chanting “HU! HU! HU! HU! HU!” in between almost every song, and their music — which is not the kind of thing you hear every day in America — was genuinely awesome. Don’t mistake The Hu for a novelty act or anything; they are just a great band in general.

After The Hu, I headed to the adjacent Roots Stage to catch Turnstile, who really brought it. I’ve seen Turnstile headlining club shows at night — which is really the ideal way to see hardcore — but they were even crazier at 2 PM under the hot sun. They were super loud, super tight, and flailing their bodies around on stage for the entirety of the set, as the crowd moshed, crowd-surfed, and screamed their hearts out in return. All the non-hardcore elements — like psychedelia, metal, and R&B — that crept into Turnstile’s sound on 2018’s great Time & Space were on display, but for Turnstile, expanding your sound doesn’t meaning toning down your sound. They’ve managed to diversify their music while fully retaining the intensity of classic, straight up hardcore. It makes for a live show that’s both high energy and unpredictable, and Turnstile pulled it off better than ever.

After Turnstile it was right back to the Riot Stage for GWAR, who did what GWAR do best, which at this show included killing Donald Trump and pregnant Caitlyn Jenner, and of course spraying the crowd with tons of fake blood. GWAR was followed on the adjacent Roots Stage by fellow Richmond band AVAIL, who finally returned this year after a 12-year hiatus. (A member of GWAR also watched AVAIL from the side of the stage, and Tim Barry gave a shout-out to his Richmond brethren.) AVAIL are back with the lineup that recorded 1998’s Over the James, and they were celebrating that album during this set (and also made time for other favorites like the classic “Simple Song”), and they looked and sounded as tight today as they were during their initial run.

After AVAIL, the metal continued on the Riot Stage with thrash legends Testament, who ripped as always. There’s something about seeing a band dish out machine-gun riffs under the hot sun that just works so well, and this set was no exception. Testament are loud and furious, and they really know how to get a festival crowd going wild midday. I caught a little of Microwave‘s solid set on the Rebel Stage after Testament, and then headed back to the Riot Stage for more legendary thrash from Anthrax. Anthrax (who were all decked out in Chicago Bulls jerseys with their own last names on the back) were playing a fan request set — which you could vote on beforehand — and they came out swinging with hit after hit, opening with “Caught in a Mosh” right into “Got the Time” into “Madhouse” into “I Am the Law” and more. Their fun, upbeat version of thrash metal is like the polar opposite of Slayer, but just about as crowdpleasing. While Slayer put a lot of the crowd into a devilish trance, Anthrax had everybody smiling and yelling along and eating up all of the band’s lighthearted stage banter. Scott Ian also mentioned on stage that Anthrax demoed a new song the day before playing Riot Fest… stay tuned for more on that.

I had really wanted to catch the Wu-Tang Clan, but ended up deciding last-minute to skip them and instead watch Rise Against so it’d be easier to get a good spot for Slayer, and the hometown Chicago punk heroes were in fine form. They’re absolute pros at what they do, and despite being pretty consistently famous, they still come off entirely humble. Frontman Tim McIlrath talked a lot about how lucky he felt to have a career for so long and to be playing to such a big a crowd, and he also had very kind things to say about Riot Fest celebrating its 15th anniversary and was quick to shout out some of the band’s heroes performing this weekend, like Jawbreaker, AVAIL, Bikini Kill, and, of course, Slayer.

Full review and pics of Slayer’s set HERE. More pictures from Saturday at Riot Fest — including shots of Bloc Party, Wu-Tang Clan, and Turnover — in the gallery above. Stay tuned for more coverage after the festival wraps up on Sunday. Stay tuned for more coverage after the festival wraps up on Sunday. Day one review and photos HERE.

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photos by James Richards IV

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