Riot Fest Chicago 2016

author PP date 25/09/16

Riot Fest is an annual rock / punk / emo / hip-hop music festival that takes place in suburban Chicago. In the past, the event was located in Humboldt Park up until 2014, but were ejected and had to relocate to Douglas Park for the 2015 edition. With a three-day capacity of 160.000 attendees peaking at over 50.000 on the main headliner day, the festival is renowned for having a ridiculously good lineup that draws people from all over the U.S. and Canada, but also from elsewhere in the world, featuring mostly top notch talent that would be headlining most, if not all other festivals in Europe.

This year, Rockfreaks.net looked at the lineup from the top and started looking at the bands billed for the festival going meticulously from big print to small print, certain to find at least one booking that would be a head-scratcher or a band none of us would be familiar with. We reached the last band on the lineup and nearly every band big print or small print was considered a good booking by at least one staff member, so we planned a trip and sent a contingent of writers across the Atlantic to investigate what the festival is all about.

Read on for our in-depth analysis of the festival itself, or feel free to skip right to the reviews otherwise. PP

All photos by Hanna Ella Sandvik.

Lineup

Lineup poster (click for bigger)

FESTIVAL AREA

Riot Fest is not a camping festival. It means that nearly all hotels, motels and Airbnb’s in the vicinity of the festival are guaranteed to sell out for the festival weekend, and feature inflated prices for those needing travel and accommodation to the festival. Secondly, the officially affiliated hotel booking agency Curadora are not a reliable booking partner: our reservation was canceled two weeks prior to our stay and we were relocated to a much worse off property from what we had originally booked, and only after having spent over an hour in the phone with a clueless customer service rep who attempted to relocate us to more than 40 minute drive away from the festival. Not good.

Fortunately, the city is well serviced with both Uber and Lyft, with a featured partnership with both companies prominently on display, so getting to and from the festival was not really an issue any of the days even though our hotel was located a good 15-20 minute drive away from Douglas Park.

With an impressive skyline of modern skyscrapers in the background, Douglas Park is a giant grass park on European standards, able to easily house the 160.000 or so guests that Riot Fest houses in total capacity (based on our research, no official number is available). Walking in through the gates was a relatively efficient and painless experience, save for the extensive bag check procedure that went through our belongings to the most minute of details before we were allowed in (divided by gender, which meant a constant line in the lady-queue).

As you enter the festival through the main gates, you walk right past the merchandise stand which features each day’s band merchandise in an easily accessible fashion. The festival’s own official merchandise was prominently available on multiple stalls across the festival grounds, but band merch was only found near the entrance. A good decision because it meant you could quickly browse through the available shirts for most bands playing that day when entering, instead of having to check back constantly throughout the day.

Bars & Facilities

A multitude of bars were placed in convenient locations across the festival site. Operated by volunteer staff working for tips only, they all served pretty much the same shit: light beers and watered down Heineken, save for the All Rise Brewing Company bar, which offered IPA and APA brews for roughly the same prices. At $8 a pop, cider and beer were the same cost and no hard alcohol was available outside the VIP areas. That’s quite expensive, especially when you add the $1 on top as the (non-mandatory, but pretty much expected) tip per drink. Perhaps not in comparison to Roskilde Festival, but a glance at the Chicago nightlife afterward proved that the prices were rather aggressively inflated, considering you could buy a pint of Three Floyds at a bar a short cab ride away, which cost only $7 a piece.

There were barely any lines to any of the bars during the festival. This is probably due to the radically different alcohol culture that Americans have compared to us Europeans: whilst our contingent was chugging down beers all day from noon onwards, the Americans didn’t seem to get their drink on until around 7 or 8pm in the evening. Alas, we saw almost no crazy drunken behavior that you’d typically see on any European festivals around the same time in the evening.

The bars were cash only, but Riot Fest features a ridiculous amount of ATMs so we never felt like we had to queue for cash or were running out.

Scheduling

Curiously enough, a 10pm curfew meant that all headliners were done by 10pm. It’s a refreshing change that you’re not stuck watching some of the bigger names past midnight and something that other festivals could learn from. The relatively short sets (30 minutes to 1 hour) also meant that even the bands with a smaller discography were able to perform good sets without having to resort into filler songs, covers, et cetera. That said, some bands like Bad Religion easily could’ve played an extra 30 minutes, but with so many bands on the lineup, perhaps it’s better this way.

In terms of scheduling, it was an impressive feat to have so few nightmare-ish clashes considering how many good bands are in the lineup. The only giant clash this year was the last ever Motion City Soundtrack show at the same time as The Hold Steady playing “Boys And Girls In America" in full, and of course the clusterfuck of Jimmy Eat World / Pepper / Glassjaw / Off With Their Heads / Turnover all playing at the same time.

Stages

The festival featured four equal-sized “main stages" if you can call them that, and two smaller, up-and-coming stages. The four big ones were called Riot, Roots, Rock, and Rise stage, which is honestly a bit stupid considering it’s virtually impossible to associate a band to a particular stage considering how similar the naming standard is. The smaller ones were much easier to identify, given that one of them was called The Storyheart Stage and the other one was called Rebel Stage right next to it. Some thought should definitely be given here because especially for newcomers like us, it meant total confusion for the first half of the day to figure out which band is playing where.

Each stage was further split up into two “pits" with a crowd control barrier running from the middle of the stage down to the sound desk. It’s a weird decision that splits up the crowd, and I’d much rather see one stage-wide pit up front that has limited capacity. The shows would be much more intense in that case. But since the festival had crowd control issues in 2015, it's an understandable solution.

Delicious paella at Riot Fest

Food

All of the food was concentrated at the far end of the festival but featured a good assortment of meat and vegetarian/vegan options. Some of the stuff we liked, in particular, were the beef briskets, the Mediterranean paella (at a festival, impressive!), and the Piña Colada stand serving delicious cocktails. Of course, traditional festival food in terms of burgers and wraps were also readily available, but these didn’t look all too appealing. Price wise, for less than $10 you’d get a good dinner’s worth of food, so no complaints there.

VIP

The entire festival is concentrated around a VIP experience of sorts, with a multitude of VIP lounges located around the festival area where you only have access to with an upgraded wristband. The key here is that they are the only places - literally - on the entire festival where you can sit down and be in a shade if you don’t want to sit on the ground underneath a tree (imagine if it was raining and muddy). It’s a little too commercial for our taste, and the festival should really consider making seating available on the regular festival site as well. Aside from that, we cannot see the advantage of paying extra for the VIP tickets especially if it’s good weather. In the worst case scenario, you could always upgrade to a VIP ticket on site using the numerous booths designated for that purpose outside each VIP entrance.

Extra stuff

The full name of Riot Fest (in its Chicago version) reads "Riot Fest And Carnival". In the past, we’re told, there used to be much more carnival oriented stuff across the festival site. Today, it is reduced to a single Ferris wheel, a few Tivoli-esque game booths, and the Hellzapoppin’ Circus Sideshow Revue act. Not much more to report on here, although the view from the Ferris wheel to the Misfits set was quite an impressive sight. As for other stuff, the festival grounds featured a mall of sorts, where you could purchase anything from sunglasses to retail t-shirts, punk rock books, and much more.

Toilet facilities

Finally, the toilet facilities. As on most other festivals, the classic blue portable toilets were omnipresent on the festival. UnfoRtunately - or perhaps it’s a cultural thing - there were no pissoirs separate for men outside of the toilet boxes. That meant massive queues towards the end of the day because of this inefficiency. What’s more, most booths ran out of toilet paper by 7pm each day, and no additional TP was available. On this front the festival deserves its fair share of criticism: it needs way more toilets first of all, and better facilities (pissoirs, extra TP, extra soap, etc). PP

And now, onto the reviews!

FRIDAY

Tigers Jaw

Tigers Jaw @ 12:00-12:30 on Riot Stage

Riot Fest 2016 is opened by arguably one of the most exquisite emo bands of modern era, Tigers Jaw, whose studio vocalist Adam McIlwee owns one of the most melancholic set of pipes around. He doesn’t tour with the band anymore, however, and as such the band utilizes Ben Walsh as the contrast pairing for the silky-smooth female vocals of Brianna Collins. In practice, they sound fairly similar, though the last bit of emotional charge has always been missing from Walsh’s expression. That doesn’t bother the crowd today, who start the sing-alongs from “The Sun" onwards. At first, the set is characterized as a relaxing early afternoon indie/emo set as the band play less popular songs off “Charmer" and “Two Worlds", such as opener “Hum", “Test Pattern" and “Frame You", which the crow doesn’t quite absorb despite solid rocking out happening on stage. “Slow Come On", however, changes the pace with its fantastic vocal performance, after which “The Sun" leads us into the second half consisting primarily of their best material off their debut album. “Chemicals", “Plane vs Tank vs Submarine" and “I Saw Water" sound awe-inspiring; the audience reward the band with big applause and surprisingly loud sing-alongs for a show this early. There’s even a circle pit for “I Saw Water". So while the first half felt a little too quiet, the second half reeled the set home in good fashion. [7½] PP

Big D And The Kids Table @ 12:35-01:05 on Roots Stage

Is there a better band on paper to play an afternoon set at a festival than Big D And The Kids Table? Their brand of upbeat, energetic ska-punk is just perfect when coupled with beer and sun, inducing many an active skank pit in the audience throughout their set. It’s just naturally cheerful and joyous, and looking at the band’s eclectic vocalist David McWane skanking on stage with the band standing in a semi-circle behind him, the atmosphere should be set for a near-perfect concert. Alas, that is not the case tonight as the band opt for their darker, more punk-rooted material today that sure enough highlights their saxophone/trombone section - who can be seen swirling around on stage on occasion - but it does leave much to be desired from the crowd’s perspective. It’s clear that the fast and melodic ska songs are their best ones - with “Noise Complaint" leading the pack - but there just aren’t enough of these cuts tonight. Still, McWane’s elaborate gesturing on stage, and the way he works in crowd control - “This goes for the motherfucking Specials!" - to the songs is enough to make it an enjoyable set overall. Not comparable to their brilliant FEST set a few years back, however. [7] PP

Citizen @ 13:00-13:30 on Rise Stage

As we make it to the Rise stage, Citizen from Detroit have already gathered a strong attendance rather quickly. And you soon sense that there’s a feeling of intensity to their performance, which boosts the emo/shoegaze combination they work with on their records. Frontman Mat Kerekes has physique more like someone training to be a running back than your stereotypical scrawny emo dude, yet there’s emotion as well as power apparent in his singing, which rises into screams and yells and adds extra explosive capacity to the music. He and the band carry no rock star attitudes, yet appear with confidence while looking their audience in the eye, and the catchier parts of their material get frantic responses from the crowd, almost like the kind we expect to see at Touché Amoré in a bit. You can tell that the songs have a tendency to stop short and sort of abruptly before building up too much, yet this hinders Citizen more on record than here in the live environment, where the band’s presence makes up for any lack in the wholesomeness of their compositions. [7] TL

Fu Manchu @ 13:10-13:45 on Riot Stage

While not sticking out like a sore thumb, the presence of Fu Manchu on this predominantly ‘alternative’ line-up nonetheless makes the Orange County, CA -based stoner-rock legends one of the odd ones out. It feels strange that my first live experience with the band should take place at an event like Riot Fest, having missed countless opportunities to watch them at various club venues in Denmark in the past; the introduction is to be both brief and before (I suspect) a different audience than usual. Still, the decision to schedule Fu Manchu for an early afternoon set was wise, since as one of the only rock sub-genres in existence, stoner rock actually works well in baking sunshine.

Fu Manchu begin their set by transitioning seamlessly between a jammy soundcheck and the first song, “Hell on Wheels" off their critically acclaimed 2000 album “King of the Road", exposing at once an absolutely brutal bass tone coming out of Brad Davies’ instrument. Mind you, the effect is brilliant; rather than muddling the overall mix, it forces guitarists Scott Hill & Bob Balch, as well as drummer Scott Reeder higher, and the result is quite possibly the loudest concert at Riot Fest ’16 — yet not at the expense of clarity. Next we travel back to 1997 with the bombastic “Evil Eye" as the four musicians continue to put the many moody and introverted performances at this festival to shame with an ultra energetic demeanour centered on Hill’s frenzied headbanging and wild antics with his transparent guitar. Not that his three colleagues fall short either, with all manner of stick-spinning, axe-brandishing and ground-stomping making the set memorable. The way Fu Manchu carry themselves is the epitome of ‘rocking out’, and of course the badass nature of the music only heightens the impression.

Indeed, Fu Manchu’s exceptional showmanship coupled with the infectiousness of their groove, and the arresting, kaleidoscopic psychedelia that frequently erupts from songs like the magnificent “Saturn III" (also off 1997’s “The Action is Go") makes the band’s concert an enthralling way to kick off my first American festival experience. If there is one thing (lovingly) to criticize the band for, it is that every time one of the musicians sings about blue skies or staying dry, raindrops start teasing the audience in an absurd display of jinxing. [8] AP

The Dillinger Escape Plan @ 14:00-14:45 on Rise Stage

One genre that absolutely does not function in the desired way in daylight is the jazzy mathcore of the Dillinger Escape Plan — especially when the sun directs its sweltering wrath straight at the band. The usual lunacy of this highly regarded live act seems to be severely paralysed by the heat, with both “Prancer", new single “Limerent Death" and even the monolith of chaos that is “Panasonic Youth" passing by without a hint of danger in the performance. Only guitarist Ben Weinman flares up during any of these tracks, familiarly swinging and thrashing his instrument whilst spasming all over the stage and jumping off amp stacks. I think we can all agree that TDEP’s music is challenging, and that when played so pacifically, it is hard to appreciate its true purpose. That is why (together with holding the band to a high standard) I find myself frustrated and disappointed for at least half of the performance.

Good thing then, that songs like “Milk Lizard" and “Nothing’s Funny" have only grown better with the years, the insane double pedal drumming that Billy Rymer brings to the live rendition of the former, and the powerful, poppy chorus of the latter never ceasing to impress. And during “Room Full of Eyes", itself one of the more comprehensible and catchy tracks that this group has to offer, Weinman and vocalist Greg Puciato finally break the fourth wall and charge into each their own side of the audience, spending the majority of its duration standing on the heads of strangers to an enraptured reaction. But amidst these glimpses of brilliance, there is no escaping the fact that by TDEP’s customary standards, this performance just feels a bit tired and automated. [6] AP

GWAR slicing Obama’s head open after the intro

GWAR @ 14:45-15:15 on Rock Stage

The prize for the most ridiculous band of the day, as usual, goes to monster thrashers GWAR. With their outrageous outfits and theatrical sociopolitical commentary drenched in violent acts on stage resulting in splurging fake blood from every imaginable orifice, theirs is a set to be appreciated for it’s B-movie humour and tongue-in-cheek storylines. "Did you really think you silly Americans could pick our next president?", vocalist Blothar asks us, before his compliance slices Barack Obama’s head open with blood blurbing everywhere. "Helloooo, Cleveland", he taunts the crowd, before introducing "Baby eater, crooked criminal Hillary Clinton", who enters the stage coughing and falling over. Never too soon. Of course, Donald Trump is the next one to enter the stage, dressed as a massive bozo, resulting in an epic battle that rages for a couple of songs. Clinton manages to pull out the small intestines off Trump, resulting in massive bursts of blood on the front rows of the stage. I distinctly remember another band asking later on "What the fuck is wrong with you...oooooh you went to GWAR, I see". Such is the legend of the thrash metallers, whose B-movie style knows no limits. Clinton is bashing Trump with his own intestines, before he gains an upper hand and pulls her shirt over, exposing her breasts bare. Fake blood springs out of both of them, what else, whilst the band are shouting “Genocide" on stage waving a giant ax. The crowd is massive, and are enjoying the GWAR experience to the fullest. And why wouldn’t they? Even though both candidates appear to die, we are told that the contest is not over yet, and of course it is Bernie Sanders entering on stage with his feet in his mouth, shouting "FREE HEALTHCARE" on stage. GWAR decide to battle this abomination in an epic fight that, you guessed it, results in Sanders being sliced open and blood blurbing everywhere. "GWAR MOTHERFUCKERS", Blother shouts as he declares GWAR the winners of the presidential election. Is all of this fucking stupid? Of course. Is their brand of thrash metal particularly good? Pretty standard to be honest. Is it absolutely hilarious live? God yes. Go see this band, you won’t regret it. [8] PP

Matt West of Neck Deep

Neck Deep @ 15:15-16:00 on Rise Stage

Seeing Neck Deep for the first time in Chicago seems pretty weird for a European - but the Welsh band seems to have made such an impact overseas that they’ve skipped the never-ending Euro-tour grind circuit that is the usual roadmap to rock-fame on our own continent. The set-up however is almost stereotypically on point with how most Europeans would expect an American pop-punk show to be - starting out with a pep-talk from a mental health organization about suicide prevention month. All very cheesy and politically correct. The band then jumps into a set that includes mainly songs from the latest album “Life’s Not Out To Get You", but in spite of both bassist Fil Thorpe-Evans and guitarist Matt West seemingly enjoying the show immensely, vocalist and as per pop-punk dogma front-person Ben Barlow seems uncharacteristically lacklustre as he wanders restlessly around stage, hunching. The inconsistency in the band’s releases also makes the set awkwardly incoherent with pop-punk bangers like “Gold Steps" and “Kali Ma" combined with the (relatively) harder and more somber songs like “Losing Teeth" and “Serpents". In spite of Barlow’s pretty unimpressive stage persona that leaves me dreaming of an jumping Jordan Pundik or at least a semi-bouncy Ryan Key, he still manages to get so out of breath that he struggles through the fast-paced verses of the closer “Can’t Kick Up the Roots". For Barlow’s vocals it also seems apparent that quite a bit of effects couldn’t get a tourpass, leaving them for the most part un-impressing and not very melodical. All in all I was looking forward to this show, but I guess it’s really hard to find pop-punk bands in the same caliber as they came in back in the day. Too much pizza and too little talent I am afraid. [6] HES

Set Your Goals

Set Your Goals @ 16:30-17:15 on Rise Stage

Is there a band that sounds more dated in 2016 than Set Your Goals? “Mutiny" and “This Will Be The Death Of Us" were some of the most hyped easycore records of the 2000s, but today their bouncy hip-hop style comes across as cliché at best, boring and forgettable at worst. Sure, the band play a fast paced mixture of old and new and look very energetic on stage, waving their hands up and down hip hop style, and there are sing alongs for “The Fallen…", “Echoes", etc. But it all just sounds so dated, a notion not helped by the awful vocals which haven’t gotten any better live over the years. "This is for the kids who believe in this music", Set Your Goals announce while tossing a bunch of serpentine spray cans into the crowd for “This Very Moment". Granted, the circle pit looks hilarious for that one and “Summer Jam" afterward, but the set doesn’t really pull its weight until final song “Mutiny" which continues to stand as the only song passing the test of time that the band has written. It’s hard to believe the shape that the once before easycore leaders are in 2016. [5½] PP

Somos @ 17:30-18:00 on Storyheart Stage

Before moving one stage over for Glassjaw's set, I have time to see about half of Somos' that comprises the older song "Lives of Others" as well as the newer "Thorn In The Side", "Problem Child", and the EP-song "Streets Upon Streets". Their set seems to run tightly and the noodling guitar riffs present in most of their songs sing out clearly. Last time I saw the band, I wasn't familiar with their songs at all and this time definitely makes for a more enjoyable experience with the added joy of recognizing familiar melodies and iconic lyrics. Even though their various hooks are easily accessible, the somewhat disengaged style of singing gets a little tiring over time. Still, the energy is kept up by the busy instrumental side of their music and I wish I had more time to sing along to their songs but seeing Glassjaw for the first time simply wins this round. [7] LF

Glassjaw @ 17:45-18:30 on Rise Stage

Glassjaw remains a rather elusive band, infamous for rarely touring — at least in Europe. And because of this, the Long Island, NY post-hardcore outfit was top of my list of bands to see at Riot Fest ’16. But as the quartet swaggers through “Tip Your Bartender", you remember that these shows are coveted not because of their infrequency, but because Glassjaw is an excellent live band. Despite only joining the band last year, bassist Travis Sykes and drummer Chad Hasty have already developed an intrinsic, almost telepathic understanding with guitarist Justin Beck, and the resulting joint Latin grooves that stroke your sense of aesthetic pleasure. And Daryl Palumbo’s singing is, as ever, sublime, unaffected by the usual challenges of a festival sound mix.

Then there’s the matter of the band’s showmanship: with their instruments strapped so high, Beck and Sykes emit this sensation of being in a trance, totally lost in songs like “Ape Dos Mil" and “Jesus Glue", which reflects on the audience as well. Palumbo, on the other hand, cuts a striking contrast with his charismatic and forthcoming attitude, and the fact that his singing could simply not sound better means he has his audience in his palm. It is a shame that the 45 minutes must come to such an abrupt, unceremonious end after “Two Tabs of Mescaline", but in that time, Glassjaw have at least established themselves as one of the absolute highlights at this year’s Riot Fest. [8] AP

Turnover @ 18:00-18:30 on Rebel Stage

During one of the worst clashes for me at the festival between Glassjaw and Jimmy Eat World, I also manage to catch a few songs by Turnover. Their release "Peripheral Vision" from last year is still in my casual rotation and I just had to hear some of it live before rushing across the festival grounds to see JEW. I catch personal favorites "Dizzy on the Comedown" and the more recent "Humblest Pleasures" which both sound good mix-wise even though the distant effect that's ever-present on the vocals on their recordings is somehow lacking here. It gives their songs a somewhat different, direct expression as the vocals are way more up front and not so soft around the edges as I have become used to. My short experience with the band does not really merit a grade but it does, however, manage to get me infinitely excited for their more intimate Danish show at Underwerket in October. LF

Jimmy Eat World @ 18:05-19:05 on Riot Stage

One primary reason for traveling all the way to Riot Fest from the EU is getting to see some bands that haven’t caught on in Europe get the reception and playing time they actually deserve. This almost backfires, however, as a massive crowd has already gathered when we approach the Jimmy Eat World set, which inexplicably starts a bit early. It becomes clear that for those unwilling to get into the uncomfortable throng of bodies gathered thickly close to the stage, Riot’s stage setup does not afford its bands the necessary power to really engulf the further rows of audience in sound, which takes a few songs to get used to - Also for the band it seems, as Jim Adkins emphasises his guitar strokes by stomping energetically, as if attempting to kick the energy of the crowd up a notch. After a few songs, though, the sheer strength of the Arizona quartet’s material starts to work its magic on the performance, though, as people raise their voices to choruses they’ve grown up to. Lack of loudness aside, as the sun wanes over Chicago, the set becomes sort of a warm and welcoming congregation of both ardent and casual fans of the veteran band, kept convincing by the band’s tightness, the audience’s singing of classic choruses, and Adkins’ and Tom Linton’s ringing guitar riffs and solos. [7½] TL

Off With Their Heads @ 18:30-19:00 on Storyheart Stage

"We don’t have a setlist, we don’t practice. We just party", Off With Their Heads claim during their early evening set. You can tell. Their set is sloppy and the sound is totally off coming mostly from the monitors by the sounds of it, but it doesn’t matter. Their rowdy, upbeat no frills brand of punk rock is best played in this manner. But even the slower material just works: The "Please leave me alone" parts of “Fuck This, I’m Out" are sung back at the band loud and clear, although the explosive “Janie" shortly after is the decisive moment of the set when it goes from good to great. “Seek Advice Elsewhere" is another banger where the scratchy vocals come to life, after which it’s time for some old stuff from the debut album, like “Keep Falling Down" and another one that I didn’t recognize on the spot. The crowd reception isn’t that great for these ones, which the band recognize and spend some time criticising a guy wearing a shirt that says something along the lines of Punks for Trump, saying that it’s only okay if he’s trolling but even then it’s awful. For “Nightlife", the crowd wakes up a bit, culminating in a massive sing-along by the barrier for “Clear The Air" that feels like an epic basement style community moment. The sound was frankly terrible, but the band play enough awesome songs with a good, sloppy punk rock attitude to come out on top. [8] PP

All Time Low @ 19:00-20:00 on Rise Stage

What the Jimmy Eat World set lacked in loudness, All Time Low seem to be making up for, booming out thickly across an audience that grows stronger by each song, as you see girls sprinting into the crowd in reaction to each new number. Written off by many alternative music fans for their cleanly recorded boyband-rock sound, as usual All Time Low benefit from their shamelessness when it comes to the live setting. In fact, the obligatory, immature joking which is the band’s remaining tie to Blink-182 pop-punk tradition seems to be deservedly phasing out, and rather it’s the band’s tight as nails pop-rock-star performance that makes for a convincing experience. Alex Gaskarth injects some edge by lifting his superb clean singing to a bit of a roar on many occasions, while staying perfectly in tune, and the band energetically rock around the stage, dodging jets of flame that shoot up and left and right from their ludicrous pyro setup. Vic Fuentes from Pierce The Veil comes on for a rousing rendition of “Love Like War", guitarist Jack Barakat drops an impromptu tongue-in-cheek cover of Limp Bizkit’s “Break Stuff" and generally you get the impression that All Time Low could pull of entertaining shows in their sleep, that still make other bands look unprepared in comparison. [8] TL

Basement @ 19:30-20:00 on Storyheart Stage

Basement gave a stellar show at BETA in Copenhagen earlier this year and are oddly returning as support for Bring Me The Horizon soon - a show that I have every intention of staying far away from. Thus I'm pretty happy about the opportunity of seeing them here instead and they put on a performance just as good as I had hoped for. The relentless and expressive vocals lash out from the stage underlined perfectly by a good mix of loud guitars and as the dark night settles around us, it makes for the perfect setting for their brooding music. Songs like "Promise Everything", "Aquasun", and personal favorite "For You The Moon" as well as older songs like "Bad Apple" and not least "Covet" all get powerful singalongs and it all comes together as a simply haunting experience and one of the better shows of the festival overall. [8] LF

Pierce The Veil @ 20:30-21:30 on Rise Stage

What kind of band is Pierce The Veil? Pop-punk, post-hardcore or glam metal? Maybe it would be easier to tell if their songs didn’t unravel at twice the speed of normal music, but little does it matter, because the sheer spectacle and oddness of their show speaks for itself. Emerging in jumpsuits from a crashed spaceship prop that lines the back of the stage, the band launches into finger-breaking guitar antics and seamless stage acrobatics that keeps eyes fixed on the stage. Vic Fuentes, dressed like a casual skater kid as usual, is a born performer in a slacker’s costume, emphasizing every vocal line and guitar part with an appropriate move or kick, up and down stands and left and right on the stage. Jaime Preciado on bass is spinning and twirling with his instrument up in the air at any given moment, while Tony Perry constantly shreds off tapped leads as if he was in Iron Maiden. Structurally the songs may initially appear like sugar-rushes with obvious choruses and exaggerated breakdowns, but the musical intricacy is actually intense and it’s obvious that Pierce The Veil, for all their superficial shenanigans, are also in fact playing on stage. The only victim in the performance is Fuentes’ squeaky singing voice, which often falls low in the busy spectrum of frequencies. This seems like a trifle, however, because there’s seemingly constantly either something to look at or something to listen to that makes you go “wat?" in the band’s performance, which highlights a solid starting day to the festival. [8½] TL

Vue of the Flaming Lips stage-madness

The Flaming Lips @ 20:45-22:00 on Riot Stage

There’s a reason The Flaming Lips are on a lot of these “bands to see before you die"-lists and I understand what they mean. However, it has very little to do with musical merit and much more to do with an absolutely ridicolous stage production and the antics of front-man Wayne Coyne. And I have seen it work too! But tonight it just seems like a circus show with very little actual content. In the five quarters of an hour long show the band manages to get around nine tracks which in itself is a record, even for the psych-genre. The set also showcases how very few hits the band actually has in their roster - as around 1% of their songs are sing-along friendly - unless you of course are one of the few people that can hum along the organ of “Pompeii Am Gütterdämmerung" or for some reason can remember the rambling lyrics of “What Is The Light". The crowd is not really the band’s primary audience and seems for the better part completely lost in translation - and before the concert has even really started, more and more people seem to be looking for an Uber home. The band once again have more success with a David Bowie cover than with most of their own tracks as they play a spaced out version of “Space Oddity". Finally, the band reaches the end and play their only hit, the only song people have been waiting for “Do You Realize??" that is still a beautiful songs, but in no way saves a show that alienates most of its audience in spite of luminous space suits, inflatable rainbows and laser lights.

[6] HES

Hair-raising sing alongs for “Linoleum" at the NOFX set

NOFX @ 20:55-21:55 on Rock Stage

NOFX shows have been hit or miss lately, with their rather awful Christiania show from this summer still fresh in recent memory. Tonight, however, the band bring out the big guns and look like they came to play. Yes, they wander casually around on stage to some background music to start off their set and follow it with the usual “60%" and an announcement of "Hey, we played one song!!!" by Fat Mike, but that’s where the standard issue set ends. With classics ranging from “Stickin’ In My Eye" through “Linoleum", “Idiots Are Taking Over", “Herojuana", “Murder The Government" and “I’m Telling Tim", the band look as invigorated on stage as I can remember in a long time. Fat Mike’s cup is back - though whether alcoholic content is included is questionable - and huge sing alongs ensue for the usual suspects “Linoleum", “Fuck The Kids" - which sees a guy crowd surfing with a wheel chair! - and “Franco Un American". The humour is better as well: "Last time we played ‘Punk In Drublic’ and you shouted play new stuff so here you go", Fat Mike announces before airing “Six Years On Dope" from the upcoming new album. "It’s humbling to be the second best band here tonight…", he continues, giving some credit for The Specials, before airing “Oxymoronic" from the new album. The local heroes get some slack as well: "I’d like to thank (The Lawrence Arms’) Brendan Kelly for not being here tonight… and Matt Skiba, who is in Blink!". With a fantastic setlist, laugh out loud humour, and a tight performance on stage, NOFX both looked and sounded great live tonight, even if the set dwindles out a bit towards the end with “Theme From A NOFX Album" being an all too familiar "Let’s get Eric Melvin pulled off the stage because he is playing too long" scenario. [8½] PP

SATURDAY

Fucked Up

Fucked Up @ 13:05-13:40 on Rock Stage

It doesn’t take long for the enigmatic Fucked Up vocalist David Abraham to jump off the stage and into the audience. Both sides of the pit barrier are in heavy duty use as Abraham leans back on the audience, rages in front of them, shares the mic, and finally makes the jump over to start his own circle pit together with an ecstatic crowd. “The Other Shoe" sounds fantastic with its "Dying on the inside" female vocals, which are sung back at the band loud and clear, and the overall great melody that the song consists of. This scenario repeats itself for the entirety of their 35 minute set, where Abraham is barely seen on stage as he’s busy igniting the crowd left and right. Mic sharing is constant to the extent of being annoying as you can’t hear the songs in their proper form unless you’re right up there in the front rows together with him, but that’s kind of the point of Fucked Up shows anyway. But in a festival setting where the sound in general is very unbalanced, it does mean some of the intensity of an intimate club venue is lost on the crowd. Still, songs like “Sun Glass" and “I Hate Summer" are every bit as good as they are on record, and we even get some sociopolitical commentary in the form of a lengthy pro medical marijuana speech, which we’re told has helped Abraham lose tonnes of weight since the last time we saw the band. Coupld with the band’s infectious energy - embodied by David wrapping the mic cord around his face before performing a crazy jump off the stage - Fucked Up deliver a hangover wakeup with small sing alongs and smiling faces all up front. The rest of us look from further aback, wishing the sound was much better to make it worthwhile for us non-pit warriors as well. [7] PP

The Vandals @ 14:10-14:50 on Rock Stage

Aside from GWAR and Andrew W.K., the only other joke band playing at Riot Fest 2016 is The Vandals. Though their 90s style melodic punk spliced with tight, fast-paced skate punk is enjoyable in itself, it’s all the extra stuff going on that makes a Vandals show awesome. For starters, they enter the stage using a bastardized Star Wars imperial march performed with an off-tune flute. Not long after, “The People That Are Going To Hell" sees beach balls launched into the audience, and the band ridiculing photographers for leaving after three songs. "Take some photos when we were younger!", frontman Dave Quackenbush shouts to the crowd, while guitarist Warren Fitzgerald is playing a solo holding one leg up against the guitar looking completely ridiculous on stage. “Oi to the world", a Vandals classic, is rightly introduced by the band as such, and pretty much the entirety of the rather surprisingly large crowd is singing along. It’s a feel good moment which characterizes the entire Vandals set: hilarious jokes and banter together with catchy 90s punk just puts us all in a good mood. [7] PP

Smoking Popes @ 14:30-15:15 on Riot Stage

Bayside, Alkaline Trio and The Thermals. Three bands that Smoking Popes draw most parallels to, especially with a song like “Megan" tonight. On a warm, sunny afternoon just after The Vandals played a hysterical set, their subtle, soothing indie-flavored pop punk is a little too quiet and uneventful, especially in a festival setting. It’s laid back and depth-laden, which means the longer you watch the more you get into their set, but it honestly requires way too much of an active "don’t disturb me" type of a concert experience if you’re going to get anything out of their set without having delved into their extensive back catalogue on your own time. Today, they play a number of new songs from an upcoming 2017 album, which is probably going to be great, but Smoking Popes are just not an ideal festival band, especially when it’s beer time on a sunny afternoon. [6½] PP

Motion City Soundtrack @ 15:15-16:15 on Roots Stage

It’s not over until the guy with the weird hairdo sings. The man with the hair is formally named Justin Pierre and from this day on out his Wikipedia-article will say “was" the vocalist in Motion City Soundtrack - one of the bands that made me feel more kinship with people halfway across the globe than most of my generation in Denmark. But we found each other on forums, we exchanged MSN-mails and by now most of us have travelled to meet every last one of their pop-punk family across the world. We meet new people in places like Riot Fest Chicago, as you stroll down the fields in your niche band t-shirts that no one would ever recognize outside of our own little family of people - for whom mp3’s downloaded over 125mbit/s-connection was a way of sharing love across continents. Today I’ll be seeing one of my best friends for the last time, because I didn’t get those God damn tickets for their God damn aftershow: Ladies and gentlemen, the second to last ever show for Motion City Soundtrack.

Justin Pierre of Motion City Soundtrack

The band enters the stage quite undramatically and bravely sets off where it all began: With “Back To The Beat" from the EP of the same name, a precursor for the band’s later success in the shape of their debut “I Am The Movie" from 2003, followed up by “Capital H" that was to be found on both releases. In spite of these tracks having surpassed their 10-year mark by far, the crowd is dedicatedly singing every line with Pierre that, if he is marked by the circumstances, isn’t showing it. But instead of taking the chronological route, the next song is “Her Words Destroyed My Planet" from what, if we’re being honest here, was their comeback record “My Dinosaur Life" (2010), released after peaking in 2005 with “Commit This to Memory" and then kinda flatlining with “Even If It Kills Me" in 2007. It always seemed that Justin Pierre’s mental health would decide the quality of a record - unfortunately in such a way, that the more depressed he was, the better the album - “My Dinosaur Life" was that one record that we could enjoy with him, because he found a formula for writing and feeling good as well.

We get a few songs from in-between album “Even If It Kills Me", but luckily only the best of the album: “Broken Heart", “Last Night" and the unforgettable “This Is For Real" - that Pierre reveals to be written about performing live, which makes the lines “I said from the start, that you could take it or leave it. I'd prefer that you keep it. Don't let go. This is the best thing that I’ve ever had for real" ring out differently than before. The middle of the set is basically an anthemic tour through my teen years with “Make Out Kids" from before I barely had my first kiss, “Time Turned Fragile" from the same album (“Commit This To Memory" from 2005) and lastly, the national song of Fuckingupistan “L.G.FUAD" with the whole crowd yelling the first lines “Let’s get fucked up and die" at the top of their lungs - some crying, most smiling.

A few of the songs are entered and left quite fast because of the strict time limit that the band seems to tackle by jamming as many as possible songs into the set, leaving very little time for chatting. On the other hand guitarist, Joshua Cain seems to be in the best of moods ever in his Hawaii-styled t-shirt, jumping around like it was 2003 again for “Attractive Today" and “When You’re Around". The show ends exactly as it should with the biggest hits the band has had: “Everything Is Alright" and lastly “The Future Freaks Me Out" of which the audience sings the entire “Betty.. I need you.."-bridge. And that ends off a show, with no encores, just acceptance of this being the end - sad, yet happy. Just as Motion City Soundtrack has always been themselves in composition. [9] HES

The Hold Steady @ 15:20-16:20 on Rock Stage

Having never had the infatuation with Motion City Soundtrack of some of my colleagues, the choice between the pop-punks’ second-last show ever and The Hold Steady celebrating the 10th Anniversary of their seminal album “Boys and Girls in America" by playing it front-to-back was not as impossible as it would seem on paper. The band’s frontman Craig Finn is one of a dying breed of barroom poets, drawing his inspiration from far and wide with Bruce Springsteen, Nick Cave and Frank Turner all audible in his musings. The band’s weapon of choice is what I like to call the ‘Great American Rock Song’, full of vivid storytelling, uplifting piano rolls and warm, fuzzy instrumentation coming from, and going straight to the heart. It is the sort of music that makes you feel good — even if Finn’s relatable lyricism tends to be deceptively dark.

Unlike Springsteen however, The Hold Steady are able to retain a distinctly punk, raw edge whilst also sounding euphonic, giving spoken-word verse à la "You don’t have to deal with the dealers. Let your boyfriend deal with the dealers." in “You Can Make Him Like You" sound powerful and incisive. And at the same time, the band retains an ironic distance to the lyricism by appearing enthusiastic, almost euphoric with their smiles and spins around. The Hold Steady’s concert is as easy on the eye as it is on the ear, and exactly the sort of mid-afternoon fix of positivity one needs after having a few too many already. [8] AP

Black Foxxes @ 16:00-16:30 on Rebel Stage

Britain’s Black Foxxes recently dropped their debut album and are getting noticed in all the right places, yet Chicago is far away from home from them, so despite them being booked here is impressive in itself, they’re relegated to a small gathering before the tucked-to-the-side Rebel stage. Walking on in summer clothes and shades, guitarist/singer Mark Holley looks more like a tourist than a rocker, and soon excuses on his band’s behalf for them being struck with significant jetlag. While the two other members of the trio put in businesslike performances, though, Holley himself gets warmed up as he starts to let his brilliant vocals open up. He’s the kind of singer who can go from a frail, yet clear whisper to a textured, pitch-perfect howl from one instant to the next, and he puts this frequently - arguably a tad too much so - on display today. It’s clear that with only one album out, even a half hour set is still a bit uneven for the band, yet the qualities are plainly apparent in “I’m Not Well", “Husk" and “River". The band’s highly emotive alt-rock shows touches of blues in the guitar playing and here and there you even suspect Jeff Buckley of being a likely influence. Holley earns extra points by removing his shades halfway through, apologising and remarking self-consciously how much he hates it when bands play with sunglasses on, and while the circumstances make the set feel like a short showcase at best, Black Foxxes only really fortify themselves as a name to definitely keep an eye on. [7] TL

Balance and Composure @ 17:00-17:30 on Rebel Stage

Balance and Composure start their set with some new songs from their album "Light We Made" that's just about to be released and while these are more hazy and atmospheric than some of the band's earlier things, they link together well with the rest of the set today. The band thanks the audience for being their guinea pigs in that regard, and soon follow up with the great "Tiny Raindrop" and "When I Come Undone" from their previous album. The sound is enveloping, even as I watch the show sitting by the nearby fence. A later set would have been welcome for their music, though, as the burning sun doesn't accommodate their emotional lyrics too well. [7] LF

Descendents @ 18:05-19:05 on Rock Stage

A massive crowd has gathered for punk rock veterans Descendents, who’ve just released an excellent new album called “Hypercaffium Spazzinate" to great acclaim from fans and media alike. Tonight, they squeeze a whopping 29 tracks into their hour-long set, sandwiching classic material in between new cuts, resulting in echoing sing-alongs for songs like “Nothing With You", “Talking", “Suburban Home", and many others tonight. The band simply look great on stage even after all these years, demonstrating awesome energy, whilst the atmosphere in the crowd is awe-inspiring. Nostalgia-filled sing-alongs make you think of the good ol’ days, yet new material like “Shameless Halo" show that Descendents are still going strong. Short, to the point, solid throughout and encompassed in circle pits and sing-alongs, this is why Descendents are living legends within the genre. [8] PP

Brand New @ 18:15-19:15 on Riot Stage

In the merch stand, Brand New T-shirts are on sale that hint at an intended 2018 break-up for the legendary pop-punk/emo rock quartet, yet after their performance on the main stage on Saturday, even long time fans must be asking themselves: Why not sooner? The band has more songs that can be called subculture-defining than they can fit in a set, yet their loyalty to their own material proves to be at an all time low. Older cuts in particular, like “Mix Tape" and “Okay I Believe You" are quickly gotten over with, with no regard for the original tempi or vocal melodies and the disparity between members make you wonder how the band is even still playing together. Vince Accardi on the guitar brandishes his instrument energetically and performs with tightness, yet the enigmatic Jesse Lacey appears like he has little actual interest in being here. Not that there shouldn’t be room for improvisation and nuances in a live performance, but Brand New’s songs are pretty much iconic in their original form, and Lacey disrupts them more often than not, altering melodies or screaming rather than singing and seemingly with little regard for doing either tunefully. Obviously there’s still a rampant sea of adoring fans losing their shit up front - because Brand New’s songs, man, seriously - but down in the more attentive rows, anyone who hadn’t heard Brand New before would be at a total loss as to why anyone would flip out over them. “But don’t you get it, this is just how Jesse is?". The answer is fuck no, after ten years of listening to and worshipping Brand New songs, these kinds of performances are feeling increasingly like bullshit from a songwriter who couldn’t care less about delivering a halfway solid performance of the masterpieces many would say he’s responsible for. It’s time for Jesse Lacey to get over himself, or the band might as well not bother with whatever activities they have in store for their final years together. [4] TL

Benjamin Gibbard leading Death Cab For Cutie

Death Cab For Cutie @ 19:15-20:15 on Roots Stage

Do you know that saying, that you should never meet your heroes in real-life? That’s because they will start to appear like mere mortals the longer time you spend with them. That is exactly how I’m starting to feel about Death Cab For Cutie. Whereas Benjamin Gibbard used to be a creative hero of mine, he is now the guy that pretty much played the same set for me 3 times in 3 different cities. Worst part is that two of them were festival sets and the venue-set was just marginally better. Honestly, I’ll admit that the older songs still tug at my heartstrings like “Crooked Teeth" or “Title and Registration", but if I have to listen to the band open with the 8,5 minutes long, mainly bass-line of “I Will Posses Your Heart" when I know it’ll be at the cost of an entire track more, I think I’ll walk out. I understand that when you’re touring you don’t expect your audiences in Europe to crossover with the audiences in the US. But I still find it very hard to understand why a band with such a great roster of songs would insist on playing the same songs over and over again. [6½]HES

White Lung @ 19:30-20:00 on Storyheart Stage

I only recently became aware of White Lung's latest record "Paradise" on a recommendation from a friend but immediately found it interesting enough to skip Death Cab For Cutie today to check them out instead. As it turns out, it is not my best Riot Fest decision, because the band has bad sound and the vocals are way off pretty much throughout the set. Their singer also repeatedly complains about the monitor sound and it being too loud, and she even leaves the stage behind halfway in, to perform her part in front of the stage on crowd level instead. The band's post-punk energy lacks nothing, though, and they hurl through more songs in the 30 minutes they have than many other bands on the two small stages. I stick around also because the guitar riffs that impressed me the most on the album actually sound great, but they're too low in the mix compared to the dominating and strained vocals that make the entire experience not very enjoyable. [3] LF

I The Mighty @ 20:30-21:00 on Storyheart Stage

You know who can sing live? Brent Walsh from San Francisco's I The Mighty, holy fuck he can sing live. You know who else can? Walsh’s colleague Chris Hinkley on the bass guitar. Hinkley puts in the high pitched harmonies and responses when appropriate, and otherwise Walsh is putting on a vocal clinic at the Storyheart stage which isn’t lost on the growing crowd here. In other ways, this feels like a miniature version of Pierce The Veil’s evening set from yesterday, as there’s a similar sense of frantic musicianship on display, while Walsh provides the actively rocking visual fixture at the centre of the stage. He and Hinkley sing so well, however, that you almost feel like the songs could benefit from the band slowing down their compositions somewhat, as the fast-paced, chord-based choruses they often fall back to in some ways just distract from their more striking, funky or soulful qualities. Perhaps this also has to do with the fact that there seemingly hasn’t been time to find the right mix for the group’s guitars, which unfortunately come through very flatly in the sections that are meant to rouse the crowd with distortion kicking in. This drawback aside, I The Mighty puts in a highly engaging half hour set that flies by too quickly, leaving the impression that anyone looking on should either see or book the band at any chance they might get. [7½] TL

SUNDAY

Swingin’ Utters @ 12:35-01:05 on Riot Stage

It’s the hottest day yet with temperatures reaching upwards of 30 degrees celsius with a cloudless sky. Swingin’ Utters look solid on stage, but after only a couple of songs, it’s just too much to stand in the sun. Shame, because their classic Bad Religion/Descendents style punk rock sounds good. PP

The Falcon @ 13:10-13:40 on Roots Stage

Having seen both The Lawrence Arms and The Falcon live on multiple occasions, their static stage presence has always irked me. Not so today. The supergroup - consisting of Dave Hause (The Loved Ones), Dan Andriano (Alkaline Trio), Brendan Kelly and Neil Hennessy (The Lawrence Arms) - clearly came out to play today. A song like “Sailor’s Grave" sounds super tight, and the Dave Hause led “If Dave Did It" echoes the energy of The Loved Ones both sound wise and how it looks like on stage. With 2006’s cult classic “Unicornography" and this year’s banger “Gather Up The Chaps" evenly mixed in the setlist, The Falcon deliver an entire set’s worth of rock solid Midwestern punk songs, where the sound is impeccable and the band rocks out on stage with a surprising amount of energy compared to previous shows. A good vibe, chatty interaction completes a great afternoon set that underlines why the group enjoys so much hype amongst those in the know. [8] PP

Benjamin Kowalewicz of Billy Talent

Billy Talent @ 13:30-14:20 on Rise Stage

Early in the day there’s been loads of bands playing at Riot either with relaxed attitudes or showing signs of inexperience. Billy Talent, however, do not fall in either of those categories, rather proving the picture of expertise in the way they handle proceedings in the baking hot afternoon at Rise. Their setlist is a highlight reel of irresistibly infectious Ian D’Sah riffs that get people grooving from front to back, and Ben Kowalewicz on vocals is like Canada’s answer to Dennis Lyxzen, fronting a band that is like Green Day and The Hives in one cocktail and feels engineered exactly for the large rock show setting. “Red Flag", “Try Honesty", “Surprise, Surprise", “Viking Death March" - the catchy songs come off the setlist as surely as goods off an assembly line, and where it can prove monotonous when listening to the band’s recorded discography, it’s entirely fitting for fifty minutes of dancing and singing along in the sun today. D’Sah’s riffs and solos come off great, and Kowalewicz entertains with a nice mix of humorous teasing Chicago’s baseball fans - boasting that the Toronto Blue Jays will knock the local Cubs out of the playoffs - and a dash of seriousness, preaching tolerance and togetherness even in the face of the current political climate, inviting everyone to stay over at his house should the US election fall in a certain direction. So while there may be a sense of safeness and commercialism over the band’s recorded material and continued career, there’s barely a finger to put on how they conduct themselves live. [8] TL

Leftöver Crack

Leftöver Crack @ 13:45-14:25 on Riot Stage

Formed from the ashes of Choking Victim, anarcho street punks Leftöver Crack are one of those cult bands that basically never play shows, but lately they’ve played a few festivals here and there. Today, they bring a number of guests on stage, including Kate Coysh whose vicious scream is as terrifying as it is impressive, and Matt, whose full name and band affiliation I didn’t quite catch from the introduction. "This song is about KILLING COPS", Stza shouts before “One Dead Cop", delivering an energetic and vivid performance on stage. But the biggest sing-alongs are reserved for the Choking Victim covers “500 Channels" and “Crack Rocksteady", the skacore songs that both have the pit dancing and the crowd passionately shouting along. That said, the biggest sing-along of them all is the "Fuck the police!" chant during “Gang Control", which sends chills down our collective backs especially in light of the rising racial tensions in the U.S. As such, much of their set is reserved for political talk, where especially police violence is highlighted as an important issue. Stza and anarchist politics go hand in hand, so that is to be expected, even if from a Nordic perspective many of the issues he’s talking about sound and feel a little foreign. The best songs today are the melodic skacore ones which sees large sections of the crowd dancing and bobbing their heads, but the more hardcore driven, piercing screams also work well. A decent set that no doubt would be epic in a club setting. [7½] PP

Andrew WK and band

Andrew W.K. @ 14:50-15:30 on Rise Stage

A dramatic air raid siren stings in our ears as Andrew W.K. prepares for his extravagant entrance. The self-crowned king of partying kicks things off immediately with “Let’s Party", showcasing his wacko facial expressions and crazed keyboard skills in the process. At one stage, he plays the entire U.S. national anthem using distortion of his guitar alone. “She Is Beautiful" and “It’s Time To Party" are some of the early highlights, but honestly, it’s all predictably idiotic and so we decide our time is better used on relaxing in the shadows away from the burning sun, than swirling pint-sized cans into the crowd and whatever the heck else is going on in the pits. To be frank, it looks like everyone’s having fun, so it was probably a good show. PP

A Will Away @ 15:30-16:00 on Storyheart Stage

Connecticut’s A Will Away are young, and judging from their two EP’s “Cold Weather" and “Bliss", they’re in the middle of transitioning from straightforward emo/pop-punk (think old You Me At Six) to a more dreamy, noodling variety along the lines of Transit or Elder Brother. Yet that only makes it more interesting to see how they handle themselves in front of the small and curious crowd hanging out at the Storyheart stage in the afternoon. Unfortunately, lead singer/guitarist Matt Carlson soon breaks a pedal, explaining that “the worst thing that could happen just happened". Yet after remedying the situation as best he’s able, Carlson proceeds to rock about seemingly not too fazed. And while he isn’t quite pitch-perfect throughout, you still get frequent glimpses of the texture in his voice which draws attention to the band in the first place, plus he comes off sympathetic as he thanks people for choosing to check them out over other bands. The group has some kinks to work out in terms of their stylistic direction (their current path omits their catchiest song, “Masochist’s Daughter" from the set) before they seem likely to become fully convincing, but there’s time for them and the potential is pretty evident. [6½] TL

Bar staff playing for tips in one of Riot Fest's beverage stalls

Thursday @ 16:00-16:40 on Roots Stage

Even amidst the incredible slew of unique, one-off, farewell and reunion shows at Riot Fest ’16, one of the more sought-after experiences was Thursday’s sixth concert since putting the band back together earlier this year (having broken up in 2011). The previous one took place the night before at one of Chicago’s club venues, and according to vocalist Geoff Rickly, saw them playing ‘slow jams’. When he climbs back onto the stage, having just charged into the moshpit during opening track “For the Workforce, Drowning", he announces that today, they’re "bringing THE jams" — and he is not lying. The setlist comprises most of the hits from “Full Collapse" (2001), “War All the Time" (2003), “A City by the Light Divided" (2006), as well as of course the quasi-legendary “Jet Black New Year" off the band’s 2002 EP "Five Stories Falling", and as you can imagine, no one is complaining.

There is a decent energy to the proceedings, but it all seems to be coming from Rickly. He remains a formidable front figure, providing a constant source of thrall with his camp dance moves, eruptions of violence and urgent vocal delivery. It’s a shame that the mix is not on his side though, as all too often the most powerful and emotional moments in tracks like “Counting 5-4-3-2-1" and “Division St." are thus lost in clang and muddle. Another thing standing between Thursday and an unforgettable performance tonight is the all-too-early slot they have been allotted, as the gloom of their heavy emo-rock rather demands at least twilight, and preferably darkness to really shine. So to call Thursday’s performance at Riot Fest ’16 triumphant would be stretching it — but for devout fans willing to ignore some of the limiting aspects just to hear their favourite songs again, the show is probably everything they dreamed of when they bought at ticket to this event. [7] AP

Dan “Soupy" Campbell leading the choir at the Wonder Years Show

The Wonder Years @ 16:00-16:45 on Rise Stage

It’s four in the afternoon and most of the crowd has gotten their buzz on now. One of my fellow photographers pad me on the back and says “There’ll be crowdsurfers". And I answer “I know" and tell her that if I wasn’t holding gear worth a month’s pay I would be one of them. Only a few bars into “I Don't Like Who I Was Then" the first ones come flying and vocalist Dan “Soupy" Campbell is one big fucking smile as the sun hits his face and he opens his arms to almost hug his audience, but also to conduct them in the chorus “I think I’m growing into someone you can trust. I want to shoulder the weight until my back breaks, I want to run until my lungs give up." The band’s new album is quite a depressing, yet forwardslooking record. “No Closer To Heaven" took the band from being the classic pop-punk heros trying to escape surburbia to a band that adresses quite heavy subjects like losing your friends. When the band plays the song “Cigarettes & Saints" about losing their friend Mike Pelone, the crowdsurfing gently comes to a slow hault until yet being released at the explosive chorus of the older “There, There". A few of the older songs come out a little less successful like “Local Man Ruins Everything" or “Dismantling Summer" because of inexplicable lapses in the otherwise super tight compositions. But overall The Wonder Years show themselves off as a band that cannot only write an absolute killer album, but has a presence on stage and a general level that surpasses most of the other “pop-punk"-bands at the festival. [8]HES

Can’t Swim @ 16:30-17:00 on Storyheart Stage

On their debut EP “Death Deserves A Name", New Jersey quartet Can’t Swim released arguably one of the most remarkable new songs this year in the ferocious “Your Clothes", which marked them with the potential to become a worthy alternative for fans of seriously depressing punk rock like that of Off With Their Heads or Captain, We’re Sinking. That kind of style is entirely the wrong fit for an afternoon in the sun, better so for the confines of a sweaty basement. The former environment is what Can’t Swim are faced with today, however, which makes the performance feel a bit awkward. Guitarist Mike Sanchez plays with intent, and bassist Greg McDevitt impresses with backup vocals that are nice and gravely in their own right, yet frontman Chris Loporto errs a bit far on the shouty side, losing tunefulness here and there on the trip through both released and unreleased songs from the band’s hand. Similarly to A Will Away’s preceding set on the same stage, there’s evident potential, but this is not the right day or the right surroundings for it to fully flourish and the band doesn’t yet have the experience to adapt and make it a 100% convincing meet with them in spite of this. [6½] TL

Bad Religion @ 16:45-17:25 on Riot Stage

The temperature has cooled down a bit from earlier, and it looks like pretty much the entirety of Riot Fest has gathered to watch punk legends Bad Religion perform one of their revered festival sets. Having seen the veterans fourteen or so times already, there’s little they can do today to blow my mind, yet all it takes is a fantastic setlist and huge community sing alongs in the crowd to be thoroughly impressed. Starting with “Fuck You", “Atomic Garden", and “Los Angeles Is Burning", the latter receives a thunderous singalong, albeit nowhere near as loud as “21st Century Digital Boy" right after. “Stranger Than Fiction" and “Recipe For Hate" follow, and them being slightly lesser known songs the sing alongs may not be as impressive, but they sound solid either way. “Generator" is the predictable crowd favorite alongside “Sorrow", both featuring mass sing alongs, but in general the band just play so many ridiculously good songs that it’s hard to not appreciate just how good of a set Bad Religion are able to perform despite having been a band for 35 years or so. “Fuck Armageddon, This Is Hell" and “Do What You Want" close the set with yet more classic punk riffs, leaving us wanting for more Bad Religion even though there’s not that much happening on stage otherwise. Fantastic delivery, great sound, and brilliant songs. [8½] PP

Spencer Chamberlain of Underoath back fronting the band

Underoath @ 17:30-18:30 on Roots Stage

For the post-hardcore scene, there have been few harder losses than Underoath disbanding in 2013. In a genre often rightfully criticized for pandering to teenage audiences and deploying copy/paste methods in songwriting, the Tampa sextet was a beacon of excellence, both in terms of instrumental creativity and credible vocal prowess. So to see the six defining members reunited after what turned out to be a shorter break, and playing as good as, if not better, than ever - for lack of a better word is simply awesome. It’s as if time hasn’t passed at all, as Spencer Chamberlain, Timothy McTague and Christopher Dudley (on vox, guitar, keys) once more compete for the most-active-on-stage award, while performing the band’s rhythmically abrupt and rarely repetitive tracks seamlessly. Despite their much heavier music, the band draws a crowd rivalling the size of Jimmy Eat World and Motion City Soundtrack to the Roots stage, and granted, this proves a problem with getting a truly encompassing volume across to everyone, but both the songs themselves and the band’s visible enthusiasm carries the day regardless. Chamberlain’s improved clean vocals compliment the returned drummer Aaron Gillespie’s, and as the band forays deeply into their breakthrough album “They’re Only Chasing Safety" from 2004, the field echoes with people singing along to the melodious bits of “Reinventing Your Exit" and “Dangerous Business Walking Out Your Front Door". Momentarily the nostalgia and angst of the MySpace years pervades the air once more, while a newer inclusion like “Breathing In A New Mentality" also shows off the band’s more chaotic and claustrophobic capacities. But really the best thing to hear is Chamberlain’s declaration of intending to keep the band together for at least until Chris Dudley goes bald, a prospect that seems unlikely for all foreseeable future. Because it’s hard to remember a festival with Underoath, where Underoath hasn’t been among the top 5 sets to seen, and the hour of playtime is far from enough to make up from their absence. [8½] TL

Chino Moreno of Deftones

Deftones @ 18:35-19:35 on Riot Stage

Having been one of my early favorite bands, I am always excited to see Deftones, although I have yet to experience a non-festival show of theirs. Their performance tonight is much like my earlier experiences with them - loud, atmospheric and solid that is. Their set is very mixed and the grounds around the stage are entirely filled with people rocking out almost all the way to the bars in the back. I imagine that it's hard to get their layered music to sound stellar on an outdoor stage, especially covering a big, flat area like this, and a lot of the time I'm annoyed at how much the songs flow together to one big soup of sound. Still, the quality of the band's material and their inventive attitude to music is undeniable and many songs manage to stand out despite the festival conditions. Newer songs like "Geometric Headdress", "Swerve City", and "Gore" make good impressions as do older favorites like "Digital Bath", "Knife Prty", "Change (In the House of Flies)", and "My Own Summer (Shove It)" - the latter ones also receiving solid applause and singalongs. Still, this is not the best show I've had with them although that has more to do with the conditions than with the band's energy and performance.[7½] LF

Rob Zombie @ 19:40-20:40 on Roots Stage

Rob Zombie is wearing an outrageous costume on stage that makes him look like a Halloween horror movie version of Elvis. Behind him, a spectacular light show and a huge stage construction featuring a boombox tape player, banners and a giant video screen showing stop-motion images. I guess you have to compensate for crappy songwriting with extra props when the songs aren’t convincing enough themselves. But don’t trust just my judgment on it: Mr. Zombie himself says after the completion of “White Zombie" album set, "That’s why I hate playing old shit because back in the day, everyone was going mental". Well, why do you think that is, Mr. Zombie? Could it be that your musical style is cliché and outdated in 2016? The show is only saved by an impressive show that sees, among others, a huge robot dancing on stage, the crowd jumping in unison, Zombie performing at the barrier (didn’t think I’d see a rock star of his stature stoop down to the barrier punk rock style, I gotta admit), but the songs themselves are as generic as mainstream hard rock comes. Zzzz. [6] PP

Creeper @ 20:30-21:00 on Storyheart Stage

With the purple heart-and-reaper logo on the back of their matching leather uniforms, there’s no doubt that UK’s Creeper are one of the more unashamedly theatrical bands to grace Riot Fest’s schedule, yet this seems deservedly forgiven by the crowd present for their set at Storyheart, in large part because frankly, the band performs excellently. The mix is on point, and you can hear every reference in their sound: To Misfits, AFI, My Chemical Romance, Alkaline Trio and even Meat Loaf. In fact, the only thing remotely out of place is keyboardist Hannah Greenwood’s backup vocals, which are a bit louder than they need to be. Otherwise the sextet sounds perfect, cruising through both bass-intense goth-punk romps like “Black Mass" and a yearning ballads like “Misery". Will Gould, on vocals, is the perfect show host, looking androgynous with his Brian Molko-esque black locks, yet smiling and bantering comfortably with the audience as if having the time of his life playing to us. He sings acrobatically and dramatically enough to make you forget the narrowness of his tone, and both he and the band emphasises every move of the music visually, which adds up into the kind of well-rehearsed show you’d normally expect from bands far longer into their career (which speaks of the Creeper members’ experience in former bands like Our Time Down Here, for one). Basically the most winningly AFI/MCR-esque performance and one that makes you eager to follow Creeper’s own development at any coming opportunities. [8½] TL

The Misfits @ 20:45-22:00 on Riot Stage

So a few words about The Misfits. I’ve seen various constellations by Danzig live in the past, all of them terrible. The albums, whilst being foundational horror punk records and influential ones no doubt, are overrated and most of all sound totally dated and irrelevant in 2016. Yet it draws massive crowds, especially at punk rock festivals like this one, where probably 40.000 or so people have gathered to watch the set on the field. We stay for a song or two, deciding that Misfits still count among the worst bands on the lineup, so we opt to leave early after a long and tiring weekend. No rating, no idea how the set was, but I heard at least some people liked it. PP

THE GOOD, THE BAD, THE UGLY

As usual, we wrap up our mammoth article with a classic The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly section where we summarize our thoughts and feelings about the festival, and what we think needs to be improved for next year.

THE GOOD

  • Beer and cider sold in big cans at bars, instead of plastic pints.
  • Lots of different food options - exotic ones like paella that you would never find at a European festival - for decent prices
  • Loads of ATMs meaning you’d never have to queue for cash
  • Stages relatively close to each other allowing for catching bands playing right after each other
  • Non-music activities like the Ferris wheel, circus sideshow, etc
  • Virtually no queues at bars, food stalls, or the entrance.
  • A specialty beer bar with IPA/APA on offer.
  • Good sound on most stages (even if it was atrocious for a couple of bands).
  • Great variety of bands within the Riot Fest genres of punk/emo/alternative/hip-hop
  • Lots and lots of trash cans available everywhere. Cleaner festival experience!

THE BAD

  • Main stage should be a little bit bigger - for crowds the size of Misfits or Bad Religion.
  • Stage names way too similar. Roots/Riot/Rise/Rock - so confusing.
  • Not enough toilets - after 7pm massive queues for each toilet. Capacity needs to be upped by at least 30% for next year.
  • VIP lounge looks like it’s only worth the money if it rains because it has covered areas.
  • No seating available anywhere other than the ground in the main area. If it rains, it would be awful having to stand up all day long.
  • Accommodation options on the website. Curadora is not a reliable partner. Heard multiple stories - including ours - where the original reservation was not honored and we were moved from a decent hotel to a crappy one.
  • Compared to rest of Chicago, drinks are very expensive at $8 + tip.
  • Barriers running through the middle of the crowds. Instead should have one wide pit per stage, stages not big enough for two separate pits.
  • Bands starting early/late vs. scheduled time. Even 5 minutes early isn’t OK, since you might miss your favorite song, trusting the schedule.
  • Data/Internet basically dead during the main concerts. Not that big of an issue, but going home, virtually impossible to get a Lyft/Über from the rideshare stand. Consider adding a temporary cell tower to add capacity.
  • No alcohol in the piña coladas :(

THE UGLY

  • No separate pissoirs for men - a ridiculously inefficient toilet experience
  • Toilet paper running out virtually each evening

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