Riot Fest 2013 Day 1: Old Punks Eschew New Tricks, Rock Chicago All the Same
Some festivals are all about what's new. Not Riot Fest. At stop No. 2 of the 2013 traveling punk weekender, which kicked off yesterday (Sept. 13) in Chicago's Humboldt Park, there were no 22-year-old techno wizards hunched over laptops, double-clicking up twitchy variants of house music. The only people on computers were likely 30- and 40-something journalist-types tapping out stories about guitar bands they could have seen 20 or 30 years ago. And that was pretty great.
Fans that beat Chicago rush-hour traffic and arrived before 6PM caught local heroes the Smoking Popes, who held it down with their Sinatra-in-Chucks crooner-punk sound. Brattier Chi-Town cousins Screeching Weasel performed not long after, and as frontman Ben Weasel explained, time was tight, so there'd be no letting fans "inside [his] head" via extended stage rants. The Weasel crew did well to let the music do the talking, as their mega-snotty sugar-bombs satisfied the soul and justified the early arrival.
Later, Cali punk professors Bad Religion taught a master course in anger and atheism, getting brainy on '21st Century Digital Boy' and downright blunt on 'F--- You.' BR's harmony-driven bashing overlapped slightly with GWAR's set, and for the rest of the night, it was easy to tell who'd moseyed over to the Rise Stage to catch the prop-metal masters. GWAR performances are, among other things, baptisms in fake blood, and many a Riot Fester spent the rest of the night coated in the stuff, looking like off-red Oompa-Loompas.
There were no such theatrics when Joan Jett and the Blackhearts took to the Rock Stage. Jett hit on a formula back in the '70s as a member of the Runaways, and she's yet to really deviate. She and the band are getting ready to drop 'Unvarnished,' their first new long-player in seven years, and were 'TMI' not based on an unfortunate 'TMZ'-age acronym and 'Make It Back' not about the resilience of Jett's Long Island community in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, you'd never know the new stuff wasn't written in '82 -- or '75.
Jett smiled as she sneered on the Runaways classic 'Cherry Bomb' and raged with effortless precision through 'Do You Wanna Touch Me (Oh Yeah)' and 'Bad Reputation.' That latter's key line would make a heck of an epitaph, but then, she also sings that one about loving rock 'n' roll, so whoever gets the honor of carving her tombstone -- many years from now, one hopes -- will almost certainly hammer out the words "jukebox" and "baby."
After Jett, more set overlap led to a decision that divided the Riot Fest faithful by age. Millennials and everyone younger flocked to the Riot Stage for Fall Out Boy, where the Windy arena-emo comeback man-kids flashed enough spotlights to muck up traffic at O'Hare, while the older folks -- many sporting GWAR bloodstains -- trudged back to Rise and hunkered down for the Danzig 25th Anniversary extravaganza. There, the hardcore-architect-turned-metal-Meatloaf dished out heaping forkfuls of beefy rock and punk, getting sentimental on 'Blood and Tears' and gnashing '80s style on 'Twist of Cain.'
"We're doing whatever the f--- we want up here," said Lodi's favorite son, and by the time he'd brought out former Misfits bandmate Doyle -- notably jacked up even in a band staffed with WWF-worthy players -- that meant polling the audience on what '80s horror-punk faves to dredge from the tombs. Fans lobbied for 'I Turned Into a Martian,' 'Astro Zombies,' 'Vampira,' 'Skulls' and the malt-shop mayhem of 'Last Caress.'
The dirty black summer ain't over until Danzig says it is, and as Riot Fest rages on, that means two more days of oldsters showing youngsters how it's done.
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