THE RIOT FEST CHRONICLES:  Notes, Scribblings, Late Nights, And Moments of Delirious Bliss

 

RIOT FEST DAY 1: The Last Glorious Days of Summer 2014

CHICAGO, IL – Alternative music giants were going to swarm into Humboldt Park, Chicago and play set after set for the next three days. That is about all I knew about this festival other than the fact that I needed to be there no matter what. On one hand you had a lot of classic Alternative acts like the Cure, Weezer and Janes Addiction. But then there was another side to it where there would be new acts to check out like The Grizzled Mighty, Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears, and Somos. This popular festival is in its tenth year and is split up in three locations including Denver, Toronto as well as Chicago. The layout in Chicago was the most intensive including seven stages and three days and nights of solid programming.

The check in process was long. At first sight the line looked incredibly long. I had no idea where the stages were or what I was going to do once I got inside. The line started to move and the people were processed through very quickly. I didn’t see any maps I just walked along with the flow. First up on the list was a Zombie Haunted House with guys dressed up like ghouls, loud metal music blaring and some kind of bubbly foam oozing out of the doorway. A little further up I could see the first beer stands all waiting for their first customers of the day. They would be the first of many. I could make out some of the carnival rides including the Ferris wheel and the merry go round.

BLACK JOE LEWIS AND THE HONEYBEARS

Now I could hear the thundering pound of the Riot Stage and Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears. They would be the first act that would start the festival off. By the sounds of it I only missed the first couple of songs. These guys were really tight. They had a bluesy - funky pull no punches sort of approach to their songs. They hail from Austin, Texas and were voted to be one of the Top Ten Best Bands in the 2009 SXSW Festival. I had heard, “Bitch I Love You” and was intrigued. Now, they were ripping it up live right in front of me. Joe was making it look so easy. His fingers were all over the frets and hitting some amazing notes. Now because I had been one of the first people that walked into the park I was able to walk right up to the stage. The drums were amped up high and complimented Black Joe Lewis as he wailed on the guitar. At this writing I don’t have the set list but I didn’t want it to end. There were two large video monitors on each side of the stage so you could see what was going on.

 

Now here is the interesting part. When the set ended there were no encores. I mean, that was it. This set just ended and they said their goodbyes. Then the stage went silent and right behind us across the field was the Roots Stage and that lit up like a fireworks stand.

TITLE FIGHT

There wasn’t any segue – it was all.. BAM BAM BAM…. And Title Fight walked onto the stage and addressed the audience and the stage lights went on and the monitors kicked on and the show was going on full blast. This is an American band from Kingston, PA and they were influenced by Seaweed from Sub Pop records. They are signed on SideOneDummy Records and they put on an exciting live performance.

 

We got some live shot of them and their set list…..

1.       Numb, But I Still Feel It

2.       Shed

3.       Like A Ritual

4.       Head In The Ceiling Fan

5.       Secret Society

6.       No One Stays At The Top Forever

7.       Symmetry

8.       27

 

CIRCA SURVIVE

For me this is the best of the festival. You get to see these new acts up close and personal really before anybody else does. Just before I left for Riot Fest I came across an issue of NME where Morrissey blurts out, “ I Am Endlessly Fascinating” right on the cover. This may have been true in the early 90’s and it was certainly true in the late 80’s but I would give that title of high praise to Circa Survive. Lead singer Anthony Green is pretty much endlessly fascinating.

The first rule of thumb for pop superstardom in my eyes is to be unique. I look for variance of musical range. I look for the lead front man to be interesting and if possible I like it best when you cannot take your eyes off of him. You don’t have to be heartthrob material in order for this to happen. But I do look for a certain star appeal. Charisma you could call it. The guy from the Dickies has it, (Leonard) and the guy from Circa Survive has it. We all know Morrissey has it but I am here at Riot Fest looking for something new and enticing. I keep telling myself that I would know it if only I could see it up close.

 

 

Anthony Green wraps himself with a  mic chord making movement constricted, difficult and impossible. He screams, he shouts and yes…. He dances…. Maniacally which I loved. His entire body shifts from one side of the stage all the way to the other and the crowd loves it and it is exciting to watch. This is what I came here for.

During one part of the show he actually leaps from the stage into the audience and begins to sing with them. He reaches down into the soft earth and pulls up some fresh mud as the light rain comes down. He walks up to his followers and proceeds to bless them and anoint them into his special tribe by smearing mud in their faces. Some of the markings look like tribal warrior markings and some of the mud he smears all over. He lovingly refers to them as his, “muddy penguins”.

Years from now everyone will tell you that they were at this performance. Years from now you will never get this close to the band again unless you shell out the big bucks. That’s rock and roll.

SETLIST

1.       Strange Terrain

2.       Sharp Practice

3.       Holding  Someone’s Hair Back

4.       In The Morning and Amazing

5.       In Fear and Faith

6.       Stop The Fuckin’ Car

7.       The Difference Between Medicine and Poison Is the Dose

8.       Jimi

9.       Get Out

“A VISUAL ASSAULT: REM Dissected Scene By Scene

The bottom video was shot in 1989 and is the closest thing I could find to what the original show opener was like in 1987. This was a departure for REM as much as it was for the audience. Just when you thought you knew the band they changed on you in a new and exciting way. It would take some time to recognize them once again. In the case of, “Document” the album had to grow on me. I noticed this sort of thing happening with the Smiths too.

There was one sequence in the video, not shown in this edition, when the words – “Want” and “Need” come on screen. The words flipped interchangeably and morphed into a strobe that said, “Need Weed” and I remember the crowd going a bit wild over that. This was Ann Arbor after all. There is some talk about the set list being accurate. I do not believe, “Orange Crush” or “Pop Song 89” was performed in 1987. Those songs were released after REM went to Warner Brothers. “Document” was the last album created under the I.R.S. Records label.

There is another version of, “The One I Love” done on the live tour. Stipe starts out with a slow intro and for a minute I thought the whole song would be done slow. It then kicks into the tempo we all know. The stage was also bathed in an eerie red light. How this song got perceived as a love song I’ll never know. It was about a sick love obsession.

Over the years I hear the young kids go, “Oh who cares about that stuff, REM was long before my time.” Trust me, you wish you were there. This show was nothing but historic.

 
 
 
   
REM in 1987 and the Birth of Alternative Radio in Ann Arbor, Michigan - Crisler Arena >>>>

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