Riot Fest 2018 - Chicago - Day 2 - Gigs - Reviews - Soundblab

Riot Fest 2018 - Chicago - Day 2

by Texacaliago Rating: Release Date:
Riot Fest 2018 - Chicago - Day 2
Riot Fest 2018 - Chicago - Day 2

If there was ever a day that best represented the impressive variety on display at Riot Fest, it was Day 2, which featured the likes of Elvis Costello, Beck, Killing Joke, The Jesus Lizard, Gwar, and Jerry Lee Lewis (who was headlining the Radicals Stage just shy of his 83rd birthday no less)!

As you can imagine, the scheduling conflicts were profound, but for this guy, there were two main acts in particular that stood out (and happened to be playing back-to-back at the main Riot Stage (#convenience). Those two acts were Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Elvis Costello and one of the most singular/creative artists of the 90s, the one and only Beck.

Mr. Costello was due up first, and when considering his recent cancer diagnosis, his set definitely seemed like a must-see event. Also not every day you get a chance to see a bonafide rock and roll legend, so needless to say I was pretty eager to check out his set. But, if I can make a confession, up until about a month ago, this reviewer was woefully unfamiliar with the vast majority of his catalog, a situation I quickly rectified by studiously diving into his 1st and 2nd albums recently. And, surprise, surprise, I liked what I heard, particularly his classic 1st album My Aim Is True, which sounds like pure pub-rock ear-candy to this guy.

But despite my initial relative ignorance when it came his material, I was, of course, familiar with perhaps his most popular song “Pump It Up”, which happened to be how he kicked off his impressive set that evening. It was a logical/predictable opener, and logically and predictably, it kicked ass live, and did a great job of, well, pumping up the crowd (pardon the pun). From there, Costello and his band (The Imposters) proceeded to treat the massive crowd (of all walks of life, young and old, etc.) to a pretty fantastic hour-long set, which included some personal favorites like an extended version of “Watching the Detectives”, “(I Don’t Want to Go To) Chelsea”, “Miracle Man”, etc. He closed things out with an emphatic performance of “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding”, a song that I had always found a little cheesy, but considering the times we live in today, it certainly has a newfound sense of importance in my eyes, and came off as pretty righteous and urgent in a live setting.

Soaking in Elvis Costello’s performance was a very cool thing to behold, and I learned something that a lot of other people already knew: Elvis Costello is a badass. Granted, I was already vaguely aware of that, but, was really struck by how great of a guitar player he was, and how he seemed to personify “cool” at age 64, all in the face of his recent health issues. Here’s hoping he makes a full recovery. If his performance Saturday evening was any indication, he would seem to hopefully be well on his way.

Elvis Costello and The Imposters: A-

While the Riot Stage was getting immaculately setup for Beck’s upcoming performance, Interpol was playing on the adjacent Roots Stage, so those of us in the Riot Stage crowd had a decent vantage point of their performance (the large video screens also helped in that regard).

Although I can’t say I am much of a fan of Interpol, for some reason I always liked “Evil”, and judging by the reaction of the crowd when they performed that song, suffice to say it’s a popular tune of theirs. Beyond that though, I found the rest of their set to be predictably underwhelming. They’re an awfully clean-cut bunch, sporting the type of polished/tame/restrained sound that characterized far too many trendy flash-in-the-pan 2000s bands. And Paul Banks’s robotic/stoic stage presence suits that sound to a tee, but it certainly didn’t help their overall performance from being anything other than mediocre at best, and painfully dull and unadventurous at worst. But again, I liked “Evil”, so it had that going for it.

Interpol: C

For the longest time, a few things you could always count on when it came to Beck was his knack for experimentation and coming up with something distinctly original on each of his albums. But over the past decade or so, that reputation has slowly eroded with each successive release. From the underwhelming (but fine I guess) Modern Guilt, to the incredibly drab and overrated (but respectable) Morning Phase, and bottoming-out recently with the often cringe-inducing nature of the generic pop found on his new album Colors, it’s fair to say that it’s been a while since Beck has put out anything particularly satisfying (at least for his old-school fans anyway).

Haven said that, this is the same guy who recorded Mellow Gold, Odelay, Midnite Vultures, Sea Change, and the underrated Guero, so if you’re keeping score, Beck still has a lot more in the plus column than the negative column overall. And it’s not like he was going to perform songs off of Colors exclusively or anything, so when coupled with the fact he’s one of my personal favorite artists of the 90s, all things considered, it was hard to pass up on opportunity to see him live again for the first time in 12 years.

When I last caught him at the Fillmore in San Francisco back in 2006, he was touring in support of The Information (his last goodish album by my estimation), and it was a suitably strange evening. My recollection is a bit hazy, but I recall lots of bear costumes on stage, perhaps other animal outfits, other peculiar shenanigans, and a generally lo-fi presentation to boot. It was weird, but that was Beck, right? Weird has always been his calling card.

Fast forward to his performance Saturday night at Riot Fest 2018, and the contrast could not have been starker from my perspective. Yes, in 2018, as an ominous crescent moon hung overhead the crowd of thousands on a perfectly crystal clear Chicago night, the masses were treated to Super Bowl Halftime Show Beck. Which is to say, this was a fairly big production performance, with several massive projection screens, cool lighting effects, and an insufferable amount of beach balls bouncing around the crowd during the show. Which is all I needed during a live show: to repeatedly get slapped in the face by balls like I’m Stormy Daniels or something. Eventually most folks seemed to have the presence of mind to resist the urge to volley the balls out of their immediate area, and instead just left them on the ground to get rightly trampled. Cheers to those folks. Further evidence that not all heroes wear capes.

But enough about flying balls, there was a pretty impressive performance going on by Super Bowl Halftime Show Beck. All kidding aside, I’m not going to act like all the big projection screens and light show antics didn’t add to the overall performance, because I suppose it did, but more importantly, Beck’s setlist is what ultimately made his performance highly enjoyable overall. He kicked things off with “Devil’s Haircut” (solid choice) before going immediately into “Loser”, which generated a heightened level of enthusiasm from the crowd (myself included). It really made me miss hallucinogenic scraggly slacker absurdist Mellow-Gold-era Beck, which was kind of the complete opposite of this bland popstar-era of Beck we currently find ourselves in. This reality was more apparent during his performance of “Mixed Business” off his often hilarious Midnite Vultures album, which, on the surface, might seem similar his newfound fondness for big dumb pop songs, but the key difference is that Beck was sardonically mocking pop culture back in 1999, whereas in 2018, he seems to shamelessly embrace it.  

But I suppose none of my redundant critical musings ultimately mattered in a live setting, because Beck was clearly enjoying himself and putting a lot into his performance Saturday night. He busted more than a few of his patented awkward dance moves and conveyed a decidedly joyful energy as he went about his business on stage, hyping up the crowd at all the right moments, etc. (his Thetan levels were clearly quite high that night). With great performances of classic songs like “New Pollution”, “E-Pro”, “Girl”, “Black Tambourine”, and of course “Where It’s At” (which was chopped into multiple segments for the closing number of the evening), it was really hard to go wrong. Even some of his songs from Colors fit in nicely with the broader setlist (except “Up All Night” and “I’m So Free” which were the cringiest moments of the night for me personally).

All things considered though, in spite of my clear misgivings about this unfortunate poppy phase he’s going through, at the end of the day, he’s still Beck, and in the live setting that night, he more than delivered the goods. Great show.

Beck: A   

Day 2 Tidbits:

Pleasing t-shirt sightings: 2Pac (All Eyez On Me album cover), Friday the 13th Part 1 (movie cover)

Number of people that liked my Lou Reed Coney Island Baby t-shirt: 2

Favorite overheard phrase: “skinny bitch privilege”

Comments (2)

This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Great write-up. I've seen Elvis Costello a few times and he never disappoints. Glad to hear he is out there doing what he does best. Somehow have never seen Beck, but need to get that in.

This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Thanks Mark!

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