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Riot Fest Recap — 2012

Although punk shows may be best experienced in basements, apparently they can also take place on park grounds in pristine weather.

By Arts & Culture, Uncategorized

Since 2005 Riot Fest has hosted punk rock’s top bands at Logan Square’s Congress Theater. This year, Riot Fest’s organizers moved the expanded operation to Humboldt Park, adding a carnival, a wrestling ring, more stages, food and drink vendors, jugglers, fire dancers and a handful of corporate sponsors. Riot Fest is a money-making venture, an affront to DIY ethos — many punks chose to stay home. Although punk shows may be best experienced in basements, apparently they can also take place on park grounds in pristine weather.


Nobunny — Crowds were light and the sun was out at the start of Nobunny’s 12:45 set. Justin Champlin, the man behind Nobunny, took the stage in black briefs, a tight leather jacket and vest, his creepy more-rat-than-bunny mask. His band ripped through the best cuts from Love Visions (2008) and First Blood (2010) while Champlin pranced, dumped purple glitter on himself, and sang about how he’s “a girlfriend.” Thirty minutes into his set, a sizable crowd had gathered and they were loving it.

Frank Turner & the Sleeping Souls — At the Riot Stage, British musician Frank Turner was a welcome counterpoint to the weekend’s de facto sound. Turner and the Sleeping Souls kept things light with their punk-tinged take on Americana. Standouts were cuts from his recent LP, England Keep My Bones (2011), and it’s likely he earned a slew of new fans.

Gwar — Gwar is a hyperbolic heavy metal institution whose history goes back 29 years – and is perhaps ready to be put to rest. Gwar’s extravagant and grotesque stage show is unfunny, and at the risk of sounding priggish, the onstage banter was profane. At one point the band dismembered a stuffed dummy of Jersey Shore’s Snooki. Furthermore, their metal was limp. The only upside: Gwar’s fans got sprayed with fake blood and as a penalty for their enthusiasm, spent the rest of the day in stained clothes.

Slapstick — At 5:45, Chicago’s own Slapstick took the stage for the third time since the mid-nineties. Fronted by the Lawrence Arms’ Brendan Kelly, the ska-punk outfit played a fun, energetic set. Kelly is punk’s funniest frontman, and to my knowledge, the only musician to engage riders at the top of the ferris wheel. When he broke his checkered sunglasses he tossed them to hungry fans. Their set took the noticeably older crowd down memory lane to the days when we all still enjoyed ska.

Dropkick Murphys — The weekend’s loudest cheer came when Dropkick Murphys launched into “I’m Shipping Up to Boston,” a song from The Departed soundtrack. The Celtic rock stalwarts played fast and tight, treating fans to a cover of AC/DC’s “TNT” and enough bagpipes to last until the next Dropkick show.


Unlike Lollapalooza and Pitchfork, there is plenty of room to spread out at Riot Fest and it was possible to work one’s way to the front of the stages with minimal effort. Most attendees appeared to skip carnival rides that idled or spun half-full during the day. It was only at night that lines started to form, especially at the ferris wheel with its bird’s eye view of the main stages.

The Jesus & Mary Chain — The seemingly apathetic Jesus and Mary Chain damaged their otherwise traditional pop songs with dissonance, feedback, and solos. Their performance was impeccable, and the older crowd gathered for their 4:40 set at Riot Stage were treated to “Some Candy Talking” and “Happy When it Rains,” but, unfortunately, no “Just Like Honey.”

Gogol Bordello — Gogol Bordello’s highly orchestrated, exuberant show hit the perfect note as the sun set on Humboldt Park. The gypsy punks diverged from the typical Riot Fest instrumentation of guitar, bass, and drums in favor of accordion, marching bass drum, and fiddle. At first, music may seem like an afterthought to their riotous onstage antics, but focused listeners heard unique acoustic punk with an Eastern European sensibility.

Iggy & the Stooges — Iggy & the Stooges closed the festivities. Frontman Iggy Pop was a live wire; wriggling shirtless, urging fans to rush the stage, and growling through classics like “I Wanna Be Your Dog” and “Raw Power.”

In the future I hope Riot Fest’s organizers continue to book acts of the Stooges’ caliber. It was easy to hear Iggy’s influence on many of the weekend’s younger bands, and it’s thrilling to speculate about next year’s performers. Buzzcocks anyone?

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