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Riot Fest Chicago 2015 Festival Review: From Worst to Best

Douglas Park provides a worthy home for the punk rock fiesta

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    This isn’t how it was supposed to be. When Riot Fest landed in Humboldt Park after seven years as a multi-venue festival, founder and organizer Mike Petryshyn thought he had found a permanent home. The honeymoon lasted all of three years, coming to an abrupt halt this spring when Humboldt Park residents successfully booted the festival out of their neighborhood.

    Three years isn’t so bad for a massive punk festival, especially considering how most DIY venues barely make it past two. But before we move on, let’s make something entirely clear: In its decade of existence, Riot Fest has lost all traces of its supposed DIY roots, morphing from the plucky underdog of Chicago festivals into an awkward, corporate giant (think Lollapalooza with a studded denim jacket). This giant spent the early weeks of the summer lumbering across the city’s Southwest Side, searching for a new address before finally stumbling into Douglas Park, a neighborhood that’s home to two major hospitals and exactly zero punk venues. One of those hospitals even tried to get the festival shut down in the 11th hour, as if it weren’t star-crossed enough already.

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    Photo by Thaib A. Wahab

    But in spite of all the political hurdles and logistical clusterfucks, one truth cannot be denied: Riot Fest persists — thrives, even. This year’s iteration was among the biggest yet, embracing a slew of hip-hop artists along with the regular cadre of punks and skins. Nostalgia remains the primary engine behind Riot Fest’s booking considerations, with legacy acts such as Motörhead, No Doubt, and Iggy Pop getting top billing despite having done nothing relevant in the past dozen years. Even so, there’s a certain power in familiarity, as anyone who got sucked into the roiling pit at System of a Down on Saturday will tell you (assuming they survived). That’s why we’re willing to forgive Ice Cube for essentially turning his set into a commercial for Straight Outta Compton. Festivals are a way for us to bond with complete strangers, and hey, everybody knows the words to “It Was A Good Day”.

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    You need that kind of camaraderie to get through three days of Riot Fest with spirits intact. The festival gods once again brought rain early on, promising a full weekend’s worth of slogging through goop and ensuring that lots of shoes would end up in the trash bin come Monday. Thankfully, the weather on Saturday and Sunday was mostly perfect, with sunny skies to complement FIDLAR’s party punk, GWAR’s hilarious debauchery, and (how’s this for a change of pace) the breezy pop of Canada’s Alvvays.

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    Photo by Thaib A. Wahab

    The true believers will probably stone me to death for saying this, but it’s nice that Riot Fest is following the same blueprint as LA’s FYF Fest and finally moving away from a majority-punk bill. Not only is that unsustainable, it’s also kind of boring. Sure, we could probably do without Damian Marley’s snooze-worthy brand of reggae, but how cool is it that you can see hip-hop pioneers De La Soul and original outlaw Merle Haggard within a span of 24 hours? I’ll take that over punk repeated ad nauseam any day. Even the Riot Fest Speaks stage, which could have used a lot more programming, was a welcome change of pace that definitely deserves to grow in the future.

    Speaking of the future, you would have had to trek over to the tiny Revolt and Radicals stages if you were hoping for a glimpse of it this weekend. It would have been well worth the short trip, though, as some of the festival’s best surprises included young bands like Cayetana (seriously melodic Philly punks), Beach Slang (think a rawer, better Goo Goo Dolls), and Foxing (emo revival for the win!). Thankfully, Riot Fest was pretty easy to get around this year, so a cross-campus hop from Joyce Manor to Drive Like Jehu wasn’t out of the question.

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    Photo by Thaib A. Wahab

    At the end of a brisk and muddy weekend, we’re left with one question: Who’s going to pick up all that trash? Just kidding. The real question is, where does Riot Fest go from here? The festival has grown past the point of no return, but Douglas Park proved as good a venue as anyone might have hoped, and it would be nice to see a return to these digs next year. As for the actual music, well, let’s hope that we continue to get lineups as strange and eclectic as this year’s, even if we’re forced to sit through one legacy act too many.

    Now let’s get down to brass tacks and rank these motherfuckers.

    –Collin Brennan
    Staff Writer

    MILLENCOLIN

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    Photo by Thaib A. Wahab

    Millencolin is like that ex you broke up with in high school but still think of fondly, probably after a few beers. Lots of people still hold Pennybridge Pioneers in high esteem, and they should: It’s a damn good record for what it is. The problem? Like your ex, Millencolin hasn’t aged especially well. Their sound seems stuck in the ‘90s, and it doesn’t help that frontman Nikola Šarčević can’t hit half the notes on “No Cigar”. Despite some good-natured jokes about Vikings, the band’s Saturday afternoon set was mostly a bummer, and a good reminder of why you haven’t heard much of Millencolin since Kingwood (which is still an underrated album, by the way). –Collin Brennan

    SNOOP DOGG

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    If anyone was going to show up to his set half an hour late, it had to be Snoop Dogg. When the perma-stoned rapper finally graced us with his presence, he did it with a joint in hand and a crew of scantily clad backup dancers in tow. Hell, there was even a dude jumping around in an actual dog costume, looking like he just stepped out of some bizarro version of Disneyland. Sure, Snoop was the guy who showed up late and high out of his mind, but he still managed to pass the blame onto the stage crew, calling one guy out as a “bitch-ass motha fucka” for telling him he had only three minutes left to play (I wouldn’t want to be that guy after Snoop got the lights shut off on him right in the middle of “Young, Wild, and Free”). Despite the weird vibes, this set hit hard when it mattered, particularly during spirited renditions of “Gin and Juice” and House of Pain’s “Jump Around”. –Collin Brennan

    BILLY IDOL

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    Photo by Thaib A. Wahab

    It’s somewhat passe to complain about sound issues at outdoor music festivals, as so many of the sonic obstacles are out of the artist’s control — wind, opposing stages, drunk sound guys, etc. But the kinks during Billy Idol destroyed what would have been an otherwise enjoyable set of greatest hits. The music cut out completely for several brief stretches in about half of the songs, with “Ready Steady Go” and “Rebel Yell” going silent for over 30 seconds. This stopped the throwback momentum dead in its tracks, and Idol never recovered, regardless of him still being able to nail the yowls on “White Wedding” and crack wise with longtime guitarist Steve Stevens. –Dan Caffrey

    THRICE

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    These days, Thrice seems more energized when playing their proggy later material as opposed to the angst-ridden, screamy stuff that made them post-hardcore heroes. And yet their sets continue to rely more heavily on The Artist and the Ambulance than Beggars, Major/Minor, Vheissu, and the multi-tiered Alchemy Index. I get that fans my age want to hear the (almost) hits, especially at festivals, but frontman Dustin Kensrue seems to have outgrown his lyrics of old, which gave “Yellow Belly” a more potent charge than “Silhouette” and “Stare at the Sun” on Friday. “Under the Killing Moon” though? It still kills. –Dan Caffrey

    ICE CUBE & FRIENDS

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    Photo by Pat Levy

    Ice Cube has dubbed his recent live appearances “Straight Outta Compton: The Remix”. Don’t get too excited, though. As his Friday night headlining set proved, he may as well be referring to the movie, not the album. The man is a walking advertisement for his film career, having no bones about projecting footage from his shitty-to-mediocre action flicks while performing “Check Yo’ Self”. That song, so adrenaline-inducing on record, becomes unquestionably corny — idiotic, even — when synced up to clips of Cube clobberin’ people in Anaconda, Dangerous Ground, and XXX: State of the Union. And as cool as it was to see former N.W.A. mates MC Ren and DJ Yella (along with Ice Cube’s son, who plays him in the film) invited to the stage, they only performed four out of Straight Outta Compton’s 13 tracks, and that came after Cube actually stopped the music to show the trailer for the film. Despite his charisma — he’ll always be a showman par excellence — the whole thing felt pandering and cynical. Remix? More like Straight Outta Compton: The Commercial. –Dan Caffrey

    MOTÖRHEAD

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    “We’re Motörhead, and we play rock ‘n’ roll,” the one and only Lemmy Kilmister said in a gravelly mumble at the outset of the band’s closing set on Friday. The banner hanging behind the band proudly boasted Motörhead‘s 40th anniversary, but the band, namely Lemmy, showed undeniable signs of its age. For fans, the sight of Lemmy alone is cause for excitement, and understandably so. But despite his standing among the most monolithic figures in rock, the singer seemed tired and run down, taking no less than two off-stage breathers over the course of the hour-long set. Still, Motörhead songs are Motörhead songs, and tracks like “Overkill”, “Ace of Spades”, and “Rocket” sounded as good to the ears of longtime fans as ever. Mickey Dee also came through with a heroic drum solo, which restored some of the band’s patented swagger and sleaze. –Ryan Bray

    COHEED AND CAMBRIA

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    Technical difficulties killed their walk-on music, leading the band to exclaim, “Typical Coheed fashion: riddled with bugs.” The rest of their set was bug-free, and the band’s proggier inclinations made for a nice change of pace from the rest of the punk-heavy first day of the festival. Live, Claudio Sanchez’s voice is deeper and more powerful, and somehow the dude is capable of cheerleader-like high kicks as he bangs his hand around like a metal-crazed gorilla. –Dan Bogosian

    FOXING

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    Foxing is a young band from St. Louis and a very good example of why the emo revival is something to embrace rather than fear. These guys took over where The World Is a Beautiful Mess… left off at last year’s Riot Fest, crowding the tiny Revolt stage with as many people and instruments as it could handle. Like a lot of modern emo bands, Foxing seems interested in working outside the constraints of the genre, and their preferred method involves lots of brass and flailing limbs. Nobody in the crowd seemed quite as pumped as the band, but the money’s good on them being the Next Big Thing. –Collin Brennan

    MODEST MOUSE

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    Modest Mouse’s live performances have definitely improved through the years, and their Riot Fest set proved it. It was tight but still kept a sense of danger, loose but with a degree of comfort. Most of their hits came off a little wobbly (the lead guitar on “Float On” sounded more like a broken trombone), but they played hidden gems like “King Rat”, and the cuts from their latest album, Strangers to Ourselves, took on the rustic stomp of a prairie medicine show. –Dan Bogosian

    FIDLAR

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    Photo by Pat Levy

    Flanked by R. Kelly mannequins, FIDLAR took the stage bright and early on Saturday to rip through their set with manic energy and aplomb. Frontman Zach Carper had trouble staying in one place for more than a few seconds, constantly falling to the ground to wail on his spooky spider-web guitar or jumping out into the audience to crowd surf. Playing tracks from their self-titled debut as well as their recent second album, Too, the band operated like a well-oiled machine despite their raucousness and unpredictability. When you go to a FIDLAR show, you go for the unhinged, and that’s exactly what the Riot Fest crowd got. –Pat Levy

    L7

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    L7 never got the credit they were due during their initial 16-year run, but the fact that they were given a high profile set at dusk on Sunday suggested that fans might finally be ready to treat the bruising all-female quartet with the attention they’ve long deserved. The time away hasn’t worn on the band’s tar-thick grunge punk amalgam, which they dosed fans with for roughly an hour. When they weren’t teasing photographers from the stage and having fun among themselves, snarling feminist rally cries like “Fuel My Fire” and the always hair-raising “Shitlist” kept the attention of the crowd, which grew slowly over the course of the band’s set. An hour felt long for a group whose songs blend together a little too well sometimes, but it was still great to see the L7 ladies get some reunion vindication. –Ryan Bray

    FLOGGING MOLLY

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    “Now, more songs about pissing and moaning and drinking and crying and whatever else,” Dave King told Flogging Molly’s crowd at one point. “But the most important thing is dancing.” That pretty much sums up the band’s music, or at least the reasons most people go to their live shows. As much as I’d like to think King’s call for Irish peace in “Drunken Lullabies” is what gets the crowd jigging, my money’s on the jigging itself — it’s the general camaraderie, not the message, that gets fans off at a Flogging Molly show. Then again, isn’t that powerful enough in its own right? Every one of their concerts is virtually the same: furious, workmanlike Celtic punk, pissing, moaning, drinking, crying, and Dancing with a capital “D”. But that also makes for a peaceful evening. While it will never lead to peace on a global level, small-scale unity is always something worth fighting (and dancing) for. It also never gets old, no matter how many times we’ve heard it before. –Dan Caffrey

    HEEMS

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    Photo by Pat Levy

    It’s my understanding that the scheduling of Heems’ set on the 14th anniversary of 9/11 was just coincidence, but it felt oddly prescient in light of the Queens rapper’s most recent album, Eat Pray Thug, which dealt heavily with issues that confronted people of color in the aftermath of the tragedy. Upon arriving to the stage, Heems let us know he’d be doing rap songs about 9/11, which drew an uncomfortable laugh and set an unusual mood for the set. After running through a medley of Das Racist tracks, Heems ended things with “Flag Shopping”, the most powerful track from EPT, and the passion and honesty during that final performance was as captivating as anything I saw all weekend. –Pat Levy

    THE LAWRENCE ARMS

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    Photo by Pat Levy

    Few bands rep Chicago harder than The Lawrence Arms, whose name comes from an apartment complex that once stood in Uptown. Though far from their familiar North Side haunts, the trio brought a huge crowd of true believers to their Saturday afternoon set. The setlist consisted of mostly newer stuff, but only if you count 2006’s Oh! Calcutta! as “new” (I still do). Guitarist Chris McCaughan was his typically reserved self, but it was a little disappointing that bassist Brendan Kelly didn’t engage in much of his typically hilarious stage banter. He cracked one joke about blowjobs, but otherwise this was a pretty no-nonsense affair for a band that thrives on nonsense. –Collin Brennan

    AGAINST ME!

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    Photo by Thaib A. Wahab

    Against Me! has been through a lot of changes in the past few years, and that’s not even counting Laura Jane Grace publicly coming out as a trans woman. The band also lost and gained two members, and Grace moved to Chicago to embark upon a new life. The journey has been anything but smooth, but AM! has finally reached a level of stability they haven’t seen in years. Maybe that’s why their Friday afternoon set at Riot Fest felt so laid back, even as they blasted through a career-spanning set including everything from “Pints of Guinness Make You Strong” to “True Trans Soul Rebel”. Fans who braved the threat of rain were treated to the same standard-issue greatness exemplified on the band’s recently released live album, 23 Live Sex Acts. –Collin Brennan

    DRIVE LIKE JEHU

    Long before Mark Trombino made pop hits or produced Jimmy Eat World or made particularly clever donuts, he was the man on the throne for Drive Like Jehu, kings of post-hardcore. Despite the mud, you could almost smell California pavement during their set, their twine-like guitar mashing into songs across off-rhythm headbangs. There have been few bands like Jehu since, but if you caught any of their set, you know it wasn’t because they weren’t great; they are. They’re just also nearly impossible to duplicate. A one-of-a-kind band made for a one-of-a-kind show. –Dan Bogosian

    WHITE MYSTERY

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    Photo by Pat Levy

    Most Chicagoans already know White Mystery, if not for their music than for their flamboyant mops of orange hair. It’s hard to miss the brother-sister duo of Miss Alex White and Francis Scott Key White, especially when they find their way to a stage; with just a guitar and a drum set, these two manage to make a hell of a lot of noise. White Mystery’s Friday night set was predictably tight, and they benefited from the intimate energy of the Revolt stage. The highlight came during Dubble Dragon’s title track, when Francis stood up from his kit, grabbed the mic, and screamed his way through the song’s spoken-word bridge. If this guy ever wants to front a hardcore band, he’s got the goods to do it. –Collin Brennan

    NO DOUBT

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    When I was 16, my first band broke up for two reasons: one, our drummer wasn’t very into it, and two, I wanted to be in a band that would cover “I’m Just a Girl”, and my guitarist was not having it. Well, screw them. No Doubt has some amazing rock songs, and they delivered them all, including my favorite. It seems like everyone in the band has aged 20 years in the past decade except Gwen Stefani, who seems to be pulling a Paul Rudd by having not aged a day. She pulled herself up onto the catwalk for “I’m Just a Girl”, calling for crowd chants from 30 feet in the air. My guitarist was wrong then, and he’s wrong now. –Dan Bogosian

    GWAR

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    Note: This entry was written by 56-year-old guest reporter, Gunther Guthrie.

    Hey, gang! Gunther Guthrie, your favorite middle-aged rock critic here. My Editor-in-Chief, Michael Roffman (hi, Mike!), told me I had to keep my entries shorter than my Lollapalooza coverage. Sorry, Mike, can’t make any promises, but I’ll try. 😉

    Okay, first thing’s first. I actually didn’t get to see any bands this weekend, and I’ll tell you why. Nowhere accepted a debit card! I arrived to the festival pretty hungry and without cash, and do you think I was going to pay the ATM’s $4.95 (!!) service fee? I’ll give you a hint: No way, Jose! I need to call Farmer and Merchant’s Bank to see what I can do about this.

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    Photo by Thaib A. Wahab

    Anyway, I wandered around for a while, getting gummy mud all over my flip-flops (note to self, Gunther: next time, don’t wear your Tevas) and to make a long story short, I passed out from lack of food and water. I woke up backstage somewhere with this real scary looking guy standing over me. He was wearing armor and huge deer antlers, like some kind of mix between a Mad Max villain and, well … a deer! It was crazy! I asked who he was, and he said his name was Blothar and that he was in some band called GWAR.

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    I never heard of them, but wondered if his getup hinted at some proggier inclinations. So I asked him if he was a fan of my favorite act, Emerson, Lake & Palmer. That must have made him mad, because he lifted up his furry loincloth thing to reveal … well, I’m not sure what it was. It looked kind of like cow udders, but with a lot more veins, plus dark red caps on the nipples. I’m sorry if I’m grossing you out, dear reader, but I am a journalist and must give the full, honest story, even if it’s disturbing.

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    He yanked on these nipple things and squirted a bunch of blood into my mouth. I was horrified! But in between my screams, I suddenly tasted corn starch. Turns out it was just stage blood! I kept smacking my lips as Blothar continued excreting the liquid into my hungry cavity, laughing all the live-long day. After it was over, I stood up, shook his hand, and thanked him for the meal. Granted, it was 11 p.m. by that point, so I had missed all of Saturday’s bands, but I promised Blothar I would give his enterprising young band a good write-up. So here it is. Thanks, GWAR, both for the nourishment, and what I’m sure are good tunes! I shall have to check out your music sometime. GWAR did not disappoint. –Gunther Guthrie

    POST MALONE

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    Photo by Pat Levy

    After a 10-minute DJ set that felt entirely out of place at Riot Fest, Post Malone took the stage and was greeted by a small but passionate contingent of fans who chose to forgo getting a good spot at Ice Cube or No Doubt so they could get a glimpse of White Iverson himself. Boy, did he not disappoint. After kicking off with “White Iverson”, easily his most notable track, the rapper-singer burned through a few more of his less known songs like “Too Young” and “What’s Up”. It was pretty obvious looking around that much of the group expected to leave after “White Iverson”, but the showmanship present was difficult to bail on. As a relatively unproven young artist, it’s show-and-prove time for Post Malone, and he’s doing a damn good job. –Pat Levy

    CYPRESS HILL

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    Photo by Pat Levy

    I have to admit I’m always a little skeptical of bands that celebrate weed culture, not because I have a problem with weed, but because the constant “y’all smoking that good shit?” platitudes get boring after a while (see: Slightly Stoopid’s set on Friday). Those reservations disappeared with Cypress Hill. The nasal B-Real and the gruff, gruff, gruff Sen Dog don’t have to include druggy braggadocio in their banter because it’s already in songs like “Dr. Greenthumb” and “Hits From the Bong”. It also helps that the smoked-over lyrics come laced with hardcore social commentary (i.e., “How I Could Just Kill a Man”) made all the harder by Eric Bobo’s live drumming (congas and a full trap kit got equal love). Their set was the antithesis to Ice Cube’s Wal-Mart hip-hop on Friday, keeping things lean, mean, and gritty with precise flow, little self-promotion, and nary a hype-man in sight. –Dan Caffrey

    THE DEAD MILKMEN

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    Photo by Pat Levy

    The Dwarves were certainly entertaining on Sunday, but the nastiness of their humor can be a turnoff, especially when The Dead Milkmen can be just as funny, punk, and way more inventive without being assholes. After all, hearing songs about an Emmanuel Lewis handjob is just as jarring as seeing HeWhoCannotBeNamed’s dick at the end of a set. It’s even more jarring when the Milkmen are still able to perform with such a puckish jangle, which has the ability to rope in non-hardcore fans and make the already-existing ones snicker at the sardonicism. Stay fast, stay funny, and most importantly, stay catchy, dudes. –Dan Caffrey

    RANCID

    Punks aren’t supposed to grow old. They’re also not supposed to stay relevant, and they aren’t supposed to have bitchin’ bass players or be responsible for some of the most fun music around, but alas, Rancid broke all those rules at Riot Fest when they played …And Out Come the Wolves in its entirety. Tim Armstrong hasn’t aged a bit, nor has the music, from the zany “Maxwell Murder” to “Ruby Soho” to “The Way I Feel”. There’s something to be said when you can walk across a muddy field of people and see literally everyone dancing to a song called “Time Bomb”. –Dan Bogosian

    CIV

    Free advice to anyone reading this who hasn’t yet checked out Riot Fest (or really any major outdoor festival): Sometimes the biggest surprises come from the smaller stages. Set back a little ways from much of Saturday’s activity, New York hardcore vets CIV whipped up one of the most spirited sets of the weekend at the festival’s Radicals stage. Banging out a set made up entirely of cuts from their great 1995 sleeper hit, Set Your Goals, CIV brought the immediacy of an all-ages hardcore matinee to the festival grounds, as tracks like “All Twisted”, “Soundtrack to Violence”, and “United Kids” rallied a surprising number of the band’s die-hard fans into ravenous but fraternal circle pits. Miles away from his native Queens, Anthony Civierlli, decked out in camo pants and Clash T-shirt, seemed perfectly at home with 150 of his closest Chicago friends. –Ryan Bray

    ALKALINE TRIO

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    If you’ve lived in Chicago for any reasonable period of time, you’re probably sick to death of bands plastering the city’s flag across all their merch. Alkaline Trio took this practice to the next level on Friday night, raising a massive banner to showcase their dedication to the blue stripes and red stars. And you know what? It was kind of cool. Aside from Naked Raygun, it’s hard to think of a punk band that’s meant more to the Windy City in the last several decades. Maybe that’s why the Trio tends to get a pass on being silly. The band’s past Riot Fest performances have been lackluster at best, with Matt Skiba taking most of the blame for his uninspired contributions, but both Skiba and bassist Dan Andriano were locked in for this go-around, opening with fan favorite “My Friend Peter” and peppering the rest of their 15-song setlist with a few pleasant surprises. The most unintentionally funny moment came when Skiba asked how many people had seen the band play at the Fireside Bowl way back in the day. Nearly half the crowd cheered and raised their hands, and I’ll bet that most of ‘em were bending the truth just a little. –Collin Brennan

    SYSTEM OF A DOWN

    People often forget that much of System of a Down’s musical aggression (or, more often than not, weirdness) is done in the name of human rights. So it was comforting to see them put their money where their mouth is when they stopped “Aerials” and, two songs later, “B.Y.O.B.” cold for five or so minutes so security could pull several unconscious people from a dogpile in the mosh pit. This angered several fans (“half songs? No thanks,” I heard one grumble as he left the festival), but earned major humanity points from yours truly. “We love playing big shows, but it’s not worth one person getting hurt,” frontman Serj Tankian advised the crowd before the band started up again. The fans must have listened, as the rest of the set lost none of its manic energy, and the circle pits suddenly became a place of camaraderie rather than a circle of people kicking the shit out of each other. In addition to just kicking ass, System of a Down continues to be that rare band that can actually follows through on their message, no matter how small the issue. –Dan Caffrey

    WEST MEMPHIS 3 PANEL

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    A certain amount of self identity comes with the music we listen to. As the members of the West Memphis 3 found, that can be as much a curse as a blessing. Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley Jr., and Jason Baldwin served more than 18 years in prison for a crime they didn’t commit, as prosecutors pigeonholed the three men as dangerous outcasts based in part on the music they listened to. Henry Rollins moderated a panel discussion featuring Echols, Baldwin, Thurston Moore (right after his hypnotic set on the Riot stage), and Steve Ignorant of Crass, where panelists talked about music as art and how sometimes greater forces can work to turn people’s love of music against them.

    The story of the West Memphis 3 has been well documented over the years, but hearing Baldwin and Echols talk about being victimized for their musical tastes was both frightening and fascinating. “When a target’s on your back, It doesn’t matter what you like or what you love,” Baldwin told the crowd. “You’re done. They will manipulate everything and turn people against you.” It was a message that resonated deeply with the scores of dedicated music nuts in attendance of the panel. For a festival that champions the punk rock spirit as boldly as Riot Fest, few things proved more punk rock this weekend than hearing these underdogs share their story of fighting a broken system hellbent on working against them. –Ryan Bray

    FAITH NO MORE

    Have you ever Mike Pattoned? I’d never Mike Pattoned. I’ve loved Faith No More and Mr. Bungle, but I didn’t know what to expect from seeing him in person. The whole band looked like wizards draped in white gowns with a stage full of flowers, and everyone went all out, Patton shoving the entire microphone into his mouth as Roddy Bottum made bald jokes and Jon Hudson shredded like hell. They played “Epic” about halfway through the set, letting mainstream fans get it early and leaving those who camped out all day to enjoy the real meat. I’ll Patton again. –Dan Bogosian

    SPEEDY ORTIZ

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    Photo by Pat Levy

    Aside from being at the forefront of the gender politics conversation in indie rock, Speedy Ortiz is also a kick-ass rock band capable of blowing away a festival crowd. Frontwoman Sadie Dupuis referenced how appreciative she was that fans showed up (“we’d totally be at Faith No More right now”) and used a brief technical difficulty as an opportunity to talk about the disparity between male and female acts on music festival lineups. It gave the festival set a venue-like feeling, with incredible music (from both Major Arcana and Foil Deer) punctuated by passionate dialogue. As far as I’m concerned, this band needs a bigger platform, the biggest one we’ve got. -–Pat Levy

    DE LA SOUL

    From their earliest days starting out as kids in Long Island in 1987, De La Soul have always embraced hip-hop as a means of building community and solidarity among people. Now, 28 years later, the trio is still hungry for that connection with its audience. Posdenus, Dave, and DJ Maseo still have a youthful, rambunctious streak in them, and they spent much of their mid afternoon set Sunday playing with the crowd. They routinely stopped mid-song to sufficiently hype fans, and their love for a good time was borderline infectious as they weaved their way through a set of classics including “Ego Trip Part II” and “Me, Myself and I”. Amid the soaring guitars and breakneck tempos that dominated much of the weekend, De La Soul made sure that purist, red-blooded hip-hop got its due. –Ryan Bray

    ALEXISONFIRE

    Alexisonfire, who reunited just this year for a short string of shows, may have breathed their last breath at Riot Fest and the after-show that followed. Across the whole set, Dallas Green’s voice glowed, George Pettit looked like James Dean on a warpath, Wade MacNeil and Chris Steele stared into the crowd like they were snorting souls, and Jordan Hastings nailed every note of his impossibly difficult drum parts. But more than just a summation of the music, the set felt like the band stating their place in history; at one point, George commented on whether or not the band would continue by saying, “Our answer to that is this” before a false start of “.44 Caliber Love Letter”. Those closing lines, the repeated echo of “don’t remember, don’t remember,” could break any heart. Alexisonfire may have seen their last day, but I sure as hell hope not. –Dan Bogosian

    MERLE HAGGARD

    merlehaggard5-riotfest2015

    Photo by Pat Levy

    “Who’s actually going to see Merle Haggard?” That’s a question someone posed to me before heading off to see the ultra-forgettable The Academy Is…, and now I have the answer: “A whole lot of people, because Merle Haggard kicks all kinds of ass!” This guy’s been doing it longer than you’ve been alive, and he pulled out all the stops at his swingin’ Riot Fest set. Big black hat? Check. Workmanlike Telecaster? Check again. Haggard’s grizzled voice has aged perfectly, and he sounds every bit the outlaw he was 50 years ago. It was heartening that the crowd responded to Haggard and his honky-tonk band with such enthusiasm, though he probably laughed a little to himself when some intrepid punk crowd-surfed to “Big City”. The rest of the set felt like a greatest-hits compilation, with standards like “Mama Tried” and “The Fightin’ Side of Me” proving that Haggard was punk before punk was even a thing. Yee-haw. –Collin Brennan

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