Riot Fest Day One Recap 2014

While Saturday and Sunday's shows were standing-room-only (ha!), Friday's opening day of Riot Fest was a cold and soggy-bottomed affair that saw some early sets sparsely attended.  Of course, with seven stages sprawled across Humboldt Park, at times it felt like you were watching a soundcheck at Lollaplaooza before the gates opened.

Black Joe Lewis, whose special brand of funk-inspired blues rock made him one of a handful of bands we'd been looking forward to seeing, seemed to take the rain as a sign to shift into Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock mode.  With guitar pyrotechnics to spare, Lewis attacked his guitar like a man possessed, but we couldn't help wonder "Where are the songs?"

Seeing Gwar in a festival setting was interesting for about ten minutes; the time it took for those unaware of the band's schtick to go from befuddled to shocked to reaching for their iPhones to being bored again.  Tough crowd.

As daylight began to fade into night, Gogol Bordello hit the stage with the fury of a band of possessed pirates, making the cold and muddy conditions a part of their show and turning in the most inspired set of the night - by far.

Self-appointed carnival barker Eugene Yutz may not be easy to understand at times, but his enthusiasm is infectious and, whether they were familiar with the songs or not, the crowd was with him and his seemingly rag-tag team of delightful musical miscreants every step of the way.

The Offspring, who performed their hit album Smash in its entirety attracted the largest crowd of the day, but the level of enthusiasm by both band and crowd left a little to be desired.  Dexter Holland's voice was shot and the rest of the band seemed to be on cruise-control.  The "hipper than your usual festival crowd" seemed willing to give these OC punks a modicum of respect, but that was about as far as things ever got.

And then it was time for Slayer.

To say that these venerable thrash kings "brought it" would be a supreme understatement, as the somber conditions seems only to heighten the impact of the band's 1986 masterpiece Reign In Blood, which the band performed in its entirety.  Gone are guitarist Jeff Hanneman (who passed away last year from liver failure) and drummer Dave Lombardo, but guitarist Gary Holt (from Exodus) and drummer Paul Bostoph bring a virtuosic intensity to the material.

Jane's Addiction closed out Friday's show by presenting their landmark debut studio album Nothing's Shocking.  Having seen Jane's in their late '80s prime, when they were easily the weirdest kids on the Sunset Strip, providing a welcome rock-based alternative to the Poisons and Motley Crues of the day, it's somewhat disheartening to see the band's subversive genius reduced to a calculated festival presentation complete with unimaginative staging and all the usual lighting f/x.  Farrell is still a startlingly watchable frontman, but his disregard for singing in-tune can be distracting at times. Friday night was no exception, but the sonic wave of slinky debauchery weaved by bandmates Dave Navarro, Steven Perkins and Chris Chaney created a hypnotic cocoon that almost succeeded in maing us forget how wet and cold we were.

Superior St. Rehearsal Facility

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