RECAP: Riot Fest 2019, Day One
As one of the last festivals of the season in the Midwest, Riot Fest in Chicago is known for having a stacked lineup as of recent years, sending thousands of punk, metal, and alternative rock fans to Douglas Park in Chicago. Friday was no different, with a massive crowd enjoying an unusual mid-September warmup with a laundry list of great sets.
Things got into high gear early, as Anti-Flag brought an energetic set to the Radicals stage, with plenty of backing “woah”s and harmonies that resonated all the way to the Riot Fest front gate. The band has a storied career at this point, making for plenty of material to choose from, leading all the way up to last year’s “American Reckoning”. That being said, their set was full of fan favorites, and even a local Chicago connection, dedicating “The Press Corpse” to Jerry Bryant of JBTV.
The shifting of fans started immediately after that set, as many ran to go see Hot Water Music over on the Rise stage nearby. The veterans of the Warped Tour scene know how to make the most of their Riot Fest set, and the band definitely did that on Friday, with a myriad of tracks from across their discography. It was hard to get the crowd moving up with the exception of near the front of the stage, but Hot Water Music managed to do so by the end of their set.
Part of the reason that the crowd wasn’t moving as much, possibly, was that the wind at Douglas Park sent the sound swirling away from the stage, making things difficult to hear at times. One of the biggest victims of that was Senses Fail, whose midday album set celebrating 15 years of “Let It Enfold You” got off to a rocky start. The quieter parts of the screamo album (yes, I’m aware of what I said) occasionally got lost in the mix, but the band’s enthusiasm helped kick things up a notch. The band ripped through the album, and still had time for a great cover of Suicidal Tendencies’ “Institutionalized” and hit single “Can’t Be Saved”.
Fans literally sprinted from Senses Fail’s set over to the Riot Stage, where Neck Deep came out full of gusto. Being one of the main stages, there were less issues with wind, and frontman Ben Barlow instead focused himself on getting the crowd to move as much as possible. The Welshmen are one in many ways one of the acts saving the pop punk genre, and the Chicago crowd was quick to oblige Barlow’s commands to open things up. The band also covered Natalie Imbruglia’s “Torn” towards their set, which is a certified banger and will always be, so they could essentially do no wrong from that point forward.
There was a Milwaukee connection on the Friday lineup as well, as Violent Femmes quickly took the Roots stage following Neck Deep’s set. As you might expect, an acoustic bass, brushed drums and a clean channel guitar didn’t fare well with the sound issues, but the Femmes did draw one of the larger midday crowds. With a mixture of music from their latest, “Hotel Last Resort” and many of the hits from their 1982 self-titled debut, the band’s brand of avant-garde weirdness got the crowd singing along. Interestingly, the band sounded better near the back of the stage area, with the wind blowing things further out into the crowd.
One band that wouldn’t let wind (or anything else) get in their way from delivering a great set was skate punk icons Pennywise. Their set on the Radicals stage had a very take-no-prisoners way about it, sending the crowd into a frenzy, with multiple circle pits throughout their time on stage. For a set that included a singalong to a punk version of “Stand By Me”, a cover of Minor Threat’s “Minor Threat”, as well as hits from throughout their career, the band showed why they’re living legends, and will continue to push on for a long time.
As the sun set, and the winds died down, one of the hallmark sets of the day encompassed a big crowd at the Roots stage, as The Flaming Lips celebrated their 2002 album “Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots”. The title track is already a staple of the band’s live set, but the rest of the album got its just due, in a set that featured the always-stunning visual spectacle that the band brings everywhere with them. There was a poignant tribute to the recently passed Daniel Johnston, with a performance of “True Love Will Find You In The End” that looked like even Wayne Coyne was having difficulty to get through. However, the bar is always elevated two or three levels when it comes to The Flaming Lips live, and they are a can’t miss live act at this stage in their career.
While the night was closing with Blink 182 on the Riot stage, the band that was reunited by Riot Fest just two years ago, Jawbreaker, closed things out at the Rise stage. The band seemed genuinely appreciative of the Chicago crowd, delivering a smattering of songs from the albums that really took on their biggest mainstream popularity after the band’s breakup. Frontman Blake Schwarzenbach was light on dialogue with the crowd, save for a short aside about being stuck in their dressing room, an offer to vomit with someone on the Riot Fest zipper ride, and then a mention that they were short on time. For many that couldn’t make their last Riot Fest set, Jawbreaker was a bucket-list band to see live for decades during their hiatus, and their set on Friday night showed why they became so beloved.