Saturday, September 22, 2012

Riot Fest 2012 recap: Part two

By Gene Wagendorf III

Ferris Wheel | Photo Credit: Gene Wagendorf III
The 2012 incarnation of Riot Fest saved its best for last with an absolutely loaded Sunday lineup. Before I get into who I saw and what I thought, I want to take a moment to say this: do it again. As I mentioned in part one of my recap, I came away from Riot Fest blown away by the execution of the festival. The grounds were clean, the weather excellent, Humboldt Park as beautiful as ever and the sound, for the most part, spot on. Does Chicago have a lot of outdoor music in the summer? Sure. But I welcome the Riot Fest addition with open arms, assuming there are no plans to add an electronic music stage.

Reverend Horton Heat

Reverend Horton Heat | Photo Credit: Tara Griffin
While The Reverend and crew have been kicking around for decades (almost three of them, actually), the trio showed no signs of bland maturity or geriatric complacency. Kicking their set off with "Psychobilly Freakout," from 1990's Smoke 'Em If You Got 'Em, gave the band the chance to quickly acquaint the unacquainted. The Reverend's big, sizzling guitar shreds skittered across heavy bass and Scott Churilla's slam dance percussion, promptly knocking the hangovers out of the afternoon crowd. The rest of the set was a cohesive blend of slick lounge pop and more rollicking jams. "Drinkin' and Smokin' Cigarettes" offered the crowd a moment of cool respite (as well as an unofficial theme song for the weekend); its elastic jangle met with the click of a hundred Zippos. While I still believe Reverend Horton Heat are best enjoyed in a dark club at a later hour, the group did well out of their comfort zone. The band rode out on "Big Red Rocket of Love," giving festival goers one last helping Jimbo Wallace's punchy bass to boogie on.


Japanther | Photo Credit: Gene Wagendorf III
While my inner, whiny high school self was tempted to go gawk at Less Than Jake, the allure of Brooklyn art project/lo-fi punks Japanther was too much to pass up. Thankfully so, as they didn't disappoint. Where Reverend Horton Heat did well outside their natural habitat, Japanther simply said "fuck it" and turned their little corner of Humboldt Park into a cramped basement show. The band's short, playful romps seemed to tumble over themselves like a flurry of sugar-high kids on a jungle gym. The temper of Matt Reilly's grumbling bass was kept in check by the levity of his goofy lyrics and the occasional confectionery Casio melody. Trying to create a hippy-friendly mosh pit seems like an impossible task, but Japanther did just that during "Stolen Flowers." The song found the duo meshing fuzzy riffs and charmingly simple lyrics with catchy pop drumming and a winding, oooh-ing crescendo. By the end of their time on the Rebel Stage, the band had nearly doubled the size of their audience. I submit this as proof that glee is contagious, and evidence that Japanther ought to be airlifted into war zone after war zone. You know, just to see what happens.

White Mystery

White Mystery | Photo Credit: Gene Wagendorf III
It's no secret at this point that Windy City Rock loves it some White Mystery. Can you blame us though? The crimson coiffed siblings offered up their crunchy, booming brand of garage on the Rebel Stage, and as was the case with Japanther, the crowd just kept getting bigger. Apparently not satisfied with being allotted only 25 minutes to rock, Alex White stole an extra five by launching into "White Mystery" early, drowning out the stage music and getting the party started. Alex's molten guitar licks scorched over Francis' bedlam for the duration, rolling one two-minute rocker into the next. Looking like a couple of punk Muppets onstage, the duo frolicked through the beginning of "Birthday," from 2011's Blood & Venom. The tune showed off the siblings' chemistry- drums holding down the fort during Alex's vibrant joy cry, guitar twanging in exclamation after Francis' toppling vocals. One of the few local acts on the Riot Fest bill, White Mystery made a strong case for more Chicago bands being invited to the party. When the anthemic rumble of "Take A Walk" blasted from the speakers I had to check my watch. Was it already time for the Whites to be leaving? Feverish riffage backed the singer's husky yawp before her brother completely took over, leaning into his kit like he was trying to demolish the whole damn park. Sonically impressive, but I'm glad he didn't succeed.

The Jesus and Mary Chain

The Jesus and Mary Chain | Photo Credit: Gene Wagendorf III
Glasgow alt-rockers The Jesus and Mary Chain played the role of wallflowers at this big punk party, never really cutting loose, but never making any missteps either. The band's stonergaze was the perfect soundtrack for those looking to find a bit of shade and chill out before a night of Gogol Bordello and The Stooges. Jim Reid's vocals were as sweet and smoky as a clove cigarette, drifting out into the crowd and casually lingering. The dichotomy between that calm effortlessness and his band's screeching, distorted guitar swirls was truly mesmerizing, never once slipping into redundant sludge. The poppier college radio rock (am I showing my age?) of "Between Planets," from Automatic, was a refreshing choice, standing out from the psychedelic grunge and Velvet Underground aping/influenced aural wandering.

Elvis Costello & The Imposters

Elvis Costello | Photo Credit: Tara Griffin
Being the elder statesman of punk/new wave that he is, it's no surprise that Elvis Costello knows how to work a festival crowd. Yeah, he came packed with a set list of hits, but one of the evening's real treats was his faithful-yet-organ-enhanced cover of Nick Lowe's "Heart of the City." If Costello was in fact "looking for a love in the heart of the city," he didn't have to go far, as a sizeable chunk of the 30,000+ person crowd showed up to take in his show. The Imposters slathered "Watching the Detectives" with even more reggae grooviness than it had on My Aim Is True (produced by none other than Nick Lowe), a dazzling twist that had me immediately clamoring for a solid recording of their performance. Conversely, a lengthened and bloated take on "Pump It Up" felt tragically limp, as if Costello didn't have enough faith in the hit's own energy. The iconic organ twirls and puddle splashing riff accomplish all they need to in three minutes, and watching the band try to milk it a bit longer fizzled its magic. Redemption was found in "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love & Understanding," whose ironically purely punk thesis was one of Riot Fest's most satisfying moments, as well as one of its best group sing-alongs.

Gogol Bordello

Gogol Bordello | Photo Credit: Eric Kolkey
Hobgoblin scrunch, shivering fiddle and maniacal vocals. That's how "Sally" started, and thus began the bacchanalian ear-orgy that is Gogol Bordello live. The Lower East Side Gypsy punks have spent the last 13 years harnessing the energy of a cornered wolverine and spitting it from mics and amps with giddy exuberance. Borrowing elements from reggae, polka, mariachi, punk, hip hop and, well, you name it, Gogol had a little something for everyone, which is saying a lot with a crowd that size. The snake-like rhythm of "Not A Crime" buzzed through the audience, inspiring mosh pits, jigs and even one big stupid conga line. In a moment of perfect festival divination, festival organizers had set up small stages throughout the Humboldt fields for fire dancers and jugglers. Chicago's clear black sky was lit in front of me by the hardcore smash of "Immigraniada (We Comin' Rougher)," to my left by a Mardi Gras reject clown twirling flaming chains, and to my back by a giant neon Ferris Wheel. Not bad Riot Fest, not bad. The spectacle moved me to take in more of the carnival weirdness around me, so I bought a ticket to the Mystery Machine Fun House and took in the end of Gogol Bordello from there. The fun house proved to be a low rent death trap from carnie hell, but it did make for an interesting spot to watch the band party through their biggest hit, "Start Wearing Purple." The joyfully spastic debaucher's theme song reverberated through the Mystery Machine's aluminum walls; even the kids navigating the gauntlet of deflated punching bags were singing along and dancing.

Iggy and The Stooges

Iggy and The Stooges | Photo Credit: Eric Kolkey
Folks, I gotta be honest, this is the reason I came to Riot Fest. When the show's revamped, 2012 incarnation was first announced, lot's of things had my interest piqued, but none more so than a chance to catch this band live again. Every time they roll though I keep thinking, "I've got to go. Iggy's bound to die soon." No such evidence Sunday in Humboldt Park.

The opening chords of "Raw Power" let everyone in attendance know right off the bat that The Stooges hadn't lost a thing to Father Time. Mr. Pop, clad in nothing but his six-pack and skinny jeans, tore across the stage and through his lyrics, showing up every other band's attempt at energy. Mid-way through, the first three rows seemed to crowd surf at once, propelling the rest of the Riot Stage crowd 20 feet forward. When the hell spawn squeal of James Williamson's lead guitar kicked in on "Search and Destroy," even my goosebumps got goosebumps. Call it cliche, I contend it pure truth. The Stooges channeled 43 years worth of angst and brutality into every note, pushing the stage, the sound system and the crowd towards breaking point. The result was an immensely cathartic squalor; one that ended with Iggy gyrating in a ball onstage, howling like a man condemned. Even The Stooges can't maintain that pace for an hour, so they deftly shifted gears into the ominous plod of "Gimme Danger." The madness level ratcheted back up when Iggy invited a pack of fans onstage to dance through an unhinged rendition of "Shake Appeal," though the gimmick didn't come close to matching the mayhem when he pulled that trick at Lolla a few years ago and half of Grant Park stormed the stage. Steve Mackay's sax sounded appropriately filthy, especially on "Fun House." His presence helped dispel any notion that The Stooges were just going to make noise for an hour, grounding a few songs and giving the rest of the band another layer to play off of.

The highlights of the set came during The Stooge's encore. "Penetration," from the 1973 masterpiece Raw Power, panzered over the crowd; a gnarled beast of a tune that hissed and bent with devilish precision. When Pop dove into the monotone groan of "No Fun," the group's entire set was put into perspective, and I thought of Andrew W.K. again. The Stooges are, without the schlock and the gimmick, everything he strives to be. They're records gave a voice and an outlet to a disenfranchised, bitter generation. Gave their disdain and their aggression a focus. They rocked hard, and still do, but beneath the brazen sexuality and confrontational barbarism, there's poetry and creativity and a lot of fucking fun. Not merely hollow chest thumping and keg stands. I wrote about Andrew W.K. being basically a Cro-Magnon Peter Pan, and against truly timeless figures like The Stooges, his charade is all the more obvious.

Iggy and company ended their encore with a pair of unexpected tunes: a subdued jaunt through "The Passenger," and the hilariously base "Cock In My Pocket." Seeing the group perform an Iggy Pop solo number was unexpected, but despite the crowd's enthusiasm the band didn't deliver it with much punch. Not their wheelhouse. They made up for it on the second number, using up ever last drop of adrenaline before exiting the stage to a hard-earned explosion of adoration.

It'll be hard for Riot Fest to top the lineup they unleashed on Humboldt Park Sunday night, but they've got the formula. Drop a legend and some old school masters in to play with newer bands, pack the park with sideshows, and mix in a couple non-punk acts to taste. The result: a dish best served outdoors.

Riot Fest wrestlers | Photo Credit: Gene Wagendorf III
Best Flavor: Bacon sausage on a stick with horseradish mustard.
Best Sight: Taking in the whole park from atop the Ferris Wheel.
Best Sound: White Mystery drowning out the between acts music to start their set early.
Best Odor: Funnel cake. Didn't even eat any, but getting a whiff was perfect.
Best Feel: Sitting on the metal bleacher next to the wrestling ring, eating my above mention bacon sausage and watching two spandex-clad wrestlers kick the crap out of each other.

No comments:

Post a Comment