Recap: Riot Fest in Douglas ParkPhil Collins - September 22, 2015
Riot Fest threw its annual three day outdoor punk/rock/ska/hip-hop/etc. festival in Douglas Park for the first time earlier this month. Douglas Park is about three to four miles south of Humboldt Park. Douglas Park is the furthest south in a series of three large Chicago neighborhood parks (Humboldt Park and Garfield Park are the other two). The three parks were designed by William Le Baron Jenney in the 1870s and were improved upon by Jens Jensen in the early 1900s. In modern history they have not been places where major festivals have been held until Riot Fest took up residence in Humboldt Park in 2012.
Last year Riot Fest expanded its footprint in Humboldt Park by including the southern half of the park in its layout, significantly increasing the size of the festival. Much has been made of what happened between last year's festival and this year's event and I will not present a blow by blow recap here. What I will do is tell you, as a festival goer who has been to Riot Fest nearly every single day that it has been held outdoors (I couldn't make it Sunday this year, lay off), how the experience this year compared to previous years. The layout in Douglas Park was much closer to the original, smaller size of the festival in Humboldt Park. They still managed to squeeze in seven stages, as they did last year. They fit the stages in a much smaller area this time, which made it a lot easier to get around than it was last year. A quicker walk from stage to stage is a big deal when good bands have overlapping set times. It was easy to get to Douglas Park via the pink line, as the California stop is a short walk from the festival grounds. Getting back on the pink line after the festival let out at the end of the night felt like a bunch of miscreants getting herded back to the neighborhoods or suburbs we belonged in, but it ultimately did not take that long. I stayed at the festival until 10 each night and was on a train by 10:30.
Let's get to the music. 88 Fingers Louie did Chicago proud with one ripper after another. I was definitely late to the game getting into this band but I have seen them a couple times now and they always get the ground rumbling. Whenever their guitarist had a moment to spare, he would fling his instrument around his body and give the crowd a menacing look.
A young crowd turned up early on Saturday to watch one hell of a young band. FIDLAR played at 12:50 p.m. and the crowd was not at all hesitant to mosh and kick in the muddy pit. Neither was lead singer Zac Carper, who dove out into the crowd mid set to have some fun with the fans. You might be able to see some mud spots on his shirt in the above photo. When Carper climbed back on stage, he was promptly taken down by a member of the security staff. I thought it might be a gag until one of the sound guys had to pull the security guy off of Carper. He looked young and muddy, just like a charging fan might, but c'mon. Just c'mon. Garage party good times prevailed. FIDLAR's second full-length, Too, is out now. Speaking of young bands, Meat Wave threw another haymaker for Chicago on Saturday. They played a bunch of songs from their new album Delusion Moon, which just dropped on SideOneDummy.
One of my personal favorite new bands is the New Orleans hardcore outfit PEARS. Their debut album, Go To Prison, finished second in Change the Rotation's bracket of 2014's best albums and it just got re-released on Fat Wreck Chords this summer. I don't like to brag or anything, but if you read that last sentence you know that we were ahead of, or at least on the curve on that one. They played a good portion of tracks from that album along with a new song or two. PEARS just released the Letters to Memaw 7" and have a new album on the way next year.
PEARS, Direct Hit! and Meat Wave played back-to-back-to-back on the smaller Radicals and Revolt stages, making for a fun stretch of the day. A couple members of PEARS joined Direct Hit! for their last two songs, which you can see in the above photo. Milwaukee's Direct Hit! drew heavily from their excellent 2013 album Brainless God for their setlist. They just released More of the Same, a collection of re-recorded versions of non-album songs released between 2010 and 2014.
Death absolutely stole the show for me. Their Stooges-style proto-punk was a dream to see live. If you have not watched the documentary A Band Called Death, get on that, especially if you are a vinyl collector. This band was playing punk in Detroit in the mid 70's but they fell into obscurity until they were recently rediscovered by a record collector. There is so much more to the story than that and you should really just watch the film. Death played a lot of those old songs at Riot Fest along with a couple new ones. "Freakin Out," "Keep On Knocking" and "Politicians In My Eyes" were incredibly fun to see performed. Living Colour put on an electric show on the same stage as Death a little later. I am not familiar with much of their material beyond "Cult of Personality," but I was glued to that set the whole way through.
Death, Fishbone and Living Colour made a fun back-to-back-to-back block on Friday. Fishbone, sporting new matching jumpsuits, were as energetic as ever. They sent out a big inflatable smiley face during "Everyday Sunshine," which got passed around the crowd like a beachball. Before the end of the song, someone got on top of the smiley face and crowd surfed on top of this puffy yellow raft. Fishbone went far enough over their time that their sound actually got cut off midway through "Party at Ground Zero." They were still audible through their monitors and the crowd carried the vocals to the finish.
Against Me! played a lot of songs from 2014's Transgender Dysphoria Blues, which won our aforementioned best of 2014 bracket. They also played some older classics like "Walking is Still Honest" and "Pints of Guinness Make You Strong." If you can't read lead singer Laura Jane Grace's shirt in the above photo, it says "Gender Is Over." Badass. Rancid playing And Out Come the Wolves straight through was every bit as amazing as it sounds. They are among the best live bands in the game. Babes In Toyland had a strong performance on Saturday afternoon. The crowd really got into it with "He's My Thing."
It had been a solid five years since I last saw Flogging Molly. Seeing them again was like coming back to a favorite meal after some time away. They split their set fairly evenly between their five albums. Flogging Molly also played one new song and said that they are planning to work on another album. The Lawrence Arms had a big hometown crowd for their set. Brendan Kelly and crew played the hits and a couple songs from last year's Metropole, which made the Final Four of our best of 2014 bracket. Ice Cube closed out the night on Friday. He was joined by N.W.A members MC Ren and DJ Yella for a handful of songs off the group's classic album Straight Outta Compton. Ice Cube's son, O'Shea Jackson Jr., also performed during these songs - they played "Straight Outta Compton," "Gangsta, Gangsta," "Dopeman" and "Fuck the Police." Jackson Jr. played Ice Cube in the movie Straight Outta Compton, which is having success in theaters now. System of a Down closed the night on Saturday and I just could not help myself. They are not a band I have really stuck with all this time but there are not many CDs I wore out more in my high school years than Toxicity. The pit must have gotten a little out of control during "BYOB" because the band kept having to stop mid-song. I had stayed for Rancid's whole set, so I was in no position to see exactly what was going on right up front for System of a Down. Once they got past that hurdle, they played a fun set of songs spanning their career.
Elway kicked things off on Saturday. The field had become considerably muddier overnight, which did not stop a three-man pit from opening near the stage. Elway released Better Whenever this summer.
The Coathangers were the very first band to play at Riot Fest this year. The Atlanta trio put on a fun show, closing with my favorite song of theirs - "Don't Touch My Shit."