Riot Fest Day 1: Fishbone, Living Colour, Smashing Pumpkins Rock It Old School (FESTIVAL RECAP)

It had been a very long two years since Riot Fest last graced Chicago with its uniquely eccentric and exuberant presence, but at long last, the first full day of festivities since September 2019 finally arrived in all its glory on Friday in picturesque Douglas Park (Morrisey and Patti Smith technically kicked things off with a mini-preview show on Thursday, but this reviewer was, unfortunately, unable to attend). And what a day it was. Located on the Westside of the city, Douglas Park and its thousands of giddy attendees were looking extra beautiful, as the sun was blazing, the skies were clear and blue (at least until the evening anyway, but more on that later), and the weather was overall downright toasty for a glorious afternoon of punk-rock and heavy 90s nostalgia. 

Here are a few of the highlights from the first full day of festivities at Riot Fest:

Oxxymorrons – Upon entry into the festival, once you get past all the merch tables, the tilt-a-whirl, the Ferris wheel, rigged carny games, and the like, the first actual stage most patrons encounter is the “Rise Stage” which often features more under-the-radar/up-and-coming acts. Regardless though, it seems whoever is performing there always does a good job of getting your attention. Such was the case with Oxxymorrons, who hit the stage promptly at 1:00 and brought their lively alternative-hip-hop to a gathering crowd of 100s. While incorporating live instrumentation with hip-hop has always been a tough trick to pull off, Oxxymorrons executed it freshly and convincingly with their unique and authentic take on the artform. They quickly won over the crowd with their nonstop energy and enthusiasm, which was cool to see and a nice way to start an eventful Friday afternoon of great live music.

Fishbone – For yours truly, the “Radicals Stage” was the place to be most of the afternoon if you were looking to get your late 80s/early 90s funk-rock nostalgia fix, and who better to serve that up than Fishbone, who were performing their 1991 classic album The Reality of My Surroundings in its entirety. Yes, seeing Fishbone perform live had the effect of transporting you straight back to the inaugural Lollapalooza festival (which they were on) way back in 1991. Sure, everyone was a little older and grayer this time around, but their performance was positively popping, which was all the more impressive considering they were performing in the peak heat of the mid-afternoon sun. Just ask lead singer/saxophonist Angelo Moore, who ironically/playfully introduced their hit “Everyday Sunshine” by saying “…god-dam sun…it’s fucking hot!”. #midafternoonsetproblems

Living Colour – Keeping the funky late 80s/early 90s vibes going were another band that were kind of the personification of that sound in their heyday: Living Colour. Lead singer Corey Glover was in a decidedly jovial mood, joking with the audience throughout their set, while guitarist Vernon Reid (who put on a clinic btw) made his goofy faces/gestures at the crowd whilst laying down some truly tasty licks. Needless to say, Living Colour’s set was a lot of fun, so much so yours truly almost forgot about the fact they hadn’t played “Cult of Personality”, which they saved for last. A testament to the strength of their broader material/performance overall. 

Sublime With Rome – As a hardcore Sublime fan, seeing their surviving incarnation (of which bassist Eric Wilson is now the only original member) has always been somewhat of a guilty pleasure for yours truly. On the one hand, it’s great they are keeping the spirit of the music alive, but on the other, it often feels like they are kind of tarnishing the legacy and purity of Sublime in the process by doing so. That’s no fault of Rome Ramirez really, who is absolutely a talented frontman/guitarist and does a convincing job of performing the band’s hits, but replacing a legend the likes of the late/great Bradley Nowell is no easy task and comes with its own fair share of baggage suffice to say. But in a live setting, such concerns about artistic integrity/legacy quickly melt away when you hear classics like “Smoke Two Joints”, “Wrong Way” and “Santeria” (which closed the set). They even peppered in a healthy mix of deeper cuts like “Let’s Go Get Stoned” and “Pawn Shop” for good measure, which for ardent Sublime fans like myself, simply sound too good/satisfying live to critique the messenger. In a nutshell, if keeping the love/spirit of Sublime’s music alive and performing it in such a resounding fashion is so wrong, we don’t want to be right.

Smashing Pumpkins – After a pesty thunderstorm cancelled my Circle Jerk plans (talking about the band people ?), the last act on the agenda was the legendary Smashing Pumpkins, who were the primary headliners Friday night. Billy Corgan, who came out looking decidedly vampiric with his white face paint with little red hearts painted on his cheeks, and an outfit that looked like a kind of dope/exotic shower curtain (a look that only Billy Corgan could pull off), opened things up in deceptively subdued fashion with “The Colour of Love” before revving things up with the always riotous (pardon the pun) “Bullet With Butterfly Wings”. Naturally, the band’s hits resonated the most that night, particularly their more visceral material like “Zero”, “Cherub Rock”, and “Quiet”, all of which were delivered with emphatic force.  Their more nuanced classics like “1979” and of course “Tonight Tonight” were certainly highlights as well, and all-in-all, for a band that’s been at this alternative-rock thing for about 3 decades now, their career-spanning performance was truly impressive to behold, and only served to solidify their status as legends of the scene they helped create.

Other Friday tidbits:

If you can still smell weed in a KN95, is really working? #disconcerting

Burping in a KN95 mask smells bad

Best overheard phrase: “Remember man, that’s the key: just relax”

Number of people that liked my Toots (R.I.P.) and the Maytals shirt: 4

Best t-shirt spotted of a band Riot Fest should book next year: IDLES

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