Riot Fest Chicago 2013: Top 20 Riotous Moments



A little rain never hurt anyone, right? On Sunday, Chicago cribbed Seattle’s weather, drenching the climactic finale of a three-day weekend topped off by the proper Midwestern return of The Replacements. If previous years are any consideration, the early autumn chill typically runs amok during Riot Fest. It did last year, tweaking the festival’s signature carnival fare into something Bradbury-like, and it happened once again this past Friday. Sunlight died over the trees, tiki torches swayed in the breeze, and smells of cider and funnel cake wafted in the air — perfect.

RiotFest2013-41But that rain. It didn’t make things easier; from the sticky mud to the sharp umbrellas that armed the crowd. Unhappy faces trudged around with beer, some covering their Riot-ready mohawks with dirty ponchos, while puddles evolved into new pond fixtures for Humboldt Park. Emotions shifted, however, when so and so’s favorite band played either the Roots, Rock, Rise, Rebel, or Riot stages.

Bob Mould kept the veterans warm, Best Coast strummed out aural sunshine, Brand New elicited screams from the thousands of Brand New fans in their newly purchased Brand New merchandise, and the Freak Show turned a balmy tent into an atmosphere of anxiety as people stuck things in their noses, eyes, and mouths to much candor. Sorry Mother Nature, (don’t) try harder.

Sporting this year’s most eccentric lineup — who ever thought The Replacements would be billed next to Fall Out Boy? — Riot Fest strut their quirky stuff and let the freaks, the punk rockers, the greyhairs, the casuals, the dramatists, and everyone else in between ride the ferris wheel together. Considering rock ‘n’ roll has become such a niche market, it’s comforting to see the genre’s best party can still be had. As Tim Armstrong said best on Saturday night, “See how we do this, see how we ride.”

–Michael Roffman

20. Blondie


Photo by Daniela Montelongo

You mean, the Blondie? Yes. At 68 years old, Debbie Harry is still asking you to call her.

Is that Professor McGonagall? Perhaps her lost sister? The whole cult/wizard outfit was a bit much, and oddly bizarre given that October’s still a good two weeks away. Watching her sway around in the baggy robe during “One Way or Another” had me Googling old cover art for Parallel Lines to jog my memory.

She’s a Beastie Boys fan, though. Why wouldn’t she be? The former Playboy bunny was one of the most sought after sex icons of New York City in the ’70s. She’s from the 305, but her heart’s always been 212. When she squeezed “No Sleep Til Brooklyn” into “Rapture”, it only made sense.


Photo by Daniela Montelongo

Who’s that old guy up there? Chris Stein. He’s only responsible for co-writing their best song, “Heart of Glass”, among others.

“And he would’ve been right. I admit it. I live in a highly excited state of overstimulation.” The Nicki Brand of yesteryear still adores her crowd, even if several admittedly snuck out towards the end.

Riotous Scale [1-5 fists]: Two from the elderly (and adorable) gay couple championing Harry on and singing every word.

–Michael Roffman

19. Glassjaw


Photo by Katie Schuering

Who are these people?: Well, if you had any interest in the post-hardcore scene in the late ’90s and early aughts, you probably know that already. Though they only have two LPs to their a name (a third has been gestating for years), Glassjaw’s throat-shredding caterwauls have spawned dozens of imitators, none of whom can match the intensity you’ll find at one of the band’s live shows, due mainly to Daryl Palumbo’s violent and unpredictable wail.

Sole sing-along: Nobody goes to Glassjaw to sing along. You go to scream along, I guess? But the crowd became visibly more engaged during “Ape Dos Mil”, a highlight from 2002’s Worship and Tribute that actually features, well, something of a hook. There was plenty of crowd-surfing and slam-dancing going on, sure, but “Ape Dos Mil” gave those in the back something to do besides pick the scream from their ears.

Best worst tattoo: “Life is pain” written on some guy’s arm above the outline of a maple leaf.


Photo by Katie Schuering

Only way I can describe their sound: A heavily distorted recording of someone swishing their mouth with Listerine.

Blink-182 t-shirt count: 14

Riotous Scale [1-5 fists]: Three fists and pulpy shreds of Daryl Palumbo’s vocal chords.

–Randall Colburn

18. Guided By Voices


Photo by Katie Schuering

Welcome to the Monument Club: Staggeringly drunk, hyper literate, and frighteningly prolific, Guided By Voices are, to many, the holy grail of ’90s-era indie rock. After a seven-year hiatus, the band has been especially fruitful since reuniting with its classic lineup in 2012, releasing no less than four full-length records over the past year and a half. GBV’s latest, English Little League, came out in April.

So, what’s the verdict? Call it a case of a great band caught in the wrong setting. Intimacy plays a pretty big role in the GBV formula. No one beats these guys in a club setting surrounded by 500 or so of their most fiercely loyal admirers, but at a festival populated by a broader cross-section of fans, something gets lost in translation. The band front-loaded its set with newer, post-reunion material and threw longtime fans a few old school favorites off of Vampire On Titus and Bee Thousand, but the overall vibe was a lot more reserved in the midday festival spotlight.


Photo by Katie Schuering

How long did it take Robert Pollard to break out the high kicks? Two minutes, give or take. How that guy doesn’t repeatedly throw his back out is beyond me.

An odd recommendation courtesy of Uncle Bob? “Blondie’s up next. I hear she has a great ass!”

Riotous Scale [1-5 fists]: Three. It’s hard to give GBV any less considering the boundless energy they bring to the stage. Plus, they slug Cuervo the way us common-folk do beer, and that counts for something, right?

–Ryan Bray

17. Joan Jett and the Blackhearts


Photo by Daniela Montelongo

Kristen Stewart vs. Joan Jett: With 2010’s The Runaways still stuck in my head, it’s hard to shake the image of hearing Jett’s voice without seeing the “fuck you” glare of Stewart. Idiotic conundrum aside, Jett retains her own leathered brand of attitude and it’s just as vital some 30 years later. When she pummeled into “Bad Reputation”, it was an oxidized snarl, but nonetheless a snarl.

“I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll”: People still love this song. I, however, wondered how much Jett loathes it. As Dan Pfleegor pointed out, “Everyone clocks into work.” Eh, I’d take Microsoft Excel to having to play that every night forever…and ever…and ever.

Laura Jane Grace vs. Joan Jett: The Against Me! singer appears on the Blackhearts’ forthcoming tenth studio album, Unvarnished, and so Jett invited her on-stage midway through the set. Although it’s classic Blackhearts stuff, the (forgettable) duet had to compete with the smells of several food stations nearby…


Photo by Daniela Montelongo

Hey, it’s Rock It Out! Blog videographer Tahm Orr! That bowl of Pad Thai must have tasted fabulous during “Cherry Bomb” while squeezing through several thousand souls at the Rock Stage.

Missed opportunity: It would have been nice if Paul Westerberg could have joined her for “Let’s Do It”. Oh well. Tommy James and the Shondells’ “Crimson and Clover” worked out just fine, too.

Riotous Scale [1-5 fists]: It’s fucking Joan Jett. We’re talking three fists, preferably in leather gloves and holding sugary-sweet cherry cola.

–Michael Roffman

16. Quicksand


Photo by Katie Schuering

Another reunion act? Yep, and one of the more understated of this year’s festival. The Replacements stole pretty much all of the reunion thunder this year, but quietly hanging back in the shadows on Sunday was Quicksand. The New York post-hardcore band, having split after two hugely underrated records in Slip (1993) and Manic Compression (1995), reformed for shows last year.

Cold open: To be fair, Walter Schreifels and company had their work cut out for them when they took the stage on early Sunday afternoon. Early festival sets are traditionally met with indifference by a small congregation of fans, and the cold, rainy weather certainly didn’t do much to help their cause. That said, Quicksand kept it simple, keeping the banter to a minimum and going to work over the course of their 40 minute set. Renditions of “Brown Gargantuan”, “Too Official”, and “Dine Alone” proved to be enough to warm up even the soggiest of onlookers.


Photo by Katie Schuering

Feeling centered: Schriefels seemed to be in a particularly expansive mood, treating fans to a number of tantric-like poses, often times in mid-song. Hey man, whatever you have to do to fight through the cold.

Greatest guest appearance that never was? At some point during the set, Schreifels called for all mimes in the crowd to join the band onstage. Sure enough, a parade of four or five carny folk made their way to the front, but sadly they never made good on the singer’s invite. Minutes later, a mime was seen leaving the stage through the crowd with a bunch of knives. Sounds safe.

Riotous Scale [1-5 fists]: Three. The band dealt with the elements well and got the crowd engaged, which maybe is all you can really ask.

–Ryan Bray

15. Stars


Photo by Katie Schuering

What are they doing here? As astute, catchy, and wonderful the romantic electro-pop of Stars is, it’s also a bit of an anomaly among the more punk-, hardcore-, and GWAR-minded acts throughout the rest of the fest.

But hey, the band knows it too. Before they brought forth the silent-movie strains of “Your Ex-Lover Is Dead”, co-frontman Torquil Campbell quipped that “We were a little intimidated about playing Riot Fest because…well, look at us.”

How Stars held their own: By blazing through a set of thoroughly danceable gems such as opener “Fixed”, “Backlines”, and “MidnightCoward”.

Did the crowd actually dance? Eh. Sort of. Amy Millan did her best to get things moving, and while a few bodies swayed, the grassy dance floor never reached the blissful heights of a normal Stars show.


Photo by Katie Schuering

Why they still might get invited back next year: As Campbell pointed out, one of their best songs is aptly titled “Take Me To The Riot”. “We wrote that song in 2007,” he told the crowd, “and it only took six years to get the theme song for Riot Fest to the actual Riot Fest.”

Riotous Scale [1-5 fists]: Three-and-a-half fistfuls of glitter, candy hearts, and your ex-lover’s underwear.

–Dan Caffrey

14. Reggie and the Full Effect


Photo by Katie Schuering

A little context: Reggie and the Full Effect, a band born from the delightfully deranged mind of ex-Get Up Kids keyboardist James Dewees, specializes in sweetly crass songs about girls and how, sometimes, they run away (seriously, he has a lot of songs about girls running away). Though initially a half-assed side project, Reggie went on to release five infectious LPs across its career, all of which were represented during the band’s lunchtime set on the Rise Stage.

The Band, The Myth, The Legend: A cloud of mystery surrounded the band upon its inception and the release of Greatest Hits ’84-‘87, though this was mainly due to their lack of touring and the Internet’s lack of YouTube. Regardless, their afternoon set on the Rise Stage couldn’t help but feel like an event for the die-hards in attendance. “That song came out in the 90s!” Dewees exclaimed after “Girl, Why’d You Run Away?”, prompting the guy behind me to retort, “When you guys didn’t play shows!”


Photo by Katie Schuering

TMI?: Self-deprecating references to his age, weight, and messy divorce were tossed out with nary a scruple, especially during “What the Hell Is Contempt”, a song about the time he was held in contempt. Oof.

”Pop” Punk: The lead single off Reggie’s forthcoming Kickstarter-funded LP was a raucous good time, featuring bold shout-along lyrics that repeatedly referenced Bruno Mars and how everyone loves him.

Best reference to a shitty M. Night Shyamalan movie: Dewees, apropos of nothing: “Remember that Mark Wahlberg movie where tree-farts try to kill everyone?”

Proud Uncle: A chorus of awwwws echoed across Humboldt Park when Dewees photographed a Flat Stanley against the crowd as a present for his six-year old nephew.

Riotous Scale [1-5 fists]: Four fists and a song about a girl running away

–Randall Colburn

13. Pixies


Photo by Katie Schuering

Who are these old farts? Deities of alt and indie rock, and the fest’s second biggest legacy act draw.

Tip of the gen Xer-approved one-size-fits-all baseball hat to: Kim Shattuck, whose recent, sudden call-up to fill the shoes of the irreplaceable Kim Deal still hasn’t sunk in yet. Or it has, and she’s just a big grinner.

Over-enthusiastic, inebriated high-fives to… Riot Fest organizers, for knocking it out of the park by not only avoiding a Replacements overlap, but also expertly managing the crowd by placing the two on neighboring stages.

Two cold, stiff thumbs up to… the rain, for calling it quits at just the right time, just before Frank Black kicked off this exceptional set with covers of The Fall (“Big New Prinz”) and Jesus and Mary Chain (“Head On”).


Photo by Katie Schuering

New material performed: Three consecutive songs (“Indie Cindy”, “What Goes Boom”, and “Bagboy”), thankfully placed at the start of the set, and over within 10 minutes.

Someone’s been listening to Trompe Le Monde: Might explain the inclusion of “Subbacultcha” and “Distance Equals Rate Times Time”.

Riotous Scale [1-5 fists]: Three “Bone Machines”, two “Waves of Mutilation”, and a shot of “What Goes Boom”.

–Steven Arroyo

12. Rocket from the Crypt


Photo by Katie Schuering

Give it up for the band, ladies and gentlemen! John “Speedo” Reis might be one of the most underrated frontmen in the game. The seasoned garage punk guru led his reunited troops in Rocket From The Crypt through an amped-up, punk ‘n’ roll clinic, burning through a lengthy list of the band’s best material while also engaging the crowd on “Diarrhea Island” (wait, what?) with hilarious and ridiculous stage banter. Decked out in matching black and white nudie suits, the San Diego band didn’t suffer much from its eight-year vacation, offering up the loudest, tightest set of the weekend.

Unsung hero Guitarist Andy “ND” Stamets. ND took the stage alongside his Rocket cohorts despite fighting through a bout with foot cancer. Although hobbled, the guitarist shredded alongside Reis without so much as a grimace. That dedication didn’t go unnoticed by Reis, who lovingly and hilariously acknowledged the guitarist during the set.


Photo by Katie Schuering

Going Deep There’s no shortage of RFTC material, seeing as the band worked at a pretty prolific clip for the majority of its initial 15-year tenure. While the band’s set drew heavily from its six full-length releases, fans were treated to a few deep cuts in “Boychucker” and “Jumper K. Balls”.

Best euphemism for rain: “God’s pee pee.” How nice.

Riotous Scale [1-5 fists]: Four. Fierce, frenetic rock ‘n’ roll with a healthy dose of tongue-in-cheek showmanship. What more do you want?

–Ryan Bray

11. Saves the Day


Photo by Daniela Montelongo

Still around, eh? Yes, and stop that. Saves the Day’s been cranking out records at a steady clip since 1998, though I’m probably not the only one who sorta stopped paying attention after 2001’s magnum opus Stay What You Are. The emo-rockers have a brand new self-titled record coming out this Tuesday, funded primarily through a Pledge Music campaign.

Think it’ll be any good? If I’m judging solely by the one song they played from it, then yeah, sure. Their 45-minute set on the Rock Stage was mostly rife with heartrenders from Through Being Cool and Stay What You Are, which was more than okay with the rain-drenched, but still enthusiastic crowd.

Our little baby’s all grows up! Frontman Chris Conley was always the Gerber Baby of the emo-punk sect, having spent his 20s looking all of 15. So the sight of him in a button-down shirt and conservative jacket, hair coiffed, and beard trimmed, was, well…Jesus, guys, we’re getting old.


Photo by Daniela Montelongo

Has he lost his angst? No way. “Holly Hox, Forget Me Nots”, “Freakish”, and “Sell My Old Clothes, I’m Off to Heaven” bubbled with the adolescent anguish we loved to relate to as teens (and still kinda do now).

Greenpeace Award for Most Organic Totem: Those guys walking around with a giant, leaf-strewn stick they either yanked off one of Humboldt Park’s trees or the fir in their mother’s front yard. “There’s someone walking around with a tree in here!” Conley shouted with his signature sense of cherubic wonder.

Riotous Scale [1-5 fists]: Four fists of pulverized ventricles

–Randall Colburn

10. Hellzapoppin Freak Show

freaks 2

Photo by Dan Pfleegor

Who are these Freaks? The Hellzapoppin freak show is a ragtag bunch of sword swallowers, flame eaters, masochists, and cornball jokesters who delight in making their audience cringe. Tod Browning’s Freaks might carp over the inclusion of a break dancer, but this updated take on the circus sideshow was throughly entertaining and provided a nice break from the rain and AFI.

You might Recognize the Name: “Hellzapoppin” was also the name of a 1930’s Broadway musical later turned into a feature film by H.C. Potter in 1941. Therein lies your confusion.

Are you Legally Allowed to Throw Darts into a Girl’s Back? The mutual agreed upon acts of consenting adults are their own business.

freak show pfleegor Riot Fest Chicago 2013: Top 20 Riotous Moments

Photo by Dan Pfleegor

Today’s Special: The menu starts with a nice course of coathanger before moving on to a generous helping of lightbulb glass, Windex, and flames. Happy hour is served over a bed of broken bottles and a ladder of machetes. Might I also recommend the screwdriver?

A Staffer Gets Involved: CoS Senior Staff Writer and all around strongman Justin Gerber was summoned onstage to help construct a human coffee table that served as the foundation for a variety of dance tricks and laughs.

How Riotous? No amount of therapy can erase what has been seen this day.

-Dan Pfleegor

09. The Dismemberment Plan


Photo by Katie Schuering

Eeew, what’s Diarrhea Island? The term actually came from Rocket From The Crypt frontman John “Speedo” Reis, who coined the disgusting phrase to describe the light-brown mud pits forming in front of all the stages. The rain was especially bad right before The Dismemberment Plan’s set, and thus, so was the mud.

Did anyone dance in it? If there’s a band to induce booty-shaking at Riot Fest, it’s The D-Plan. But the schizo “Gyroscope” and “Girl O’Clock”, as well as sugary new material from the unreleased Uncanney Valley like “Waiting” and “Daddy Was A Real Good Dancer” resulted in some stoned kids slowly sloshing through the muck as opposed to actually dancing. They painted each other’s faces with it too.

Did the band dance? Hell yes. Frontman Travis Morrison and bassist/sometime keyboardist Eric Axelson were as spastic as ever, even in the rain and slime of Diarrhea Island.


Photo by Katie Schuering

All this poop talk is pretty gross. What’s the grossest thing you overheard at Riot Fest? One girl told her friend “Sarah had to twerk in the portapotty because there wasn’t any toilet paper.” Grooosss!

Riotous Scale [1-5 fists]: Four fists caked in mud. And diarrhea.

–Dan Caffrey

08. Danzig


Photo by Daniela Montelongo

Glenn who? Good God, really? Well, okay. Glenn Danzig has carved out a unique niche for himself as a punk-metal overlord of sorts, first as the frontman of the Misfits and later for the evil-infused blues metal of Samhain and his own namesake band. While he never crossed over to the mainstream apart from the almost-ubiquitous ’90s anthem “Mother”, few rock heroes have ascended the cult rock ladder quite like the brooding metal icon.This year marks the 25th anniversary of Danzig (the band), who treated fans to a healthy run through the singer’s back catalog.

Did he show? As of late, it seems as though Glenn Danzig has grabbed more headlines from his reportedly diva-like behavior than anything music related. Which is a shame, seeing as few artists in the punk-metal pantheon can lay claim to his herculean legacy. Stories of his scrapping with photographers and wreaking havoc for festival organizers no doubt hung over Danzig’s 25th anniversary set at Riot Fest Friday night, but in the end there was little room for disappointment. He came out on time, packed his set with fan favorites from his namesake act and went into the vaults for a slate of Misfits tracks. In the end, it was hard to ask for more.


Photo by Daniela Montelongo

I’ve got something to say! Danzig’s run through the Misfits catalog alongside original guitarist Doyle Wolfgang Von Frankenstein completely owned. The crowd of Misfit loyalists, most of whom weren’t likely alive for the band’s inaugural run, patiently waited out the Danzig tunes before raising pure hell to the sounds of “Astro Zombie”, Bullet”, “Skulls” and “Last Caress”. As Fall Out Boy regaled the masses with its bubble gum pop punk, it was a morbid punk rock dream come to life for those on the other end of the field.

Well, that’s an odd thing to cheer about… Danzig’s announcement that “Bullet” was inspired by the JFK assassination was met with overwhelming cheers. There you have it, Danzig fans were not big supporters of the Bay of Pigs Invasion.

Questionable musicianship: Doyle seemed a lot more content to just hack away at his guitar than, you know, play it. Maybe he was, I don’t know. And really, it hardly mattered.

Riotous Scale [1-5 fists]: Four. The back half of the singer’s set alongside Doyle was not to be denied.

–Ryan Bray

07. Flag


Photo by Katie Schuering

It’s not your imagination….you’re watching (Black) Flag: One half of the ongoing Black Flag civil war, Flag came together in 2012 on a mission to do justice to that legendary band’s regal hardcore legacy. Comprised of vocalist Keith Morris, bassist Chuck Dukowski, guitarists Dez Cadena and Stephen Egerton (Descendents, ALL), and drummer Bill Stevenson, the band holds the answers to generations of younger punk fans who were too young (or more likely weren’t born at all) to catch Black Flag in its initial run.

The verdict? This year’s Riot Fest hung itself pretty heavily on reunions and nostalgia. But even though this year’s lineup offered up more white hair and bald scalps than any other of the 2013 festival season, Flag proved just how little their former band’s back catalog has aged over the years. From set opener “Revenge” on through a relentless onslaught of classics including “Fix Me”, “My War”, Police Story”, Rise Above”, “Gimme Gimme Gimme” and others, the band absolutely blasted the Riot Fest crowd for what might have been one of the top two or three sets of the weekend.


Photo by Katie Schuering

Hardcore déjà vu: Before heading into the festival Saturday, I watched on old YouTube clip of Black Flag playing live in Philly in 1982. Dukowski was thrashing his head back and forth, his body convulsing wildly with the music. Fast forward 31 years, and Dukowski, older, balder and decked out in decidedly more orange, hasn’t changed much. The same can be said for the rest of the band. Each dude collectively came together and put the “riot” in the fest.

To the guy who told me he wasn’t into Keith Morris’ vocals… Don’t rain on my parade. Yeah, it wasn’t an apples to apples recreation of Black Flag, especially when Morris stepped away from his own songs. But it hardly mattered. The vicious spirit and inherent danger of the music was in tact.

Riotous Scale [1-5 fists]: Five. I don’t know what else to say…

–Ryan Bray

06. Andrew WK

andrew wk 600 Riot Fest Chicago 2013: Top 20 Riotous Moments

Photo by Jen Roehm

Wait, where are we?: The Double Door, dummy! Hair metal revivalist Andrew WK followed up his Friday show on the Rise Stage with an intimate set at this historic Wicker Park venue.

Intimate? Like, an acoustic set?: Uh, no. WK’s FOUR guitarists immediately unleashed a flood of distortion that whipped the crowd into a fist-pumping frenzy that didn’t wind down for a good 90 minutes or so.

Most inappropriate pre-show music: Seriously, Double Door? Elliott Smith?

Songs with party in the title: Only three! The rest of the set was rounded out with excellent tracks like “Girls Own Love”, “She is Beautiful”, and “We Want Fun”. Also, did you realize The Wolf is 10 years old? Yeah, dude.

Fan service: Andrew WK is not afraid of his fans. A stream of costumed shouters routinely surfed their way onstage, and each one got a chance to high five, hug, sing along, or, in one case, get hoisted atop the shoulders of the singer. One fan in particular, Nigel, spent nearly half the set onstage with the band, where he sang along, danced like a goofball, and maybe kinda sorta wore out his welcome. That’s me talking, though, not WK. He probably wanted to buy Nigel pancakes afterward.

andrew wk colburn 600 1 Riot Fest Chicago 2013: Top 20 Riotous Moments

Photo by Jen Roehm

Unofficial mascot: Early on, a stuffed Doberman crowd-surfed its way onto the stage, after which WK and his leather-clad lady backup singer held it up like a trophy. The dog reappeared a few more times during the show, each time with less stuffing than before. Don’t feel bad. It knew what it was getting into.

Angriest man on the planet: Step aside, Jack Rebney. Nary a smile, nor a fist-pump, crept along the face of a 50-something gentleman up against the stage. WHY ARE YOU HERE?

Did I seriously pull a muscle fist-pumping? Next time I’ll remember to stretch. Safety first, then teamwork.

–Randall Colburn

05. GWAR


Photo by Daniela Montelongo

Who are these Terrible, Terrible Creatures? GWAR is a group of cosmic rejects, damned by the galactic Master to spend the rest of their days on the repulsive mudball that is Earth. They were awoken from their frozen slumber in the 1980’s and have behaved like a bunch of spoiled children with big muscles and swords ever since. These scumdogs follow lead vocalist-screamer Oderus Urungus, who sometimes uses the civilian handle Dave Brockie.

The Award for the Weekend’s Most Moving Tribute to a Mel Gibson film: A full-scale reenactment of the crucifixion of Christ. Yes, you read that correctly. These sons of bitches just killed the son of god! And then disemboweled him. And skinned him alive. But don’t worry, Jesus came back from the dead later in the show, taking the form of “mega zombie Jesus”. He waged a holy war against the seaman spewing Urungus. And that’s when things got weird.

Diplomatic Relations: It’s nice to get lost in a three-day music festival as a means of detoxing from global politics and international news reports. But Urungus, ever mindful of the delicate ebb and flow of power politics and Middle East tensions between the former superpowers, took a moment to weigh in on the chess match that is Syria. He opined, “Thank you Russia for getting Syria to agree to destroy their nerve gas, so that you can sell them more nerve gas!” before tearing into a raucous version of “Bring Back the Bomb”. This outburst further cemented GWAR’s role as the Wikileaks of fecal matter.

gwar roffman Riot Fest Chicago 2013: Top 20 Riotous Moments

Photo by Michael Roffman

What does GWAR stand for? That sort of depends on who you ask. Some have stated it’s short for “God, What an Awful Racket.” But if you ask frontman Urungus, he’ll likely tell you “Gosh What an Amazing Rainbow.” Be warned though, it wouldn’t be the first time he’s told a lie.

Most Unexpected Cover Song of the Evening: As cynical and hateful as they may be, the merry pranksters of GWAR proved their black musical hearts are still beating in the right place by closing their set with a pumped up version of Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA”.

Riotous Scale [1-5 fists]: Five out of five expletives!

–Dan Pfleegor

04. Blink-182


Photo by Daniela Montelongo

How long it’s been since I last saw Blink: Literally a lifetime. Fellow CoS-er Dan Pfleegor and I caught Blink-182 playing with Bad Religion and Fenix Tx when we were 14. We’re both 29 now.

How do they hold up?: Surprisingly well. Whereas in 1999, the band was more concerned with onstage hijinks than playing well (I remember Tom Delonge taking a bra that was thrown onstage and wearing it over his face to mimic a fly), they’ve since gotten a lot tighter. Don’t worry though. They still joked around plenty.

Best lyric change: Blink has long been famous for singing potty humor versions of their most serious lyrics in concert. We got a handful of them at Riot Fest, but the best by far was in the New Wave breakup letter of “Always,” where Delonge’s “I’m so sick of fights/ I hate them” became “I’m so sick of handjobs/ I hate them.”


Photo by Daniela Montelongo

Scariest difference between what was being played onstage and what was going on in the audience: The crowd was exceptionally huge, even by Riot Fest standards, and while Mark Hoppus was singing about getting drunk with his friends at the Warped Tour in “The Rock Show”, two people got hoisted out of the masses with their faces covered in blood. I think one of them had broken their nose. Fun times!

False encore: After the band closed their encore with “Dammit” (confetti cannons galore!) followed immediately by “Family Reunion”‘s gross-out glossary, DeLonge told the still hungry-crowd “And now, for the grand finale,” then left the stage. His promise turned out to be another one of Blink-182’s practical jokes, which left many confused audience members standing around waiting for something else to happen. But seriously, folks, they had confetti cannons. What more did you expect? This ain’t a Flaming Lips show.

Riotous Scale [1-5 fists]: Five blood-soaked fistfuls of confetti, but one of the fists is cut in half because of all the injuries, so four-and-a-half blood-soaked fistfuls of confetti.

–Dan Caffrey

03. The Violent Femmes

Violent Femmes 2 by Katie Hovland

Photo by Katie Hovland

Who are these Dudes? Hailing from Milwaukee, WI in the 1980’s, The Violent Femmes built a cult following because of their gleefully sardonic tributes to honest apathy, teenage lust, and masturbation. The Replacements take home the prize for most anticipated act of the weekend, but the Femmes delivered a set that proved they can rub shoulders with any festival headliner. The singalong smiles and toe tapping movement of the entranced onlookers created a joyful glut of humanity that stretched all the way back to the ferris wheel.

Violent Femmes 1 by Katie HovlandThe Whole Shebang: An emerging trend among festival organizers is to hire a band to play through an entire album, front to back. Those who caught The Breeder’s lackluster rendition of Last Splash at this summer’s Pitchfork Festival may have entered the night with low expectations. But any worries were dashed as soon as The Femmes thumbed the opening riff to “Blister in the Sun”, which is the first track off their 1983 self-titled debut album. Spot on versions of “Add it Up”, “Gone Daddy Gone”, and “Gimme the Car” further proved that this is a group of serious performers who have not lost an ounce of charm.

Eclectic Instruments: A stand up drum kit, a xylophone, a saxophone, and slide whistle were just a few of the happy tools packed into the Femmes’ musical arsenal. It all came together to produce a stunning throwback sound that balanced well against the smart-assed timbre of frontman and songwriter Gordon Gano’s incredibly fresh vocals. The Roots Stage experienced speaker troubles during several of the weekend’s sets, but the Femme’s pulled it off without any problems. Their sound was flawless.

It’s Fun to Watch a Bunch of Drunk Adults Count to 10: The audience threw their fingers, lighters, glow sticks and smartphones into the air as they counted along to Gano’s famed list of a verse during “Kiss Off”. The crowd’s energy was palpable and grew even stronger as it shifted closer to 10. Then everyone shouted “everything, everything, everything, everything!”

Oddball Moment in The Crowd: Witnessing a smoke circle to my right frantically use the dying minutes of their iPhone flashlight apps to locate a dropped bong piece while the girl to my left borrowed a breath mint to wash the Chicago hot dog smell off of her fingers.

How Riotous? Reagan Era protest, back with a vengeance.

–Dan Pfleegor

02. Rancid


Photo by Daniela Montelongo

Let’s go! Gen Xers will live their whole lives never knowing the power and glory of The Clash up close, and that’s the sizeable void Rancid has helped fill over the past 20-plus years. The ’90s pushed punk out towards the mainstream map, making superstars of the likes of Green Day, the Offspring, and Blink 182 in the process. But Rancid always had more of a purist streak to them, and today they’re still the only band to emerge from the ’90s punk explosion to not stray from their roots.

I Wanna Riot! Fans young and old thew themselves into Rancid’s set with unruly abandon, pushing forward with full force as scattered pits formed throughout the crowd. And it didn’t take much prompting. From the opening notes of “Radio”, Tim Armstrong, Lars Frederiksen, Matt Freeman, and Branden Steineckert had fans right where they wanted them as they smashed their way through a set packed with old favorites. Noting was overlooked, and all but the band’s 1993 self-titled debut were represented.


Photo by Daniela Montelongo

When they’ve got the music, they’ve got a place to go. The band isn’t as young as it used to be, but onstage they only showed the faintest hints of their age. Frederiksen was relatively stationary, hardly bounding about the stage with the scrappy energy that fans have long become familiar with. But in the longview, that’s the thinnest of transgressions. Everything else about the band’s set lived up to tradition, from Armstrong’s slurred rasp and low-slung Gretsch hollowbody to Freeman’s thumping bass lines. Simply put, it was a set that reaffirmed the band’s stance as one of the most timeless of its era.

Celebrity sighting: CM Punk. The WWE superstar has long been on the record as being a big punk fan, a fact that was cemented by his presence backstage during Rancid’s set.

Riotous Scale [1-5 fists]: Five. Best pits of the weekend, bar none.

–Ryan Bray

01. The Replacements


Photo by Daniela Montelongo

“We’re the Replacements”: Paul Westerberg, Tommy Stinson, Dave Minehan, and Josh Freese

Somethin to Dü: For the scant thousand that decided to skip the Pixies for a better spot, the hour and 15 minute wait post-AFI was like the last hour of high school for Seniors. Still, a devoted fan is a devoted fan, and there were plenty, including several kind souls from Minneapolis. One of whom was a wife to a Man Sized Action member, and shared tales of the Midwestern punk scene of the ’80s. She ruled in every way. So did the guy from Chicago who once sang “I Will Dare” with Westerberg at the Vic. #funwithfriends

Only Westerberg puts Davy in the corner: “Can you lose the Cure thing?” and “We could get Bob Mould up here in an instant, buddy” were both verbal “assaults” at Minehan towards the middle of the set.

Tommy Gets His Smiles Back: After decades with Axl Rose, it’s nice to see Mr. Stinson smiling again. It helps when you have music that defines rather than confines you. Watching him trade jokes with Westerberg was a highlight of Toronto, and the same could be said for their time together in Chicago. Someone get these two a pinball machine to share.


Photo by Daniela Montelongo

“Holy shit, that’s ‘Buck Hill’!”: Following the pause on “I Don’t Know”, Westerberg & Co. segued straight into the Hootenanny instrumental which has always sounded like a cross between “Kiss Me on the Bus” and those Kids in the Hall interludes by Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet.

My one shot of being ironic by drinking white white as they played “Red Red Wine”: If only they had.

Here Comes a Feminist: Not only did Westerberg appear overjoyed to dust off “Waitress in the Sky”, but the crowd demanded it, as well. Misogynistic lyrics aside, it’s still damn catchy — like a shower song or something.

“Sixteen Blue”, “Unsatisfied”, and “I’ll Be You”: Not played, much to the chagrin of this writer.

“But Mike, they played ‘Hold My Life’ and Westerberg even sung the right words to ‘I Will Dare’ and ‘Androgynous’ this time.” Yeah, I know.


Photo by Daniela Montelongo

The twentysomething holding his hat in front of me during “Left of the Dial”, crying… offered one hell of a visual rebuttal to this morning’s (slightly negative) exposition on the reunion by Jim DeRogatis. He wrote, “That song was a battle cry when it was released in ’85—an anthem lauding the sense of community in the underground world of self-published fanzines, college radio stations, mom-and-pop record stores, independent record labels, and small rock clubs. Much of that doesn’t exist anymore, and what does is in another universe from the pricey three-day passes, $7 PBR’s, national expansion plan, hardcore radius clauses, and synergistic marketing of Riot Fest.” If only I had that guy’s number. Or the hundreds of others around me.

Riotous Scale [1-5 fists]: Five close friends, five cold beers, and five strong lozenges from singing — this is what happiness feels like.

So, Denver? Already ahead of you.

–Michael Roffman


Photographer(s): Daniela Montelongo, Katie Schuering