by Mark Guarino
The third and final day of Riot Fest Sunday just may have well represented the true significance of the festival: a chance to take in bands representing “punk” to three generations of disaffected suburban youth.
The festival is in its second year in Humboldt Park and the nearly 80 bands that played this weekend over five stages were largely veterans on a return trip to reap the financial gains of creating the blueprint for bands in their wake. The newer bands played earlier on smaller stages.
The latter describes All Time Low, a band from the Baltimore suburbs that powered their set with tight pop songs played with manic energy and bottom-heavy grit. The formula worked for an audience of mostly teenage girls, many of whom cast their bras upon the stage in a multi-colored display. Pierce the Veil lead singer and guitarist Vic Fuentes joined frontman Alex Gaskarth for “A Love Like War,” a recent song that allowed both singers to become cheerleaders of a dance marathon that bounced even after the band put down their instruments.
Winding backwards, the early aughts nostalgia first summoned by Fall Out Boy Friday was completed by AFI two days later. The band ushered to fame combining the literal doom and fashion sense of goth rock and hardcore punk. A four-year absence brought a new album in the spring and a new look for screamer-singer Davey Havok, whose James Dean haircut and trim motorcycle jacket moves him away from the eyeliner and bangs.
The band paid a nod to heroes The Cure with a cover of “Just Like Heaven” before launching into a set of songs like “Medicate” that featured lyrics ripped from teary diaries. Havok entered the crowd once, positioning himself on a platform that presented a picture of reckless abandon, but really was as safe as vanilla custard.
The Pixies co-headlined Sunday. The band has been on the reunion circuit for many years; this appearance delivered something new: bassist and singer Kim Shattuck whose lovely vocals peppered songs and somehow made the band appear more confident than in previous stops. The band also brought new songs to play, including “Bagboy” and “Indie Cindy” that nicely aligned with others from their four-album output. Singer and guitarist Frank Black sounded refreshed, singing “Here Comes Your Man” and “Debaser” with both sincerity and a howl; plus “Winterlong,” a Neil Young obscurity on which he wove his vocals with Shattuck’s own. What ultimately made this band stand apart from others this weekend was the musicianship, particularly drummer David Lovering, who motored his fellow Pixies forward with maximum power and swing.
Paul Westerberg of the Replacements was pretty much everything the bands he influenced and shared the festival stage with him were not: Unpredictable and unpretentious. The bill said his band headlined Sunday, but in reality, it was only the brand that showed up. He and founding bassist Tommy Stinson are playing these Riot Fest shows (Chicago was the second of three) along with guitarist David Minehan and drummer Josh Freese. Their 75-minute, 24-song set ran through the band’s history, from early punk bashing like “I Don’t Know” to more streamlined rock classics like “I Will Dare” and “Left of the Dial.” The band also injected songs from past icons Hank Williams (“Hey Good Lookin’”), Chuck Berry (“Maybelline”) and even Brit-punks Sham 69 (“Borstal Breakout”), which together had the speed, wit, and irreverence of Westerberg’s own work.
Westerberg, aloof and at times not very coherent, chided replacement guitarist Minehan, telling him to “lose that Cure thing” with his effects pedals, and later warning him that “we could have Bob Mould up here in an instant.” He also ripped away the digital clock keeping them on schedule, telling the audience, “I’m an old hat at this — I’m a music business professional.”
The reconfigured band slowed down tempos and lacked the obvious fire of the original incarnation — and even of past Westerberg solo bands. What the audience ultimately got under this banner was an opportunity to hear songs that remain endurable classics (“Alex Chilton,” “Can’t Hardly Wait,” “Bastards of Young”) sung by the man who wrote them. This wasn’t the Replacements, but as for any band at Riot Fest this year, that’s a tall order.