Riot Fest 2016 Chicago is over but not forgotten. It was filled with diverse talent from around the world. There really was something for everyone. Several of our In The Loop staff attended and here are our reviews of the festival itself, the bands and the experience.
James Currie’s reviews:
Here are my highlights of Riot Fest 2016 in Douglas Park. How did I, with all the amazing talent packed in three days and multi stages, come to this conclusion? Experience and pure ear candy. These bands stood out as true performances worthy of getting in early or staying late. They sounded great. They put on a great, fun and entertaining show. That’s how. For me, it wasn’t about technical abilities or skills or because they were billed as a headliner, these bands gave it their all and it showed.
That’s not to say there weren’t more, because there were many really good performances. Many more I could write about like the always amazing Flaming Lips, Ween, Deftones, Pepper, Bob Mould, Fucked Up, Fu Manchu and Jessica Hernandez & The Deltas but these really stood out as breakthrough performances. Or ones that I missed that I’m sure where just as amazing like Misfits, Rob Zombie and Sleater-Kinney.
The Highlights of the festival itself this year include the general layout. It was much easier to get around. No mud pits! It only rained the first day during the very beginning but soon cleared up. The grass stayed solid and the dirt stayed loose. Almost too loose as it was a dust bowl at times when the wind kicked up. Another thing we noticed is that merchandise prices weren’t actually that bad. Not like Lolla prices. Most shirts were only about $5 more than regular concert prices. I mean, they are still crazy high for what they are, but that’s what prices are everywhere now on band merch. If I understand it right, that’s where most bands really make their money and if that’s true, I’m fine with it.
The Neutral. The line up. I mean, we did get The Original Misfits with Glen Danzig, but it wasn’t a complete original, original line up. Some would argue that getting Morrissey would be a highlight, but many others would disagree. Now if it was The Smiths!… In general, we got a lot of repeat bands. It would be great to see more new bands and legacy bands that haven’t yet been or at least only been once in the 10+ years you’ve been around.
The downside. Some of the disappointments of the festival would be things like band scheduling and stage placements. You could hear other acts playing from stage to stage and putting some performances up against like performances was bad, but not as bad as some years. Security at the main, and only general admission gate was rough. The snaking line through the crowd control fences was not necessary and only seemed to make things worse. That and the amount of things banned was ridiculous. No bottled water. No umbrellas. It’s an outdoor festival that is guaranteed to get rain and be hotter than hell at least one of the days. No chain wallets? Do you know who your clientele is Riot Fest? Just look at the majority of your act – Punk Rock. It’s a lifestyle and self security, not just fashion. Also, they could have put a path through from the East side food vendors behind the Rock Stage to the Roots and Riot Stages to get traffic to flow better. Speaking of food vendors, please guys and gals, watch your prices! $12 for 3 lightly filled tacos was way to steep. I understand these vendors do this for business, but you need to remember where you are and who the clientele is. Most already paid a pretty penny just to get in. Paying $20 for hot dog meal with a side drink is just asinine.
The over the top monster themed hardcore punk band from VA are back for another assault on Chicago. This marks the bands 5th time to Riot Fest that was meet with great fanfare. The crowd gathering at their stage was insane. Easily one of the biggest gatherings that day. GWAR are a mainstay at Riot Fest the returns every year just like the festival itself and no one grows tired of it. If anything, their fan base grows larger that their own animated life.
Since founding member, Dave Brockie’s (Oderus Urungus) passing in 2014, the band was left without any original members, but still managed to continue on as the juggernaut they’ve become. The brand Brockie built has become much larger than just one person or name. GWAR is a living, breathing and bleeding entity that continues he’s legacy.
Several of the current members have been with the band for a great deal of time. As a matter of fact, longer than many bands these days even exist. Don Drakulich (Sleazy P. Martini), Mike Derkis (Balsac The Jaws of Death), Michael Bishop (Blothar / Beefcake) and Brad Roberts (Jizmak Da Gusha) have all been members since the mid to late 80’s.
Today, they are joined by a slew of new character that included political pundits, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and of course, Donald Trump. They weren’t there to talk politics, no, they were there to bleed. And bleed they did as they simulated political debates that ran amok and ended in being dismembered and butchered with spews of blood that reached 10 rows deep into the crowd. With each song break, a new figure would come out and meet their demise. The fans went nuts and just couldn’t get enough.
And if that wasn’t enough, they had blood cannons that fired streams of red and blue liquid everywhere. Plus, let’s not forget Blothar’s 4 penis’ that shot out multi stream colors.
They sounded great. They put on a good show for the limited time they had. It’s always amazing to see how these guys and gals can perform with all those costumes and props. I only wish they could have played a full set. We could have watched this for hours.
GWAR Setlist (Riot Fest 2016 – Chicago)
Someone new to the scene is California based band, Plague Vendor. Their debut album, Free To Eat, came out in 2014. This thrashy punk metal group tours endlessly. Even before the album came out. Their next release, Bloodsweat, punches you even harder in your face. It captures what they are really known for, their live sound and energy.
They brought it to Riot Fest. Billed on the opening spot of the Riot Stage, they took control of the platform and fans who made it out that early to witness it.
Lead singer Brandon Blaine is an intense front man. He reminds me of a mix between Nick Cave, Iggy Pop and Phil Anselmo with a hint of James Brown. All of them at their peak in their younger starting out days. He’s wild and full of energy. Jumping around, telling stories like the “Middle” of things being the best part and why he likes it, but doesn’t know where that story is going before pulling his shirt over his head and singing with a mic jammed in his mouth. He swivels his hips and shuffles his feet like JB all while belting out their lyrics.
The rest of the band are tight and strong. They compliment each other perfectly. Jay Rogers on guitar, Michael Perez on Bass and Luke Perine completes the quintet on drums.
This is a band you absolutely need to see live. And do it now while their still young and chomping at the bit.
Plague Vendor Setlist (Riot Fest 2016 – Chicago)
Illinois residents and Chicago suburban pop punk band, Smoking Popes are back. The brothers, Josh, Eli and Matt Caterer from Lake in The Hills return to the stage with another amazing set and fan turn out. Mike felumlee joins them for a mid afternoon romp on the southern most stage.
Lead singer / songwriter Josh Caterer warms up to the crowd thanking them for coming out in support. They rip through classics like, “Let’s Hear It For Love”, “Need You Around” and “Megan”. They even played a new track from an album coming out soon on Asian Man Records.
Josh Caterer spoke about Gene Wilder and how much he liked and appreciated his works, then rolled into “Pure Imagination” the Wilder, Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory song.
After a brief break up from the late 90’s to mid 00’s, they have been going strong releasing just as many albums since the reform since there first start with 1993’s, “Get Fired”.
One of the fan favorites and highlights was Megan. Something that was made even more famous when the band, Bayside, did a cover of it and an online video remix went viral on YouTube. This was something that Caterer told us the story about and thanked them for helping bring Smoking Popes back into the spotlight.
Smoking Popes Setlist (Riot Fest 2016 – Chicago)
WOW. So much to say about the return of The Hives. This rowdy band from Sweden are still receiving praise for being one of the most energetic live bands around. This performance only solidified that.
This time around, The Hives front man, Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist, dawns long blonde hair and an attitude to match. The band, all dressed in black and white miss match suits, come out swinging. Almqvist is another one of those lead singers front men that will no doubt go down in history as one of the greats. He bullshits with the crowd the entire time. Like a modern day David Lee Roth, but can actually still sing and remember his lyrics.
They tear through the hits in what Almqvist calls out (in his best David Johansen impression) as a travesty of time as they only get 30+ minutes to rock. Highlights from this include a mega breakdown during the track, “Walk, Idiot Walk”, off their third release, Tyrannosaurus Hives (2004). During the middle of the song, he walks out to the crowd and commands them to do things. Like squat down and get up again. He tells mini stories, but then goes back to how sad this is they only get to play such a short time.
One fan in the crowd shouted, “Where have you been?” They went on to say, man these guys are so good but here have they been since the mid 00’s? It appears that they took a little time off but had there last release and tour in 2012.
They continued on and played through other hits like the Apple TV commercial for iPods, “Hate to Say I Told You So” and Die, All Right!” both off their break through album, Veni Vidi Vicious” (2000) before calling it quits and leaving the sun soaked stage.
The Hives Setlist (Riot Fest 2016 – Chicago)
Fred Peth’s reviews:
Pepper played the Rock Stage on the first day of Riot Fest at 6:05pm. The trio (Kaleo Wassman – Vocals/Guitar; Bret Bolinger – Vocals/Bass; Yesod Williams – Drums) formed in 1997 and moved to the mainland from their hometown of Kailua Kona, Hawaii in 1999. Even though Pepper has played Chicago numerous times, this was their first time at Riot Fest. My first introduction to Pepper’s music was back in 2006 by a great college friend of mine. I have always enjoyed their fun spirit on stage and it shows in their personalities. They truly enjoy interacting with people on and offstage.
To start their set, Yesod (who is also the biggest Chicago Bears fan in Kona) got the crowd riled up by running onto the middle speaker in front of the stage and proudly waved his Bears flag to a thunderous response of hollering and cheers. Soon after, Kaleo and Bret joined him on stage and opened with the song ‘Too Much’. As a huge Pepper fan, it was great to see them back in Chicago.
Even though it was a short set due to time constraints, they played a nice variety of songs from their various albums. The crowd was introduced to the songs ‘Start You Up’ and ‘Vacation’ from their newest album ‘Ohana’. You could feel the Ohana spirit in the air as the crowd and myself were singing and jumping around along with them. Each song sounded great from the front row. The songs had a great mix of reggae, funky dub and rock to keep the crowd moving. After this weekend, I am sure Pepper was a highlight for many and added more fans to their following.
Setlist for Pepper (Chicago, IL) September 16th, 2016
Rob Zombie (born Robert Barthleh Cummings) proved once again why he is one of the greatest performers in the heavy metal scene. He commanded the Roots Stage for an hour on Sunday night playing the ‘Astro-Creep: 2000’ album and songs ‘Thunder Kiss ‘65’ and ‘Dragula’. I have seen Rob Zombie numerous times over the years and I knew that this was going to be a great show from the stage setup, the props and the videos.
Once the first song kicked in Rob took charge of the night and began singing as he danced from side-to-side of the stage with his dreads flying in the air. He stated that some of the songs he has not played in about 23 years and asked for a little help from the crowd. He also got support from his band; who are John 5 (guitar, backing vocals), Piggy D. (bass, backing vocals) and Ginger Fish (drums). The lesser-played songs of the evening sounded just as intense as they did when I first saw White Zombie live in Arizona in 1998.
Loving Rob Zombie’s creative ideas you can see his inspiration through his influence from classic horror and suspense films. A few of the bands he was influenced by include Alice Cooper, Queen, Elton John and KISS. All of these impacts were seen on the video screen behind the band and in his costumes. His wife, Sheri Moon Zombie (born Sheri Lyn Skurkis), has designed many of the costumes for the band and is the only one in the band, other than Rob himself, to be around for when ‘Astro-Creep 2000’ was made. Rob thanked her for being by his side for all these years and got her to come onto the stage and waved to the crowd. The crowd responded with a thunderous cheer and chats of ‘Sheri…Sheri…Sheri’.
Once again Rob Zombie did not disappoint and that was evident watching the band’s interaction with the crowd, the mosh pits and crowd surfing from start to finish of the night. What was a surprise of the night that Rob stated the band did not have one rehearsal of this set before playing it. This goes to show that these guys have played great together all these years and have the staying power for many years to come.
Rob Zombie Setlist (Riot Fest 2016 – Chicago)
Social Distortion closed out the Rock Stage on Saturday night at Riot Fest. They played their album ‘White Light, White Heat, White Trash’ from beginning to end and threw in a little blues song with ending the night playing Johnny Cash’s ‘Ring Of Fire’. The album was released 20 years ago to the day and even though Mike Ness (lead vocals, lead guitar) is the only original member, the guys he has playing with him up are extremely talented and been with him for a number of years. Jonny “2 Bags” Wickersham (rhythm guitar, backing vocals), Brent Harding (bass, backing vocals), David Hidalgo, Jr. (drums, percussion), David Kalish (keyboards, Hammond organ) round out this punk rock band from California.
This is the second time Social Distortion has played Riot Fest in Chicago and didn’t show any signs of slowing down. They jumped into their first song ‘Dear Lover’ as soon as they walked on stage. As Mike Ness belted out the lyrics, the crowd responded singing along with their fists in the air. Clouds of dust were being kicked up from the crowd moshing and security was busy catching the numerous crowd surfers throughout the set.
The album has a lot of great hits all filled with Mike Ness’ raw emotion. Each song is a true part of his life. He does not hide anything in his life and each song is a reflection of what he has been through good and bad. After singing and moving from the first song, the crowd was able to catch their breath listening to the made up ‘I Can’t Come To Chicago Without Playing The Blues’ song. As they always do, Social Distortion ended the night with their intense cover of Johnny Cash’s ‘Ring Of Fire’. Social Distortion is true to life giving everything into their performances, which is why they have been a staple in the punk rock scene for nearly 40 years.
Setlist for Social Distortion (Chicago, IL) September 17th, 2016
Eric McWhorter’s Review:
Ween’s Riot Fest appearance marked the first time the band had performed in Chicago since 2011, and it was quite a return. Playing songs from each of their albums, Dean and Gene treated the crowd to an inspired set with both deep cuts and fan favorites. OK, who are we kidding – Ween fan favorites and deep cuts are pretty much the same thing.
The band traversed their timeline adeptly, enthralling the audience with a broad range of styles encompassing everything from garage rock to psychedelic trip-funk. The Golden Eel in all of its splendor allowed Glenn to work his magic on the keys, the scathing pace of Dr. Rock and I’ll Be Your Johnny on the Spot showcased Claude and Dave’s rhythmic prowess, and A Tear for Eddie and Buenas Tardes Amigo gave Deaner the opportunity to show his sensitive side. Gene’s voice was better than I’ve ever heard at a live show – he was quite simply spot-on throughout the set.
We took in the show with a group of very excited fans, with nearly everyone around us singing along with every song. The consensus of all with whom we spoke was that Ween had absolutely nailed it. As we departed the stage area, we were giddy with the joy of having seen a band we all had hoped would reunite someday.
Ween Setlist (Riot Fest 2016 – Chicago)