Concert Review: Riot Fest 2014 (Friday, September 12 - Pussy Riot, Jane's Addiction, Mastodon, Slayer, The Offspring and more)

Concert Review: Riot Fest 2014 (Friday, September 12 - Pussy Riot, Jane's Addiction, Mastodon, Slayer, The Offspring and more)

Riot Fest 2014 kicked off amidst mud Friday afternoon in Humboldt Park highlighted by a fascinating panel discussion moderated by Henry Rollins and featuring Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Masha Alekhina of Pussy Riot as well as performances by Slayer, Mastodon, The Offspring, Jane's Addiction and more... 

I could see my breath.

That's not the ideal way to start a review of any three day, outdoor concert festival but despite the dropping temperatures and seemingly non-stop rain, spirits were high as Riot Fest got underway in what quickly became some of the muddiest conditions I've ever experienced at a Chicago festival.

Featuring an expanded layout this year, Riot Fest continues to take advantage of more and more of Humboldt Park's 219 acres.  To put that in perspective, Grant Park hosts Lollapalooza and checks in at 319 acres while Union Park (host to both the North Coast and Pitchfork music festivals) finishes a distant third at only 13 acres.

So there's plenty of space in Humboldt Park and this year Riot Fest features nearly 150 acts on each of its seven stages plus a panel discussion Friday on an eighth.

And what a panel discussion it was.  Featuring Riot Fest founder Mike Petryshyn, the panel was moderated by Henry Rollins and also featured socially aware and active artists like Greg Graffin of Bad Religion (who earned his Ph.D. at Cornell University) and Tim McIlrath of Chicago's Rise Against alongside Nadya Tolokonnikova and Masha Alekhina - the once banished/imprisoned members of Russian feminist, punk protest group Pussy Riot.

That panel - Riot Fest Speaks - is a great example of what sets Riot Fest apart from other festivals.  It's clearly run in meticulous and caring fashion by culturally aware organizers who care not just about throwing a good party but about teaching a thing or two in the process.

Rollins went on at length about the power of words - something he's become even more aware of lately - and Petryshyn spoke passionately about the fact that he views these types of informative panel discussions as a critical component of Riot Fest moving forward.  McIlrath corroborated that proposing what he feels is a necessary "Punk Rock 101" to educate young music fans on just how meaningful punk rock has been and can continue to be when used properly as a means for changing the world.

Listening to a firsthand account of life in Vladimir Putin's Russia from Tolokonnikova and Alekhina was chilling and served as a very necessary reminder that we should never take for granted the freedoms we have in America.  The pair spoke about the importance of women's rights in a misogynistic Russian Orthodox culture - a message that should ring loud and clear universally - and voiced their excitement for their new website MediaZona.  Zona is the Russian word for prison and the website seeks to bring transparency to everything that's going on in Russian in regards to human rights under the lead of former KGB officer, Vladimir Putin... That is assuming they can keep the site from being shut down in a country where censorship reigns supreme in a government controlled media climate.  A powerful message and a major reality check.

Riot Fest 2014 Chicago - mud

Obligatory photo of mud

Speaking of misogyny, the first act that I saw following the "Riot Fest Speaks" panel discussion was The Offspring - performing their breakthrough 1994 album Smash in its entirety... albeit tuned down quite low in an effort to spare vocalist Dexter Holland the indignity of having to try and hit notes he, presumably, no longer can.

"Good news, Chicago! I'd say this crowd is 97% doable!" said the band from the stage Friday continuing in the sophomoric fashion of years past - even as Holland closes in on 50 years of age.

Holland, who holds a Ph.D. in molecular biology (seriously), and his bandmates went onto lobby for an "orgy behind the tilt-a-whirl" multiple times during a set that ultimately closed with underwhelming renditions of hits like "Pretty Fly (For a White Guy)" and "Why Don't You Get a Job?"  "All I Want" began the encore and was the set's only redeeming moment.  If McIlrath ever follows through on his "Punk Rock 101" course idea, Dexter Holland should be the first to enroll.

Continuing in the full album formation, Jane's Addiction followed with a spirited performance of their 1988 debut Nothing's Shocking.  In recognition of Riot Fest's tenth anniversary, ten artists are delivering full album sets this year.  I've seen Jane's Addiction a number of times in venues ranging anywhere from Lollapalooza to the Metro and this set was, without a doubt, one of their best, featuring songs I've never seen them play live.

Despite cold, rainy and less than optimal stage conditions, the band tore through an album that built the alternative music empire that would soon follow, revealing wide-ranging influences like metal and glam as well as subtle nuances like reggae in some of the album's more subdued moments.

Dave Navarro blew in his hands trying to keep them warm before delivering the scorching final solo in "Ocean Size" and the bass of Chris Chaney was thunderous and immense on "Ted, Just Admit It..." one of the best performances that I saw on day one.  That particular performance saw the band settle into an extended groove as Perry Farrell moved to the guardrail to hand out roses and interact with the crowd.  "I hope I don't catch pneumonia / As we all know, Chicago is colder than a witch's tits" said the always quotable frontman, improvising new lyrics as the band interacted musically in tight fashion.  "We're like the post office, coming to you rain or shine!"

Ultimately, Slayer provided a fitting end to day one tearing through "Raining Blood" to close their set.

- Jim Ryan (@RadioJimRyan)

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