Riot Fest 2017, Chicago - Day 1 - Gigs - Reviews - Soundblab

Riot Fest 2017, Chicago - Day 1

by Texacaliago Rating: Release Date:

There are nice days, there are beautiful days, and then there are downright gorgeously toasty days like the one that greeted the masses to kick off Riot Fest this past Friday.  Wall-to-wall sunshine and beautiful crystal-clear blue skies were on tap, which was a refreshing change of pace from the traditionally damp and chilly weather that has characterized the annual mid-September festival the past couple of years.

But perhaps dreary and moist weather would have better suited the two main attractions featured on the bill for later that day: industrial legends NIN and Ministry.  There was something amusing about seeing a majority of black-clad festival goers cowering from the sun in whatever shade they could find most of the day.  As I too avoided the beaming sunshine that afternoon, the irony was not lost on me (black t-shirt was a bad choice), but what was I supposed to do, wear Cubbie blue to a NIN and Ministry event? As if (it’s a 90s-centric festival after all).

But black t-shirt and glorious sunshine be dammed, I did my best to enjoy a few afternoon bands in what shade I could find.  I had better luck with shade than finding any particularly enjoyable bands, with the one minor exception being Four Years Strong, who did a fairly adequate job of blasting some emphatic heaviness from their set at the centrally located “Radicals Stage”.  Although I was not familiar with them, and they didn’t exactly make a fan out of me during their set, I found most of their output pretty tolerable for the most part. 

That might have had to do with the fact I was on my 2nd beverage of the day during their set, a beverage that a persistent bee was particularly interested in.  This bee vs beer dynamic proved to be the most interesting part of the early-afternoon for me personally, especially when the bee plunged head-first into my drink.  As I stared disappointingly at the bee helplessly flailing around in my drink, I decided I had to do something, and quick, so I took a stub of wood from the ground and “rescued” the alcohol-soaked insect from drowning in my suds.  The bee instinctively grabbed onto the wood, and I placed it safely onto the ground where it proceeded to dry out and hopefully recover.  It was a modestly noble act with a happy ending (assuming the bee didn’t eventually succumb to the effects of alcohol poisoning), so was nice to know I potentially saved a life that day.

But enough about bullshit mundane bee stories (it was a slow afternoon at first), as some noteworthy classic bands started appearing as the festival progressed into late afternoon.  One such band was LA’s X who put on a pretty raucous show in spite of their moderately advanced aged.  Truth be told I only caught the end of their set, but I wished I had gotten there earlier, as I generally liked what I heard. 

Immediately following on the adjacent stage where UK punk legends The Buzzcocks.  Admittedly, I was more familiar with them in name than in actual material, probably because every Buzzcocks song I’ve ever heard has utterly failed to make an impression on me (good or bad).  That likely has to do with the fact they’re kind of the original “pop-punk” band if you will, a genre I have never been particularly fond of (to say the least).  They’ve always struck me as punk’s version of soft-rock, and their set, while occasionally mildly punchy, seemed to confirm my suspicions.  Although not my thing, I do have some appreciation and respect for them, and their set was admittedly not the worst way to spend an hour I suppose.

Buzzcocks: C+

Up next on the adjacent stage was a band I was slightly more interested in seeing: Death From Above (formerly known as Death From Above 1979, or DFA, etc).  Although I wouldn’t consider myself a fan of the band, I have to admit that their first album (2004’s You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine) definitely has some fun moments in spots (if you can stomach Sebastien Grainger’s insufferable emo yelping).  They put on a pretty satisfying show overall, as I found myself enjoying most of their patented prancy/danceable noise-punk jams.  But perhaps the most entertaining aspect of their set was Sebastien’s in-between song banter and musings, which were surprisingly pretty hilarious at times.  Sitting behind his drum-kit like an emo Don Henley, he awkwardly propositioned an audience of 1000s to have sex with him before commenting “…that’s OK, I don’t even like having sex with myself anymore”.  He also compared the variety of bands on the bill that day to a excellent Italian sauce, before commenting “I’m not even Italian, what do I know, that’s not my shtick…I’m not Jewish either…can I say “shtick”…is that cultural appropriation? Did I just culturally appropriate 2 cultures…the Berkeley police are going to come after me…”

DFA Performance: B-

DFA Sense of Humor: B+

I actually took-in the 2nd half of DFA’s set from the adjacent crowd in preparation for industrial-metal legends Ministry to take the stage.  The last time I saw them way back in 2004, they put on a blisteringly heavy performance in front of a ravenous San Francisco crowd feeding off the anti-Bush energy that was heavy in the air at the time.  So needless to say, considering the current “situation” we find ourselves living in now, I was expecting an equally vicious and inspired set, and I was not disappointed.  Most of their performance (particularly the 1st half) was heavy on their lesser-known 21st century material, but it packed no less punch in spite of that.  Ministry may be somewhat of a one-trick-pony, but it’s a pretty fucking nasty and satisfying trick, as evidenced by the enthusiastic crowd response for the entirety of their set.  There was moshing and crowd surfing galore, and images of Donald Trump flashing on the large projection screens while Uncle Al and company jammed their (relatively) new song “Punch in the Face” only served to heighten the experience.  Classics like “N.W.O.”, “Just One Fix”, and “Thieves” came towards the end of the set, and certainly did not disappoint.  It’s funny, for a band that has such a harsh and bleak sound, I couldn’t stop smiling and enjoying myself during their set.  In these trying and often disturbing times, like-minded bands such as Ministry are all the more potent and relevant, particularly in a live setting.  Cheers to Ministry, the heroes we need in 2017.  Jorgensen 2020.

Ministry: B+

Being that I was in a pretty fantastic position crowd-wise after Ministry’s set, I ambitiously decided to remain put so I could stay front-and-center for NIN who were due up an hour and fifteen minutes later.  Somewhat easing my 75 long minutes of palpable discomfort (claustrophobia/dehydration/fatigue/urinary urgency) was the fact that New Order were performing on the adjoining stage.  Even though we in the NIN crowd had somewhat of an awkward side angle view of New Order’s performance, you could certainly hear them loud and clear and see them on the large projection screens, so definitely the next best thing to actually being in the adjacent New Order crowd itself.  And although I’m not much of a new-wave fan (at all really), listening to New Order sandwiched between Ministry and NIN only seemed fitting being that New Order were clearly such an influence on the latter bands’ sound.  So I had an appreciation for that, and there were definitely some infectiously hypnotic moments to New Order’s set that had the effect of transporting you directly back to some decadent Manchester dance-club circa 1983.  I could see how that would appeal to some people.  Not my bag, but, New Order did their thing and seemed to do it very well from my side-angled perspective.

New Order: B-

By the time NIN hit the stage, my feet/legs/knees were in such thriving pain that I was truly hoping for an active crowd experience that would involve me actually moving the aforementioned extremities in any form/fashion (as opposed to just getting crushed to death by the 50,000+ people behind me).  But I also recalled the other 3 times I had seen NIN, I always came away mildly disappointed for various reasons (i.e. less than ideal crowd position, or just a general sense that the performance was not emphatic enough).  Considering they are one of my all-time favorite bands, the fact that they had never quite fully lived up to expectations in a live setting for me personally had always been a perplexing feeling.

But lucky for me and the masses in attendance that night, Trent Reznor and company came out and unequivocally blew our collective faces off with a pretty epically intense performance.  Simply put, this was probably the LOUDEST (I use all-caps to emphasize the LOUD) concert experience I had ever been a part of…and it was pretty fucking awesome!  Granted, I ended up somewhat left-of-center, maybe 10 or so rows back of the stage, which positioned me directly in front of a towering set of speakers that could probably have been heard all the way to Milwaukee, so, that might have had something to do with it.  I could literally feel my heart altering its rhythm to the beat of the music, my eardrums melting into my brain, etc.  You get it, it was loud, but what a delightfully cathartic and therapeutic noise it was.  

The band opened up with “Less Than” from their new EP Add Violence (a song I was indifferent to before, but have a new-found respect for now), before launching head-first into probably the heaviest and most intense song to hear live at a NIN show: “Wish”.  And let me tell you, it was quite an experience to be in that section of the crowd for such an incredibly awesome song.   The crowd swayed and pulled chaotically and powerfully at all the right times, and it was essentially everything you could possibly hope for when hearing that song live.  Totally insane and unhinged, but with the added quality of the sheer volume and power of the music being delivered at superhuman levels.  The same experience was in full effect during “March of the Pigs” which arrived shortly after “Wish”, which only made the appearance of the subdued and brooding “Something I Can Never Have” all the more welcome immediately after.  An intense song with an entirely different energy, it cast an ominous spell over the sea of thousands in attendance, and perhaps more importantly, gave those of us in the thick of things a chance to catch our collective breaths. 

Throughout the remainder of their 90 minute set, NIN did a nice job of mixing in an equal amount of classics (i.e. “Head Like A Hole”, “Closer”, etc.) along with deeper album cuts (“1,000,000”, “The Great Destroyer”, etc.) from their expansive catalog.  And while more visceral cuts like “Gave Up” and “The Hand That Feeds” did a fantastic job of shattering my eardrums and moving my body, it was their more emotional/subdued moments that arguably stole the show for yours truly.  Along with the aforementioned “Something I Can Never Have”, Trent performed a touching cover of David Bowie’s “I Can’t Give Everything Away” mid-set that was convincingly poignant.  And speaking of convincingly poignant, the band closed the show, somewhat predictably, with their classic ballad “Hurt”.  For someone who used to listen to The Downward Spiral ritualistically in my youth, it had been a while since I had experienced that song so intensely, and it really hit home for yours truly.  A powerful moment.

And, while some might think it goes without saying, I was truly impressed with the intensity of Trent Reznor’s performance that night.  In the past, I felt like he was kind of going through the motions, or intentionally practicing self-restraint/discipline or what have you, but the man was emphatically into his performance and the music that night.  He was feeling it, and he was having a good time.  And for the more subdued material, he was very much “in character” for lack of a better term.  You could see the intensity in his eyes and on his face, and that really resonated strongly with me personally and contributed to what can only be described as a truly epic performance that night.

Nine Inch Nails: A

Inconsequential Tidbits:

Number of people that liked my Type O Negative t-shirt: 4…and by 4 I mean 3 (although 1 of them was disturbingly enthusiastic, so maybe that counts as 2?)

Number of other Type O Negative t-shirts spotted: 1

Number of NIN t-shirts spotted: 18,364

Number of questionable/immaterial attempts by this writer to reference the late/great Type O Negative: 3

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