Riot Fest reviews Day 2: The Original Misfits, Bad Religion, The Joy Formidable, Get Up Kids bring rock, punk to the park
The day began sunny and humid but by 3 p.m., clouds had appeared and the wind kicked up.
On the second day of Riot Fest, despite the fact that organizers said there were still tickets available, Douglass Park was packed with fans on Saturday afternoon. Food lines weren’t as long as the first day, perhaps a sign of organization more than a comment on demand, or perhaps people who waited in long lines the day before opted to sneak in snacks.
The day began sunny and humid but by 3 p.m., clouds had appeared and the wind kicked up. Fans didn’t seem to take note, but organizers have to be hoping the rain stays away, as having large puddles of mud and other damage will only add fuel to residents who have been protesting the presence of Riot Fest for several years now.
By the time The Original Misfits took to the stage for the night’s closing sets, the park was packed with fans ready to end the day on a high note.
Here’s a look at some of the day’s sets:
The Original Misfits
Glenn Danzig, frontman of The Original Misfits, the hugely influential horror punk band that started out as The Misfits in 1977, told Saturday’s crowd that he wanted to bring Halloween to Chicago early.
On this “Halloween” night in September, he was dressed as Glenn Danzig, with black leather jacket, black T-shirt and black jeans, but at times during the headlining set he looked and sounded like an imposter, and some fans may have wondered if they were going to walk away with rocks in their Halloween bucket.
Danzig, now 67, looks better than most men his age, but his physique was showing its age a bit during the set. I only point this out because he’s made a career of selling the image of machismo — a long-haired rock God with bulging muscles and a deep baritone that some have compared to Elvis Presley and Roy Orbison over the years. And although he brought it at times on Saturday, for the most part he sounded like a shell of his old self and often appeared out of breath between songs.
Billing themselves as The Original Misfits since 2016 — the band has had many incarnations since 1977 — listing 16 people as “former members.” However, The Original Misfits really only consist of two original members — Danzig and bassist Jerry Only, (Doyle Wolfgang von Frankenstein joined the band in 1980).
Many members have gone on to other things, and Danzig himself disbanded the Misfits in 1983 to form Samhain, which later changed its name to Danzig. After decades away, Danzig, Only and Frankenstein reunited as The Original Misfits to play Riot Fest in 2016 and have played together ever since with drummer Dave Lombardo of Slayer fame and bassist Acey Slade, who is best known as the bassist of alternative band Dope.
On Saturday night, The Original Misfits performed their seminal album “Walk Among Us” in honor of its 40th anniversary. The 13-song album is only 24:38 long, but it took 45 minutes to perform live on this night, and Danzig gave the feeling that the band only played it because they were obligated to do so. At one point he even told the crowd that “we have one more from ‘Walk Away’ and then we can get back to our regularly scheduled program.”
Because the album only took up half the band’s allotted time, it forced them to dig deeper into its catalog, which resulted in the crowd finally getting some musical treats in its collective Halloween bucket.
Danzig sounded his best when he played more frequent go-to’s than the 13 songs on “Walk Among Us.” Classic Misfits songs like “Hollywood Babylon,” “Last Caress/Green Hell” and “Horror Business” finally called forth the Danzig that long-time fans know and love. It also seemed unplanned, however, with Danzig asking the crowd several times what they wanted to hear before launching into it.
Even though he seemed winded at times between songs, Danzig’s best offering Saturday may have been “Bullet,” which may also be one of the band’s hardest to sing because of the fast tempo.
During the set, the band also took a couple shots at Chicago. Orly called it “Chi-raq,” and before they played “Violent City” Danzig told the crowd that it was “fitting that we are playing it here in Chicago.”
The band exited the stage almost 20 minutes early, but came back a couple minutes later and played “Where Eagles Dare” and then “Die, Die My Darling,” a song Danzig told the crowd was “another love song you couldn’t do today, you’d get cancelled. But I don’t give a f- - -.”
This was followed by “Come Back,” which led into the night’s closing tune, “We Are 138.”
On Friday, Riot Fest featured The Descendents. On Saturday, another seminal punk band from California was featured — Bad Religion.
While both bands feature lead singers who are men of science — Milo Aukerman of the Descendents is a biologist and Greg Graffin of Bad Religion has a PhD in zoology and has lectured at Cornell University and UCLA — on Saturday Graffin was teaching a different type of class.
Bad Religion has always been one of the most astute bands, with songs related to religion, politics, society and the media, and one of the praises and criticisms of their catalog is that one needs a thesaurus to decipher their lyrics.
With several bands performing seminal albums in full, it was odd that Bad Religion didn’t do the same, as they have 17 to choose from since their first one 40 years ago in 1982. On this day, the pioneering band chose to mix up their catalog, playing 19 songs from many eras, which in the end, was a crowd-pleasing decision.
With the sun setting, Graffin and his bandmates came out and got right to business, not even saying hello before launching into their first song. Then he told the crowd that although it’s been a while since the band has been to Chicago, he had similar news to share, that these are still the “New Dark Ages,” and launched into that song.
Perhaps no punk band harmonizes better than Bad Religion and that was on full display Saturday night, on cuts including “F- - - You,” “Los Angeles Is Burning,” “Epiphany” and “Come Join Us,” to which the crowd sang along.
It helped that the winds of earlier in the day subsided so Graffin could be heard loud and clear. It also helped that Bad Religion are seasoned professionals who can still bring it. Along with the Descendents, they probably deserve a headlining slot at a future Riot Fest. On this night, they played like they were the headliners, even if they only had an hour.
Graffin also told the crowd that the first time they ever played Chicago they played the Cubby Bear to about 30 people, before launching into “F- - - Armageddon... This Is Hell.”
They also played “Suffer,” the song Graffin said has been “the most copied song we’ve ever done;” and crowd favorites “21st Century Digital Boy,” “Infected,” “Sorrow,” ending the set with “American Jesus.”
The Joy Formidable
Fans who arrived in time to see Welsh trio The Joy Formidable were treated to one of the best acts of the fest thus far. Often described as dream-pop and shoe-gazer rock, they were indeed dreamy, but hardly mellow, as evidenced by their song “Sevier,” which was one of only six they performed in a 30-minute set.
Lead singer Rhiannon “Ritzy” Bryan proved she has a strong stage presence and bandmates Matthew James Thomas and Rhydian Dafydd Davies certainly backed her up well.
Especially poignant was a song Bryan said they released this week — “CSTS,” which stands for “come see the show” — something more fans should do wherever this band is playing. Additional crowd pleasers included “The Greatest Light is the Greatest Shade” and “Chwyrlio,” which is sung by Bryan in her native Welsh.
It was too bad that The Joy Formidable were limited to a short set early in the day, as they would be great to see at a more intimate setting, and for those willing to take a drive, they will be doing just that Tuesday night at Piere’s Entertainment Center in Fort Wayne, Indiana.
At 2:30 pm. Riot Fest got political with a 30-minute tribute to Ukraine. It began with a video message from Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy, and then some words from Eugene Hütz, the Ukrainian-born frontman of Gogol Bordello, a New York-based band who is playing the fest later today. Additionally, a traditional Ukrainian dance troupe performed.
The Get Up Kids
The Get Up Kids performed their album “Four Minute Mile” in its entirety Saturday afternoon in honor of its 25th anniversary, and it was fitting that it take place in Chicago. Although the band is from Kansas City, Missouri, the album was recorded in Chicago and produced by Bob Weston, a member of Shellac who honed his production skills under Steve Albini, another member of Shellac who happens to be a legendary producer.
The Get Up Kids have been cited as an influence by My Chemical Romance, Friday night’s headliner, and do not like the EMO description that is often used to describe their music. But it’s hard to deny “Four Minute Mile” is not an EMO album — even Rolling Stone in 2017 declared it one of the best emo albums of all-time.
On Saturday afternoon, the band came out to the theme of “Chariots of Fire” and keyboardist Dustin Kinsey wearing a Cubs “W” Flag around his neck like a cape — perhaps to show some “Chicago cred.” However, their performance was hardly worthy of the Olympics. It was solid, but hardly inspiring.
It also didn’t help that they were on the Radicals Stage, which is situated in the middle of the festival grounds, and when the wind kicked up, the sound from the speakers was often hard to hear. The crowd mostly stood silent during the set, as it seemed the mid-day time slot was a way for many to kill time before seeing other acts.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect the current keyboardist for the band Get Up Kids, Dustin Kinsey. An earlier version of this story erroneously named the former keyboardist instead.