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The uninspired parts of the Pixies' set were a low point at a festival whose bookings leaned heavily on bands beloved for their bygone days. The people wanted the Pixies, and for some of them, any version of the Pixies would do, even one without Kim Deal or a flicker of passion. (Seriously, Pixies, even Peter Hook could muster some fire doing live-band Joy Division karaoke with the Light.) Nostalgia also gripped fans of groups that hadn't even formed when the Pixies and the Replacements broke up. Hours earlier I'd been surrounded by kids who stood unmoved when Brand New opened their set with caustic tunes off 2009's Daisy, but as soon as the Long Island band dropped some early material ("Sic Transit Gloria . . . Glory Fades," "Okay I Believe You, but My Tommy Gun Don't"), practically everybody I could see began singing along to every word. This made me a bit cranky (I prefer the band's later output), but I'm sure those fans felt the same way about me when I pumped my fists to "Gasoline." Most everyone watching Brand New sought a cherished version of the band, and not all those versions overlapped—so I have to give them a hand for making an effort to draw on their entire catalog.
I saw several acts on Sunday that were clearly contending with fans who wanted the old stuff, even though the artists continue to put out new music. Bob Mould played new material and got into some Husker Du tracks, and the Dismemberment Plan juggled their beloved prebreakup tunes with songs off the forthcoming Uncanney Valley.
In fact the whole weekend was like that, not just Sunday. Lots of reunited or long-inactive bands at Riot Fest just so happen to be dropping new albums (cough, cough), whether anybody's paying attention or not. Mission of Burma and Dinosaur Jr., two groups who've done their golden legacies no disservice with their recent releases, snuck some new jams into their cohesive sets. And a few acts just needed to show up and do what they've been doing for years to make everybody happy—Andrew W.K., Gwar, Public Enemy, Peelander-Z. Thankfully the whole festival wasn't one big nostalgia orgy: young up-and-comers Pet Symmetry and Radkey put on memorably tight and exuberant sets.
There were occasional surprises too. Saul Williams did slam poetry instead of music, Blondie covered the Beastie Boys, and Slug from Atmosphere threw a line from A Tribe Called Quest's "Buggin' Out" into "Trying to Find a Balance." Such moments kept me grounded in the present even when everybody else seemd to be looking backward. But that's just my perspective—my Reader comrades have their own takes on this year's Riot Fest.
Luca Cimarusti: The biggest draw for lots of Riot Fest attendees was undoubtedly the nostalgia acts, and though I definitely enjoyed my fair share of them (Screeching Weasel, for example, were awesome on Friday), what got me the most excited was a band that never stopped being good in the first place: Guided by Voices. Their Saturday set was excellent—high energy, good vibes, stellar set list. While about half their show was dedicated to highlights from the four (!) LPs they've put out over the past 18 months, the rest of the cuts were solid classics—they even threw in two gems from their "hi-fi" era ("Teenage FBI" and "Fair Touching"). Sure, their set could've benefited from "A Salty Salute," "Motor Away," or "Tractor Rape Chain," but I'm not complaining—the closing one-two punch of "Quality of Armor" and "Unleashed! The Large-Hearted Boy" was perfect as it was. Do I sound like a complete fucking nerd? Adorable set highlight: Tobin Sprout's wife standing at the back of the stage doing a totally cute mom-dance next to Dimitri Coats of Off!
I was really excited for Flag, who started immediately as GBV walked off. They sounded just like a Black Flag record—it was actually kind of mind-blowing. Keith Morris's voice is exactly the same as it was in '78 on the "Nervous Breakdown" single, and Stephen Egerton of the Descendents channels Ginn's guitar flawlessly. There was a major bummer for me in the middle of the set, however, when Morris went on a childish "fuck that motherfucker Greg Ginn!" rant. Sure, I realize that there are decades of bad blood between these guys (and a current court case), but maybe Morris should consider that the songs his band was getting paid handsomely to play in front of thousands of rabid fans were all written by Ginn. Come on, Keith, you're my goddamn dad's age. Play nice.
And on a final note, I'm pretty convinced that there's a jaded, stubborn, 90s college rocker inside my soul, because I absolutely could not bring myself to see the Pixies play without Kim Deal.
Gwynedd Stuart: Sunday was the day Riot Fest really started for me, and I have to say my enjoyment was most certainly supplemented by the fact that I'd brought an umbrella. So much rain and so many ill-prepared people. Garbage bag ponchos galore, but those don't keep your head dry (not that my head was dry by the end of the night). I also have to figure out what to do with a pair of mud-encrusted suede boots.
Quicksand played really well sort of early to a too-small crowd. I watched both Bad Books and Saves the Day back-to-back on the Rock Stage. I've seen Saves the Day lots of times, and I'm pretty sure their melodic pop punk endures because lead singer Chris Conley is not aging. His voice hasn't deepened, and physically he could still pass for 20-whatever, the way he was during their Stay What You Are heyday.
Also frozen in time: Davey Havok. I remember like 12 or so years ago, he'd walk around Warped Tour with a black umbrella so his ashen complexion wouldn't be compromised. He was mercilessly mocked, I'm sure, but turns out it was good policy because he looks great. And no more glittery makeup. It had been exactly a decade (and three albums I didn't care about) since the last time I saw AFI live. I got real excited for "A Single Second" off 1997's Shut Your Mouth and Open Your Eyes, which they dedicated to Rise Against. Then there was lots of newer stuff. They lost me entirely with a cover of "Just Like Heaven." My nostalgia itch was scratched all the same.
Kevin Warwick: Riot Fest was a bit unwieldy at times, thanks in part to the gross and wet Sunday weather, and thanks in part to the enormity of the ever-expanding festival and its Humboldt Park grounds. But the nostalgia factor didn't play as much of a role as I expected. Following Ben Weasel's woah-woah-woahs to the Screeching Weasel stage upon arrival on Friday was probably my most nostalgic moment all weekend, actually. It was Weasel and a bunch of scabs, but it didn't matter. Something about hearing an all-gray, kinda grizzled Ben Weasel sing "Veronica Hates Me" still sounded like being 15 years old. Three-note solos have a forever-high-school quality to them.
Saturday's weather was perfect. It was immaculate. Sunny and breezy, with everyone more prepared than on Friday for the chill that would strike in the evening. Still on a pop-punk kick, I made my way to the Lillingtons right off the bat. Straightforward Ramones jams about sci-fi space men and spies. Predictable stuff to bob your head to, just the way I wanted it to be. After that it was Guided by Voices, half really on point and endearing, half not really on point and endearing—Robert Pollard took swigs of tequila and did more high kicks than you'd ever expect to see from a 55-year-old man (maybe it was the tequila). Next was Flag, a set I was stoked on. The energy was palpable, the sound was bad, and Keith Morris began by telling the crowd, "We are not Black Flag. We are Flag." From there, I wasn't into it. I should've been, but I wasn't. Watching a band of old punks play a set of classic songs from a band they're admitting they're not—not to mention hearing Morris scream with venom, "Fuck you, Greg Ginn!"—just ended up not sitting right. I dropped out after Morris dropped out and Dez Cadena took the mike.
Let's be honest, most of Sunday was pretty miserable. It rained for the first five hours of the festival and created mud pits throughout the park—sometimes you just have to put a stage on a baseball field, unfortunately. I got there late and wasn't shocked to see much less of a crowd than on the other two days (resulting in actual, real cell-phone reception, a thing that did not exist most of the weekend). But I stuck through it, for a reason that I was sure would become clear—and that reason turned out to be Rocket From the Crypt, whose set was my favorite of the festival. John "Speedo" Reis is a front man, through and through. Though the rain was still coming down, Reis didn't let that dampen his evangelical enthusiasm and straight-up rock 'n' roll chops. It was also just nice to hear some hard-nosed (but still flamboyant) rock 'n' roll after a weekend in which most of what I caught was pop punk and hardcore. RFTC is the one band of Reis's that I never went gaga over, but damn it if they didn't muscle through their hour, on point and all smiles.
Sunday also featured AFI, and I saw them with Reader social media manager Gwynedd Stuart—being the former fankids we are, it was pretty much destined to work out that way. Of course we wanted them to play all the deep hardcore-punk cuts—basically nothing released after 2003—but they didn't get the memo (though they did throw us a bone with "A Single Second" from Shut Your Mouth and Open Your Eyes). We guffawed, we played air drums, we commented on Davey Havok's impeccable hairdo and perfect complexion. A strangely perfect (and precious) way to wind down the weekend.