Friday afternoon, for the first time in its new home of Douglas Park on the city’s west side, recently embattled Riot Fest got off to a soggy start with performances by Death, Fishbone, Living Colour, Against Me!, Anthrax, Flogging Molly, Eagles of Death Metal, Faith No More, Motörhead, No Doubt, Ice Cube and more…
Riot Fest has become the embodiment of how difficult it can be to exist as an independent festival in the city of Chicago… As opposed to say a bigger festival that closes a much larger park and creates more traffic headaches for city residents than any other – but features a tight relationship with the Mayor’s brother.
Which might go a long way toward explaining Riot Fest’s controversial new home in North Lawndale’s Douglas Park, a neighborhood featuring one of the highest concentrations of violent crime in the city of Chicago.
In keeping with Riot Fest’s often snakebitten history, rain saturated Douglas Park early on Friday with more in the forecast for Saturday, which, once again, will likely result in extensive repairs to another city park. It’s anybody’s guess how much longer either side will be able to make things work.
But none of that stopped approximately 45,000 concertgoers from checking out arguably the greatest roster of artists assembled by any festival in the United States this year.
Sound issues plagued the festival throughout the day. Fans in front had to chant “Turn it up!” early as Living Colour frontman Corey Glover attempted to start their set with little to no amplification. Flogging Molly suffered worse hours later – a lot of which probably has to do with the festival’s controversial proximity to St. Anthony’s Hospital, who sued last week to keep the festival from even happening (with both sides eventually settling).
All of that said, there was an incredible amount of fantastic music taking place Friday afternoon. Death took the stage at the very un-rock hour of 1PM, continuing to write the next chapter in a story featuring a remarkable rebirth following their fascinating 2012 documentary A Band Called Death.
The group tore through a powerful forty-five minute set, humble as always, that closed with their most well-known track “Politicians in my Eyes.”
Fishbone is the epitome of fun and kept the crowd moving shortly thereafter with stagediving band members, an inflatable smiley face and a powerful message. “Sunshine comes from within” said lead singer/saxophone player Angelo Moore following comments on violent crime as the band launched into “Everyday Sunshine,” a performance that turned into an almost gospel tinged call and response, Moore riding atop the crowd’s outstretched arms. It was one of the festival’s few political moments Friday and a possible nod to it’s new neighborhood.
A cover of Sublime’s “Date Rape” and a snippet of Iron Butterfly’s “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” worked as great examples of the band’s range, a stew that over forty-five minutes hit on everything from rock to funk, punk to ska, gospel to jazz and more.
Once the aforementioned sound issues got worked out, Living Colour, featuring a brief cameo by Anthrax’s Frank Bello, put on one of the loudest, most intense performances on day one of Riot Fest 2015.
Frontman Corey Glover scaled the catwalk on both sides of the stage and virtuoso guitarist Vernon Reid was on fire (his blistering fretwork into “This Little Pig” was particularly impressive).
But even twenty-seven years after its initial release, there’s simply no denying the power of the band’s biggest hit, “Cult of Personality.” Glover has lost none of his vocal range and the band, throughout the song’s trademarks starts and stops, ran like a well-oiled machine before closing with a cover of The Clash’s “Should I Stay or Should I Go.”
Speaking of cameos, Eagles of Death Metal featured an unlikely one that seemed to be lost on the vast majority of Friday’s crowd: pop star Ke$ha who provided backing vocals. The band teased the Rolling Stones’ “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” before closing with a rollicking, extended, guitar battle during 2004’s “Speaking in Tongues.”
Against Me’s Laura Jane Grace displayed Friday’s best t-shirt – one that featured the words “GENDER IS OVER” in the same font as the old John Lennon “WAR IS OVER” ads. It was easily the festival’s strongest message in support of transgender acceptance and was on full display as the band battled the sound issues before closing with “Black Me Out” and “Teenage Anarchist.”
Blue Island’s own Mest made their Chicago return Friday afternoon, flanked by members of No Doubt’s horn section on “Drawing Board.”
From there, Faith No More (who went on almost fifteen minutes late) fell victim to an interesting dichotomy: the simultaneous crush of fans arriving late (following Anthrax) and fans leaving early (it’s possible that performing “Epic” fifth in their set was a concerted effort to ensure exactly that).
The band mixed tracks like “Black Friday,” from their stellar new album Sol Invictus, early alongside hits like their cover of The Commodores’ “Easy” and “Midlife Crisis” during the day’s most physically uncomfortable set.
But the biggest question for most festivalgoers Friday afternoon was which headliner to see as No Doubt, Ice Cube and Motörhead all started at the same time. Despite the fact that Ice Cube’s set promised much rumored special guests, it was the return of Motörhead frontman Lemmy Kilmister following a litany of recent health issues that made for the more compelling story.
Once a ubiquitous fixture on both the metal and festival circuits, it’s become increasingly rare to catch Motörhead in the live setting. But despite Lemmy’s health issues, Motörhead has actually experienced one of their most fruitful periods as a band, releasing two new studio albums since 2013 (Bad Magic came out last week and features a scorching cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil”).
Having cut short or cancelled a number of recent live dates, it was anyone’s guess how Friday’s set would go. But over the course of an hour, Lemmy once again defied age and staked Motörhead’s claim as one of the most unique bands in the history of metal, the result of their still potent mix of punk and heavy metal. “We are Motörhead… And we play rock and roll!” declared the frontman in his inimitable style.
Lemmy Kilmister, as CJ Ramone once pointed out, goes beyond mere rock and roll icon into a rare class more resembling a folk hero. “Is it loud enough?” he joked heading into the psychedelic haze of 1979’s “Metropolis.” “Would you like it louder? I’ll have to turn it up then!” It was a joke he likely didn’t even realize the irony of on an afternoon rife with sound issues.
Motörhead’s punk influence was on full display during “Over the Top,” a performance Lemmy dedicated to – who else? – himself. “This is gonna be the last song for us but if you make some noise, we come back” mocked the bassist as the opening chords to “Ace of Spades” rang out across Douglas Park Friday night.
The rock world is a better one when Lemmy is around. Here’s to hoping we see him again soon on a Chicago stage.
Walking east from the Rebel Stage following “Ace of Spades,” No Doubt could be heard moving from “Just a Girl” to “Spiderwebs” as Ice Cube closed an N.W.A. centered set (which featured special guests MC Ren and DJ Yella) with two of his biggest solo hits in the P-Funk flavored “Bop Gun” and “It Was a Good Day.”
And despite the rain, sound, etc., it was hard to consider the first day of Riot Fest 2015 anything but.
– Jim Ryan (@RadioJimRyan)
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Tags: Against Me!, Anthrax, Corey Glover, Death, DJ Yella, Douglas Park, Dr. Dre, Eagles of Death Metal, Eazy-E, Faith No More, Fishbone, Flogging Molly, Frank Bello, Gwen Stefani, Ice Cube, Ke$ha, Kesha, Laura Jane Grace, Lemmy Kilmister, Living Colour, MC Ren, Mest, Mikkey Dee, Motorhead, N.W.A., No Doubt, Phil Campbell, Riot Fest, Scott Ian, Vernon Reid