Rain and The Replacements: The A.V. Club recaps Riot Fest 2013

Rain and The Replacements: The A.V. Club recaps Riot Fest 2013

Riot Fest, now in its second year in Chicago’s Humboldt Park with spin-off fests in both Toronto and Denver, is a real celebration of all things punk. Complete with sideshow acts, carnival rides, wrestling, and—this year at least—lots and lots of rain, the fest is a three-day amalgam of new and old acts, from the reunited Replacements to pop-punk superstars Blink-182. Hoping to find a string of commonality between acts like Best Coast and Sublime With Rome, The A.V. Club sent five reporters to the fest, and below is their recap of the best, worst, and weirdest moments of the weekend.

Most anticipated reunion of 2013: All The Replacements really needed to be was themselves at this, the second of the long-dormant Minneapolis band’s reunion shows. (This was especially notable since the band’s final show, in 1991, took place in Chicago.) Paul Westerberg was loose and spunky, and actually seemed a little tipsy—though he’s publicly sober—maybe it was just the energy of the very large, very excited crowd. They’d waited a lifetime to hear the question, “Do you want to hear ‘Kiss Me On The Bus’ or ‘Waitress In The Sky’? ” (And they surely loved the answer: “Both? Okay!”) The set list was pretty similar to their Toronto show in August, though Chicago got the aforementioned “Waitress,” and Toronto didn’t. The set could’ve used a couple more favorites (like “Answering Machine” or “Here Comes A Regular,” though who knows how those might’ve gone down in a festival atmosphere), but that’s a small complaint. They sounded great—exactly shambolic enough to project what fun they were having, not shambolic enough to remind anyone too much of the bad old days. [JM]

Best rhythm section déjà vu: Bob Mould and his band battled sheets of rain—not black sheets, but still—with plenty of hits, including Sugar’s “Hoover Dam” and “If I Can’t Change Your Mind” as well as Hüsker Dü superjam “Makes No Sense At All.” It was a bit weird to see Mould’s rhythm section—drummer Jon Wurster and bassist Jason Narducy—just a week after seeing Superchunk, since they also play in that band. That didn’t change the majesty of this crowd-pleasing, festival-feeling set, of course. Mould noted that they’d be back in Chicago soon to record a new record. [JM]

Second most anticipated reunion of 2013: Rocket From The Crypt is composed of true showmen, and their reemergence after years of dormancy might’ve been met with more excitement had it not been a bit overshadowed by The Replacements reunion. The San Diego band’s set started with the first four songs from 1995’s unstoppable Scream, Dracula, Scream (that’s “Middle,” “On A Rope,” “Born In ’69,” and “Young Livers”) and included stopovers at equally raucous songs from 1992’s Circa: Now!. Frontman John “Speedo” Reis repeatedly referred to the festival as “Diarrhea Island,” and gleefully goaded the audience into cheering. (“Ladies and gentlemen,” began practically every bit of between-song banter.) [JM]

Best festival performance in a tiny, sweaty club: Festivals are usually not the ideal way to see your favorite bands. Unless they’re headlining, they frequently have to rush on and off stage, and sets are generally no more than an hour, leaving little room for deep cuts. But a great plus to festivals in recent years has been the proliferation of aftershows, which generally involve bands playing clubs that would be too small for them on a regular tour. Rocket From The Crypt played Double Door on Saturday night (I missed it, but heard it was great), and Quicksand played the relatively tiny (about 400 capacity) Cobra Lounge on Sunday. The energy in a tiny, sweaty room late at night—with an even tinier stage—is far different than on a distant stage in the middle of the afternoon. Quicksand was incredible: The band just has two albums to its name—1993’s Slip and 1995’s Manic Compression—but it’s aged well, becoming perfect examples of a rock scene inspired by Fugazi but with an eye on the pop world. Singer-guitarist Walter Schreifels looked like he was having the time of his life, blasting through everything from “Omission” to “Landmine Spring,” two songs that serve as nice bookends to a short career. Whenever I see a great aftershow like this one—they happen at Pitchfork and Lollapalooza as well—I wonder why I even bother going to the main festival at all. (Then I remember The Replacements, and The Dismemberment Plan, etc.) [JM]

Best re-creation of a suburban Guitar Center: In recent years (or at least in recent festival-related exploits) Danzig has become known as much for Glenn Danzig’s music as his terse interactions with fans and show promoters when he finds new ways to feel slighted or insulted. It was with that in mind that Danzig appeared, opposite Fall Out Boy, with the promise of a legacy set to close out Friday night. The band took the stage a few minutes late, but as it kicked into its first song, it was nothing if not energetic. That energy did little to keep the set afloat, as Danzig’s guitarist, Tommy Victor, laced every song with pinch harmonics and unnecessary guitar theatrics, as Danzig wailed about. The result was a set that amounted to a shoddy tribute instead of the real thing. Toward the end, Danzig invited longtime Misfits guitarist Doyle Wolfgang von Frankenstein out to help push the band through the lull it had created, and while the crowd was largely receptive, the performance was mired by all the same problems that preceded it. [DA]

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Best act to push the already waning patience of camping Fall Out Boy fans: As is often the case with festivals, fans head in early and plant themselves in front of a stage in the hopes of being close to a favored headlining act. It was a trait apparent in the long, disinterested faces of the kids in the front of the Riot Stage Friday night. But, before they could be treated with the songs of the Chicago natives, they were begrudgingly forced to put their hands in the air for Minneapolis’ Atmosphere. Though Slug’s age is showing, both in his music and appearance, he helped serve as the cap to a day of hip-hop that added some much-needed diversity to the festival. Though the blank faces directly in front of him could have deterred a lesser act, he engaged them openly, and maybe even converted a few in the process over the course of the group’s transcendent, hour-long set. [DA]

Best Masked Intruder cameo: Reunions are a dime a dozen, and Wyoming’s The Lillingtons are certainly a small addendum to that ever-increasing list. Their early-afternoon slot gave the Ramones-core band an hour, but it only used about 45 of the alloted 60 minutes before making a quick, if not necessary, exit. The band’s stage presence was understated, and even with a shortened set, its sci-fi pop-punk was beginning to lose its charms around the midway point. Thankfully, Masked Intruder was there to come out and bring the rah-rah nature of “Lillington High” to the crowd when the band that wrote it seemed unable to. Though it probably should have been the last song for the Lillingtons, the group tore off one more before departing, leaving the crowd on a high-note, even if the 15 minutes that led up to it were sorely lacking. [DA]

Best ska skats: Of all the third-wave ska bands to reunite, Mephiskapheles has done so with the least amount of fanfare. It’s understandable, as the band’s Satan-worshipping upstrokes are both alienating and goofy. The small crowd that gathered for the band’s day-opening set on Saturday was surely basking in nostalgia, but it was the band’s vocalist, Andre Worrell, who’s constant use of ska affectations (more than one “pick it up” was uttered during the set) kept the show lighthearted, even if the songs played were about humanity’s impending doom. [DA]

Best way to misuse a short set: Though Mission Of Burma’s reactivated active status has resulted in post-reunion records that rival its early work, the group failed to express any of its merits in the confines of a festival set. It wasn’t until the back half that the band began to feel like itself—as the performance of “That’s When I Reached For My Revolver” proved—but by the time it walked off stage it had only begun to hit its stride. The set felt underdeveloped, but only because a few added minutes—and a few extra songs—could have helped the trio get its wheels moving before having to promptly slam on the brakes. [DA]

Best way to make use of a short set: The up-and-coming Touché Amoré drew a small—but-dedicated crowd to its Sunday night set. For a half hour, the band packed in more songs than acts with double that time, running four or five songs together without a single beat injected to let fans take a breath. The band was one of the few non-legacy hardcore bands to perform, and its well-rehearsed set shows why it was included on the bill (other than opening for AFI on its current tour). The group channeled all the energy of a basement show while still filling the space of a big stage with ease. Where fests can often serve as a proving ground for new bands, it seemed to be the inverse here: Touché Amoré proved that the bands on the small stage weren’t just having more fun, they were putting on better shows, too. [DA]

Crowd most resembling a rowdy bar at 2 a.m.: Standing anywhere near the front of the stage for Rancid’s Saturday night set guaranteed you’d either be punched, hugged, or both. The punk-legends-in-the-making have spent 2013 touring in honor of the band’s 20th anniversary and knew what their fans wanted to hear: old stuff that’s easy to drunkenly sing along to. They happily obliged. The set kicked off with 19-year-old single “Radio” before Rancid followed up with a trio of standards from their landmark 1995 album, …And Out Come The Wolves (“Roots Radicals,” “Journey To The End Of The East Bay,” and “Maxwell Murder” respectively). Predictably, this proclivity toward easily identifiable ’90s songs caused a massive, constant swell of people moving toward the stage. One moment fans would be arm-in-arm chanting along to “The Wars End”; the next, shoving between patrons rushing the stage and those wanting to stay put would nearly erupt in full-on fisticuffs. It seemed rather fitting that WWE superstar CM Punk watched the entire show from just behind the drum set. [BM]

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Best excuse to giggle at naughty words like a 12-year-old: Saturday night headliner Blink-182 drew the largest crowd of any band all weekend. While the set was marred by muffled sound issues that neither Friday night headliner Fall Out Boy nor Sunday night headliner The Replacements experienced, the crowd didn’t seem the least bit fazed and was just happy to jump around to ’90s radio smashes “What’s My Age Again?” and “All The Small Things.” 

While most of Blink’s set consisted of songs from 1999’s Enema Of The State and after, the band closed out the night with three older fan favorites (“Josie,” “Carousel,” “Dammit”). When it seemed that the show was over, Blink surprised fans by playing their stupidly profane live-only track, “Family Reunion,” which owes its lyrical content partly to George Carlin. Sing along at home: “Shit, piss, fuck, cunt / Cocksucker, motherfucker / Tits, fart, turd, and twat / I fucked your mom.”  

Twenty years into Blink’s history, it’s a bit surprising how a band that gained mainstream popularity by running around naked and lampooning boy bands could evolve from a pop-music enigma into one of punk’s most enduring icons. But, considering how many teenagers were wandering around Riot Fest wearing Blink T-shirts and hoodies all weekend, it’s clear that the band’s combination of juvenile humor and sincere lyrical content has continued to win over new fans well after the height of Blink’s mainstream popularity and in spite of a four-year breakup during the mid-2000s. [BM]

Biggest surprise success: Following news in June that the band was forced to cancel main stage performances at the Reading and Leeds Festivals due to “insurmountable personal issues,” many wondered whether pop-punk-turned-alt-rockers Brand New would even show up to its Sunday evening set. Luckily, the band did and, surprisingly, turned in one of the best shows of the entire weekend.

Starting off with three songs from its fourth full-length, 2009’s Daisy (“Vices,” “Gasoline,” and “Sink”), the band delivered a loud, moody ass-kicking that perfectly matched the overcast skies and the wet, muddy crowd. From there, the band led a four-song sing-along session consisting entirely of tracks from its breakthrough album, 2003’s Deja Entendu (“Sic Transit Gloria… Glory Fades,” “Okay I Believe You, But My Tommy Gun Don’t,” “Jaws Theme Swimming,” and “The Quiet Things That No One Every Knows.”) While delivering some fan service by returning to the band’s punk-pop days with a rendition of “Seventy Times 7,” normally angsty and frowning frontman Jesse Lacey couldn’t help but crack a smile at the overwhelmingly positive crowd response. Guaranteeing that Lacey’s fleeting moment of happiness wasn’t a fluke, he smiled again while joined onstage by Manchester Orchestra’s Andy Hull for a duet of Deja Entendu closer, “Play Crack The Sky.” Ending the set with the deafeningly loud, emotional “You Won’t Know” from 2006’s The Devil And God Are Raging Inside Me, Lacey made it clear that Brand New wasn’t going away anytime soon by embracing guitarist Vincent Accardi before walking off stage, leaving fest-goers for the rest of the day asking each other “Did you catch that Brand New set? Holy shit!” [BM]

Rockiest transition to a new era: The Pixies opened their set with a cover of The Fall’s “New Big Prinz.” Was it an apt parallel to draw? Certainly Mark E. Smith’s mercenary approach to keeping the band name no matter the membership has some parallel to the Pixies soldiering on as the Pixies, even without Kim Deal. (Her replacement, The Muffs’ Kim Shattuck, ably fulfilled the “bassist named Kim” part of the duties, at least.) And the sound comparisons are more obvious than ever in the group’s newest songs like “Bagboy,” in which Frank Black shout-sings in an approximation of Smith’s cadence—making “New Big Prinz” a good opener for creating context, if not so much welcoming an audience. There was also a Smiths-like snide distance in the mood of the Pixies’ set, which was heavy on snarling songs like “Bone Machine,” “Subbacultcha,” and “Distance Equals Rate Times Time” to go along with the hectoring new material—songs, it bears noting, delivered at a surprisingly uniform blare for a band typically so associated with dynamics its documentary was called loudQUIETloud

Without any chitchat to go with the yelling and punishing volume, after a while it began to seem like maybe Black was mad at festivalgoers. Fortunately, polished if perfunctory versions of “Here Comes Your Man,” “Wave Of Mutilation,” and “Monkey Gone To Heaven” gave the crowd the twisted pop sweetness they craved, as did the obligatory stop at “Where Is My Mind?” (where Shattuck did a perfectly fine job imitating Deal’s backing vocals, assisted, as always, by the crowd). Still, the slightly caustic tone set at the very beginning carried through to the very end, without Deal’s affable banter or cooling countermelodies to offset it. Mostly it was just a reminder that perhaps what Deal brings to the Pixies is not so easily replaced. [SO]

Shakiest reunion that actually turned out fine: “I almost forgot how fun this is. Thanks for the reminder,” Gordon Gano reflected midway through the Violent Femmes’ Saturday evening set, sounding genuinely taken aback. It’s plausible that the joy of performing might have really slipped his mind, considering that the Femmes’ reconciliation feels especially tenuous. It was only a few years back that Gano and bassist Brian Ritchie were squabbling in court, original drummer Victor DeLorenzo was cast out this year and replaced with Dresden Dolls’ Brian Viglione, and the band is playing its 1983 debut front-to-back, in the perfunctory jukebox style of so many other reunited bands currently making the rounds. That said, Gano was right in that those preoccupations melted away as a devoted crowd once more got lost in once more having good times with bad feelings. The structure meant that the set was a bit front-loaded, with sing-alongs “Blister In The Sun,” “Kiss Off,” “Please Do Not Go,” and “Add It Up” uncorking bottled-up teenage angst like a vintage, deliciously sour wine, then raising the question of where the band could possibly go from here. But getting those out of the way created more room to admire deeper cuts like “Confessions” and “Good Feeling,” which saw Gano beautifully intertwining violin with a small horn section, and then the hits came back around with an especially fiery “Gimme The Car,” “I Held Her In My Arms,” and closer “American Music.” The relationship between Violent Femmes’ members may be rocky, but as they reminded both fans and themselves on Saturday, rocky relationships make for really great songs. [SO]

Coolest unexpected clothing choice: While The A.V. Club surely appreciates the decision of Bad Religion’s frontman, Greg Graffin, to wear a T-shirt associated with the city where this publication was founded, it seemed to confuse a lot of people in the audience. Graffin was born in Racine, Wisconsin, got his Ph.D. from Cornell, and taught at UCLA, so why was he wearing a bright red UW-Madison shirt on a Friday evening at a festival in Chicago? Most of the aging punks in the audience showed up to Humboldt Park clad in the usual all-black getup, so seeing Graffin eschew not only that uniform, but also his typically professorial look was a breath of fresh air. And he managed to toss off one of the best quotes of the weekend, after another band member mentioned how old they were and the crowd started cheering in trained reverence: “Don’t clap for old people.” [KM]

Most emblematic of Riot Fest’s expansion: 2013 was Riot Fest’s first year as a three-day festival entirely in Humboldt Park, and that expansion led to a wider diversity in the lineup. There were big reunions (The Replacements) and other legends just outside the punk/hardcore purview (Pixies) that helped draw in patrons who wouldn’t have looked at Riot Fest in previous years, but the band most indicative of the expansion necessary to draw a crowd an order of magnitude larger than previous years is Canadian indie-pop craftsmen Stars. They tore through eight songs in a brief mid-bill set on Saturday afternoon, mostly taken from their two most recent albums, The North and The Five Ghosts. They didn’t have enough time to dip into deep cuts from Heart, but with songs like “Take Me To The Riot” and “We Don’t Want Your Body” they provided the kind of counter-programming that gets more people to take a chance on the last big festival of the year in Chicago. [KM]