Douglas Park made some noise on Sunday as Riot Fest pulled off a successful festival weekend in the COVID-era. By Sunday morning everything hurt. My body felt, well, like someone who had already spent three days biking to and running around a music festival. The stacked Sunday lineup got me to the grounds early, and after a corn dog (or two) I was ready to roll.
Sunday was another strong showing for Chicago bands on the bill. I listened to post-rockers Facs from afar before heading to the Rebel Stage to support my pals in Airstream Futures. If anyone arrived at the park feeling sluggish, the alt-punk quartet’s vigorous performance woke them up and put a smile on their face. Their 2020 release show for Le Feu Et Le Sable, was the last concert I attended before the pandemic and it felt full-circle to jam to those songs live again.
A few hours later on the same stage, local noise rock outfit Melkbelly invited a trio of female vocalists (named Wendy, Linda, and Liz) to the stage to help cover “Gigantic” by the Pixies, who cancelled their festival appearance due to COVID concerns. They closed the short set with “Kissing Under Some Bats,” which frontwoman Miranda Winters dedicated to “anyone who wants to play music but is afraid.”
Over on the Riot Stage, the hot sun was a stark contrast to the moody, industrial noise rock of Health. The LA band’s cinematic sound could score a dystopian film, and I’m already looking forward to a dark winter day to dive into more of their music. I took a break in the shade of the Radical Stage during KennyHoopla‘s midday set. The Cleveland rapper had the crowd singing along to “how will i rest in peace if i’m buried by a highway//” and jumped in among them for “estella//”
Body Count put the “riot” back in Riot Fest for maybe the most badass set of the weekend. After opening with “The Bowels of the Devil,” the LA metal veterans dedicated “Point the Finger” to the late Riley Gale of Power Trip. Ice-T warned the audience that no matter your skin color or background, “If you think they care about you, you’ve lost your mind,” before launching into “No Lives Matter.” He called out the mosh pits ahead of “Drive By,” saying, “We’ve got a couple songs made strictly for the pit. I wanna see what you can do.” In an adorable moment, Ice-T brought out his five-year-old daughter Chanel and gave parenting advice for bullying, “I taught my daughter to tell bullies ‘Talk shit, get shot.”
The pit action continued over at the Rise Stage for Thursday, especially during “Jet Black New Year” which frontman Geoff Rickly billed as “our only party jam.” They cover fellow Jersey native Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark,” which they recorded earlier this year for Two Minutes to Late Night to raise money for a fan battling cancer. Rickely also recognized the late Riley Gale, who helped him during a battle with addiction, before closing the set with “War All the Time.”
“We have one more chance to dance, and then we’re all going to turn around and watch Devo,” said Anthrax (a last-minute lineup addition) said before closing their set with “Indians.” Devo drew both tattooed devotees and the Devo-curious to the Riot Stage for a multimedia experience. The Akron art-pop outfit got the crowd jumping to hits like “Whip It” and “Uncontrollable Urge.” Playing in front of a video screen, the band threw energy domes into the crowd, emerged from an outfit change in matching jumpsuits, wore monkey masks, and marched in formation. “We are living in truly devolutionary times,” Gerald Casale told the crowd. “Which we’re trying to exorcise right now.”
The Flaming Lips are a hit of whimsy and serotonin in any festival lineup. They threw a giant balloon into the crowd that spelled “Fuck Yeah Riot Fest” during “Race for the Prize” and inflated a huge pink robot .”for “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots Pt. 1.” Wayne Coyne noted that their native Oklahoma is experiencing a COVID surge and that the band is being extra cautious. He wore a mask during most of the set and performed several songs from inside an inflatable orb, although he did not take it out into the crowd. By the time the set drew to a close, a full moon rose over the park completing the scene while the crowd sang along to “Do You Realize??”
It’s clear that the crowd loves Machine Gun Kelly. The Cleveland rapper turned LA pop punk rocker’s devil may care attitude was on display as he smoked onstage and climbed the rigging during his headlining set on the Radical Stage. From opening with “Title Track” and “Kiss Kiss” to covering Paramore’s “Misery Business,” the crowd bounced along in a state of euphoria. It might sound like someone digested the past few decades of pop punk hits, pulled out the most prevalent themes, and generated an album. But MGK’s lyrics of disconnection, malaise, and defiance connect with what his fans are feeling. Isn’t that what this whole thing is about?
More than once, MGK took shots at Slipknot calling them “old weird dudes with masks.” Meanwhile, drawing maybe the biggest crowd of the weekend, Slipknot frontman Corey Taylor thanked all the bands who performed as well as the Riot Fest staff for making the festival happen. I haven’t listened to Slipknot since college, but their visceral metal immediately drew me back in. Their multi-level stage set was probably the coolest I’ve ever seen, looking like an industrial warehouse scene experiencing a nuclear incident, complete with flames shooting out of it. As the band returned to the stage for an encore of “People = Shit,” both fans in replica masks and new fans rushed forward to get a closer look. “Did I just become a Slipknot fan?” I heard. I’m sure there were more than a few converts in the crowd. Taylor, who just got over COVID, said, “There’s no room to listen to all the shit that is flying over our fucking heads. We need to pull together as a goddamn fucking family.” Who knew that this message of unity would come from Slipknot while pyrotechnics fired from their set under a full moon? That’s the magic of Riot Fest.
All photos by Jessica Mlinaric
Did you enjoy this post and our coverage of Chicago’s arts scene? Please consider supporting Third Coast Review’s arts and culture coverage by becoming a patron. Or make a one-time donation by PayPal. Choose the amount that works best for you, and know how much we appreciate your support!