Concert Review: Riot Fest - Friday, September 15, 2017 in Douglas Park - X, Buzzcocks, Death From Above, Ministry, New Order and Nine Inch Nails

Concert Review: Riot Fest - Friday, September 15, 2017 in Douglas Park - X, Buzzcocks, Death From Above, Ministry, New Order and Nine Inch Nails

Day one at Riot Fest featured uncharacteristically great weather and performances in Douglas Park by X, Buzzcocks, Action Bronson, Death From Above, Ministry, New Order, Nine Inch Nails and many more... 

On August 3rd at Lollapalooza, it was about 60 degrees. And on September 15th at Riot Fest it was 86, the warmest recent weather since the festival moved outdoors in 2012. A rare reprieve from what started to feel like annual rain was a welcome one.

Friday's Riot Fest slate was a masterclass in how to carefully curate a festival schedule with the story of so many of the bands performing intertwining in some way.

The dawn of punk rock was covered by the inclusion of artists from two of the three most pertinent punk scenes with X representing Los Angeles and the Buzzcocks the U.K.

Early punk rock influenced 80s post punk, new wave and industrial and the afternoon schedule moved from X and the Buzzcocks to Ministry and New Order accordingly. Ministry in particular was a massive influence on Nine Inch Nails who closed out Friday night's proceedings.

As X raced for the finish line early Friday, "Your Phone's Off the Hook But You're Not" stood out amidst the set's last few songs, Billy Zoom's guitar ringing out across Douglas Park.

There's something strange about seeing a band like the Buzzcocks outdoors in the sun in the middle of the afternoon. But the 4 piece U.K. punk rockers more than rose to the occasion on Friday, providing one of the tightest, most fun sets of the day.

Even at 62 years of age (about 200 in punk rock years), vocalist Pete Shelley remains in terrific voice.

"I Don't Mind" came midway through the set and slowed things down for a moment, conjuring up the Kinks in the process.

But they saved the best for last closing their hour set with some of their biggest hits. "What Do I Get?" preceded scorching takes on "Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn't've)" and "Harmony in my Head" that have lost none of the urgency that defines the original studio takes.

"I cannot believe that we're playing beside the Buzzcocks," said Death From Above vocalist/drummer Sebastien Grainger. "Ministry? Liars? That's a nice soup already..." he mused in seemingly genuine awe of Friday's Riot Fest slate.

The soup analogy was an apt one as Death From Above's sound incorporates sounds like punk, metal and dance. For one hour on the Roots stage, the Canadian duo managed to hit upon all of it in the festival setting.

The hard edged groove of "Going Steady" was particularly effective at setting the Riot Fest crowd in motion.

Ministry - Riot Fest 2017 Chicago - Photo by Jim Ryan

Ministry, Riot Fest 2017 - Photo by Jim Ryan

Chicago's own Al Jourgensen led Ministry through a one hour set on the Riot Stage that skewed more toward the heavier end of their catalog.

The tight outfit featured their unique fusion of punk, metal and industrial opening with "Psalm 69," hitting their stride later moving straight from "N.W.O." into "Just One Fix."

But Friday night, and perhaps the entire weekend, belonged to Nine Inch Nails.

Trent Reznor's attention to detail when it comes to structuring a live set matches Riot Fest's. You can feel the hand of a fan in every single nuance.

Over the course of 90 minutes Friday night, Reznor paused twice, both times to acknowledge his heroes.

The first came exactly halfway through the set. "We're really happy to be here, man," Reznor said. "To play with two bands that are our inspiration," he continued in recognition of both Ministry and New Order.

Later, he paused to recognize the stunning 2016 death of his friend and collaborator David Bowie. What followed will be hard to top on a Riot Fest stage... maybe ever.

Reznor offered a beautiful take on Bowie's "I Can't Give Everything Away," from his final album Blackstar in 2016. It was a stripped down take on the track that put the emphasis squarely on Bowie's words, slowly adding layers of keyboards and guitar as the brooding song moved forward.

The lights rose slowly to bathe the crowd just as the presence of the keyboard did the same. And, if I'm not mistaken, Reznor's vocal was eventually backed by a Bowie vocal track beneath in what began to unfold as a stunning tribute.

But it was music from just about every corner of the Nine Inch Nails catalog that carried the incredible set. Friday Nine Inch Nails took to the stage as a five piece band, Reznor flanked by longtime collaborators Atticus Ross and Robin Finck who crafted a mind blowing wall of sound throughout.

The group is two thirds of the way into a series of three EP releases and performed a pair from each of the first two Friday night, opening the show with "Branches/Bones" from 2016's Not the Actual Events.

From there the set moved back to 1992's Broken for a scorching take on "Wish" before continuing with the brand new "Less Than." It's a tribute to the continued strength of Reznor's songwriting on the meticulously crafted new EPs that the new music intertwines so seamlessly with that of his 90s alternative canon.

Most bands with a song like "Closer" in their arsenal would have no choice but to close with it. Nine Inch Nails rolled it out not halfway into the set. Extra guitar on it sounded terrific Friday night, proof that Reznor's work, as it continues to evolve live, retains a relevance and potency decades later that that of of many 90s artists simply doesn't.

Reznor himself played a fair amount of guitar Friday adding to cuts like "Gave Up," "The Hand That Feeds" and "Head Like a Hole." He performed "Head Like a Hole" with his hands up, ultimately throwing his guitar into the air where it fell to the stage with a thud to end the main set.

Incredibly, the record more featured than any other Friday night was Reznor's often overlooked masterpiece, 1999's outstanding double album The Fragile.

Friday's encore opened with the deranged ferocity of "Somewhat Damaged" and moved to "The Day the World Went Away (perhaps a subtle nod to the state of the world). The Fragile tracks led straight into "Hurt" to close the show and nearly stole it in the process.

- Jim Ryan ( @RadioJimRyan )

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