- Alison Green
Leor Galil: Thirty minutes into the Cure’s set, people began to peel off and move east en masse—it was kind of like the way birds fly south for the winter, but instead of seeking warmer weather, these flocks were going to hear Weezer play their self-titled 1994 debut, aka the Blue Album. The band didn’t seem quite ready for an audience, though: they flubbed the first part of the 2001 single “Island in the Sun” while playing a selection of favorites that led backward in time to the main event. Fortunately by the time they got to the Blue Album, they’d worked out the kinks.
In fact, the whole fest seemed to run more or less smoothly on day three. Sure, I could’ve stood to hear a lot less kick drum during Modern Baseball‘s set, but many of the performances I caught Sunday were among the highlights of my weekend—the streak seemed to last from Laura Stevenson‘s charming appearance in the late afternoon through Patti Smith’s life-affirming evening show. And though I wasn’t able to stand front and center for Mineral, the second-wave emo icons sounded marvelous from my hilltop seat.
- Andrea Bauer
- Lucki Ecks
If I have a serious complaint, it’s that I wish more local acts had been slotted for the main stages; Netherfriends and ShowYouSuck could’ve owned them as thoroughly as the small Radicals stage. Still, the relative intimacy of the Radicals stage made for some great communal experiences—I saw local MC Blake stand in the audience and repeat every line Lucki Ecks delivered onstage, which reminded me why I love this festival and this city.
My final seapunk count for the weekend: 110. The best obscure T-shirt I encountered was for schlocky horror movie Basket Case. And the oddest thing I saw was a small group of middle-aged former pro wrestlers who’d set up an informal signing table just a hair too far away from the festival’s wrestling ring.
- Shamis McGillin
- Craig Finn of the Hold Steady
Brianna Wellen: The greatest joy of today was that the mud had mostly dried (though shout-out to the terrain for giving my calves a killer workout all weekend). My Sunday started with the Hold Steady, and boy did they sound great live. “Your Little Hoodrat Friend” was a formative tune for me, and hearing it in the lovely sunshine brought me back to the days of cruisin’ in my mom’s car right after I got my license. Motion City Soundtrack, another gem from my teenage years (Riot Fest was full of them for me), just seemed so excited to be onstage that they made me excited for them. It seems the weekend was full of 2000s pop-punk acts that haven’t played in a while, and just watching them have fun was worth the sometimes less-than-stellar songs.
Both the Smiths (Patti and Robert, not Morrissey’s old band) sounded as lovely today as they ever have, but it was during their sets that the crowds started getting out-of-control huge. More people were in Humboldt Park today than I’ve ever seen in one place in my life. I fought through them all to get to Weezer (a band that changed my young life), and though they seemed a bit apathetic (as my colleague Luca Cimarusti had warned me), it was still worth it when they strayed from the Blue Album to play my favorite song, “El Scorcho.” As I screamed along to those lyrics, a shooting star—or maybe a firework or a figment of my imagination—streaked across the sky, which really nicely tied up my nostalgia-filled weekend.
- Alison Green
- Billy Bragg
Molly Raskin: This was my second Riot Fest, and I continue to adore the spirit and camaraderie of my fellow festivalgoers. Whether offering witty asides or demonstrating surprising politeness, they contribute to the awesomeness of seeing your favorite bands (or one-time favorite bands) all spread out across one muddy, labyrinthine layout.
When I look back on the day—the whole weekend, to be honest—Billy Bragg‘s set stands out. With his minimal setup, you wouldn’t think he could command a huge audience spread out in front of the same stage where the Flaming Lips had hit folks with dancing rainbows, confetti, and technicolor graphics the previous night. But armed with just his guitar, Bragg gave an electrifying performance that felt like it was in your living room.
I bounced over to the rowdier and more intimate Radicals stage to catch another fiery one-man performance: local psych-pop act Netherfriends. Wearing a patterned suit, paisley top, fedora, and killer shoes, main man Shawn Rosenblatt played some smooth tunes to get his audience grooving—and he had the best dance moves of the entire festival (sorry, Andrew W.K.).
- Alison Green
- The Riot Fest crowd
I’d be remiss not to mention Kurt Vile’s soulful set, Andrew W.K.’s jovial performance (and pristine white outfit—why hasn’t Tide to Go tapped him as a celebrity endorser?), and Robert Smith’s impressively preserved voice. The cherry on top of Nostalgia Fest 2014 was Weezer playing the Blue Album in its entirety.
I wouldn’t trade this whirlwind weekend for anything (OK, that’s negotiable), and it left me with enough memories to last until next year. The bands are great, but sometimes it’s not so much who you’re seeing as who you’re seeing them with.
- Shamis McGillin
Drew Hunt: I was excited to start my final day of Riot Fest with Brooklyn four-piece Chumped, by far the weekend’s best band no one had heard of. Led by singer Anika Pyle, Chumped play punk sweetened but not softened by a bedroom-pop sensibility. (They call it “bummer punk.”) Their songs are hooky, fast, and loud, and thanks to Pyle’s intimate lyrics they’re also deeply personal. Chumped played to a modest but enthusiastic crowd, and every song sounded great, especially the freakishly catchy “Hot 97 Summer Jam,” the lead single off their forthcoming (and likely star-making) debut LP.
I filled the rest of my day with sets by more seasoned acts. The Bouncing Souls continued the east-coast theme, playing favorites from their extensive catalog, including “Hopeless Romantic” and closer “True Believers.” The Hold Steady might drink less these days, but they sound better than ever—as do pogoing pop-punk forefathers Superchunk, still brimming with energy after a quarter-century in the game. Minnesota emo rockers Motion City Soundtrack will release their sixth (sixth!) album this fall, but on Sunday they stuck to the old stuff, inciting some of the most raucous audience sing-alongs of the weekend with the likes of “Everything Is Alright” and “The Future Freaks Me Out.” Over on the Rock Stage, Mineral sounded phenomenal, their massive guitar sound ringing for miles (at least all the way to Tastee Freez). How anyone who caught their set at Double Door on Saturday preserved their hearing is beyond me.
- Alison Green
- Patti Smith
Then there was Patti Smith. Patti fucking Smith. I felt genuinely privileged to be in her presence. She dedicated her set to her late husband, Fred “Sonic” Smith, whose 65th birthday would’ve been Sunday, and to commemorate the occasion, she included a cover of John Lennon’s “Beautiful Boy” in a set that also featured classics “Because the Night” and “Rock N Roll Nigger.” Smith repeatedly reminded us that were all free people who could create a new world if we banded together, but her positive if somewhat cheesy message was cut short—Riot Fest gave the Godmother of Punk only 45 minutes to perform, even though everyone else playing at roughly the same time, including dad jammers Cheap Trick and movie-trailer mainstays Social Distortion, got an hour. Not sure how you do such an icon so dirty, but her brief set was stirring nonetheless.
I was probably the only Reader staffer to watch New Found Glory, and I totally understand why. But I don’t feel even remotely guilty for enjoying these Florida dudes, whose hardcore bona fides lend a serrated edge to their bouncy pop-punk. Another band who’ve been performing the same goofy breakup songs for decades, NFG played to their strengths on Sunday, inspiring multiple circle pits and encouraging top-of-your-lungs sing-alongs to radio jams such as “Hit or Miss” and “My Friends Over You.” Plus, the lead singer wore a vintage Wipers T-shirt, which made this native Portlander beam.
Playing their masterful debut LP, colloquially known as the Blue Album, Weezer sounded marginally better than a Weezer cover band. They started their set with their most recent half-assed joint, “Back to the Shack,” and worked their way backward from there, making stops at Make Believe (“Beverly Hills”) and the Green Album (“Hash Pipe”) while ignoring Maladroit, easily their best album post-Pinkerton (itself represented by a so-so rendition of “El Scorcho”). The band shouldn’t have reminded everyone how awful they’ve become since the Blue Album—they would’ve been better served by playing it first, then filling out the rest of their set with classic B-sides such as “Jamie” and “Paperface.” But instead they broke for a costume change, then slogged through their beloved debut, looking bored and disinterested while their misguided fans ate up every second. Riot Fest’s “classic album” thing always sort of felt like a gimmick, and Weezer has been exploiting the Blue Album for a while now. It was a sour finish to an otherwise tasty weekend of music. The question now: How does Riot Fest follow up? Have they hit the ceiling, or is the best yet to come?
- Andrea Bauer
Luca Cimarusti: I was lucky enough to stake out a vantage point that allowed me to see Mudhoney, Cheap Trick, Primus, and Weezer all in a row, which was a pretty excellent discovery to make as Mudhoney kicked into a brutal, noisy cover of Black Flag’s “Fix Me.”
Cheap Trick were great, as expected—those guys are natural showmen. My only complaint about the set was the absence of the best-named drummer in the history of rock ‘n’ roll, Bun E. Carlos. The standard rock guy behind the kit did just fine (guitarist Rick Nielsen introduced him midset as his son Daxx), but how great would it have been to see old Bun up there, smashing away at “Surrender” on his six-piece Ludwig with three cigarettes in his mouth?
I was expecting Primus to come out swinging, like at their epic Woodstock ’94 performance, but Sunday’s set was pretty creepy and subdued. I think what brought out the band’s eerie, sludgy side was drummer Danny Carey, best known from Tool, who was filling in for Tim “Herb” Alexander while he recovered from open-heart surgery. Herb was still at the show in some capacity, though: huge images of his face, which Claypool claimed were wired in live via satellite, looked out of the helmets of the two enormous inflatable astronauts that flanked the stage.
- Andrea Bauer
Philip Montoro: Yesterday was my first visit to Riot Fest, not just this year but ever. (I know, I know. Hush now.) Tightly packed crowds make me tense, and honestly, I’m more of a World Music Festival guy—on Friday I went to see La Bottine Souriante at Millennium Park, where there was at least enough room in the aisles to keep myself warm by dancing.
I got to Humboldt Park in time to catch a few minutes of local MC ShowYouSuck—who carried on endearingly about how blown away he was to be playing Riot Fest—before backtracking to post up near the stage for Hot Snakes, one of my favorite rock bands ever. Their 50-minute set flew by, composed as it was nearly entirely of hooks, and they even played “XOX” (which they’d skipped at the Empty Bottle the previous night). Yes, I was the nerd wearing the suspiciously new T-shirt for the band he was seeing.
Patti Smith reminisced about her mother bringing her to Humboldt Park as a child (she was born in Chicago in 1946) and about her late husband, Fred “Sonic” Smith of the MC5, whose birthday fell on Sunday. She delivered slogans that might’ve sounded silly in the mouth of someone with less gravitas, reminding the crowd that punk used to overlap nontrivially with idealism: “Nothing’s cool! Nothing’s uncool!” she shouted. “That shit is over!” I don’t mean this to sound dismissive, because Smith is still a world-class performer, but her powerful presence had me thinking about how great it would be to be in a book club with her. I mean, you’d learn so much—and even more important, she would never let you forget what you were capable of accomplishing.
- Alison Green
- Cheap Trick
Here comes the part where I complain about the ridiculous layout of Riot Fest. Even though the mud had mostly dried (in many spots the packed-down, denuded dirt was the texture of an enormous and very stale marshmallow), it still took forever to get anywhere, thanks to the bottlenecks built into pretty much any route between one set of stages and another. And because it took forever to get anywhere, I made such bad time from Patti Smith to Cheap Trick that I missed “Surrender,” which is on my short list of the best rock songs of all time. It’s the first track on 1978’s Heaven Tonight, which they performed top to bottom, and seeing Rockford’s finest play it live is bucket-list material for me. Alas, it was not to be. But I love Cheap Trick’s odd, exuberant combination of goofiness and grandiosity, and I did get to hear “I Want You to Want Me” after they finished the album.
Primus remains bizarre, brilliant, and utterly sui generis—if you’d asked me in the early 90s which of the bands I’d seen that year would be playing marquee sets at huge festivals two decades later, I never would’ve guessed. But I couldn’t get anywhere near the stage, and despite the tempting appearance of “Those Damned Blue-Collar Tweekers” early in the set, I decided to bail for the Cure—Primus’s late-period material is apparently relatively mellow and druggy, and I got tired of waiting for the punkier stuff I’d loved in college (you know, “Jerry Was a Race Car Driver” and “Harold of the Rocks”).
- Bobby Talamine
- The Cure
Anyway. Robert Smith still sounds exactly like Robert Smith (which is more than I can say for Robin Zander), and the Cure sucked me into a nostalgia vortex with 80s material I hadn’t heard or even thought about in ages—it turns out I must’ve really liked “The Walk” 25 years ago, because I recognized it from the first bar. In the spirit of the moment, I texted my high school girlfriend, who’d loved the Cure above all others when we were teenagers—she’s a stand-up comic in California now, and was killing time before the last night of prelims for the San Francisco Comedy Competition. Which if nothing else proves that goths can have senses of humor.
On my way back to my bike, I rounded the corner of Weezer’s stage just in time for the first chorus of “Say It Ain’t So” to erupt in a blaze of fog and white light. From that vantage point, the crowd singing along overpowered the sound system, and for a brief sentimental moment I thought, OK, you got me, Riot Fest—that right there is a good reason to have tens of thousands of people packed together to see a band. I don’t know if it justifies the heartbreaking damage the festival has done to one of the city’s loveliest parks, but if the organizers commit to repairing the turf, all is forgiven.