Riot Fest Sunday pics & review: Against Me!, B-52s, Patti Smith, Raconteurs, more
Kathleen still dances and runs around the stage like she did in the '90s, and as a singer, she's still all over the place in the best way, bouncing between melodic singing, screaming, her mocking low voice, and her higher-pitched taunts without stopping to take a breath. Though Kathleen is the star of the band, Tobi was just about as powerful when she stepped out from behind the drum kit to front the band, and new guitarist Erica Dawn Lyle (Billy Karren's replacement) fit in perfectly with the rest of the band. Kathi Wilcox, who played every instrument at least one point in the night, held it down perfectly as well. The hour-plus set was filled with favorites from all across the band's discography, and I think I speak for the whole crowd when I say that Bikini Kill kept us on our toes the entire time. And as great as the songs were, Kathleen's stage banter was just as powerful. She introduced "Feels Blind" with a story of how the lyrics were from a poem she had written as a teenager after a disturbing experience with a man in his 40s, and she talked about how she never would have imagined one day she'd be singing the words from that poem for a crowd of thousands. She then went on to encourage the crowd to never throw out their writing or art of any kind, and the cheers only got louder as she went on.
Before Bikini Kill's triumphant headlining set, day three Riot Fest attendees were treated to plenty of other great sets. The first one I saw was the Village People. I don't know for sure if the appreciation for the Village People at a punk festival in 2019 was a little ironic, but the disco veterans -- still led by lead singer Victor Willis -- drew a gigantic crowd early in the day who all smiled and danced and sang as they plowed through hits like "Macho Man," "In the Navy," "Go West," "San Francisco," and of course, "Y.M.C.A." Forty years after Disco Demolition Night, it was very clear at this mostly-punk festival that disco definitely doesn't suck and definitely isn't dead. Whether or not the choice to book them was a little tongue in cheek, I think much of the crowd would agree it was a great choice and a ton fun, and I hope Riot does something like this again. KC and the Sunshine Band next year?
After the "Y.M.C.A." ended, I ran over to the Roots Stage where reunited shoegaze legends Ride had begun playing about ten minutes earlier. They only had 40 minutes total -- and they seemed a little bummed about this on stage -- but they used their time wisely, mixing things up well between their two reunion albums and classics like "Taste," "Vapour Trail," and "Leave Them All Behind," and sounding absolutely mesmerizing in the process. Ride might not have as good a comeback album as fellow classic shoegazers My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive, but they make up for that by having the most rockin' live show of all of those bands. On stage, Ride just come off like a very loud, very full-sounding psychedelic rock band, and they manage to put the crowd in a trance without ever relying too much on haze. Their pristine vocal harmonies and guitar leads always cut right through the mix.
After Ride, I caught Against Me!, who were playing their classic 2002 debut Reinventing Axl Rose and their 2014 comeback record Transgender Dysphoria Blues in full. I mainly caught the Transgender Dysphoria Blues portion, and the band sounded as loud and tight and full of energy as I've ever seen them. That album may only be five years old, but it already feels like a classic and it's no surprise that there's already interest in seeing them perform it front to back. The crowd definitely packed in for them and yelled along as they tour through fan faves like "True Trans Soul Rebel," "Unconditional Love," "Dead Friend," and the album's massive singalong closer "Black Me Out." And Laura Jane Grace and the rest of the band couldn't have looked more enthusiastic to be playing these songs.
I then ran over to the Radicals Stage for The B-52s, who had billed Riot Fest as their final Chicago show, so I figured I should see them while I still can. (Their 40th anniversary tour also hits NYC's Central Park soon.) They took the stage decked out in classic B-52s outfits, and they sounded as delightfully weird as you'd hope, but they were also up against American Football and Bob Mould and tough decisions had to be made and I left their set early to go catch a good chunk of Bob Mould. Going by the crowd sizes, The B-52s' side stage set and Bob Mould's main stage set probably should have switched locations, but the smaller crowd didn't stop Bob Mould, Jason Narducy, and Jon Wurster from making more noise with three instruments than plenty of the many-membered bands did throughout the weekend. Bob Mould is a true legend of both punk and indie rock, and he's a true lifer too. He's been insanely prolific lately with great new records like this year's Sunshine Rock, which he played five songs off of, and the new songs sounded great alongside stone-cold classics like Sugar's "If I Can't Change Your Mind," Husker Du's "Something I Learned Today," and more. According to Setlist.fm, I missed most of the Sugar songs that he played at the beginning of his set, but I did manage to catch the awesome Husker Du portion at the end, which included a nice tribute to Grant Hart when Bob played "Never Talking To You Again."
Bob Mould's Roots Stage set was followed on the adjacent Riot Stage with my personal favorite (non-Bikini Kill) set of the day, Patti Smith. At 72 years young, Patti -- still joined by classic Patti Smith group members Lenny Kaye and Jay Dee Daugherty, along with longtime bassist Tony Shanahan and her son Jackson on guitar -- remains a fired-up performer with no signs of slowing down. She opened with "People Have the Power," a classic but -- for her standards -- calmer song, and the set had a steady rise from there. It really started to pick up with her cover of Neil Young's "After the Gold Rush," which she sang with just Tony Shanahan backing her on piano and had the whole place either singing along or dead silent in admiration. Then it was all Patti Smith classics from there, first "Pissing In A River" and "Free Money," which saw Patti channelling the same ferocity she had when she recorded those songs in the '70s. They were followed by her biggest hit, "Because the Night," which was of course a huge crowdpleaser, and then she wrapped things up with an even bigger crowdpleaser, "Gloria," which was the perfect way to end the set. Patti was going as wild as she was during "Pissing In A River" and the crowd was yelling as loudly as they were to "Because the Night."
Patti was followed by The Raconteurs on the adjacent Roots Stage, who wasted no time kicking things into full gear. The last couple times I saw Jack White at a festival, he had this grand introduction to his set that included a countdown clock on the screen, but at this set, Jack and the rest of the Raconteurs (Brendan Benson, Patrick Keeler, and Jack Lawrence) just hit the stage with no hesitation, and jumped right into a rocker, "Bored and Razed," with a light show that perfectly matched their intensity. "Bored and Razed" was one of several songs The Raconteurs' played off Help Us Stranger, their great new comeback album and first in 10 years, and the new songs fit in just fine with classics like "Level," "Blue Veins," and "Steady, as She Goes," especially lead single "Sunday Driver," which is one of the best straight-ahead rockers Jack has written this decade. Jack's own shows are grand and ambitious and truly great, but sometimes you just want loud, no-frills rock and that's what The Raconteurs deliver from start to finish (well, unless you count Jack's flashy -- and killer -- guitar solos as "frills"). Jack looked like he was having a ton of fun on stage, happy to just rock out with his friends and not always be the center of attention. (Plenty of the band's best songs are sung by Brendan Benson too.) While tons of people are of course still hoping for a White Stripes reunion one day, The Raconteurs truly were the Jack White-related comeback we didn't know how much we needed.
Pictures of Riot Fest day three -- including Nick Lowe and Save Ferris -- are in the gallery above. Full Bikini Kill review and pics HERE. Day one pics/review HERE. Day two pics/review HERE. Pics and review of Slayer's headlining day two set HERE.
photos by James Richards IV