Riot Fest Day 3: During wait for The Cure, Mars Volta’s progressive grooves seem to woo few new fans

Patience paid off for Riot Fest attendees after a rain delay got things off to a slow start on the final day at Douglass Park.

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The Cure Riot Fest at Douglass Park Chicago 2023

The Cure performs on the Riot Stage on day three of Riot Fest at Douglass Park on Sunday.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Patience paid off for Riot Fest goers after a rain delay got things off to a slow start on the final day at Douglass Park.

Around 10 a.m. Sunday, organizers announced a timing setback due to the weather, but later decided that doors would open at 2 p.m. and salvaged most of the acts planned in a last-minute shuffle.

Crowds showed up early, with massive lines traversing Ogden Avenue and bending over to California. The first people in line ran into the park like it was a victory lap, staking a spot over at the main stages for the night’s final act, The Cure.

Here’s a look at some of the highlights from Sunday:

The Cure

On the last day of the rock music festival, it was clear attendees were there for The Cure — and they did not disappoint. The marathon performance deserves the title of the best headlining set of Chicago’s summer festival season.

Full Review

The Mars Volta

The fun thing about Riot Fest is the variety of bands and genres, but this year the festival really pushed the boundary with progressive rock band The Mars Volta.

At times, the band provided energetic bossa-nova-like grooves, with lead singer Cedric Bixler-Zavala singing and moving around like a happily deranged lounge singer. Some of the songs were in Spanish, and although many in the crowd may not have known the words, they jammed to the international language that is music. On the flip side, as the set went on, the progressive side came out more with extended songs that sounded like a mix of a jam band and the video game Space Invaders, seemingly confusing the crowd.

Often the band would start songs with a jazzy beat and then guitarist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez would abruptly take it into a different, often harder direction, only to return to the smooth groove that began, with Bixler-Zavala wailing in between.

The band had a huge audience because many were marking their spots for festival headliner The Cure, scheduled to go on five minutes after the band’s set at the adjoining stage, but it is doubtful that they converted any attendees to become new fans. Instead, the set, which began as a welcome break from the more aggressive punk rock bands, lulled the crowd and turned into an ordeal to overcome rather than to enjoy. — Bob Chiarito

The Dresden Dolls

Amanda Palmer The Dresden Dolls keyboard singing Riot Fest Douglass Park Chicago 2023

Amanda Palmer of The Dresden Dolls performs on the Riot Stage on day three of Riot Fest at Douglass Park on Sunday.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Sept. 17 will be a day Amanda Palmer remembers for the rest of her life. “I’m the happiest I’ve ever been because I just met Robert Smith of The Cure,” the Dresden Dolls singer-pianist said, sharing how much the U.K. band has meant to her and drummer Brian Viglione.

“In the year 2000 we bonded over many things: We were the weird kids, but we also bonded over bands and our love of The Cure. It’s the greatest pleasure for our band to play the same stage.”

There are some throughlines of the two groups: Palmer and Smith wear nearly the same amount of eyeliner and also dabble in dark arts, with The Dresden Dolls taking it a step further in their punk-cabaret suite of music and carnival makeup.

Much of the purpose of the band is to act as a vehicle for Palmer’s beautiful prose, while Viglione provides even more heart and soul on the kit — and picks up guitar here and there. Like when he slung one over his shoulders and took over vocals to lead a cover of Beastie Boys’ “Fight for Your Right.”

For that number, the duo became briefly a trio with guest Melissa Auf der Maur joining in; though she has flown off the mainstream radar in recent years, Auf der Maur holds a special place in the alterna-rock era as the bass player in Hole and The Smashing Pumpkins. “I heard the band needed a bass player,” she joked as she entered the stage.

“You and me and this bass have cosmic history, Chicago,” she added. “The Smashing Pumpkins changed my life and they changed rock history.”

(Curiously, Auf der Maur was a guest on the same night the Pumpkins are staging a 30th anniversary performance of landmark album “Siamese Dream” at Madame Zuzu’s in Highland Park.)

The Dresden Dolls had one more cover to offer, this time as a duo, with a take on Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs,” done incredibly sans guitars. Though the Dolls abstained from any new songs, Palmer confirmed they are working on a new album: “We’re too scared to play them but we’re touring soon so we hope you come out to see us.” — Selena Fragassi

Gorilla Biscuits

New York City hardcore band Gorilla Biscuits brought Riot Fest back to its roots Sunday afternoon in a hard-charging set that made the smaller Rebel Stage feel like a punk rock club, if only for 50 minutes.

The seminal band was the last of seven on the roster to play an album in full and for them, playing “Start Today” likely wasn’t a hard choice. It was Gorilla Biscuits’ second and final record and named by NME as among hardcore’s 15 best albums of all time.

The band started the hourlong set 10 minutes late, but considering most of its songs are under two minutes long, time wasn’t an issue. Lead singer Anthony “Civ” Civarelli came out on fire and jumped right into the crowd, while others began crowd surfing and moshing.

Early into the set, Civarelli told the crowd that there should be no fighting or arguing today, adding “this is about love” before launching into the song “Degradation.”

Love for one another was a sentiment that he would go back to several times during the show, and despite the moshing and the constant fist-pumping of the crowd to the band’s songs, the energy seemed all positive.

The band deviated from playing the album’s songs in order, and once they were done dug into their catalog for the remainder of the set. Civarelli dedicated “Big Mouth,” a song from the band’s first album, to several friends who passed away in the last couple of years while also imploring the crowd to “live life.”

Civarelli also threw his microphone into the crowd more than once, allowing the diehards to sing while he watched and smiled. He then played “Time Flies,” which is self explanatory.

Towards the end of the set, he asked those younger than 25 and the women in the crowd to raise their hands and implored them to “not become your parents” before launching into the band’s final song, “Start Today.” — Bob Chiarito

L.S. Dunes

L.S. Dunes lead singer Anthony Green crowd surf Riot Fest Douglass Park Chicago 2023

L.S. Dunes frontman Anthony Green crowd surfs as the band performs on the Radical Stage on Sunday, day three of Riot Fest at Douglass Park.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Remnants of the rain-soaked morning stuck out on the way to L.S. Dunes, with yellow caution tape blocking off heavily soaked mud pits in the pathway to the Radicals Stage. The gear and speakers on the stage itself were still covered in protective wrap.

But for L.S. Dunes vocalist Anthony Green, it was “the most beautiful day,” marking an important moment in the band’s short history. “It’s an honor to be celebrating our one-year anniversary as a band — a real band … and not just being known as some industry shills,” he said, recalling the COVID-born supergroup making its debut in this very park at the 2022 edition of Riot Fest.

A few months later, L.S. Dunes released its first album, the tongue-in-cheek “Past Lives,” hinting at the five members’ collective track record in the punk timeline (in addition to Green, who logged time in Circa Survive and Saosin, the lineup also includes members of My Chemical Romance, Thursday, and Coheed and Cambria).

That album was naturally the focus of Sunday’s performance, with songs that migrated into emo, post-hardcore and good old-fashioned punk undertones. There was also a pinnacle pizza moment as a fan in the crowd handed a giant slice of pepperoni to Green, who gladly accepted. “This must be what happens when you die, a bunch of people screaming your name and handing over pizza.” — Selena Fragassi

The Black Angels

The Black Angels Riot Fest 2023 Chicago

The Black Angels perform on the Roots Stage on Sunday at Riot Fest.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Upon gates opening after Sunday’s rain delay, The Black Angels were the first to warm up the Roots Stage. The Austin, Texas, quintet quickly ran through a litany of psych-influenced rock that was so welcoming it may have been directly responsible for bringing out the sun.

The Blacks Angels are one of those bands that fit in as well with the record store junkies as they do the biker bar regulars, drawing equal parts of both denim and leather to the main stage to hear a hallowed mix of guitar wrangling, spirited organs, hearty vocal reverb and the occasional tambourine and harmonica in a well-stitched mix. All of it ties in well to the band’s affinity for The Velvet Underground canon.

Giving good bits of their six-album catalog, the latest coming in 2022 with “Wilderness of Mirrors,” the bandmates were short on stage banter, instead keeping people in the zone with their unyielding performance that proved, once again, there’s always something for everyone at Riot Fest. — Selena Fragassi

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