Leor Galil: Rosh Hashanah technically didn’t start till sundown—about the time I saw Jimmy Cliff wrap up “The Harder They Come” with a spry air kick—but that didn’t stop me from finding a little quiet time in the afternoon to call my grandma and wish her a happy new year. I don’t think “listen to scummy hardcore songs” is what my grandma had in mind when she wished me a sweet new year, but once I hung up with her I watched Dwarves tear through all of Blood, Guts & Pussy (with assistance from former Queens of the Stone Age bassist Nick Oliveri). The Highland Park group’s nasty, scumbag “classic” album made me feel pretty gross and in need of a shower, but on the bright side it was all over roughly 15 minutes later. Their set continued but I moved on.
“Fifteen minutes” was the rule of thumb I applied to most of the performances at Riot Fest. While I wish I could’ve spent more time in awe of Doomtree’s hip-hop teamwork and Superheaven’s 90s-hued grunge euphoria, most of the acts I saw Sunday could’ve managed their time onstage better. De La Soul’s stage banter was tops (“some days we’re Wu-Tang Clan”) but not enough to warrant spending as much time splitting the crowd up into sections to see what part of the audience could cheer loudest. It’s a task Cypress Hill were all too eager to repeat later, but with more cursing. Still, I enjoyed the needling aggression of “Insane in the Membrane.” Snoop was more than 30 minutes late to his set, leaving himself without enough time to get through all of Doggystyle as promised—and yet he managed to cram in a cover of “Jump Around” towards the end. Yelawolf seemed to best take advantage of his time onstage when he was destroying gear, breaking a mike stand in half during one of the heaviest moments and tossing a monitor onto the ground like a sack of potatoes.
The wear and tear of Riot Fest really showed in more than just the mud-streaked grounds by midday. For me the delightful concept of “punk-rock fantasy camp” had frayed. The poor sound that riddled many sets turned the joy of seeing Hum into a bummer; “Stars” should sound like it’s descending from the heavens, not leaking out of a computer speaker smothered by a pillow. If only I had nearly as much energy for all three days as Jimmy Cliff showed during his set, vigor I wish more performers displayed. By the end of the night I was spent enough to ditch my plan to see Prodigy (sorry, guys) and drift off to the el to the sounds of Modest Mouse. Till next year, Riot Fest.
Gwynedd Stuart: I didn’t purposely get to Riot Fest on Sunday just in time to see Less Than Jake, but OK fine, I did. I’m from Florida—I was basically birthed, wet and screaming, out of a ska revival band’s trombone. The aging Gainesville outfit drew a huge crowd of adult human beings who still know the words to “Johnny Quest Thinks We’re Sellouts.”
Lead singer Chris Demakes mentioned that he’d just had his foot reconstructed but that he was gonna jump up and down anyway, which seems legitimately imprudent but what do I know—I have both of my original feet.
After that I wandered around for a long time. I accidentally saw the tail end of Taking Back Sunday’s surprise set, which I didn’t care about. Then I watched as the crowd fled to see bigger bands on other stages as soon as Northern Faces started playing, which made me sad. Then I ate a slice of very bland deep-dish pizza and felt worse. But THEN I saw two Juggalos walk by when I was watching Cyprus Hill and everything was good again.
I closed out my day with Beach Slang, a Philadelphia band that makes punk music that sounds like the 90s in my ears, and I love them. “Dirty Cigarettes” is such a good song—download it.
Ooh, also, it was really nice out. If I could do it all again I would. In a year.
Sasha Geffen: Cayetana’s lead singer Augusta Koch has a voice that sounds like she was born with a pack-a-day habit, and it sounds even better live than on the Philadelphia band’s debut LP Nervous Like Me. The trio rattled off their 1 PM set at the Revolt Stage, drawing a healthy crowd of early-riser punks eager for raw-hemmed songs about breakups and disappointment and anxiety. For a young band new to their instruments and even newer to festival stages, Cayetana managed a fierce, grounded presence. It was easy to think they’ve been doing this for years.
I passed through Alvvays’s set on my way across the festival grounds and was lucky enough to hear them air out some new material alongside cuts from last year’s self-titled debut. The new stuff was sharp and ambitious, full of guitars that sounded like keyboards and keyboards that sounded like wind chimes, all with a wider scope than most songs the Nova Scotia band has already worn in.
But ultimately I was on my way to see Hum, the Champaign space-rock band that only plays about a show a year. The quartet rolled into their set with “Little Dipper,” the opening track from 1995’s You’d Prefer an Astronaut. Hum’s four players stayed stoic, with minimal banter; when tuning his guitar took longer than expected, Matt Talbott said dryly, “I’m very angry. I showed up angry and now I’m drunk.” He didn’t show it—his vocals hung in the usual subdued range over the group’s squall of distortion. They played their 1998 single “Green to Me” and the disguised pop gem “I’d Like Your Hair Long,” and then, of course, they played “Stars,” the single that launched them onto the charts 20 years ago. With its murmur-to-roar dynamic, the song hits hard no matter where you hear it; live, it pummeled. No one speaks softly and carries a big stack like Hum. Their songs are best when felt in the body, and Sunday’s set felt like a momentary escape from the planet’s atmosphere.