Sunday at Riot Fest brought the closing ceremonies to one of Chicago’s best independent homegrown events as well as the true end to festival season. Already Riot is thinking of next year with banner ads running all weekend to get fans to sign the petition to bring ABBA to the grounds in 2022 and other promos for the other announced headliners, the original Misfits and My Chemical Romance. If the past four days are any indication, many are already counting down the days until the day Riot returns.
Slipknot knew its place during the Sunday night closing set — born and bred just a hop-skip away in Iowa some 20-plus years ago. Frontman Corey Taylor shared a story with the crowd about how he and his bandmates were in Chicago in 1998 when Roadrunner Records found them and signed Slipknot to its first record deal.
“You’ve made us feel like family,” he told the audience while dedicating track “Wait and Bleed” to Slipknot family “past, present and future,” including those they have lost — perhaps reflecting on the death of original drummer Joey Jordison in July, and before him, the late bassist Paul Gray, who passed in 2010. Both deaths left large gaps in the legacy of the metal band that has become one of the biggest on the scene since perhaps Metallica, combining a voracious sound from a literal army of a band, horror appeal in their infamous masks and an incredibly charismatic frontman.
Their fans came out in droves, donning replica masks and makeup in homage and even looking like they may have outnumbered those wearing the Devo dome hats that were being sold in the merch tents. At one point in the set, Taylor asked how many people in the crowd were seeing Slipknot for the first time on this night, and a large percentage (larger than he might have even guessed) raised their hands.
To be fair, the band is not your typical Riot Fest fare, coming in last minute to replace Nine Inch Nails, and many were made believers after the incendiary performance that spanned the band’s catalog. Among the hits were “Duality,” “Psychosocial,” “Unsainted,” “Before I Forget” and “Eyeless,” the latter of which went all the way back to Slipknot’s 1999 self-titled debut.
The span of the performance was not only frenetically paced, but was delivered with the eagerness of a band being fresh out of the gates, belying Slipknot’s long tenure. It was especially impressive given that Taylor just got over a case of COVID. The rest of the ensemble was in top shape as well, particularly the multi-member percussion from Shawn Crahan, Michael Pfaff and drummer Jay Weinberg (son of Max Weinberg). Bringing some of the only pyro of the weekend, Slipknot went down in a literal blaze of glory to close out the festival in the best way possible. —Selena Fragassi
Machine Gun Kelly
It’s been a good summer for local fans of Machine Gun Kelly. The singer, rapper, and actor born Colson Baker performed a surprise side-stage set at Lollapalooza, complete with scaffold-scaling stunts. The artist has since released new single “Papercuts” with plans for a new album. On Sunday, Kelly performed the final set on Riot Fest’s Radical Stage.
Alongside songs chronicling hard luck in romance, much of Kelly’s restless material is listless yet impassioned and explicit. Songs like “Kiss Kiss” give voice to the disaffection, disconnection, and resentment of Generation Z and younger millennials. They also give rise to massive singalongs at punk rock festivals.
The lanky, blond-haired singer strode onto the Radical Stage in a red T-shirt with a pink guitar. He brushed off a short-lived setback. “I love a technical difficulty before the first song even starts,” he said. Moments later, Kelly was belting “Title Track” from his chart-topping 2020 album “Tickets to My Downfall” along with thousands of his closest friends.
“I’m gonna play a little singalong game,” said Kelly, beginning “Drunk Face.” Much of the crowd sang the song word-for-word on the singer’s behalf with no cues. Meanwhile, Kelly clambered into the rigging to get a better view of his people.
“Concert for Aliens” provided evidence of Kelly’s evolution from brash hip-hop toward anthemic pop-punk, taking cues from his friend, producer, and Blink 182 drummer Travis Barker.
Before “All I Know,” Kelly took a pot-shot at one of his festival peers. “Turn the lights up,” he said. “Let me see who chose to be here instead of with all the old weird dudes with masks.” Kelly referred to headliners Slipknot, playing the neighboring Riot Stage.
Beginning with a folky acoustic guitar, the ensuing flavor of “Papercuts” further mined the pop-punk sound of “Tickets to My Downfall” with crashing guitars and a siren solo. “Signed a deal,” sang Kelly. “I got paper cuts.” The song described struggles with growing fame.
“I’m going to play a song that I don’t think anyone here knows,” said Kelly wryly before launching the wildly popular “My Ex’s Best Friend.” “I Think I’m OKAY” described struggles with self-destruction and fame, but fans sang it and final song “Bloody Valentine” as unifying anthems.
“Thank you for showing what the new generation of punk rock looks like,” said Kelly before departing the stage. “I hope you felt something good tonight.” —Jeff Elbel
The Flaming Lips
Sandwiched between the upbeat weirdo pop of Devo and the forceful metal showdown of Slipknot, The Flaming Lips were perhaps a bit too sleepy of a warmup act for the Sunday night finale of Riot Fest. Still, the bandmates took the stage just as the sun was setting, welcoming in the perfect setting for the colorful beauty of their set, supported by rainbow graphics and dual drummers Matt Duckworth Kirksey and Nicholas Ley wearing green wigs.
Frontman Wayne Coyne started the performance with a disclaimer, noting the band was being “as cautious as we can” during the pandemic and would not be offering their usual prop-filled setup that includes large balloon orbs floating in the crowd or Coyne riding an electric unicorn through the sea of people; Coyne also stuck to wearing a face mask for a large portion of the evening.
He did bring out his trademark human hamster ball vehicle but rather than propel himself into the crowd while inside it, the frontman stuck to keeping it on stage, frequently entering and exiting it, making an electric air pump become a quasi-instrument in the set. There was also an inflatable Yoshimi, the character from the concept album “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots” as the band launched into material from that record.
Later, the Flaming Lips offered hits “She Don’t Use Jelly” and “Do You Realize,” the latter of which ended the performance that for the duration was dripping in explosions of psychedelia and dream pop. During his time on stage, Coyne offered his sage advice to “take care of each other” and commended Chicago and the organizers of Riot Fest for sending a great message of being able to put on big events while watching out for the well-being of attendees. —Selena Fragassi
Devo may have begun in Akron, Ohio, 48 years ago, but the band still sounds like it’s channeling music from the future by way of planet Mars. It had been a lengthy absence from Chicago for the new wave pioneers, having presented their previous seminar on “de-evolution” at the United Center in 2014.
The musicians appeared in matching black suits, with positions lined across the front of the stage in order to make maximum use of a large video screen. Devo were innovators in the unification of music and video, and those skills were displayed during opening number “Don’t Shoot (I’m a Man)” from 2010’s excellent comeback effort “Something for Everybody.” “Don’t tase me bro,” repeated singer Mark Mothersbaugh, recalling the zeitgeist of the early 2000s. The remainder of the set list was drawn from the band’s initial five albums from 1978-1982.
Gerald Casale’s manic laughter filled “Peek-a-Boo,” a song about the dark and secret side of human nature. “I know what you do, ’cause I do it, too,” sang Mothersbaugh.
A smattering of fans wore the band’s red plastic ziggurat helmets dubbed “energy domes.” The band donned their own during “Girl U Want,” featuring a snaky lead by guitarist Bob Mothersbaugh.
“Here’s one we’ve been working on,” said Casale, introducing Devo’s best-known single “Whip It.” Crowd surfing and singing surged during the song. Afterward, the band scurried backstage and reemerged moments later in matching yellow hazmat suits that were brilliant in the setting sunlight. The band’s quirky cover of “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” was barely recognizable as a Rolling Stones original. Bob Mothersbaugh sang a similarly devolved version of “Secret Agent Man.”
The band performed its 1977 debut single “Mongoloid,” propelled by Gerald Casale’s driving bassline and Josh Freese’s motorik beat. Mark Mothersbaugh’s ’80s video game synthesizer sounds for “Smart Patrol/Mr. DNA” battled brother Bob’s twanging surf guitar. During “Uncontrollable Urge,” Mark Mothersbaugh tore at his bandmates’ hazmat suits until the musicians were reduced to t-shirts, shorts, and kneepads.
“These are devolutionary times,” said Casale. “I feel like I slipped through a hole in the universe into an alternate reality nightmare.” The band then played “Jocko Homo” while wearing rubber monkey masks and asking the crowd, “Are we not men?” The crowd responded dutifully, “We are Devo!” The concert concluded with the clanging “Freedom of Choice.” “Use it or lose it,” Casale said as the band waved goodbye. — Jeff Elbel
The award for most riotous band to play Riot Fest this weekend easily goes to Fever 333. The trio from Los Angeles came dressed in camouflage coveralls and were ready to start a war: on gun violence, on racism, on the patriarchy and on the ears of the willing who were ready to drink in the society punch.
The only thing wrong with the set was being pitted against Body Count in one of the biggest conflicts of the weekend. Like Body Count, Rage Against the Machine and Public Enemy, Fever 333 finds its heart amplifying the angst felt by marginalized communities looking for a greater voice — and for the allies that are there to listen and support.
Frontman Jason Aalon Butler paid tribute to the festival organizers for “making a space for POC people in their genre,” which for Fever 333 toes the line of metal, rap, rock, and punk, and then dedicated the song “Hunting Season” to fellow POC punks. He also prefaced the band’s Grammy nominated-track “Made in America” by admonishing that collectively we’ve so easily forgotten about the revolution that was started in 2020 at the time of the George Floyd/BLM protests: “I want to remind you that 19 months ago we were talking about changing s- - -. … This song goes out to those that want to see something different than what we are seeing right now.”
Fever 333 performances are likewise self-described as demonstrations, and this midday appearance showed why. The trio remains one of the most passionate, physical, life-on-the-line acts you can see grace a stage, intent on getting the message out at all costs. Butler spent the entire set moving, whether it was climbing scaffolding to the top rung, traversing the stage like a slip-and-slide without water or ending the set by running through the crowd in his underwear to then crowdsurf all the way back to stage.
His partners in the project, guitarist Stephen Harrison and drummer Aric Improta, were equally brute, Improta particularly a maniacal display on the drums while also doing backflips. The aggro, anti-establishment air cleared shortly after the performance wrapped, as one of the stage’s lighting directors proposed to his girlfriend on the same stage to the cheers of the crowd. Perhaps their next stop will be the Riot Fest Wedding Chapel. — Selena Fragassi
We might never know if Health and Nine Inch Nails had planned to join forces on Sunday at Riot Fest for their collaborative track “Isn’t Everyone,” originally released in May to critical applause. The two acts also previously toured together. But of course NIN canceled its upcoming concert schedule and Riot Fest appearance that was slated for Sunday out of concerns over the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. In the wake, Health emerged, giving the summer goths in the crowd a hearty dose of the industrial-tinged noise rock that many were still craving. The experimental trio out of L.A. creates a real mood with its voluminous sound, a passive-aggressive mix of frontman Jake Duzsik’s ethereal vocals finding nooks within the brutal beats of drummer BJ Miller and bassist/noise tinkerer John Famiglietti’s feverish assault. In a flash, they can flip the switch from chilling cinematic scenescape to harsh existential dread while always sounding cohesive. They are a prime example of why it’s always good to get to the festival grounds early to catch the rising stars and unexpected gems. — Selena Fragassi
Chicago’s fuzzy noise rockers Melkbelly took a minute to acknowledge another one of the big gaps on Sunday’s lineup with a tribute to the Pixies (who canceled their appearance a few weeks back), effortlessly covering their song “Gigantic” by bringing on stage a trio of friends only known as Wendy, Linda and Liz to help frontwoman Miranda Winters on the backup vocals. The strong female force was something Winters was quick to point out by the end of the short set as the rockers ripped through “Kissing Under Some Bats” from their April 2020 album “PITH.” Winters introduced the song by dedicating it to the ladies in the crowd or “anyone who wants to play music but is afraid.” Melkbelly — also featuring Bart Winters on guitar, Liam Winters on bass and James Wetzel on drums — upholds the lineage of noise-blaring rock acts from Chicago, showcased well in the performance. The Rebel Stage where they played was a frontrunner for some great local talent over the weekend, and also featured Chicago act Airstream Futures earlier in the day. Though Melkbelly claimed to have “dropped the ball” on merch for the festival, the band members did encourage the crowd to meet them by their van in the alley to pick up T-shirts and copies of the new album, and hopefully people were brave enough to do so. — Selena Fragassi