Concert Review: Riot Fest Chicago, Day 3 - Live in Humboldt Park (Sunday, 9/16/12)

Concert Review: Riot Fest Chicago, Day 3 - Live in Humboldt Park (Sunday, 9/16/12)

A packed day in Humboldt Park saw Sunday performances from the Jesus and Mary Chain, Alkaline Trio, Elvis Costello, Iggy Pop and more as Riot Fest 2012 came to a close…

Crowds Sunday in Humboldt Park definitely felt larger on the third and final day of Riot Fest, especially as the afternoon continued into night.

Despite the bigger crowds, concession lines, bathroom lines and more all remained manageable. 

As diverse as the bookings were on Saturday, they were that much moreso on Sunday with a lineup boasting contrasting sounds like they gypsy influenced punk of Golgol Bordello, the rockabilly of Reverend Horton Heat, the more straight forward punk of Alkaline Trio and the new wave drenched rock of The Jesus and Mary Chain.  And despite that, once again, the fans were great with most seeming quite open minded and free of attitude or bias regardless of who was playing.

This summer, I caught at least parts of Pitchfork, Lollapalooza, North Coast, the Hideout Block Party/A.V. Fest and Riot Fest.  Without question, the most easy going, least pretentious and fun crowd was the one I experienced over two days in Humboldt Park at Riot Fest. 

Also worth noting is what a great home Humboldt Park is for a music festival.  While Lollapalooza takes a bit too much advantage of it’s sprawling environs in Grant Park, both Pitchfork and North Coast seem rather cramped at times in Union Park on the west side. 

To compare, according to Wikipedia (I know… insert your joke here) Union Park encompasses 13.46 acres while Humboldt Park takes up over 200 (Grant Park checks in at 319). 

So that factor alone allows Riot Fest to spread out not only four stages but also a full carnival, games midway, wrestling ring, VIP area, tons of concessions and bathrooms, as well as tables and tents set up for a variety of vendors across the park without inhibiting foot traffic through festival grounds. 

It was really the perfect setup because sound bleed wasn’t a problem between stages (set times were well staggered which helped) and yet the stages were still close enough to allow concertgoers to catch as many artists as possible. 

I have to admit, checking out the sprawling crowd during Golgol Bordello’s set as crews setup for Iggy & The Stooges across the park from atop a ferris wheel as the sun set on Sunday was pretty cool.

Unlike some festivals which seem content to rest on their laurels, Riot Fest has upped the anti in each of its eight years moving from small clubs like Double Door to a large, outdoor park like Humboldt increasing the quality of artists all the while. 

Festival organizers have stated that the festival will remain outdoors moving forward.  Personally, I can’t wait to see how they try to top this in the summer of 2013 because as it stands right now, Riot Fest is second in Chicago festival size and stature only to Lollapalooza. 

And while the festival has branched out to include shows in Philadelphia, Dallas, Toronto and Brooklyn, the success of Riot Fest remains a more than impressive feat given its humble roots here in Chicago.

Onto the music…

Reverend Horton Heat – You’ll be hard-pressed to have more fun at a festival than that had during a set by the good Reverend.

Featuring Jim Heath on vocals and Gretsch guitar, Jimbo Wallace on upright bass and, originally from Chicago, Scott Churilla on drums, Reverend Horton Heat is a live tour de force.

Peppering their set with songs both old (“Jimbo Song”) and new (“Drinkin’ and Smokin’ Cigarettes” comes from their newest studio release, 2009’s Laughin’ and Cryin’ with the Reverend Horton Heat), the band tore it up in its inimitable fashion. 

Heath remains a true showman and of the best rock guitarists out there.  Touring in support of the July release of a three disc, live retrospective (25 to Life), it’s impressive to see that kind of passion still take centerstage in a band’s live show.

Less Than Jake – One of the funnier bands going, Less Than Jake wasted no time getting to their hit playing 1996’s “Johnny Quest Thinks We’re Sellouts” second in the set.

It’s hard to believe this band has been at it for nearly twenty years, peddling their unique blend of pop, punk and ska across scores of albums and EP’s. 

Fun remained the theme of the day as the band brought up a fan from the crowd in what they accurately described as a “creepy” horse mask to gallavant across the stage during a version of “The Ghost of Me and You” that was rechristened “The Ghost of Me and Mr. Ed” to mark the ocassion.  “Horse! Horse!” chanted the crowd as the guy finally made it to the stage after initially falling while climbing over the guard rail. 

The band recounted memories of performing on Chicago’s JBTV as well as filming their video for “Automatic” at Metro, thanking the crowd along the way for being one of the first cities “to give a s–t about us really.”

“Pretend like it’s 11:30 at night and we’re Iron Maiden!” demanded Less Than Jake.  The band, which acknowledged enjoying their slot at Riot Fest in 2010, rocked out to “All My Best Friends are Metalheads” and pummeled the crowd into submission accordingly just as Bruce Dickinson and company would have wanted it.

White Mystery – This punky, garage rock duo is one of the best bands gigging around the city of Chicago.

Propulsive drumming from Francis Scott Key White alongside vocals and shredding, at times bordering on pscyhedelic burts of guitar, from Miss Alex White made this set on the Rebel Stage a “can’t miss” for me (even though that meant missing NOFX at the same time on the Roots Stage).

White Mystery - Live at Riot Fest Chicago - Sunday, 9/16/12
Photo by Jim Ryan

The band barely paused throughout their set, opting instead to rock.  If you like your punk rock with hints of seventies influences like MC5, then you’ll love White Mystery.

The Jesus and Mary Chain – The band that helped to influence countless artists and lay the foundation for the shoegazer genre reformed to some degree in 2007 following a nearly nine year hiatus.

While a new album has been rumored, battling brothers Jim and William Reid have focused more on touring as of late. 

But the band sounds great and dug deep for their Riot Fest setlist.  Distorted, grinding guitar over soaring, feedback-laden solos marked b-side “Snakedriver.”  While the bass acted as the hook, the jangly guitars and sunny harmonies of “Head On” reminded me of The Ramones’ “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend” and sounded great amidst the cool, outdoor breeze on Sunday.

Elvis Costello & The Imposters – I wrote recently following a festival performance by George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic, that occasionally the shortened sets of a festival work in the favor of an ambitious artist, forcing a more focused set.

Sunday afternoon in Humboldt Park, Elvis Costello and the Imposters put on the best set that I saw at Riot Fest (if not one of the best that I’ve seen in 2012).  While a few newer numbers were played, surprisingly, this hour set spotlighted the hits. 

Not that it’s a surprise, but Costello and his band are amongst the tightest I’ve seen recently and while hits like “Radio Radio” were great early, it was some of the deeper, vintage material that stole the show.

Anyone who fails to grasp what a great guitarist Elvis Costello is need look no further than the fiery solo he laid out on “(I Don’t Want to go to) Chelsea.”

And as great a performer and entertainer as Costello is live, it’s actually his longtime partner in crime that helps him to steal the show:  Steve Nieve.  Having performed with Costello since 1977, it’s clear that the two are on the same page musically, able to anticipate just where one another is at at all times. 

Like a mad professor, Nieve sits pounding the keyboards throughout, his crazed performances on the aforementioned “Chelsea” and later on Nick Lowe’s “(What’s so Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding” stood out as some of the best examples Sunday.

“Watching the Detectives” and “(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes” continued the hit parade.  There was a moment following another ridiculous guitar solo during “Wathcing the Detectives” where Costello stood still, staring down the crowd as Nieve weaved a soundscape behind him.  It was clear he was quite happy with the performance.  It ain’t arrogant if you know that you’re right.  Isn’t that what they say?

A particularly raucous version of “Pump it Up” was followed by “Peace, Love, and Understanding” to close the set.

Alkaline Trio – For over fifteen years, Chicagoland’s own Alkaline Trio have defined punk music here.

“We love you, Chicago!  It’s nice to be home!” said Matt Skiba.

Early in the set, the band played “’97,” which they referred to as the first song that they ever wrote.  “I blew out my throat singing with The Descendents last night” said Skiba while introducing the song.

From there came “Emma” while “Mercy Me” encapsulated the band’s pop-punk sound perfectly.  The lyric “I took a long walk straight back home / I could’ve walked back to Chicago” got an appropriately enthusiastic response from the hometown crowd.

“Radio” turned into a mass sing-a-long and closed the encore.

Iggy and The Stooges – Two immediate observations:  1.) It’s almost hard to believe that these five guys were able to make that much noise.  2.)  Iggy Pop is hilarious (but not in the cartoonish fashion that Ozzy Osbourne is at times fronting Black Sabbath).

Following “Raw Power” to open the show came the opening two tracks from the 1973 album of the same name:  “Search and Destroy” and “Gimme Danger.”  These songs remain both potent and volatile in the live setting.  James Williamson’s guitar remains scorching and at times startling.  I can only begin to imagine what went through people’s heads upon initially hearing it in the early seventies.

“Bum rush the stage!” implored Iggy repeatedly early in the set.  This set off a reaction amongst the general admission crowd that can probably be compared most accurately to a stampede.  From there came “Shake Appeal” which saw Iggy at his most spastic as concertgoers flooded the stage. 

Probably not coincidentally, every single person who made it onto the stage was an attractive, young female to which Pop joked, “We take guys too!  They rigged this!  We usually get 50/50!”

“I Wanna be Your Dog” was drawn out, allowing Mike Watt time to shine on bass.  The former Minutemen bassist has filled in on The Stooges reunions since 2003. 

After several forays through the crowd early on, Iggy asked the crowd rhetorically, “Should I stage dive?”  He did.  When he got back to the stage, he destroyed his mic stand.  And it’s clear that this isn’t all for show for Iggy Pop.  He’s as intense a performer as has ever stalked a stage and remains so even at sixty-five years of age.

Heading to his solo catalog for the only moment of the night, Iggy and company powered through the jangly guitar of “The Passenger.”

“Good the f–k night!” bid Iggy to the vast crowd.  

Ending the final night of Riot Fest 2012, there was no band more intense or better suited to close out the biggest day in the festival’s history than Iggy Pop and The Stooges.

Leave a comment