If you follow live music, you have to admit that the mega festival movement is getting a bit stale. Every year we get massively overhyped announcements from the likes of Coachella, Lollapalooza, and Bonnaroo that have music blogs buzzing for a few days before everyone realizes the lineups are basically the same and tickets, flights, and hotels would cost a small fortune.
Riot Fest is by just about any definition, a mega festival. This year’s edition featured some big names (Fall Out Boy, Blink-182), some even bigger reunions (The Replacements), four different stages, and thousands and thousands of attendees who packed Humbolt Park in Chicago over three days.
What makes Riot Fest special however, is what it lacks in comparison to its counterparts. For one, the festival isn’t all that diverse. It was created to celebrate Chicago’s proud punk rock tradition, and while its lineup now stretches to include more mainstream acts and a few oddballs (Public Enemy, anyone?), it continues to have a more focused lineup than most other major festivals.
It also lacks the commercialism of many of today’s larger festival. Local food trucks and vendors provided the food, and there was plenty of booth space for independent record labels, local clothing startup-ups, and charities selling bottled water for a buck. The tickets were cheap as well, especially if you bought early. My three-day pass cost a whopping $70.
Riot Fest also lacks the type of party atmosphere that defines so many major festivals. This isn’t to say that attendees weren’t ready to have a good time, but for most part, the primary focus was always on the music. Artists repeatedly marveled at the enthusiasm of the giant crowds that came to sing along, even in Sunday’s pouring rainstorms.
Friday’s lineup got things off to a good start as fans searched for the best vantage points and learned the lay of the land. While a number of small acts took the stage early, some attendees played speed pitch at the carnival located just behind the main stage, while others hopped on the Ferris Wheel.
On the “Rise” Stage, Andrew W.K. made at least one reference to partying between every song and was followed by GWAR, who showered the crowd in fake blood and defeated Giant Zombie Jesus (seriously).
Later that night, Fall Out Boy used every trick in the book to captivate the hometown audience, with ramps, a giant light show, and a piano that magically appeared from underneath the stage. Their set was capped off by a visit from Chicago Blackhawks executive Danny Wirtz, who happened to bring the Stanley Cup along with him.
Saturday welcomed the festivals biggest crowd, with many in attendance gathering at mid-day to watch back to back sets from punk stalwarts Pennywise and Flag (featuring members of legendary hardcore outfit Black Flag).
Blink-182’s headlining set that night had fans lining up as far as the eye could see, and their hour and fifteen minute performance was impossible not to sing along to.
Sunday started with an 11:30 set from Hot Water Music’s Chuck Regan. Despite the early start and drizzle that had began falling, hundreds of die hards still showed up to appreciate the master at work.
The rain began to pick up as more and more fans arrived, but slowed slightly during a thirty minute set from Connecticut’s Hostage Calm, who made a good impression on the large crowd that had gathered in anticipation of the Wonder Years set that was up next. The Philly crew, led by lead singer Dan “Soupy” Campbell put on one of my favorite sets of the entire weekend, with their energetic live show receiving a huge reaction. Campbell later said the day was one of the best of his life. High praise indeed.
Saves the Day took the stage for a set filled with older fan favorites as the storm hit it’s peak. I couldn’t see lead singer Chris Conley very well around all the umbrellas, but he did sound pretty good.
As the Saves the Day set ended and the rain began to lighten, what seemed like the entire park converged on the “Roots” stage for one of the weekend’s most anticipated sets. While the Brand New camp has been relatively quite over the past few years, the band remains a huge cult favorite and a “can’t miss” live act. I felt bad for anyone trying to compete with them on one of the other stages.
After opening with three tracks from 2009’s polarizing Daisy, the band strung together some of the most recognizable tracks from across their catalog. After group closed with an epic version of “You Won’t Know”, a large portion of the crowd rushed over to the main stage, where AFI had just kicked off their set.
The final performance of the festival belonged to the Replacements – a band that had played exactly one show in the past 22 years, with that coming only a few weeks earlier at the Toronto edition of Riot Fest. Their return has generated an unbelievable amount of excitement from their fans, and a whole lot has been written about their Toronto performance (google it if you don’t believe me).
My first impression was that this didn’t look or sound like a band making a much hyped comeback. There was no flashy stage setup, and lead singer Paul Westerberg even stopped mid-song to admit that he couldn’t remember the verse on more than one occasion. Despite these miscues, the band sounded good and was able to captivate not only their longtime fans, but also an entirely new generation of fans that had the chance to observe the historic return.
The Replacements’ set was a good representation of the festival as a whole – it may have lacked the polish and shine you expect from such a happening, but if you were there for polish and shine, you were probably in the wrong place to begin with.
On the night before Thanksgiving, Brand New would make a stop in Connecticut on their way to a homecoming show on Long Island. While it would have been easy to mail it in knowing home was less than two hours away, the band put in another great effort, ripping though old favorites as well as the majority of tracks from their latest effort, Daisy.
Just like in Boston a week earlier (read my review here), new songs received only a luke-warm reception, while cuts such as “Jude Law and a Semester Abroad” and “Okay I Believe You but my Tommy Gun Don’t” had the crowd up in arms. The only disappointing aspect of the set was that it was about 15 minutes shorter than their Boston effort and excluded other fan favorites such as “Mixed Tape” and “The Shower Scene.”
The shorter set shouldn’t take away from the fact that Jesse Lacey and Co. were once again first-rate, proving that even when they should have one foot out the door, they’re still one of today’s great live bands.
Brand New, Glassjaw, Thrice, Manchester Orchestra, Kevin Devine
Nassau Coliseum, Uniondale New York
November 29th 2009
You would think this one would deserve its own review, wouldn’t you? Unfortunately, Brand New’s biggest ever headlining show didn’t quite live
up to expectations. With support from a hand full of their favorite bands at an arena just minutes from where they grew up, I think everyone who made their way inside the Nassau Coliseum was expecting something special. What they got was something very ordinary.
The main reason the show wasn’t the rousing success it should have been was the time constraints placed on each band. Five acts on one stage is too many, and it became quite obvious when openers Kevin Devine, Manchester Orchestra, and Thrice were all limited to very short sets. Main support Glassjaw was allowed to play longer, and put on the type of show that has made them Long Island legends, at least to those who mixed it up on the floor of the cavernous arena. Daryl Palumbo was at his deranged best, singing and screaming his vocal cords to shreds.
The best way to describe the headliners set would be “loud.” The speakers which towered above the stage pumped out the type of sound that could finally do justice to tracks such as “Sink” and “Gasoline.” The band did their part by turning in the frenzied performance all of their fans have come to expect. There was very little between song banter for a hometown show, which wasn’t much of a surprise considering Jessey Lacey is rarely one to wax poetic in such situations.
The most memorable moment of the night was not an individual song, but was when the band finally paused to look around at the thousands of occupied seats stretching high up the rafters. Understated as always, Lacey simply said “This is big… Bigger than my bedroom.”
The band closed the set with “Seventy Times 7” much sooner than the crowd had hoped, most likely due to a curfew imposed by the venue. While the thousands who filed out of the arena left satisfied, this should have been the type of show that is talked about for years to come, but I doubt that will be the case. The second acoustic stage featuring old favorites Vinnie Caruana of The Movielife and Andy Jackson of Hot Rod Circuit was a very nice touch, as were the four bands who opened on the main stage. However, the next time Brand New returns to Long Island, hopefully they will keep the focus where it belongs, which is squarely on themselves.
Shorty before the release of their fourth record Daisy in September, Brand New announced what was by far the most ambitious touring plans of their career. Not only would they play the biggest clubs in cities across the country, they would play multiple nights in a number of these cities, and then finish the trek with a hometown stop at the massive Nassau Coliseum on Long Island. At first, I doubted the band’s ability to pull this off, and was expecting a whole lot of half-empty venues.
My expectation were pretty far off. Despite Daisy’s mixed reviews, the House of Blues in Boston was sold out for the second straight night when Brand New stepped on stage November 18th. Having seen the band a number of times, I can honestly say that no two performances are ever the same, and this may have been the strangest, and at times most satisfying I’ve witnessed from band.
The night began with a largely ignored 25 minute set from Crime in Stereo. The band ran into the same problems I feel plague them on CD, mainly the fact that it is difficult to hear lead singer Kristian Hallbert’s vocals over the music.
Next up was long-dormant Long Island legends Glassjaw. Considering the band hadn’t toured in nearly three years, I
wasn’t sure what to expect. I had seen them once before, and I must say they weren’t nearly as impressive on this occasion. While they played their blend of aggressive yet melodic hardcore with near surgical precision, they didn’t seem all that interested to be on stage.
The quartet, who aligned themselves in a circle with bassist Manny Carrero facing away from the crowd, played a mix of songs from their two full length records, as well as a few new tracks including “Jesus Glue.” The setlist had the crowd at times in a furry, and at other times in a state of confusion. Seeing that it was mainly the former, the crowd didn’t seem to mind the band’s relative indifference.
After an excruciatingly long 45 minute wait, Brand New finally took the stage and openned with the instrumental “Walcome To Bangkok.” While the band had used an extended version of the track as an epic closing number on previous tours, this true-to-the-album version served as more of a warm-up than a showstopper.
The Long Island quintet would then get things rolling with “Sink” and “Degausser” before charging into the explosive combination of “You Won’t Know,” “Tommy Gun,” “Sic Transit Gloria,” “The Quite Things that No One Every Knows,” and finally “Mix Tape.” This string of crowd favorites featured Brand New at their very finest.
After enigmatic front man Jesse Lacey completed an eerie solo version of “Limousine,” the band would showcase new material from Daisy. Much like the record itself, the results were mixed. While Brand New nailed the new, more technically challenging songs, the crowd’s enthusiasm dropped through the floor, as those at the front suddenly fell silent and still.
The crowd finally snapped out of their funk later in the set when Band New ripped though two of their fastest and most energetic songs, “The Shower Scene” and “The Archers Bows Have Broken.” This were followed by “At the Bottom,” the Daisy lead single which received the best response of any of the new songs.
Instead of leaving the stage before the encore, Lacey instead began to strum the tune to “Wild Thing,” which he explained by saying “Sometimes this yellow guitar just wants to play ‘Wild Thing,’ what can I say.” What would a Brand New show be without at least one head-scratching moment?
After over an hour and half on stage, the band would finally bring the show to a close by giving the fans exactly what they wanted: the combination of “Jude Law and a Semester Abroad” and “Seventy Times 7.” While Lacey and Co. once refused to play these songs live, they seem to have embraced the Your Favorite Weapon classics as the perfect way to end a show.
Those at the front were throughly exhausted and made their exit completely content with what they had just witnessed. However, it was difficult to ignore the lukewarm reception to nearly every Daisy track. While the band seems to relish the fact their new record has polarized their fan base, you have to wonder how much they enjoy a packed venue that suddenly goes still whenever they play a song like “Bought a Bride.”
Reaction or no reaction, I’m sure the band isn’t going to stray away from their new songs anytime soon. As Brand New has proven throughout their career, they aren’t going to let the silence of spectators or changing trends affect what they do as a band, either in the studio or in a live setting.
Picture the scene: It is a Saturday night in early March at the University of New Hampshire, and thousands of excited students make their way across campus to a crowded arena. As the students squeeze their way into the building, they search for spots close to the action. They soon witness a thrilling performance featuring enough energy, emotion, and adrenaline to fill an entire semester. They leave exhausted and horse from screaming at the tops of their lungs. Is the UNH basketball team looking to secure a spot in the NCAA tournament? Nope. Is the Wildcats hockey team wrapping up another Hockey East title? Close, but wrong again. This night did not belong to any of the UNH athletic teams, but to Long Island cult favorites Brand New. The band, who had played only a handful of shows since completing a major US tour with Thrice over a year earlier, was in the middle of a brief run of East Coast college shows. Their devoted fans had obviously not forgotten about them, for UNH’s sold-out Lundholm Gymnasium was jam packed on this night, which began with a 45 minute set from Philadelphia’s mewithoutYou.
While there are some who consider mewithoutYou one of today’s best and
most original acts, I can’t say I would agree. Aaron Weiss’s scratchy vocal delivery is certainly an acquired taste, and not one I’ve gotten around to acquiring just yet. Few, if anyone in the crowd was familiar with the band, and some voiced their displeasure, only to be reprimanded by Weiss, who called out one of the hecklers towards the front of the stage in the middle of the set. After playing what was apparently a mix of old and new songs , mewithYou left the stage to a polite round of applause, and anticipation began to build for the headliners, as even more fans inched their way towards the front.
Brand New frontman Jesse Lacey took the stage to a deafening roar, and to almost everyone’s surprise, began the show with “Mixtape,” a song from the band’s 2001 debut. Lacey was joined by the entire band mid song, and they then transitioned into “The Quiet Things that No One Every Knows” and “Sic Transit Gloria.” If this were a heavy weight title fight, Brand New would obviously be going for the early knock out, as the crowd was whipped into a near-violent frenzy. Those at the front of the stage were crushed toward the barriers, while those standing behind found themselves getting pulled up off the ground by other fans on numerous occasions. For the start of a Brand New show, this is pretty much par for the course. The band would slow it down slightly and allow the crowd to catch its breath with”Jaws Theme Swimming,” before cranking up the energy once again with “The Archers Bows Have Broken.”
As is typical of most Brand New shows, Jesse screamed and flailed as if every song was the last he would ever sing, and the crowd ate it up. The sound inside the gym wasn’t perfect and could have been louder, but there’s only so much you can expect from a college show, and everything else about the production was spot on. Despite the fact that Lacey said little in between songs and most of it was inaudible, the band still seemed to be enjoying themselves. As the set progressed, Brand New ventured into more material from their most recent effort, 2006’s The Devil and God are Raging Inside Me, and they also included a new song known as “Bride” which they have been playing live for some time. The set came to a close with “You Won’t Know,” during which lead guitarist Vin Accardi tossed his instrument at least ten feet over his head and caught it as if grabbing the handle of an ax.
After a very short time off stage, the band would return to another round of deafening cheers. To the even greater delight of those in attendance, they broke into “70 x 7,” and then closed the show with an acoustic performance of “Play Crack the Sky.” The huge crowd left beyond satisfied with what they had witnessed, and while Brand New wasn’t going to get to hang any championship banners from the rafters, they had come through with another world-class performance. Now if only the hockey team could play that well on a consistent basis, UNH would be all set.
The Quiet Things that No One Ever Knows
Sic Transit Gloria
Jaws Theme Swimming
The Archers Bows Have Broken
No Seatbelt Song
OK I Believe You, But MY Tommy Gun Don’t
You Won’t Know
70 X 7
Play Crack The Sky