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Live Review: Riot Fest 2017 – Douglas Park, Chicago

| September 19, 2017

Riot Fest
Douglas Park, Chicago
September 15-17, 2017

Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor (Photo: Curt Baran)

If there was one MVP act at this year’s edition of Riot Fest – a smaller, more compact affair, it was undoubtedly Nine Inch Nails. A nihilistic and seemingly self destructive act that two decades ago, would have been hard to imagine experiencing a renaissance in 2017, Trent Reznor and crew are instead firing on all cylinders, nearly 30 years in.

Over the course of a 90 minute headlining set on the first night of Riot Fest, Nine Inch Nails moved throughout the band’s extensive catalogue. Opener “Branches / Bones,” off last winter’s Not The Actual Events EP, proved a high impact start to their set, followed by “Wish,” from 1992’s ferocious Broken EP. Material like “March of the Pigs” and “Gave up” dealt in full on thrash and muscle, while “Copy of a,” from 2013’s Hesitation Marks, proved more minimalist and driving. Similarly, “Less Than,” off this year’s Add Violence EP, came across as direct and efficient, representative of modern day NIN.

Thanks to a healthy supply of the strongest offerings from the group’s current discography, Nine Inch Nails avoided coming across as a retro act, instead feeling consistently current throughout. The Slip’s “1,000,000” came in grinding and dizzy, while “The Hand That Feeds” proved especially punishing. And set highlight “The Background World,” off Add Violence, showcased the power of NIN’s more creeping and cautious sensibilities. Even “Head Like a Hole,” which could possibly be labelled classic rock at this point, still retained its electrifying punch, nearly three decades later.

In keeping with heritage industrial acts, Ministry would close out the afternoon on Friday, delivering hard rock anthems no doubt intended for far darker settings as the sun set on the festival. Scattered over dozens of visuals including Charles Manson and Donald Trump, the elder statesmen of industrial plowed through a grinding set that of course included fan favorites like “Just One Fix” and the infectious “N.W.O.” By comparison, New Order’s set proved far dancier and upbeat. Club staples like “Bizarre Love Triangle” and “True Faith” offered a respite from the heavy and dour tones of both Ministry and Nine Inch Nails before and after New Order, respectively. And “Blue Monday” and JD’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart” brought and electricity to the evening air, a lighter offering before Reznor’s trademark angst. An incredibly rare treat for longtime fans was a retooled version of “Ultraviolence” from NO’s 1983’s  landmark album, Power, Corruption and Lies.

Saturday at the festival featured a celebration of hometown heroes The Lawrence Arms, who performed their 2006 full length Oh! Calcutta! to a sizable crowd. Performances like “Great Lakes / Great Escapes” and “Beyond The Embarrassing Style” showcased the combined power of frontmen Brendan Kelly’s strained growl and Chris McCaughan’s smoother singing styler. “The Devil’s Takin’ Names” proved a strong vehicle for Kelly, while McCaughan shone on “Old Dogs Never Die” highlighted McCaughan. And the urgency of the infectious “Are You There Margaret? It’s Me, God” stood out as a set highlight, as did encore selections “The Slowest Drink at the Saddest Bar on the Snowiest Day in the Greatest City” and “Beautiful things.”

Queens Of The Stone Age’s  Josh Homme (Photo: Curt Baran)

Later that night, Queens Of The Stone Age would take the stage for an occasionally uneven closing set. Though the one-two punch of powerhouse tracks “You Think I Ain’t Worth a Dollar, But I Feel Like a Millionaire” and “Feel Good Hit of the Summer” showcased Queens’ more muscular efforts, much of the set dealt more in swagger and rhythm than volume and metal. Selections like “Smooth Sailing” and “I Wanna Make It wit Chu” demonstrated the funkier sound of the group’s later, post-Nick Oliveri efforts. Elsewhere, “If I Had a Tail” and “My God Is the Sun” proved to be anthemic powerhouses, the latter serving as a fitting end of summer song. Closing as strong they opened, the group ended the night with the undeniably addictive and incredibly urgent “Go with the flow” and the droning and riff-heavy “Song For The Dead.” It was a powerful end to the set, though much of the crowd left the performance a bit confused, as Queens ended their set ten minutes early and never returned for an encore.

On Sunday afternoon, avant-garde rockers TV On The Radio brought soul and crooning to a well-attended performance. “Happy Idiot” brought an infectious danceability, while “Winter” showcased the group’s low guitar growl. “Lazerray,” meanwhile, showed the band’s more celebratory and upbeat energy. Similarly, Nine Types of Light bonus track “Trouble” displayed an atmospheric and almost tropical vibe. And fan favorite “Wolf Like Me” peaked with frontman Tunde Adebimpe belting out We’re howling forever!” like a tortured mantra into the afternoon air.

Later in the evening, Paramore would suffer from the open air layout of this year’s edition of Riot Fest. Though the band easily connected with an eager crowd, sound bleed through, first from Prophets of Rage, and later from M.I.A., would hinder the group’s projecting efforts. Due to the reduced footprint of the festival this year, many stages were closer together than in previous years, and Sunday night’s collision did Paramore no favors, especially when Hayley Williams would speak between songs. (One particularly noticeable example came when Williams addressed the crowd at the same time as Prophets’ rendition of Rage Against The Machine staple “Bulls on Parade.” An interesting mashup, to say the least.)

Thankfully, Paramore’s set delivered, in spite of stage and the occasional sound challenges. “Still Into You” is undeniably upbeat and bounding, while “Ain’t It Fun” closed the set on an infectious and melodic note. Elsewhere, “Brick By Boring Brick” brought out the group’s more aggressive and anthemic tendencies, while “Daydreaming” presented the act’s quieter side. And 10 years later, showstopper “Misery Business” still delivers, as essential as any performance during the rest of the weekend.

As a whole, this year’s Riot Fest stood as a more diverse effort than previous editions. With a bit more space between stages, it’s a winning formula

– Review Jaime Black; Photos Curt Baran

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