Rancid, photos by Alison Green
The music lineup for Day 1 of Riot Fest Chicago was stacked in its own right, but the trend of the debauchery exhibited by three drunk guys lost in front of the entrance minutes before the festival opened continued throughout the day. There was the commonplace festival sight of a girl projectile vomiting into an already full trash can way too early in the day, her boyfriend trying to calm her, though his condition was only better in that it had not yet manifested itself in a bodily fluid. Meanwhile, numerous individuals who had smuggled in some mysterious variety of lollipops were caught trying to sell them, begging some hawk-like security guards afterward not to boot them from the fest. And an inordinate number of people simply seemed to be out of their minds.
It may all be par for the proverbial course (Riot Fest once again brought back some putt-putt golf, by the way), but the Chicago staple was always, at least in my mind, just a little bit more about the music than the extracurriculars. For the start of 2015’s incarnation, though, it seemed hard to deny many were simply there for a weekend party atmosphere.
Day 2 felt more familiar, though, with a lineup designed to please the punks and plenty of other options on the table. The rock fest started in earnest on the Rebel and Rise stages with Lifetime, and never really left there. Bouncing back and forth between the adject stages, fans got a taste of Gwar’s bloodbath, the skatepunk stylings of Sweden’s Millencolin, who drew a huge crowd and pleased by capping things off with the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 soundtrack callback “No Cigar,” and the Damned to start the day.
Pennywise later sent more bodysurfers around the guardrails than any other band on the bill save for Rancid, who closed out the Rise stage playing the entirety of ...And Out Come the Wolves plus a few. Rancid has long been a favorite of Riot Fest attendees, and the special setlist combined with the band getting as much time as any of the official headliners made sure the West Coast punks were beloved once again. The crowd was a frenzy, and the aftermath saw a number of panicked punks using their cellphone flashlights to try to find lost belongings after the masses dispersed.
With the closer of “Radio,” the band kicked it over to Iggy Pop, who made sure fans weren’t going anywhere with an opening salvo of “No Fun,” “I Wanna Be Your Dog,” “The Passenger” and “Lust for Life.” His stage—predominantly basking in plain, white light and running on raw power—stood in stark contrast to the light show System of a Down was providing visibly from across the field. But Iggy didn’t need the gimmicks; he had the songs and the energy, and his set stood as an exclamation point to what Riot Fest Day 2 was all about.
Chicago punk trio the Lawrence Arms also took its cuts on Saturday, performing a tight set well but offering nothing particularly special for the hometown crowd. The Dead Milkmen proved an early-day highlight, with a fun sing-along set and the band’s trademark sense of humor. And Bootsy Collins’ Rubber Band offered something completely different (namely, space suits), but took to the stage 10 minutes late after some apparent tech issues, then spent the next five hyping its frontman.
Merle Haggard could have proven the fest’s odd man out, but playing second to last on the Riot Stage, a large crowd gathered to pay its respects and enjoy the country tunes of one of the festival’s biggest treats. And he played well with the punk aesthetic of the day. His set was a no-frills affair that put the music center stage.
In what could technically be seen as a Day 1 after show, Against Me! took the stage just before midnight at Concord Music Hall in a late-announced Red Bull showcase, which instead of tickets asked for RSVPs and $5 at the door. Not a bad deal for one of the best bands on the Riot Fest lineup, and Against Me! delivered a longer set than their Riot Fest performance earlier that day, along with a four-song encore. It essentially started Day 2 with the level of energy that would go on to define it.
Parting thought: I often question why, logically, pro wrestlers do moves that are simply there to be reversed. What was the point of jumping to just throw your head out there for a guy to grab? What were you going to accomplish? Similarly, I found myself asking why Iggy Pop ever bothers to put on a shirt or set out a mic stand.
Bill Jones can be found on Twitter, where he prefers to keep his shirt on.