Nostalgia can blind us, so that we remember things as way better than they actually were. Riot Fest capitalizes on that phenomenon year after year by enlisting a handful of bands to play their best-known records front to back. I just went back and listened to all seven of this year’s albums, and I’m here to tell you how they’ve aged—no nostalgic bias allowed.
The Record (1982)
Sunday 2:25 PM, Rise Stage
Immediately upon revisiting The Record, my thoughts were, “Holy shit, this is the perfect punk album!” It’s pissed off, it’s fun, and every song is great—it’s in the canon for a reason. Upon further listening, though, the homophobic and misogynist lyrics started to eat at me and I felt icky. People didn’t talk about toxic masculinity in 1982 the same way we do now, but that doesn’t make it sit any better. In 2012 a different lineup rerecorded The Record in its entirety, changing the ugliest words, and while that’s an admirable step it doesn’t make hanging with the original version any easier.
Suicidal Tendencies (1983)
Sunday 4:40 PM, Riot Stage
All these years later, 19-year-old Mike Muir freaking out about his clueless mom on “Institutionalized” (“All I wanted was a Pepsi!”) still hilariously embodies teen angst, and its ridiculousness can’t cool down this heater of a record. Suicidal Tendencies shred through this thrash landmark, altering the course of punk and metal by combining them—their debut album seemingly transformed every band that listened to it. It’s so over-the-top and fast and angry and funny that it’s impossible to have a bad time when it’s on. Stone-cold classic. Added bonus: Slayer veteran Dave Lombardo plays drums in the Tendencies now, and it’ll be mind-blowing to watch him rip these tunes up.
Sunday 8:30 PM, Radicals Stage
Aside from a handful of questionable 80s production choices (are those . . . Rototoms?), this record is a flat-out masterpiece. In retrospect it’s easy to see how Suffer kicked off the 90s skate-punk boom, which managed to creep its way into the musical mainstream—it’s a nearly perfect album, and it’s aging like a fine wine.
Black Sunday (1993)
Friday 8:15 PM, Radicals Stage
“Insane in the Brain” is cute and all, but don’t stop with that kitschy, ubiquitous hit single—this whole album smokes. The dense, darkly trippy production and witty lyrics (with an almost comical emphasis on drug use) make this feel right at home alongside today’s finest psychedelic rappers—whether they know it or not, Future, Migos, and Travis Scott all owe a debt to Cypress Hill.
Reachin’ (A New Refutation of Time and Space) (1993)
Friday 5:15 PM, Radicals Stage
Now that face tats and lyrics about molly and lean are basically required in rap, Reachin’ sounds straight-up wholesome. In 2018, you could probably get away with playing Digable Planets at a children’s party. The positive messages and breezy rhymes can sound kind of silly in a modern rap context, but Doodlebug, Butter Fly, and Ladybug Mecca have undeniable flows—and the beyond-smooth jazzy production still sounds fresh.
Let’s Talk About Feelings (1998)
Friday 2 PM, Rise Stage
Surprise of the century: this shit holds up. I barely remembered Lagwagon from the CD I had in junior high, so I was expecting annoying NOFX Lite, but Let’s Talk About Feelings is an interesting, unconventional punk record. The unnerving chord progressions, unorthodox song structures, supremely catchy melodies, and virtuoso-level playing make this guy one of the best releases from the heyday of Fat Wreck Chords. Plus it clocks in at around 25 minutes, so even if you’ve got a low tolerance for pop-punk, it’ll be over before it starts grating on your nerves.
Remember Right Now (2003)
Sunday 3 PM, Radicals Stage
Oh no. Spitalfield weren’t good 15 years ago, and they certainly aren’t good now. This is forgettable, wimpy pop-punk, and even the occasional attempts to elevate it—tubular bells, electronic embellishments—fall flat. When I listen to this I can imagine the scene that played out in the studio, with one of the band members excitedly asking the rest, “Jimmy Eat World did it, so why can’t we?” This is a reunion no one needs. v