Concert Review: American Football & Ween at Riot Fest

I went to Riot Fest last year for the first time because I couldn’t miss the opportunity to see Beck. I ended up seeing not only the 90’s alternative icon, but post-punk revival indie band Interpol as well. For only going one day I had a splendid time. I went to go do it again this year.

Ween is another eccentric 90’s outfit I became infatuated with as I further explored the “weird” side of indie music – their goofy song titles, crude lyrics, absurdist subject matter, and flavorful psychedelia all garnered them a strong cult following over the years and it certainly cannot be overlooked that they are incredibly influential in the unorthodox musical approach bands began taking around the same time. I missed them last year when they came to the Rave so I decided to go down to Chicago Sunday and see them at Riot Fest. I heard word they’d be playing their acclaimed aquatic-themed 1997 record “The Mollusk” all the way through – I was stoked.

Ween consists of childhood friends Aaron Freeman (“Gene Ween”) and Mickey Melchiondo (“Dean Ween”), who swap vocals and each alternate between lead and rhythm guitar. Dave Dreiwitz plays bass, Claude Coleman Jr. plays drums, and Glenn McClelland plays keyboards. Originally from Pennsylvania, they went on a three-year hiatus in 2012 before they returned to playing in 2015 (although they have only been playing old material; their last record came out in 2007). Their style has encompassed elements of country, funk, soul, gospel, punk, and prog rock depending on the album. Both Freeman and Melchiondo cite The Mollusk as their favorite record they’ve ever done.

Their set was two hours long. They began with a couple old songs from their early records (“God Ween Satan,” “Pure Guava,” “Chocolate & Cheese,” etc.) before they embarked on playing through The Mollusk. It was a show of sing-along energy, dark blue glow, riffing breaks, and hilarious commentary. Of course, the last song on the record is perhaps their signature song “Ocean Man” which easily epitomized the crowd’s anticipation. They still had about a half hour left after finishing it (The Mollusk is only about forty-three minutes long) so they played a few more cuts off their other records, as well as teasing a cover of “Baby Hold On” by Eddie Money. They came back for an encore, playing “Roses Are Free” from Chocolate & Cheese.

I also saw emo pioneers American Football play a forty-five minute set before Ween. The band is legendary as far as 90’s emo goes – their self-titled debut record is seminal indie-math rock that turned heads thanks largely to college radio stations at the time. Orginally from Urbana, IL, the band consists of vocalist/guitarist Mike Kinsella, guitarist Steve Holmes, bassist Nate Kinsella, and drummer Steve Lamos. They only had a short three-year run in the late 90’s until they reformed in 2014 and have released two more records since (both also self-titled).

American Football played six songs – three off their record from this year (their third), one from their second record, and two from their debut ( “Honestly?” and “Never Meant,” the latter of which is perhaps their most well-known song). It was a peaceful, nostalgia-hitting set – I expect many Riot Fest veterans were enthralled for this show. Some rain sprinkled us, which I felt captivated the emo band’s confessional lyricism and lengthy guitar passages exceptionally.

All in all, I had a great Riot Fest. I got there mid-afternoon and didn’t have a ton of time, but I saw the bands I wanted to see. Ween is a grand old time. If you like antics in a band’s stage presence, don’t miss them.

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