Riot Fest Chicago 2016 – Sunday pics (Misfits, Thursday, Bad Religion, Sleater-Kinney, Rob Zombie, Deftones, more)
The final day of Riot Fest Chicago 2016 spared no expense to entertain. The festival had quite a huge finale, the second reunion of the original-ish Misfits lineup this year. The first, of course, was Riot Fest Denver two weeks earlier. Before that, there were tons of other great bands and one of the weekend's toughest conflicts: Rob Zombie vs Death Grips vs Sleater-Kinney.
Like many of the singers at Riot Fest, The Bronx’s Matt Caughthran spent much of the band’s early morning set among the people. While the rest of the band stayed on stage, Caughthran hoisted himself down into the crowd, jostling with the mosh pit that sprung up around him. This is an odd thing to see from a distance, where it simply looks like the singer has vanished into thin air. It’s like watching a chicken function for 30 minutes without its head. Except in this case the chicken was loud as hell and carried itself with more rock and roll swagger than your average headless chicken. Bad metaphor, good set. - Ian Cory
LA’s Bleached brought their sunburnt and ragged garage pop to Riot Fest Sunday morning, a wonderful way to set the day’s tone. The sibling-masterminded band was pretty reserved energetically until the last song, where both lead guitarist Jessica Clavin and bassist Micayla Grace jumped down to play to the barricade and frontwoman Jennifer Clavin swapped her guitar for Marc Jordan’s drums. Sugar-coated vocals backed with just a hint of snarling menace made Bleached the perfect setup for the day’s later riot grrrl focus. - Zack Baker
The Falcon returned from the ether this year (with a slightly updated lineup), and the punk supergroup’s set on Sunday was fun, funny and tight. It had been a while since they played together, but the band interacted and played like they never stopped. Banter was almost constant, with some genuinely funny stuff from The Lawrence Arms’ Brendan Kelly including pointing out an inflatable T-Rex in the crowd and laughing, “And they thought we were old!” The band’s rotating vocal duties make great use of the talent they have, with Alkaline Trio’s Dan Andriano and Dave Hause from The Loved Ones each leading a song during the set to reinforce why supergroups can still be great. - ZB
In the same way that The Vandals’ have only gotten funnier as they’ve gotten older, Leftover Crack have only gotten more grimy the longer they’ve stuck around. Aging hasn’t given the band grace -- their mix of crust, ska, and metal is as rough as it gets, but it does give them a degree of respectability that you wouldn’t normally associate with a band that writes songs about, as singer Stza put it, “smoking crack and watching television.” Of course the band has always had legitimate political concerns on their minds as well. They echoed Morrissey's comments from the night before about police violence and included songs about overpopulation and the firebombing of MOVE in 1985. When these messages were couched in upbeat major key punk songs, the band still came across as whip-smart and sardonic. -IC
Columbus, OH’s All Dogs closed out a recent run of shows in the Midwest with their great Sunday set. Their Salinas Records debut Kicking Every Day has been getting more and more eyes on the band since its release last year, and their set proved that they deserve the attention they’re getting. Opening with quiet album ender “The Garden” showcased Maryn Jones’ gorgeous, impossibly-high vocals, and following it up with the pulsing pop-punk dirge “Black Hole” gave the audience a full preview of All Dogs’ breadth. “Leading Me Back To You” may have only made it to record with Kicking but it's been around for much longer than that and added a nice sense of nostalgia to the set for fans that have been following the band since the early days. - ZB
Here’s an interesting case study in sincerity. Dee Snider is ostensibly a sincere hair metal singer, to the degree that any hair metal can be called sincere. Andrew WK is basically a hair metal singer who is so overly earnest that it’s a joke, but he’s in on the joke and earnest about the joke so he loops back around to being sincere again. Both are wildly entertaining people to watch on stage. Both are seriously ripped. Snider had the tougher job, performing mostly new material to a crowd born after his most recognizable hit. He was a good sport about it though, getting by on charisma and a few well timed moments of self-deprecation.
No such winking from Mr. WK. Dressed in all white, Andrew WK spent every moment of the set either hammering the hell out of his piano or gesticulating wildly. Manic doesn’t even come close to describing it. In between songs, WK, whose speaking voice sounds like Goldar from Power Rangers in the middle of an epiphany, gave vaguely inspiring pep talks, urging the crowd to continue to party even as the outside world grew darker and more morally complicated. It’s a decent sentiment, we all need a release from time to time, but it did make his decision to play “The Star Spangled Banner” on guitar earlier in the set feel a bit tone deaf. But before anyone could process the implications of this performance we were swept along into another wide-eyed ode to partying. - IC
Juliette Lewis and The Licks have slowly been building back up to full steam, reuniting in 2015 and giving us their first new music since then just a few months ago. Clad in an Evel Knievel styled bodysuit the rocker threw herself around the stage haphazardly, bringing an energy and ferocity to her set that isn’t always immediately present on record. Even the very poppy new track “Hello Hero” got its dance-inducing groove dirtied up a bit making it fit in with the rest of the show seamlessly. - ZB
Chevy Metal is the definition of low-stakes rock & roll fun. Their set felt like an open invite to a private party for working musicians. Lead by the Foo Fighters’ Taylor Hawkins, Chevy Metal played a selection of 70’s rock songs, ranging from Thin Lizzy to David Bowie. The set was warmly received by the crowd, and received an even better reaction from the host of musicians and Chicago music industry types hanging in the wings of the stage. Some of those musicians eventually stepped out to join the band, including Juliette Lewis for Van Halen's “Ain’t Talkin Bout Love” and Dee Snider for “Mississipi Queen” and an impromptu rendition of Queen’s “Tie Your Mother Down.” - IC
If you didn’t know Thursday for the recently reunited post-hardcore icons they are, Sunday’s set could have tricked you into thinking of them as the next-big-thing. Frontman Geoff Rickly is one of the best showmen around, constantly leading the crowd from atop the monitors, whipping the mic around his head, and providing some incredible stage banter. After a Double Door set the night before that was filled with slow songs and obscure tracks, Rickly made it clear that their Riot Fest set was purely meant “to kick out the jams.” Stadium-ready cuts like “Cross Out the Eyes” and “Jet Black New Year” were huge crowd favorites, and of course set-closer “Understanding in a Car Crash” roped in even the skeptics. As Rickly said, “If you still don’t know who we are, you’ll know this song from that one time you accidentally went to emo night at your favorite bar.” - ZB
Bad Religion are geniuses because they’ve somehow found a way to write tons of distinct and identifiable songs from an extremely limited set of ingredients. The recipe (for hate) hardly changes from track to track, they stick to a small range of tempos, and an efficient selection of chords, but are smart enough with their melodies to avoid too much monotony. The band themselves were tight, if cranky. “You guys don’t really care about the classic material right?” Greg Graffin asked before the band played the title track from Stranger Than Fiction. The crowd didn’t seem to have any generational preference, gladly filling in the backing harmonies for songs across Bad Religion’s lengthy discography. - IC
Riot grrrl legend Kathleen Hanna's band The Julie Ruin were in top form Sunday, with Kathleen full of angry energy. Her trademark high-pitched shouting and droning near-spoken-word delivery were both on display, the latter setting the set’s tone with the seething “I Decide” from this year’s Hit Reset. “I’m Done”’s squirming synths and lashes against internet commenters and the identity-politics of “Hit Reset” proved that the riot grrrl ethos don't need to be left in the ‘90s. As a bonus, the band threw in a explosive performance of “Rebel Girl” from Hanna’s classic genre-progenitor band Bikini Kill. - ZB
Chevy Metal weren't the only cover band on day 3 of Riot Fest. Punk supergroup Me First and The Gimme Gimmes -- all decked out in the same corny shirts -- played and clearly had a ton of fun. Sunday saw Swingin’ Utters frontman and Gimme Gimmes ringleader Spike Slawson leading his cadre of punk all-stars Fat Mike, Joey Cape, Chris Shiflett and Dave Raun through a slew of punked-up versions of non-punk songs, like their genuinely great take on "Jolene." They've always been a weird band, but there's no denying their charm. - ZB
Deftones have been on a long upswing ever since the release of Diamond Eyes creatively revitalized their career. The band seemed aware of this too, drawing most of their set from their last three albums, only dipping into their early material for fan favorites from White Pony and Around The Fur. Not only is the band’s modern style better on record, it also worked significantly better in person. Stephen Carter’s Meshuggah-inspired tone sounded enormous billowing out across Douglas Park, and the band’s atmospheric touches were a perfect fit for the dusk setting. Chino Moreno’s impressionistic approach to lyrics also extended to his singing style. He dipped in and out of the recorded melodies, often injecting inhumanly high pitched screeches and screams that came across more as texture effects than acts of aggression. That didn’t stop the hoard of bros in backwards hats from popping off when the band closed their set with “My Own Summer” - IC
Sleater-Kinney faced the unenviable task of trying to drown out the noise of nearby Rob Zombie during their Sunday night set, and they thrashed through that Zombie apocalypse with the aplomb and expertise to be expected of the elder stateswomen that they've become in the rock community. Toeing the line between becoming a legacy act with an incredibly dynamic back catalog and remaining as relevant as ever with 2015's brilliant No Cities To Love, Sleater-Kinney drew a diverse crowd of older fans and young rockers and created a safe space for everyone involved to enjoy themselves. Corin Tucker's mid-set shout out to Riot Fest's new anti-harassment policy was an important moment because its acts like Sleater-Kinney and Kathleen Hanna that have helped mold the punk rock community into a welcoming place for everyone, and especially female fans. Watching Tucker, Janet Weiss, and Carrie Brownstein fly through a career encompassing set was such a treat because the chemistry present in this band would make Walter White jealous. A lengthy hiatus hasn't made tracks from Dig Me Out and The Woods slay any less, and watching S-K breeze through a set full of crowd favorites, you'd swear they never actually left. - Pat Levy
Everything about Rob Zombie’s music is meant to fly in the face of good taste. White Zombie’s Astro-Creep 2000, which Zombie performed in full, is sleazy, dirty, cacophonous, and devilishly fun. The stage was decked out in every manner of cartoon-ish carnival-esque imagery. A giant “Satan-Sonic” boombox, gargoyle mic stands, leering demonic faces peeking out from amplifiers, all set in front a giant projection screen playing images from horror and exploitation films (a friend of mine pointed out clips from “Devilman,” an anime from the early 70s). Zombie himself was the consummate showman, chastising the crowd for using their cellphones and waxing nostalgic about his White Zombie days. Despite his concerns that he was going to run out of time (“I used to make much longer albums back in the day!”) Zombie ended up with just enough wiggle room to play “Thunder Kiss ‘65” and “Dragula,” for which the crowd rightfully lost its goddamn mind. - IC
“They’re not even gonna show up.” I heard it echoed at least a dozen times in the 15 minutes leading up to Death Grips’ set Sunday night, but they absolutely showed up and were absolutely not fucking around. The crowd felt shockingly small for the controversial group, but I guess that’s what happens when you have to go against both Rob Zombie and Sleater-Kinney. From the 20-second soundcheck snippet of “Guillotine” through the entirety of the 60 minute set, Death Grips embodied punk more than most of the actual punk bands I saw over the course of the weekend and the crowd responded in kind. Even that snippet of “Guillotine” got the crowd absolutely frenzied and the energy rarely dropped from the crowd-encompassing mosh.
MC Ride, Zach Hill and Flatlander tore through their set without taking a single break. They were there to play their contorted, chaotic take on hip-hop as loud as possible, not interact with the crowd or talk about what’s coming next. Just the music, fuck you if you don’t like it. The set did lean pretty heavily on this year’s Bottomless Pit which it felt like the crowd wasn’t quite as familiar with as the band’s earlier material, but when “Hustle Bones” hit and led into (the entirety of) “Guillotine” to close out the set you’d be hard pressed to find a more frenzied crowd anywhere else at that whole fest. - ZB
About half way through The Misfits' massive, festival closing set an audibly winded Glenn Danzig issued a challenge to the endless crowd sprawling in front of him. “I don’t think you’re ready for this next one.” A man in his early 30s standing next to me shot back “I don’t think you are either!” sending ripples of laughter through the surrounding 20 square feet. Smart-ass-ness aside, the guy had a point. About 15 minutes into his much ballyhooed reunion with Jerry Only, Danzig was wheezing into the mic between each song. The big bad wolf was doing a lot of huffing and puffing, but whether he succeeded in blowing the house down mostly depends on your perspective.
For better or worse, The Misfits sounded like a basement dwelling punk band that had been transported in front of a crowd of thousands. Mics broke, the sound was muddy, and the band were sloppy, not from a lack of effort but from an excess of it. Even if this reunion was a cash grab, no one on stage phoned it in, especially not Dave Lombardo, who could make a career out of upstaging the drummers he fills in for. More importantly, vast swaths of the crowd ate it up, singing every “woah” with gusto.
Yes, at times this felt more like a concert for a clothing line than for an actual rock band. But if you are one of the countless punks who’ve devoted your wardrobe, record collection, and skin to The Misfit’s iconography, this was probably as good as it gets. Even the class clown next to me shouted with joy when Danzig finally caught his breath and announced that the next song was “Devil’s Lock.” - IC
photos by James Richards IV, words by Zack Baker, Ian Cory and Pat Levy