Leor Galil: Rain’s drenched two of the last three Riot Fests, and though the clouds were breaking as I approached Douglas Park early Friday around one o’clock, the morning’s downpour had already wreaked havoc. The mud spread as more and more people entered the festival grounds—though the damage paled compared to that in last year’s site, Humboldt Park. This year hasn’t been without its little bumps. Food vendors are using tickets instead of cash, and around dinnertime a couple of them ran out of stubs. The sound quality has been dreadful in parts too—at times I felt like I was listening to the bands through an iPhone stuck in a Solo cup.
And yet overall this year’s fest has been an improvement over last, at least as far as the layout goes. Gone are the bottlenecks and tight spaces. Riot Fest’s grouped most of its stages in twos, though the Roots stage is orphaned in the northernmost point of the park. The pairs of stages are far enough away from the other performance spaces that sound bleed isn’t too bad (though Mike Patton might disagree). Best of all, it doesn’t take long to hop from one stage to another, which has allowed me to take full advantage of Riot Fest in a way I couldn’t in sprawling Humboldt Park. I gorged on the smorgasbord of important bands with well-known histories and wide influence—it was like I’d thrown a “history of punk” playlist on shuffle.
That’s not generally how I like to see live music, but brief encounters were a great way to get the most out of this festival. As soon as I felt the pangs of #FOMO I dashed off to see what was around the corner, and the bands cycled through so quickly I often wound up catching something I didn’t think I’d be able to see. I was happily surprised when I managed to hear Death rip through “Politicians in My Eyes” early in the day, and delighted when I snuck over to see some of Psalm One and also was treated to Eagles of Death Metal playing a few of my favorites.
It’s not an environment particularly friendly toward “Jamaican time,” which might have been what made Lee “Scratch” Perry nearly a half hour late to his set. I stuck out waits when I could, and in this case the hypnotic dub pulse of Perry’s band Subatomic Sound System kept me glued to his stage even without its leader. But it’s a scene whose constant flurry makes you want to say “yes” to as much as possible—even if that means trying to see No Doubt, Ice Cube, and Motorhead in the same slot.
Sasha Geffen: Dark clouds rolled high over the skyline as I parked my bike, but the sky held its water as Laura Jane Grace wrung out song after song from Against Me!’s thick back catalog. It was nice to kick off a historically dudely festival by watching a six-foot-tall punk goddess scream out to the throng of women gathered at the Rise Stage; even a few technical glitches didn’t dim the band’s energy. I looped around to the Radicals Stage for Heems, who hadn’t played Chicago in some time and who honored his return with a rare performance of a couple of Das Racist cuts, just because we looked “like nice people.” Heems broke from a controlled flow into a full-on guttural scream a few times, making the timely post-9/11 cut “Flag Shopping” all the more wrenching as he closed his set.
Hanging near the Riot Stage, I overheard the lead singer of Flogging Molly say he was looking at two of the best mohawks he’d seen in his career, which gives Chicago some serious punk cred, I’d think. I got to hear them play “What’s Left of the Flag” and then hunkered down for Faith No More, who took the stage all in white to the same floral set dressing I’d seen at their recent Concord Music Hall show. Mike Patton was wry and fierce, throwing snark at the band across the park and squeezing screams out of his lungs for a good 30 seconds at a time. The pit thrashed gleefully to “Epic” and “Midlife Crisis” and a few new ones like “Motherfucker.” I heard someone say he’d been waiting half his life for this show. I hope it was worth the wait.
Gwynedd Stuart: I was 13 when No Doubt’s Tragic Kingdom
came out, and it was a very big deal to me and my contemporaries. We wore space-dyed knits mail-ordered from Delia’s catalogs, we trotted around in extremely clunky shoes, and we fucking loved Gwen Stefani. Since all the things we loved in 1995 are big again (at least within the confines of Urban Outfitters) it was surprising that the reunited band’s set started off rooted so firmly in the 2000s. I hung out through “Hella Good” and a cover of Talk Talk’s “It’s My Life” followed by “Underneath It All” and “Ex-Girlfriend,” then went ahead and split when I heard the opening synth sounds of “Hey Baby,” a major bummer of a song. I REALLY would’ve loved to hear “Trapped in a Box,” off No Doubt’s eponymous 1992 debut, so if they eventually played that don’t tell me.
Highlights of the day: free beer in the press area, people simultaneously moshing and walking, Scott Ian’s trademark chin dangler turning gray, and everything else that happened when Anthrax was onstage. Any song dedicated to Ronnie James Dio is a song I love.