In 2012, Riot Fest is somewhat of an anachronism in Chicago. In a festival season absolutely dominated by EDM gatherings and events, Riot Fest keeps the focus on the punk and rock side of things, with nary a turntable or Serato-fueled MacBook in sight. The end result is a feel good affair that can’t help but feel a bit dated, like the encore of a past movement in the current era of laptop DJs.
It’s telling that many of the acts at Riot Fest were veteran talent. One has to wonder if newer, younger, Warped-ready acts would’ve drawn enough bodies to fill up Humboldt Park. Instead, the weekend’s roster included sure-thing draws for the modern aging punk, including cross-decade Chicago staples (Alkaline Trio), emo-era reuniters (The Promise Ring), and genre legends (Iggy Pop).
Perhaps most indicative of the power of nostalgia was the inclusion of Andrew W.K., whose career has seemingly been revived almost entirely off the power of a one-note novelty Twitter account. The spastic frontman, dressed head-to-toe in his trademark white get-up, headed up a set that drew heavily from his 2001 debut, I Get Wet. That his set’s biggest hits were over a decade old did little to diminish the crowd’s enthusiasm for the Wayne’s World episode made flesh, however. Instead, W.K. charged, leapt, and thrashed through cuts like “It’s Time To Party,” “She Is Beautiful,” and of course, the song that started it all, “Party Hard.” Though the frontman’s vocals came off a bit flat throughout the set, neither W.K. nor his crowd seemed to care at all, with “I Get Wet” proving especially frenzied and celebratory.
Much more earnest, meanwhile, was The Gaslight Anthem, who provided a nostalgia-laden performance haunted by lyrics about Friday nights and radios. Subdued fare like the mournful “The Queen Of Lower Chelsea” balanced more uptempo offerings like “Great Expectations” and the title track from the band’s 2008 breakthrough, The ’59 Sound. Throughout, the group’s set perfectly encapsulated their vintage Americana garage-punk sound and aesthetic. Less expected, meanwhile, was their straightforward cover of Nirvana’s “Sliver.”
On the more cinematic side, Coheed And Cambria’s early evening Saturday set fused the band’s epic ambitions with their more melodic sensibilities. For every tumultuous “No World For Tomorrow” and the war-ready “In Keeping Secrets Of Silent Earth: 3,” the hooky “The Suffering” and the brat pop of “Blood Red Summer” kept the set breezy and, most importantly, fun. With less of the band’s slogging, proggy material and more of their earlier lean cuts, Coheed kept the crowd engaged and energized. And with a crushing rendition of “Welcome Home” to close their set, the band left the stage with nothing less than a full-on battle call.
Similarly playing with everything they had was Chicago’s White Mystery, who owned a mid-afternoon performance on Sunday at the Rebel stage. The brother-sister team of Alex and Francis White charged through their set like they were headlining the festival, with all the thrash and cacophony to rival any four-man band at the event. From the blues/punk swagger of “Birthday” to the garage fuzz of “Blood & Venom,” the sibling pair displayed a raw hunger that kept their set authentic and enjoyable.
It’s too bad the same couldn’t be said of fellow hometown heroes Alkaline Trio. The local punk legends turned in a lukewarm set that rarely caught on with the crowd and somehow never locked in what should have been a sure thing. Instead, classic cuts like “Cringe” inspired half-hearted sing-alongs. It certainly didn’t help matters that a poor vocal mix plagued the set, especially for the drowned-out Dan Andriano. Despite the band’s hometown legacy, Alkaline’s performance simply lacked enough passion or intensity to make any real impact.
Thankfully, Saturday headliners Rise Against represented the Windy City and damn near burnt down the house with an intense and celebratory homecoming. From opener “Help Is On The Way” on, the band’s performance carried a dire urgency that never let up. “Ready To Fall,” off 2006’s The Sufferer & The Witness, brought with it breakdown bluster and heavy thrash, while Revolutions Per Minute standout “Like The Angel” proved an old-school highlight. Elsewhere, the much more recent “Satellite” and 2004’s “Give It All,” kept the set fast and frenetic. And a pause in closer “Savior” before the crush of frontman Tim McIlrath belting out “1,000 miles away!” kept the energy on an upward trajectory through the act’s final moments onstage.
In a weekend of nostalgia indulgence and playing like the stakes aren’t what they used to be, Rise Against closed out night one of Riot Fest as if guitars aren’t fighting a losing battle. Along the way, they made a case for real, live rock ‘n’ roll in an age of laptops and indifference. It’s not a moment too soon.
— Jaime de’Medici
More pics! (All photos by Timothy Hiatt).