Author: Ben Farrell
From the speaker-knocking performance from rap duo Run the Jewels, to the blood-soaked antics of veteran metal collective Gwar, Riotfest 2018 did anything but disappoint. Over three days, Chicago’s Douglas Park was filled with freaky festival goers. What has been in the past billed as simply a punk (and perhaps metal) festival showed its true colors. Rap, punk, funk, and indie were all on display on this sweltering September’s weekend. Below are some of the acts we thought set themselves apart from the rest.
At the experienced age of 48, Rivers Cuomo is still tearing up the stage. Set to a dazzling light show, this journeyman performer and his LA-based crew lit up the stage with a calm joy that only comes with 20 plus years of experience of playing with one another. After a quippy introductory dialogue the band set off into their musical journey. An energetic rendition of Buddy Holly, followed by their most famous song, Beverly Hills, were the one-two punch that the crowd needed to get them coming. From there on out the show was rolling. Smattered with covers of great pop hits and medleys of their own songs, this was not just a good experience as a Weezer fan; it was a clinic on how to put on a fun and engaging show. The best of these moments was Cuomo’s solo rendition of the Timless A-Ha classic, take on me. His guitar playing proficiency on display, Cuomo shredded and swooned away the crowd back to the 80s, adding a new, Weezer-ish dimension to this timeless classic.
Standing shoulder to shoulder with what was undoubtedly the youngest crowd at Riot Fest, I could tell that Twin Peaks was playing a show in their home town. Their youthful and care free energy seemed to be surging from the backstage even before their performance began. A cover of Today’s Hits’ What’s Up Dog was aided by an interloping an in a Dalmation outfit. Clay Frankel’s performance was standout, swaying and swooning around the stage, an undeniably chilled-out smile on his face. If Twin Peaks’ performance told me anything, it was that this band could very quickly garner a large national following. After the show, I asked a Loyola student what his favorite performance was. “Twin Peaks,” He replied with complete confidence, “Best act here.”
Father John Misty
Father John Misty has had an unconventional career path. After leaving the Fleet Foxes, an extremely successful band in their own right, Josh Tillman muddled around in musical obscurity for a few years. Now he’s tearing up stages across the country. Dressed in an all-white linen suit, Father John Misty crooned and preached from his folk pulpit. Backlit with sultry purple lights, Father John’s gospel of American excess and lost love seemed fitting. Though the crowd received every song with open arms and wide eyes, his performance of Chateau Lobby No. 4, a 2015 release, was undoubtedly the highlight of the show. In this clearly much-performed song, Father John’s regal aura shined. Oh, how he’s grown since I Love You, Honeybear.
The swagger of Julian Casablancas is Undeniable. With a stage presence comparable to a rockstar of yore, Casablancas’ post-strokes outfit still seemed to possess many of the qualities that made the original band’s live performances so captivating: namely, Casablancas himself. About halfway through the show, Cassablancas’ vocals in concert with Jeff Kite’s guitar playing on the opening track of their most recent album fired up the crowd. The whimsical nature melodic quality of “Leave it in My Dreams” in contrast with the rest of the heavy hitting show brought into focus why exactly it is that Casablancas is as famous as he is today.
Run the Jewels
Killer Mike and El-P tore it up. There’s no way around it. Songs like Oh My Darling Don’t Cry, released in 2014, seemed to pay homage to the metallic origins of riot fest with their thumping bass, graphic lyrics, and socially subversive message. Killer Mike and El-P, two experienced Emcees, clearly knew how to work the setlist. Breaking to give the crowd (and themselves) a breather many times throughout the show, they managed to keep the energy high but the environment positive. Their ability to do this was a testament not only to their skill as performers, but positive qualities as people. This kind of care and attention is present in their music, their shows, and their political and social lives. An emboldening and heartwarming moment came when they stopped the show to tell the crowd that concerts are not an excuse for sexual harassment. To see these artists using their platform to effect social change was refreshing.
Photos courtesy of Jacob Cioci