Twin Peaks singer-guitarist Cadien Lake James Credit: Danny O'Donnell

Chicago garage-pop wonders Twin Peaks formed in 2010 and debuted at Riot Fest in 2013, the first year it took place entirely in Humboldt Park.  The fest was beginning its rapid expansion, and organizers booked plenty of well-established locals—as well as a few, including Twin Peaks, who were beginning their own rapid rise. At the time, the band’s original members were all 19.

This year only 88 artists played Riot Fest, and as that total has dwindled over the past couple years, younger acts have fallen off disproportionately. David Anthony has argued in the Reader that the festival should make a bigger priority of engaging with where punk is going, and Twin Peaks helped make his case: their Saturday afternoon set was one of the strongest I witnessed all weekend, showcasing the new vitality they’re injecting into old rock ideas.

Twin Peaks brought a three-piece horn section and an extra percussionist for their Riot Fest set.Credit: Danny O’Donnell

Twin Peaks have grown a lot since their first Riot Fest. They’ve released a couple ace full-lengths (2014’s Wild Onion and 2016’s Down in Heaven), a live album (2017’s Urbs in Horto), and a 2018 compilation called Sweet ’17 Singles. The four founding members brought on a fifth: Colin Croom sings and plays keys and guitar on every album since Down in Heaven. And they’ve become one of the go-to bands practically everybody mentions in conversations about Chicago’s current rock scene.

Twin Peaks are popular enough to sell out out a three-night New Year’s Eve series at Thalia Hall. At Riot Fest they had a bigger crowd than anybody I saw except Weezer, Elvis Costello, and Sum 41—and whether teenaged or silver-haired, they all seemed to know exactly which words to scream along to during one of the bursts of ripping rock in the otherwise chill “Making Breakfast.” And the band was lucky to have such an engaged crowd, because I doubt that even their strongest songs could’ve reached first-time listeners through the ludicrously bad mix—for about half their set, Connor Brodner’s bass drum overwhelmed nearly every other sound the band made.

Twin Peaks singer-bassist Jack DolanCredit: Danny O’Donnell

If Twin Peaks were aware of the sound problems, they kept it to themselves, playing straight through their hour-long set with professional precision leavened by playful goofiness. They looked so comfortable you’d think it wasn’t even possible for them to play a wrong note. And though they did a fair amount of stomping back and forth onstage and whipping their heads around, even those displays of enthusiasm felt relaxed. Twin Peaks have become a phenomenon by making music whose borrowings from the 60s and 70s rock canon feel lived in. They seem to have internalized this material at the level of muscle memory, so that they can play it as easily as I throw on a favorite T-shirt.

Twin Peaks singer-guitarist Clay FrankelCredit: Danny O’Donnell

That familiarity doesn’t appear to have led to boredom, thankfully—Twin Peaks looked liked they enjoyed harmonizing on every hook just as much as the audience enjoyed joining in. The band took occasional detours too, extending the coda of the melancholy Sweet ’17 Singles cut “Blue Coupe” into an anxious crescendo, with bassist-vocalist Jack Dolan nearly screaming. Twin Peaks also invited four pals onstage to add to the fun: second percussionist Kyle Davis and a three-piece horn section that consisted of Tom Reeder, Kevin Decker, and Whitney trumpet player Will Miller. And Today’s Hits front man James Swanberg ran onstage in a Dalmatian costume when Twin Peaks opened their set with his song “What Up Dawg”—he sang the hook with the band, then crawled off on all fours.

I wouldn’t have expected anything else from Twin Peaks, though dog-Swanberg did surprise me by lifting his leg and pretending to pee into the crowd. Of course Twin Peaks would bring a bunch of extra folks onstage—they’re all about supporting their friends in the community. In our Lollapalooza photo gallery, you might notice several members backing indie-pop wizard Knox Fortune.

Twin Peaks are only in their mid-20s, but they do belong on the Roots Stage.Credit: Danny O’Donnell

The Chicago rock scene is balanced on a kind of threshold right now—late last month three members of local garage band the Orwells were publicly accused of sexual assault, sexual abuse, and rape, after which the band broke up within days. Twin Peaks were among the most prominent voices denouncing the Orwells when the allegations broke, despite having toured with them in 2014. Twin Peaks were also vocal about giving credit to the women who brought the allegations into the public eye.

The big question in the air is whether this reckoning will continue—whether it will lead to any real accountability and change, or whether the men in the scene and their enablers will go back to actively or passively covering for each other’s shitty behavior. But at Riot Fest, Twin Peaks didn’t bring up the Orwells or talk about the issues surrounding their downfall. The band’s set was an expression of joy and a reminder of why people are drawn to rock in the first place—it was about the kind of community that’s worth protecting.