Riot Fest Chicago 2014 Recap Day Two: Buzzcocks, Paul Weller, Get Up Kids, Flaming Lips, The National And More!


Let's face it, Day One of Riot Fest Chicago 2014 was like being at a Bears game in the middle of November.  Whereas even the most grueling football game last three hours, Riot Fest - and the rain - went on all day long.

So by Saturday morning, the prospect of going through that again must have given many a diehard rock fan pause, but that's the great thing about Chicago rock fans; it takes more than some rain and chilly temps to keep us away.  Mind you, we might not be there first thing.

Those who were, though, stood mouths agape at the urban battlefield that was Humboldt Park.  Sure, the sun was poking its head out, but Friday's rain had left large open patches of five-inch-thick mud. Absolutely no attempt was made to make some of these areas passable, but, hey, our shoes already had mud on them anyway.

The first band we caught were Wavves, whose shambolic rock swagger seems to be their main selling point.  We've seen them three times now and every time we do, we walk away scratching our head as to how they've amounted to anything more than an annoying local band that never goes away, kinda like the swarms of bees that plagued the festival grounds and made concentrating on the music a tad difficult at times.  When we weren't dodging bees, we were dodging other people who were dodging bees.

In a way, it almost felt like being in England at one of those cool old-school rock festivals back before they became these overly slick, overly commercialized affairs.


Of course, that could have been because most of the best music being made that afternoon was by legendary acts The Buzzcocks and Paul Weller.

The minute the 'cocks hit the stage, you could feel a palpable electricity (a buzz perhaps?) in the air. If any one performance was capable of lifting the haze and grogginess, it was this all-too-brief set by seminal UK post-punk outfit led by remaining original members Pete Shelley and Steve Diggle.

As the band blew through all the usual suspects, it was quite staggering how slick the band had become in their old age (have you SEEN Pete Shelley lately?).  Still, almost 40 years of mediocre imitators have not succeeded in lessening the impact of the band's caffeinated angst and jittery brilliance.


 The other side of that coin came in the form of Paul Weller, who was the essence of calm coolness throughout his career-spanning set.  Weller, of course, isn't just a dedicated follower of fashion, he's got his own clothing line (Real Stars Are Rare) and carries the "elder statesman" tag with dignity and class.  Of course, when he pulled out some Jam covers, you could see Weller's intensity rise and one couldn't help wonder how bad-ass a full-blown Jam reunion could be.

It was slightly humorous hearing the multiple throngs of young kids stammer in to check out these NYC post-punk legends, but few could wrap their heads around the plaintive vocals and intricate guitar work.  Some bands' performances just do not translate well to festival conditions and, judging from the lack of interest (people talking throughout the set), Television is one of those bands.

The Dandy Warhols fared a little better, as their live presentation is a little more engaging and, let's face it, Zia McCabe dancing is a helluva lot more fun to watch than Tom Verlaine.

We are snapped out of our late-lunch coma by the Get Up Kids' transcendent st, which features the biggest sing-along of the day and the most energetic band performance of the entire festival.  The band's decision to revisit 1999's Something To Write Home About is done with zero nostalgia.  Most in attendance seemed to know the album by heart, but standouts like "Valentine" and "Action & Action" had droves of new fans streaming in from the other stages.  Magical.



Are we at a rock show or a casino?  We get it, Flaming Lips are the Pink Floyd of the current generation, but their presence at Riot Fest - complete with blinding, non-stop light show and confetti, seemed a tad forced.  Sure, this kinda thing is perfect for a modern-day Lollapalooza or Coachella crowd, but it felt a bit out of place here.



We were admittedly spent, both physically and mentally, by the time The National took the stage, but seeing how every gal in the park hung on every single word the band sung definitely got our attention.  Again, an odd choice for Riot Fest, sonically speaking, but this band did with their voices what Flaming Lips had tried to do with one of the most elaborate light shows we've ever seen.  Matt Beringer is no Wayne Coyne. THANK GOD!

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