Riot Fest 2018 - Chicago - Day 1 - Gigs - Reviews - Soundblab

Riot Fest 2018 - Chicago - Day 1

by Texacaliago Rating: Release Date:
Riot Fest 2018 - Chicago - Day 1
Riot Fest 2018 - Chicago - Day 1

For the longest time, the arrival of Riot Fest seemed to also coincide with the unwelcome onset of chilly, rain-drenched September weather to the city of Chicago. But for the 2nd year in a row now, the festival was blessed (or cursed depending on your disposition for late summer heat) with three gorgeously toasty days of pure blue Chicago skies and wall-to-wall sunshine.

And, perhaps fittingly, the lineup at this year’s Riot Fest followed suit to a degree, sporting a decidedly lighter and more eclectic collection of acts than in years past (at least at the top of the bill anyway). With headliners like Weezer (who replaced Blink 182 at the 9th hour), Dropkick Murphys, Beck, Interpol, Father John Misty, and Incubus, there was a noticeable lack of angst/aggression on the bill this year (for better or worse), at least compared to prior lineups (Day 1 - 2017 for example).

That said, one thing that has always been fairly unique to Riot Fest has been their penchant to attract a wide variety of diverse acts from many different genres across its massive 5 stage setup, and this year was really no exception in that regard. One such act that was of particular interest to yours truly were veteran alternative hip-hop pioneers Digable Planets, who were slated to hit the Radicals Stage shortly after 5:00.

Back in the day, l used to watch Bill Bellamy's "MTV Jams" pretty religiously in my youth, so I was naturally familiar with Digable Planets' infamous hit single "Rebirth of Slick" (aka "Cool Like That"). But unfortunately, as much as I’d like to claim I had more knowledge of the group beyond that notorious 1992 hit single, I was admittedly a little clueless when it came to the rest of their material. And I apparently wasn't the only one. It was almost comical to witness the number of people I overheard discussing/pantomiming that aforementioned track as a reference point for the group.

So broadly speaking, it felt like most of us taking in their set were all in the same boat on that front, but we also had a good idea of what Digable Planets had in store for us: chilled-out, jazzy, intellectually stimulating old-school hip-hop. And not surprisingly, they delivered the goods for the most part, although their performance came across like a somewhat more subdued (and dare I say pedestrian) version of A Tribe Called Quest, it was overall a pretty enjoyable experience. They perform as a full band with live instrumentation, which helps add some immediacy to their otherwise somewhat unassuming and laid-back stage presence. All quality musicians, on the whole, particularly their drummer, who displayed some pretty impressive chops whilst making more than a few playfully goofy faces/mannerisms at the crowd along the way. Overall it was an entertaining and cool set by perhaps the most unique act on the bill that afternoon.    

Digable Planets: B-

Navigating an event the size of Riot Fest always comes with its share of logistical challenges, none more so than dealing with the inevitable scheduling conflicts and the often tough choices that go along with that.

But luckily for yours truly, I was faced with only a mildly conflicting (and somewhat peculiar) choice between two very different headlining acts: Weezer or Cypress Hill.  While I would imagine most folks would cast their vote for Weezer, for me anyway, choosing to see Cypress Hill proved to be a fairly easy decision. Although I appreciate Weezer, and like most people, really dig most of their classic 90s songs, the whole clean-cut/nerd-rock thing was never really my bag (which is somewhat surprising, considering I have more than a few nerdy inclinations).  No, when it comes to 90s music anyway, my often degenerate/unrefined tastes typically win out over my occasionally nerdy tendencies, so the opportunity to see Cypress Hill (who were performing their classic "Black Sunday" album) proved too enticing to pass up. That along with the fact that they were also performing at the same Radicals Stage where I just saw Digable Planets, so, it was game, set, match: Cypress Hill for the win!

But before B. Real and company hit the stage, a hip-hop group by the name of Atmosphere had the dubious distinction of being sandwiched between the two aforementioned classic 90s acts. I had done a bit of homework on Atmosphere prior to the festival, and generally liked what I heard. Fronted by rapper Sean Daley (aka “Slug”), they sport a generally uplifting, positive, confessional, and sentimental type of vibe. Coming off kind of like a more emo version of Eminem without all the "edge" (or "fire" as the kids say these days), Slug’s often sensitive style of lyricism can come across as a bit cheesy at times, but it’s hard to deny the genuinely affecting and heartfelt nature of songs like “Sunshine”, “Yesterday”, and “The Best Day”, all of which were the definitive highlights of their set. As the sun was setting on a beautiful evening during Atmosphere’s performance (and my beer buzz reached a blissful plateau), the positive and affirming vibes coming from the stage were palpable and infectious. Although I found myself slightly embarrassed to be enjoying Atmosphere's performance so much, and that Slug’s lyrics were really resonating with me, I’ve always been a fan of honesty and sincerity in music, and his performance conveyed those qualities earnestly. Good enough for me. Was feeling the vibes.

Atmosphere: B

I managed to subtly and politely (I'm not one of those assholes that barge through people) make my way near the front row of a pretty dense crowd in anticipation of Cypress Hill’s set, which afforded me a pretty great vantage point of their performance (and the surrounding "festivities" and "indulgences" taking place in the crowd.) Their DJ got things off to a pretty rad start by displaying some impressive old-school scratching skills that felt like a scene straight out of the movie “Juice” (DJ Omar Epps anyone?). Then B. Real and his often overlooked partner-in-crime Sen Dog came out and proceeded to mow through their classic Black Sunday album, but with one catch: in reverse chronological order. This actually made a lot of sense, being that in this scenario, they would be saving their best material for last (namely “Insane in the Brain” and “Ain’t Going Out Like That”). But considering that Black Sunday is such a solid album, it goes without saying that the entire performance was obviously a lot of fun. B. Real came out rocking a jacket (which was weird considering it was a borderline warm evening), shades, and a black baseball cap, as he and Sen Dog traded off their lines flawlessly whilst commanding the stage with authority. The bass was consistently powerful enough throughout the show to cause a bit of cardiac arrhythmia, which of course only incited the crowd to jump around, head-bob, and dance their asses off as best as possible (considering the close quarters). A mosh pit actually broke out for “Insane in the Brain”, which felt pretty natural by my estimation. After Cypress Hill wrapped up their Black Sunday performance with the opener from that album “I Want to Get High” (which most of the crowd had already been doing earnestly throughout their set), they fortunately still had time for one more song, and they chose wisely. “How I Could Just Kill A Man” was a perfectly raucous closer to a great set, the icing on the proverbial resin-stained cake that was Cypress Hill’s performance that evening.

Cypress Hill: B+

For a festival that’s predominately known for punk-rock/metal, it was kind of cool spending Day 1 taking in some great hip-hop acts, a testament to that aforementioned diversity and eclecticism that makes Riot Fest such a truly unique experience.

Day 1 Tidbits:

Pleasing t-shirt sightings: Sisters of Mercy, The Damned, Down

Number of people that liked my METZ t-shirt: 1

Should Riot Fest book METZ in the future? Sure, yes. probably

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