To celebrate its 10th anniversary, Chicago’s Riot Fest threw a blowout bash at Humboldt Park, bringing in over 100 bands from all generations of punk and rock, from Patti Smith and Cheap Trick to Social Distortion to La Dispute. As is to be expected with such a stellar lineup, there were some brutal decisions for fans, like Sunday’s night closing battle between Weezer playing Pinkerton in its entirety to the Cure’s marathon two-and-a-half-hour run through four decades of hits. So while we couldn’t see everyone, we did our best to get the full taste of Riot Fest Chicago. Here are some of our most memorable moments from the weekend.
10. Lucero (Rise Stage, Sunday, 4:20 PM)
Coming from Memphis, Lucero brought a mix of twang and punk and offered a welcome respite from the continual frenzied onslaught of the rest of the weekend. Fans appreciated the break, embracing the quintet’s perfectly timed Sunday set under the beautiful Chicago sun. When frontman Ben Nichols turned to the group’s earlier albums for his Ryan Adams-esque songs of heartbreak, it offered some of the most beautiful and compelling moments of the weekend.
9. Tegan And Sara (Riot Stage, Sunday, 4:30 PM)
Though seemingly a bit out of place on the guitar-heavy bill, the Canadian duo’s mix of older material and recent poppier tunes drew a sizable crowd to the final day of the fest. The always engaging duo seemed appreciative of the crowd’s warm response and continually thanking the fans, and even giving a shout out to the adjoining VIP area, yelling, “Come on, VIP.” Not that they had to do much exhorting as the diehards held up signs, shouted out their love for the duo and made Tegan And Sara feel right at home.
8. The Cure (Rock Stage, Sunday, 7:30 PM)
The Cure are used to closing out Chicago fests, having done so with an epic set at Lollapalooza 2013. So the band’s two-and-a-half hour performance felt perfectly polished, as frontman Robert Smith mixed in several hits — the upbeat “Close to Me,” the moodier “Fascination Street” and the sing-songy “Pictures Of You” — with the darker, sludgier sound of their deeper cuts. Often playing deep methodical tracks, the band gave a masterful example of how to wind down a weekend.
7. Jane’s Addiction (Riot Stage, Friday, 8:45 PM)
No timeslot offered more of a musical dilemma than Friday night’s final hour, when Slayer, hometown heroes Rise Against and Jane’s Addiction went head to head. Under the mass of rain and wind that led to the weekend’s mud bath, it was hard to tell which band won the popularity contest, with all of them getting strong turnouts, but Jane’s filled the night sky with the fullest sounds. Playing Nothing’s Shocking in its entirety — one of the 10 albums played from start to finish to commemorate the fest’s 10 years — Jane’s dug out deep chestnuts for their appreciative fans. Proving that just because a band is revisiting an album all the way through they can still bring spontaneity to the stage, frontman Perry Farrell sang in “Ted, Just Admit It,” “I hope I don’t catch pneumonia/As we all know, Chicago is colder than a witch’s tits.” Other standouts from the album included the opening “Up The Beach,” which was heard throughout the park as fans made their way over, “Had A Dad” and of course the sing-along of “Jane Says.”
6. The National (Riot Stage, Saturday, 8:45 PM)
The National’s Saturday night closing set got off to a late start (25 minutes, to be precise), as the New York via Ohio indie darlings were apparently stuck in Canada (though frontman Matt Berninger quipped, “We were catching up on emails.”) The band more than made up for the late start with a tremendous set built for the huge festival. Going heavy on upbeat rockers like “Squalor Victoria,” “Bloodbuzz Ohio” and the always show-stopping “Mr. November,” the National delivered a jam-packed 50 minutes that, as usual, offered a visceral, literate and powerful experience.
5. NOFX (Roots Stage, Friday, 6:00 PM)
Playing 1994’s Punk In Drublic in its entirety, NOFX won the title of funniest Riot Fest set of the weekend in a knockout. Mixing in almost as much standup as actual music, Fat Mike and mates had a blast and made sure the good time was felt by the audience as well. The band came out as Failure was wrapping up across the field and Fat Mike wasted no time laying down the trash talk, at one point saying, “I own a label, I’ll offer Failure 100,000 dollars to break up.” And with the Offspring following them on the Roots Stage, Mike said he was a fan, but also questioned their songwriting. “I took her home and made her dessert,” he said, recounting a stanza from the band’s 1994 hit “Self Esteem,” “How long did it take them to write that one? Did you have to break out your thesaurus?” Presumably it was all in good fun, as their whole set was.
4. Social Distortion (Roots Stage, Sunday, 6:45 PM)
Mike Ness is as much a poet laureate of punk as anyone alive. The So Cal tunesmith proved that yet again, delivering lyrical wisdom culled from decades of experience. And yet, as is always the case, the band rocked as hard and loud as any on the bill all weekend, delivering hits like “Ball and Chain” and “Ring of Fire” with the same fervor as they did in O.C. clubs during the ‘80s. For any young band on the bill, this was the set to watch to see how punk can age gracefully.
3. Pussy Riot Panel (Riot Speaks, Friday, 5:45 PM)
One of the most anticipated moments of the entire weekend was the Pussy Riot panel, featuring the band’s Nadya Tolokonnikova and Masha Alekhina along with moderator Henry Rollins, Bad Religion’s Greg Graffin and Rise Against’s Tim McIlrath. Joining in was Riot Fest founder Mike Petryshyn, who spoke about how panel dicussions would be an important component of Riot Fest moving forward. Recounting their time in Russian prisons, talking about the rule under Vladimir Putin and speaking of the power of music, as well as promoting their new website MediaZona, the two were justifiably treated as heroes as they utterly spellbound the fans who waited more than an hour in the rain.
2. Afghan Whigs (Roots Stage, Saturday, 4:30 PM)
Afghan Whigs frontman Greg Dulli has spoken in the past of not being the biggest fan of festival bills. But these days, with a superb new album, Do to the Beast and a new lineup joining him on stage, Dulli is a happy camper. It showed on stage as well; Dulli smiled while displaying his trademark attitude as he playfully quoted songs like Fleetwood Mac’s “Tusk.” At the same time, none of the edge and anger has gone out of songs like Gentlemen’s “Debonair.” The result was a set that was fresh, winning and still stunningly explosive.
1. Patti Smith (Riot Stage, Sunday, 6:00 PM)
Patti Smith is arguably one of the greatest live performers in the history of rock, a snarling force of nature that uplifts while simultaneously tapping into a primal state. She is also the high priestess of punk, a Chicago native who was there for the music’s onset, first as a writer, then a performer in the New York CBGB days. Add both of those elements to the fact that Sunday was the birthday of her late husband Fred “Sonic” Smith and that she writes in her memoir Just Kids about walking through Humboldt Park as a child and you have all the makings for an epic set. She did not disappoint, dedicating several songs to her late husband, including “Because the Night.” She drew on her whole history to also include the anthem “People Have the Power” and “Rock And Roll N***er.”